What I Read This Summer

I posted quite a few weeks ago about the summer projects around the house. One of my projects included reading A LOT for pleasure, something that is definitely harder during the school year (hence the late post on the reading!). I did a lot of other things besides read–nap, paint by numbers, zentangle, nap, play with my dog, study for GRE, write, watch old episodes of The Office, travel, nap, etc.

But I also let myself read in the middle of the morning, even if I had dishes in the sink or laundry to be folded. My brain needed rest and creative stimulation, something that only reading can provide.

To be sure, I started a few books, but didn’t finish them for various reasons. I sometimes have to remind myself that I am an adult and if I’m not digging a book, I am allowed to leave it unfinished. If you didn’t know that, I give you permission to put a book down. Pick up a book that you will enjoy.

The list below includes the books I finished this summer.

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
This is a true account of Krakauer’s dangerous journey to the peak of Mt. Everest on a night that claimed many skilled climbers. He details the ascent and describes the mystery and appeal of Everest. He also wrestles with survivor’s guilt in the last couple of pages, which was actually my favorite part because it was like the author was breaking the fourth wall. It was a riveting read, and I stayed up late into the night to finish it. There is a movie about it coming out this fall called Everest, based on that night but focused on another survivor from the team, and I’m thrilled with the timing!

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
This is the book Krakauer is mostly known for. He recounts the story of a young man, captured by the ideals of Henry David Thoreau and Jack London and others who wanted a raw, authentic experience with the wilderness, who journeys into the Alaskan wilderness to survive on his own. A few months after he went in, his emaciated corpse was found. I read Into Thin Air first, which made me want to devour the rest of Krakauer’s work, but I didn’t really like this book, mostly because I didn’t like the kid. He seemed arrogant. I’m told that another book by his sister came out describing some of the reasons he felt like he needed to escape, but I haven’t read it.

Pray All Ways by Edward Hays
I recommend this book to everyone who has struggled with the idea of prayer (which is pretty much everyone). It talks about the everyday life as prayer: eating, napping, laughing, walking, etc. There’s a rationale at the beginning of the chapter for how this can be prayer, and then at the end of the chapter, there is a delightful prayer to use as a guide. For example, when I came to the chapter about napping as prayer, I chuckled thinking, “This is the chapter for me!” but skeptical that this was a real thing. But Hays’s rationale is that napping during the day is the ultimate act of surrender to God and rebellion against the productivity-driven world. It is saying, “God will take care of this and me.” Now I take naps without feeling guilty, but I also sink into them with a fresh perspective of surrender. This book has stuck with me more than any other book I’ve read this summer.

Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
I’ve know about Bonhoeffer for years, and I read his (huge) biography by Eric Metaxas a few years ago, so this has been on my to-read list for awhile. It’s much more of a practical guide to community and church-living than I expected. I enjoyed it as a whole, but I felt a little disappointed the whole time that it wasn’t more poetic. However, as I’m writing this review and thinking over Bonhoeffer’s life, he’s not known for his poetic approach to life.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
You will be engrossed in this story until you finish it, and then you will set it down and go, “What the…?” It is psychologically baffling but also incredibly frightening in how realistic it is. This is the craziest married couple you will read about.

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
Many people have asked me my opinion about this book because I teach English, though I don’t teach To Kill a Mockingbird. And I know some are going back and reading TKAM in preparation to read this, but that really isn’t necessary because they are not meant to be a sequel to each other. And honestly, reading them in a way that they are intricately connected may contribute to the outrage over Atticus in Watchman. I think if this book had been released without such anticipation, and perhaps 40 years ago, and we had just always known Harper Lee to have published two books, people would be less outraged. While I don’t hold this book as close to my heart at TKAM, it is still worth reading.

Scout is 26, returned home from living in New York, and encountering Maycomb with new, mature, progressive eyes, and she is disillusioned with her childhood home and memories. She is appalled at the language and behavior she encounters from the ones she loves. In this way, the book is relevant. I don’t think it would make sense to teenagers or connect with them in the way that TKAM does. But for adults who have experienced disillusionment? Who have returned home and things don’t seem like you remember? This book speaks to our hearts. And you know what? Though Atticus is not our racially compassionate dad again, he is still an amazing dad in this book. He gives Scout room to be angry and to yell at him, and stills loves her. He respects her even more after she does so. For those reasons, Watchman is worth reading.

On Writing by Stephen King
I have never read a Stephen King novel nor seen a movie adaptation of his novels, and I’m not sure I ever will. I am not a scary movie person. But I picked this book up at Half-Price, thinking, “Hey, this guy has published a lot of books, so he probably knows something about the craft.” And did he ever. The first half of the book is a compilation of the stories of his life that were influential in his becoming a writer, and the second half is his advice. Not only was his writing advice sound and helpful (“Remember, kill your darlings!”), but I also really came to like the guy. He is delightfully funny and down to earth. Fans of his or people remotely interested in writing, if even recreationally, would enjoy this book.

Good Prose by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd
Another book on writing I picked up at Half-Price this summer. It came recommended by Jon Krakauer, and since I encountered him this summer, I picked it up. It spoke mostly of journalistic writing, but it was very interesting. Anyone writing nonfiction would benefit from the advice of two writers/editors/publishers. One of the ideas that was introduced early on in the book in regards to being accurate has been churning in my mind for a few months: Facts are no the same thing as truth. Sometimes you have to omit facts in order to illustrate a person/event most true to reality. I’ve also been thinking about the spiritual implications of this.

The Essential Rumi
One of my intentions this summer was to begin reading a poem a day. I had heard various things from Rumi over the years, but after listening to a podcast with Mary Oliver who sang his praises, I decided to pick up a collection of his poetry. He was a 12th century Muslim mystic… quirky, deep, and sometimes foul, but his poetry resonated with me. I ended up reading whole chapters in the collection each morning, and nearly every other page is earmarked to return to later. The book is used and it smells like incense (I love used books), so my mornings began with a smile on my face and my heart open to his insight.

What did you read this summer?