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What we’re reading: Summer 2024

The Outlook staff shares some of their summer reads including Laruen Groff, Christian Wiman, and Richard Haas.

White book on blue jean jacket in field of wildflowers. Warm sunshine.

Photo by Roman Melnychuk on Unsplash

Florida

Lauren Groff
Riverhead Books, 288 pages
Published June 5, 2018

I just finished the short story collection Florida. Unsurprisingly, the text is rich and fertile, possibly evoking its namesake’s dense, humid life. Lauren Groff is a gifted writer, and the short story form suits her well. Her prose, which often needs time to steep in my mind, is great in short bursts.

However, this collection is not for the lighthearted; there is a sense of death and foreboding in every story. This is a collection that wrestles with our shared anxieties and middle-of-the-night thoughts. It casts a loving light on those who struggle to see the glass as half full. — Rose Schrott Taylor, digital content editor

The Bill of Obligations: The Ten Habits of Good Citizens

Richard Haass
Penguin Books, 240 pages
Published January 24, 2023

I discovered The Bill of Obligations while participating in a community book read. After laying out a concise history of America’s experiment with democracy, Richard Haass describes how and why our society exists on shaky ground — not only now, but throughout our history. Haass lays out ten “obligations” citizens should try to understand, practice and teach to ensure our freedoms and rights continue to endure:  Be Informed – Get Involved – Stay Open to Compromise – Remain Civil – Reject Violence – Value Norms – Promote the Common Good – Respect Government Service – Support the Teaching of Civics – Put Country First. Haass suggests we develop these ten obligations into daily habits we practice as humans, neighbors, Americans and spiritual beings. This is a very thought-provoking, relevant book for our times. — Anne Walker, designer

The Poetic Justice: A Memoir

John Charles Thomas
University of Virginia Press, 248 pages
Published 2022

John Charles Thomas and I both grew up in eastern Virginia in the 1950s and 60s, yet our stories are vastly different — he was a Black boy during segregation’s last gasp. In spite of a family life of poverty and violence, he became one of the first Black students at the University of Virginia, and then the youngest and first Black member of Virginia’s Supreme Court. The Poetic Justice is his story, as well as a clever play on words (he is also a published poet). Thomas recalls his early life in straightforward prose that tells stories both sweet and gut-wrenching. We ache for the circumstances of his youth not because he asks, but because they are hard. And Thomas seems to know just the right moment to drop an anecdote to help us smile and even laugh. This book moves fairly quickly, but my admiration for Thomas lingers. — Alfred Walker, office manager

 

Zero at the Bone: Fifty Entries Against Despair

Christian Wiman
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 320 pages
Published December 5, 2023

I’ve been slowly making my way through Christian Wiman’s Zero at the Bone: Fifty Entries Against Despair as my morning devotional reading. I’m a huge fan of Wiman. His poetry is good, but I prefer his commentary on life and faith. Zero at the Bone and his earlier book, My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer, will always, I imagine, be at the top of my list of favorite spiritual reads. Because he is a poet, Wiman constructs beautiful sentences that force me to pause in appreciation. Because he is so well-read theologically, his sentences also send me to my personal journal to “prayer-write” or to follow the golden spiritual thread his words have inspired. For these reasons, I can only read Wiman a few sentences or a few paragraphs at a time. There’s just too much gold within his pages to treasure. — Teri McDowell Ott, editor

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