All summer long, I’ve not wandered anywhere without a book in my hand or stashed in my purse, or in my pool bag. I’ve even taken books along to places I knew would provide little to no opportunity for reading them, out of sheer hope maybe, or perhaps because it just feels wrong to leave the house without one–like forgetting my cell phone or my wallet.
I’ve read through a stack of good reads this summer, and have a never ending stack still on my nightstand. Every time I start a new book, I tell myself I will commit to reading just one book at a time, but really, what on earth kind of crazy-talk is that? There is no way I can read just one book at a time. No. Way. And so this summer I tossed that sort of budgeting our the window and have instead, gorged on the stories and words of others. Summer is not a time for restricting the mass consumption of readable material. Summer is a time for reading, reading and more reading, all the live-long day, and into the night when necessary. At no time have I suffered regret for having stayed up to read *just one more page*.
So let’s get to it, shall we? I’ll start with what is not pictured, because I cannot write this post without telling you about the beauty that is Wendell Berry’s, Jayber Crow. I heard about this book for years before I finally bought a copy. After I bought a copy, it sat on my shelf for a good 8 months before I finally cracked the binding on it.
I should preface this by saying, that the reason it took me so long to succumb to Jayber Crow is because, (now picture me whispering this…) I don’t like fiction all that much. Perhaps you find this shameful, but I hope we can still be friends. I am a person who lives with an almost overwhelming sense of urgency. Fiction so often feels frivolous and after reading a few mediocre books, I turned to a steady diet of Non-Fiction and never looked back. I lamented the time I’d wasted on formulaic, predictable books that despite their drivel, still managed to climb reading charts. But then Andrew Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga turned me on my ear, and S.D. Smith’s Green Ember series reinforced the transition that Peterson had started. All of that goodness combined restored my faith in fiction while priming the pump for me to at last, open my heart to Jayber. Jayber Crow has rightfully landed itself on my “top 10 of all time” book list, and the sheer soul-stirring beauty of it, has further inspired me to give Fiction a
second, fourth chance.
I am currently reading Wendell Berry’s Hannah Coulter, at the recommendation of a friend. We swapped actually, she has my copy of Jayber Crow, and I have her copy of Hannah Coulter.
On the Stack
Next on my list (and pictured) is Henri Nouwen’s collection, The Spiritual Life. I originally stumbled across this at my local library, but after checking it out and reading the first two chapters, I’d copied so many passages down that I put the borrowed copy aside and Amazon Primed that baby to my doorstep. My copy is already full of marks and dog-eared pages, and I’ll be lucky if it holds together by the time I am finished with it. It is a hefty book, rich in wisdom and grace. I’m not a new Nouwen fan, but this book has definitely made me a more vocal one. Go and get this one, friends. It is tremendous.
On the stack just below Nouwen is Eugene Peterson’s, A Long Obedience In The Same Direction. This book is like Berry’s, in that I’d heard about this book and seen it quoted for years but for whatever reason still had not explored it for myself. I love Peterson’s book, The Jesus Way, and so I knew that I already appreciated his writing style and voice. Long Obedience is every bit as inspiring and profound as I’d heard reported by others. This book makes me want to purchase everything else that Peterson has written.
Below Peterson on the stack sits The Narrative of The Life Of Frederick Douglas. I chose this book for several reasons, two of which are for personal research and study and also to preview it before giving it to my oldest child to read. This book is of course, a classic, and I do believe I read it once as a teenager in school, but it has been so long, I can barely recall much of the story. Given the climate of our current culture, and my own slow awakening to current racial issues, I am making a concerted effort to read different voices and stories in order to be better informed about the events and actions that have shaped and influenced the lives or some of my dearest friends. Reading about the horrors of slavery makes me feel hollow inside, as if I can literally feel my heart breaking, but the pain of hearing about it cannot be a valid excuse to cup my hands over my eyes and refuse to know. Last year, I read Jaquleine Woodson’s, Brown Girl Dreaming, which was exquisite and eye-opening.
Next is a brand new book from IVP, and Cara Sexton, called Soul Bare. I had the great honor of contributing one of my own soul-baring stories to this project, along with several other amazing writers. Soul Bare is full of broken-beautiful stories reflecting on God’s redemption, love and grace. Every page of this book is written from the heart of the authors. These stories will crack open space for the grace of God to flourish in you, if you let them. I recommend this book both as a contributor, but also as a reader. What a bountiful mosaic of the body of Christ this book is! (See below for a chance to win a copy.)
Just beneath Soul Bare on the stack is the latest book from Jennifer Lee, The Happiness Dare, which released in the #1 spot on Amazon last week. Jennifer’s writing is always down-to-earth, accessible and inspiring. Despite the sweet candy cover of The Happiness Dare, this isn’t a fluffy, all-sugar-and-no-substance book. Jennifer comes at The Happiness Dare from the perspective of someone who wasn’t even sure our happiness mattered all that much to God. Because this has long been my own shared struggle, I immediately found kinship with Jennifer in this, and have enjoyed reading her words, and discovering my own happiness profile.
Below Jennifer’s book sits the memoir of J.D. Vance, called Hillbilly Elegy. Had it not been from my writer friend, Rebecca Reynolds, I might never have discovered this book. Vance’s memoir offers tremendous insight into the lives of people living in poor, rural predominantly white communities in and around Appalachia. Here, Vance is telling his own story, but as someone who grew up entrenched in this often forgotten culture, his insights provide a window into communities labeled, misunderstood, and therefore eclipsed by the more culturally palatable metropolitan centers that overshadow these places. I am finding it tremendously insightful and equally difficult. I would consider both the subject matter and language appropriate for adults only, and even then, more sensitive readers may find this aspect of the book a hurdle too tough to manage. I’m still reading it, and still processing the story. I have a feeling I’ll have more to say about this later.
Next on the stack is Lecrae’s memoir, Unashamed. We are fans of Lecrae’s music here in this house and so it didn’t take much convincing for me to grab this book and get to know the person behind the music. His is not an easy story. I am reading it slowly because between the recounting of abuse in both his story and in Vance’s (see above) I am needing to take breaks from so many hard things. Still, Lecrae’s faith is inspiring, and the ways God continues to use him to share the gospel are incredible. Knowing the adversity he has faced in his life only deepens my respect for him and makes me that much hungrier for God’s grace.
Next on my stack is Martyn Lloyd-Jone’s Studies In The Sermon On The Mount. If time and money were no object, I’d send myself to seminary tomorrow. The more I learn and grow in my faith, the more I want to. My hunger for the things of God only seems to increase day after day, and since I cannot attend Seminary right now, I do my own studying and reading as time allows. This is a perfect example of the power of word-of-mouth sharing about books. This book has been spoken about numerous times in my circles and after reading through a hefty assortment of it’s 5 star ratings on Amazon, I paid my money for a copy of my own. I haven’t even started it yet, but I cannot wait to. 162 4 and 5 star reviews can’t all be wrong, not to mention the people I know who have actually read it and recommended it.
Finally, at the bottom of my stack is Sue Monk Kidd’s, The Invention Of Wings, another fiction title that I read over the last month. (All this fiction, I hardly recognize myself!) Having read and appreciated several of Kidd’s other books, it wasn’t a huge stretch for me to give this one a turn. This book’s handling of the issue of slavery and the devastating relationships between white slave holders and their slaves was both realistic and researched. It is an eye-opening, beautifully woven fictional account of real people and events that took place during the antebellum period in the southern United States.
And now for that promised giveaway
I’m giving away ONE copy of Soul Bare to one of you. To enter, simply leave a comment below. If you share this post on facebook/twitter/instagram, leave a comment for each share. Every additional share is an entry, so long as you let me know in the comments.
*Due to obnoxiously high overseas shipping fees, this giveaway is open to U.S. residents only. My sincerest apologies to my international friends.