It’s summertime and the reading is plentiful. Days by the pool or beach, long flights, evenings on the porch – they are all made for reading. In recent years the newest novel by my college friend, NY Times best-selling author Mary Kay Andrews (aka Kathy Trocheck) has signaled the beginning of the summer reading season for me. I’m saving her latest, The Weekenders, for a flight to Maine later this month. Here are some of the things I’ve enjoyed reading the past year. I’d love to hear your recommendations. Happy reading!
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Part love story, part social critique. An Americanah is a Nigerian who has returned home from living abroad. Ifemelu is the Americanah, raised in poverty in Nigeria, educated at Princeton, then finally back to Nigeria. Ifemulu offers social critique on life in both countries, and what it means to be black in America. A funny and eye-opening novel. One of The New York Times’ 10 best books of the year.
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante is the first of four novels tracing the lifelong friendship of Elena and Lila. Their story begins in the 1950s in a poor neighborhood outside of Naples. Elena and Lila stick together through the often violent daily life, depending on each other and their education to see them through. This novel takes them to their teen years.
Language Arts by Stephanie Kallos. I waited years for another novel by this author. Her previous novel, Broken for You, is one of my all-time favorites. Language Arts was worth the wait. Charles Marlow teaches his high school English students that language will expand their worlds. But language cannot help him connect with his autistic son. A series of events forces him to think back on the lifetime of decisions and indecisions that have brought him to this point. With the help of an ambitious art student, an Italian-speaking nun, and the memory of a boy in a white suit who inscribed his childhood with both solace and sorrow, Charles may finally be able to rewrite the script of his life.
Chesapeake by James Michener. I reread this Michener classic last fall before going on a photography tour of the Chesapeake Bay area. Michener makes the history of the area come alive, beginning with the first Native Americans to live in the area, through the first European settlers to modern times. It gave me a much deeper appreciation of the area, but I recommend it even if you have no plans to visit the Chesapeake Bay.
As Close to Us as Breathing by Elizabeth Poliner. In 1948, a small stretch of Connecticut shoreline, affectionately named “Bagel Beach,” has long been a summer destination for Jewish families. Here sisters Ada, Vivie, and Bec assemble at their beloved family cottage, with children in tow and husbands who arrive each Friday in time for the Sabbath meal. When a terrible accident occurs, a summer of hope and self-discovery transforms into a lifetime of atonement and loss. Seen through the eyes of Molly, who was 12 when she witnessed the accident, this is the story of a tragedy and its aftermath.
Grounded by Diana Butler Bass. Diana looks at the decline in religious affiliation in America and sees a spiritual revolution in the way that people understand and experience God. Bass writes movingly about her own experience of God in nature and community. A beautifully written book, one that I will return to again and again.
Change of Heart by Jeanne Bishop. I thank Jennifer Moyers for giving me this book, written by her college friend. Jeanne Bishop’s pregnant sister and brother-in-law were murdered. Change of Heart is her story of moving from rage and grief to forgiveness, and advocacy for abolition of the death penalty. This is one of the most powerful and moving stories of faith I have ever read.
The Oregon Trail by Rinker Buck. When I visited western Oregon last summer I was by wagon ruts from the Oregon Trail that still exist. What would it have been like to travel across this country in a wagon, I wondered. Rinker Buck wondered the same thing. So he had a covered wagon made, bought a team of mules and headed west, retracing the historic route. Part history lesson, part adventure story, this book offers fascinating glimpses into America both past and present.
Crazy Christians by Michael Curry. Michael Curry is the new presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, the first African American to hold the position. He is known as one of the best preachers in the church. You’ll understand why after reading this collection of his sermons.
The Sin of Certainty by Peter Enns. In many religious circles believing the right things about God is of paramount importance. Those correct beliefs leave no room for doubt, uncertainty, or change. Enns writes that God desires our trust more than our “correct” beliefs. By exploring scripture and reflecting on his own journey, Enns reveals that crises of faith may be God giving us opportunities to move from needing to be right to trusting God instead.
Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans. When the fundamentalist faith that sustained her as she grew up no longer worked for her, Rachel Held Evans found herself in a crisis. She tried walking away, but something kept pulling her back to the church and to God. Evans, who now attends an Episcopal Church in Tennessee, writes one of the most thought-provoking and hilarious books about faith I’ve ever read.
We will be hosting homeless families at St. Dunstan’s the week of July 3. Helping your fellow citizens is patriotic; helping God’s children in need is what Christians are called to do. Watch the website to sign up to help.
We will begin collecting school supplies for Path Academy in July. Path is a charter school in DeKalb County that serves the children of immigrants and refugees, and other children who live in poverty. The school is the dream of Suttiwan Cox, a friend of Tricia’s from Thailand. Every year children from Path Academy receive among the highest scores in standardized tests.
This will be our third year of collecting school supplies for them. Watch your emails and Sunday announcements to learn exactly what school supplies are needed.
Summer Choir will begin this Sunday, June 5. Rehearsal will be at 9 a.m. There is no mid-week rehearsal. Regular weekly attendance, while a nice idea, is not required or expected. If you are not a choir member now, this is your opportunity to come and see what it’s like. Youth Ensemble members are especially encouraged to participate (and your parents as well!). We won’t be wearing robes, so you can stay cool in your usual summer casual church-going attire.
Summer Hymns. Do you have a hymn request? A hymn you haven’t sung recently? A favorite that doesn’t come around often enough? Now is the time to let me know your requests and suggestions.
There are four hymnals to choose from: The Hymnal 1982 (blue, found in the pews); Lift Every Voice and Sing II (good selection of spirituals and gospel hymns; Wonder, Love, and Praise (supplement to The Hymnal 1982 with more current and diverse choices; and Voices Found (emphasizing music and poetry by women). An index for Lift Every Voice and Sing II can be found at http://www.hymnary.org/hymnal/LEVS1993, and for Wonder, Love, and Praise at http://www.hymnary.org/hymnal/WLP1997.
I do not know an online index for Voices Found, but I will be glad to share a copy with anyone who would like to see it. I will do my best to work in the suggested hymns some time during the summer. E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. – Thomas Merton