Summer reading

Remember summer reading? I don’t think I ever enjoyed it. And I’ve always loved reading. Growing up without a TV in my house was helpful. I vividly remember car rides to the library as a kid—I’d eagerly load up a paper bag with a hefty stack of books and always finish one on the way home, nestled in the backseat. I’d transport to other worlds, lost for hours in my very own bedroom. Embark on adventures, make friends, fear danger and triumph in happy resolutions.

Summer reading didn’t hold quite the same appeal. There was the mandated list, and the looming deadline, and the books I never would’ve read on my own. There was the notebook I had to keep. The color-coordinated highlighting. (Seriously, why?) The essays to be written and presentations to be made and proof to be given that yes, I did it, and no, I didn’t just read SparkNotes. Give me a break.

But summer reading as a grown up? Delightful. I can choose whatever I want, go at my own pace, abandon books that bore me. No book reports required. Although, maybe there’s a part of me that still loves that. See also: this blog post. So, in no particular order (aside from the order the physical books happened to look decent in for their picture), here goes:

Hinds Feet on High Places

Hannah Hurnard

This gem was recommended by a dear friend (Thanks, Fed!), and I’m so grateful. The book presents a deep, intricate allegory, centered on Much-Afraid and her companions, Sorrow and Suffering. I read it hurriedly, greedy for the end, but I wish I’d done so more deliberately, prayerfully. Throughout the narrative, Much-Afraid journeys to the High Places, racked with cowardice and doubt at the outset. It’s a beautiful voyage into the unknown, an invitation to put our faith in the Shepherd, a reminder of the heartbreaking beauty and absolute necessity of sorrow and suffering on our way to eternity, to perfect joy, to our home. I highly recommend it, especially if you find yourself in a sorrowful, suffering season of life. There’s much hope to be had.

Cry, the Beloved Country

Alan Paton

This heartrending book was a gift from a dear friend, one who is now in the Dominican novitiate in Benin. (How cool is that?) He penned a thoughtful note on the inside cover (inside cover notes are my favorite) on April 30, 2016. It was about time I read it. Set in South Africa and written in 1946, I found it strikingly relevant to my own time and place. Race and crime, faith and doubt, suspicion and trust and newness and home. I kept in its pages a holy card of Our Lady of Sorrows, and what a fitting bookmark. This novel carried me gently through great emotion, through tense conversation and baffling choices and desperate hopefulness. You never really understand a person, Atticus Finch said, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it. Climb and walk I did. And what skin it was. Heavy-hearted, but greatly beautiful.

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand

Helen Simonson

A favorite of my mom’s, this has long been on my list to tackle. (Seeing a trend?) Set in the English countryside, this delightful novel took me back to my time as a temporary Brit. Major Pettigrew (not Mr. Pettigrew, and please, not Ernest) lives a quiet life of leisure and routine and deeply-held tradition, and finds his life turned upside down altogether with the death of his brother, a romance with a shopkeeper, an exasperating son’s perpetual bad choices, and a transformation of his once-untouched little village. There’s no shortage of American-bashing, thanks to some wholly incorrigible characters. If it weren’t for the sudden gratuitously dramatic ending, and the downfall of my favorite character from classy and tasteful to unapologetically brazen, I’d give it five stars. Alas.

Les Misérables

Victor Hugo

Read this. Please, please read this. Life-changer. I laughed and cried and made a plan to (somehow) name my firstborn son after Monseigneur Charles-François Bienvenu Myriel. I’m taking votes. I don’t remember the last book that had such power to truly move me. Aside from the 100 or so pages I skipped (I’m sorry, I just don’t care about that painstakingly detailed battle that has no bearing on the plot at all), I devoured it. (Besides, what’s 100 pages in the midst of 1200?) It gripped me. It stirred my imagination. It moved me with its tragedy and warmed my heart with its redemption. I want to learn from Jean Valjean. I want to make a gift of myself so radically, so self-forgetfully, as he does. I want to minister to the poor and pour out my life for those around me. All this because of a work of fiction. Please, read this. (Did I already say that?)

The Four Loves

C.S. Lewis

This was recommended to me in spiritual direction by the wonderful Sr. Karolyn of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George. (How’s that for a title?) Note to self: always, always trust holy, prayerful religious sisters with book recommendations. Not that I was skeptical about this one, of course. Clive Staples. What a man. So beautifully does he round out his reflections on love, on God, on the ways we can participate in such a high call to love our Creator and our fellow creations. Is it just me, or does C.S. Lewis have an uncanny ability to cut through perfect nonsense and get to the heart of the matter? He helped to instruct me in the beauty and truth and goodness of eros, of the need not just to be loved but to love, of the ways we are tempted to fall short of our immense dignity as children of Love. Highly recommend.

God Is Love

Pope Benedict XVI

Another rec from Sr. Karolyn, this (technically encyclical, not book) did not disappoint. I’m coming to appreciate Pope Benedict in a way I never have before. Here, too, I found grand thoughts on the goodness of eros as it is intended by God. And on the Church as a community of love, as an image of Trinitarian love. It was his first encyclical, and how beautifully he corrects the notion of God as one of vengeance, hatred, violence. He helped me wrestle with questions of justice and mercy. (How do they coincide? Can one even exist without the other? How does love play a role in each?) He called me to a higher love, one grander than I’d settled on. “It is characteristic of mature love,” he writes, “that it calls into play all man’s potentialities; it engages the whole man, so to speak.” Sign me up.


This stack of voluntary summer reading was a true delight. Self-picked, self-guided, just right. Now, onto the fall! What do you recommend?





Thanks for subscribing!