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What are you reading this summer?

Guest blog by Russ Kerr

I love summer reading! Winter reading is for curling up with a cozy blanket next to the fire. But nothing beats reading late nights on porches, in hammocks or while your toes are in the sand on the beach with your favorite beverage of choice. And while nonfiction is great, summer reading for me is all about novels, beach reads and overworked mass market paperbacks.

Reading, for me, is a spiritual practice. Books are where I can draw inspiration for sermons, understand and learn to empathize with differing viewpoints, and see a reflection of myself in the pages. It is a time to let my mind wander as I quietly read about characters’ lives, their struggles and the relationships they are forging. Like in my study of Scripture, it is interesting to think through the complexities of character, setting and narrative when reading novels. It is also fun to analyze the authors’ view of God, humanity and themselves. Plus, I think we have a lot to learn about the vast expression of who God is when our minds are being opened by books.

During this COVID-19 pandemic, reading has become even more important to me. In the early stay-at-home orders of March 2020, books were a way to escape the mundane and monotony of my small Chattanooga apartment. It was during that time I began to keep up with what was new in publishing following the New York Times Book review, Parnassus Books and Book of the Month club. The local independent bookstore, Starline Books, was another place where I was able to find great reads such as “Conjure Women” by Afia Atakora; “Beach Read” by Emily Henry; and “Here for It” by R. Eric Thomas. Collecting books (yes, physical copies!) and reading have become quite the serious hobby for me in these past 14 months.

So, what have I been reading since Memorial Day 2021? What am I excited about this summer? Well…

Re-read it:The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter” by Carson McCullers

We do such a disservice to ourselves as readers when we do not revisit the classics. I was inspired by Ann Patchett in her Tuesday, “The Laydown Diaries” on Instagram when she mentioned that the first book of summer she was going to read was, “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley. I thought, I would like to re-read a classic to kick off summer reading, too. So went with “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.” I still cannot believe McCullers was only 23 when she wrote it. It is a treasure of Southern gothic literature.

Read it in one sitting:The Plot” by Jean Hanff Korelitz

Looking for something twisty, fast paced and a total escape? Unless you are a writing professor with a somewhat famous first novel, then this book is for you. Wow! I read this in about a day. I could not put it down. This was from an early New York Times summer reading list, and they were not wrong. (Content-wise, I would rate this on the PG-13/R side. Just a forewarning.)

To be read — fiction:How Beautiful We Were” by Imbolo Mbue

I am looking forward to reading Mbue’s sophomore novel set in the fictional African village, Kosawa. The book follows the characters as they navigate environmental destruction. I am a huge fan of her first book, “Behold the Dreamers,” so I cannot wait to pick this one up. (But first must finish the Louise Penny I just started.)

To be read — nonfiction:Heaven and Hell” by Bart D. Ehrman

Okay, I will throw in one nonfiction. This was published in 2020, but it covers one of the most frequently asked questions I get or topic of conversation I find myself in when I introduce myself and profession to strangers. So, I am looking forward to reading this comprehensive history compiled by Ehrman.

Children’s book:What Is God Like?” by Rachel Held Evans and Matthew Paul Turner

Of course, I was looking forward to this book and it did not disappoint. Seeing it on the shelf at Walmart the other day was truly a treat knowing this book is getting the recognition it deserves. This is a book for your children, grandchildren or for the child within us all. Be prepared to shed some tears (of sorrow, but also of joy!) reading about the life and legacy of Rachel Held Evans.

Phew! That was a whirlwind. I did not even get to audiobooks. From the couch of the beach rental where I am currently sequestered writing this blog and reading because of bad weather to wherever this article finds you, hear me when I say, “happy summer reading!” Now go pick up that book that has been sitting in your to-be-read pile forever.

RUSS KERR currently serves as associate pastor at Rumple Memorial Presbyterian Church in Blowing Rock, North Carolina. When he is not at church, he loves to hike, bake (sometimes) and, of course, read.