Sunday, August 21, 2016

My Best Reads Of Summer 2016

Summer is winding down. This means school will soon be starting and one of my favorite seasons, Fall, will begin. Every summer I have a list of books I hope to read during these few months. Some I read and, along the way, I discovered others. What were my favorites? They include four books on faith, two works of fiction, and a collection of poetry.

At the top of my summer reading this year was:

Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic For A Simpler, More Soulful Way Of Living by Shauna Niequist. What I loved about this book was Niequist's candor about being someone who says "Yes" to too many things until she found that she was burned out and overwhelmed. All of the things she had thought were God's will and what she thought she wanted, weren't really either. In the midst of speaking engagements, to-do lists, and busyness, Niequist found herself disconnected from everything. She was neglecting her family, her health, and her spiritual growth. That's when she began to "remake" her life from "the inside out," as she says. She also learned that saying "No" may be the most spiritual thing one can do.

As she writes:

Present is living with your feet firmly grounded in reality, pale and uncertain as it may seem. Present is choosing to believe that your own life is worth investing deeply in, instead of waiting for some rare miracle or fairytale. Present means we understand that the here and now is sacred, sacramental, threaded through with divinity even in its plainness. Especially in its plainness.

Her official site is:

How To Survive A Shipwreck: Help Is On The Way And Love Is Already Here by Jonathan Martin. If you're going through a difficult time in your life or you know somebody who is, this is the book to read for yourself or give to someone or both. There is a raw vulnerability to Martin's writing about his life after he left the church he started, the failure of his marriage, and being in a place where he was unsure of where he should go and what he should do. His writing is beautifully poetic and profound in his dealing with loss, failure and a crisis of faith. 

This was the book I took with me on our trip to Nashville and I found myself not only moved by his story, but encouraged and amazed at his ability to write about what it's like to find oneself in the depths, feeling like one is going under for the last time and finding himself drowning in pure grace of God. The chapter on sea monsters alone is worth buying this book.

His official site is:

Roots & Sky: A Journey Home In Four Seasons by Christie Purifoy is a book I have posted about before (hungering-after-beautiful-good.html).  Purifoy writes in a reflective, lyrical manner that draws the reader in and makes you feel as if she is welcoming you into her home. Like Madeleine L'Engle, whose writing Purifoy's reminds me of, Christie is a keen observer of the mundane details that truly make up a life and a home. Into this, she deftly weaves theology that moves us towards hope. This is a book to be savored and enjoyed.

Her official site is:

You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power Of Habit by James K. A. Smith was one of the most profound books I've read in a long time. This is not an easy read but it has caused me to rethink my ideas of worship. We live in a culture that is based on the philosophy of  RenĂ© Descartes that says,"I think, therefore I am."  Smith presents a case that this is erroneous and that the more accurate statement should be, "I am what I love." This book is challenging and makes one think and rethink the "whys" of our habits and why we do what we do. It will also make you look at malls in a completely new light.

His official site is:

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo is a book I bought at Parnassus Books in Nashville. I adore Kate DiCamillo's work and have yet to be disappointed by anything she's written. This is easily one of her best novels yet.  It's the story of Raymie Clarke, whose father abandoned the family one night to run off with a dental hygienist. Now she is convinced that if she wins the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition then her photo will be in the local paper, her father will see it and he'll realize he has to come back home to his amazing daughter. The story is funny and heartbreaking and wonderfully written as only DiCamillo can write.

Her official site is:

Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton is one of those classic novels that I somehow had never read before. Set in Apartheid South Africa, it tells the story of Zulu pastor Stephen Kumalo who goes to Johannesburg to help his sister, Gertrude, and find his son, Absalom. As the story unfolds, one moves through this lyrical narrative which sheds light on the hardships, poverty and famine that the blacks suffer and the way whites are affected by "native crime." In one part, Paton writes, "The tragedy is not that things are broken. The tragedy is that things are not mended again." Despite its subject matter, this is a hopeful book that is full of grace and mercy. It will be one of those books that I will return to again and again.

Felicity is a collection of poems by one of my favorite modern poets, Mary Oliver. Like many of the writers that I am most dazzled by, Oliver is one who chronicles place, landscape and nature with such joy that one wants to go outside and be in it. There is a wisdom, hope and peace to her works, even in the midst of turmoil. These poems focus more on love than nature. The writing is spare but the words so well chosen that they have greater impact on the reader. They are bittersweet, as her partner of forty years had died, and she is ruminating on both the love and the loss of their time together. This slender volume is a luminous elegy. One of my favorite poems from the book is entitled "The World I Live In."

I have refused to live
locked in the orderly house of
reasons and proofs.
The world I live in and believe in
is wider than that. And anyway,
what's wrong with Maybe?

You wouldn't believe what once or
twice I have seen. I'll just
tell you this:
only if there are angels in your head will you
ever, possibly, see one.

These are my favorite books this summer, so tell me what yours are. . .

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