Summer gets me. In the summer, reading becomes the runner up for America’s national pastime. For three months out of the year, I walk the edge of reality and written fiction the way an intoxicated person deals with the white line on the side of the road: one may as well be the other. Stories invade my mind. I just can't help it.
Every summer culture encourages us to disappear into a book, but reading is not merely an escape (although escape is plenty enough reason to read). Stories have the ability to take us to places where our theology expands further than our own experiences lead.
Expositional teaching profoundly impacted by soteriology, but it was Flannery O’Connor’s depiction of Haze Motes in her book Wise Blood that roughed up my all-too-pristine version of redemption. She managed to do that while I drifted lazily on a pool float.
One August flight to San Diego, Barbara Kingsolver displayed the dirty underbelly of a missionary in The Poisonwood Bible and left me to evaluate my savior complex.
The Apostle Paul gave me a passion for earthly adoption, but it was Amy Seek’s memoir of a birth mom in God and Jetfire, that showed me the places where my zealous theology wasn’t altogether practical.
Author’s stories add the weight needed to sink deeper into our understanding of biblical principles, theology, and doctrine. If you’ll let it, reading becomes a pastime of pursuing sanctification.
Next week brings us August. That means we only have one more month before a 2016-2017 planner takes the place of our Kindle. It’s time to grab a book. Here are six recommendations for indulging the last few weeks of culturally celebrated book consumption.
Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance – Vance penned a memoir about growing up poor in a Rust Belt town. The reviews say that Vance has done for the white working class what Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of Between the World and Me, has done for the poor Black community. And Coates opened the eyes of the blind. This is my August book, and I am just plain stoked to get my hands on it
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – What does it mean to be Black? Ifemelu, a Nigerian woman who comes to America, and we experience alongside her the cultural realities of her blackness. In Americanah, there’s a captivating love story, there’s a relatable coming of age theme, and there’s the battle for understanding racial identity. Chimamanda has given us an education disguised as a novel.
Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer – Foer is the rare combination of intellect, realness, and hilarity. I love all his work, but his debut novel remains my favorite. Maybe it’s the raw humanity of a boy who longs to know who saved his grandmother from the Nazis. Maybe it’s that boy's friendship with his Ukrainian translator who speaks in butchered American-isms. Or maybe it’s the dog (Sammy Davis, Junior, Junior), who accompanies them on their journey. Regardless, you will consider the value of personal history in shaping people.
All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr – When I think of Doerr’s work, the words that come to mind are the same ones I’d use to describe a diamond: captivatingly beautiful, transparent, multi-faceted, and created to stand the test of time. It is a WWII story you haven’t read and didn’t know you needed. But you do, you need it. This book will make you brave.
Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff – This book was popular before President Obama named it his favorite book of 2015. Groff tells the story of the seemingly glamorous marriage of Lotto and Mathilde. Actually, she tells it twice. Once from each person’s perspective. Her approach is enthralling, and her prose manages to be both theatrical and understated. It also provides a basis for a conversation with your neighbors that goes deeper than chastising that crazy guy who speeds down the road every single day. As a warning, this book leans toward the explicit at times. Nothing crazy, but the intimate content is certainly worth noting.
The Girls by Emma Cline: Cline’s debut novel is making the book list rounds. I haven’t read it, but I can’t seem to get away from its presence on every site I frequent. Every mention increases my desire to read The Girls. Set in the 1960’s, Cline tells the story of a Northern California girl who unknowingly walks into one of America’s most dangerous cults as she flees the loneliness that stalks her. Where is loneliness driving you? Is someone around you lonely? What can you do about that?
Get out there and read. August will be gone before you know it.