Summer Reading Recommendations from The High Calling
Ah, summer reading. In high school it meant the curse of The Grapes of Wrath, The Scarlet Letter, 1984, Brave New World, and a test on the first day of class. Many years after graduation, however, I have learned to accept summer reading as a gift—sitting on my back porch as the sun goes down, the kids tucked away in bed, a fat dog on one side, a beautiful wife on the other, a glass of iced tea to keep me cool. Each of us with a book in hand.
Summer reading means our books are sometimes props to conversation. Summer reading has a certain lightness and ease. Summer reading is a throwback to simpler times when we told stories in the silence of our minds.
I’m overdoing this, I know.
In a world of updates and tweets and streams and screens and online magazines, it is good to curl up with a single function device like a book. (Even a Kindle is more or less single function, I suppose.) The books I recommend are not all specifically Christian. Some are even written by or about people who are hostile to Christianity. But there is common grace in everything here. This summer, I the Senior Editor of The High Calling, humbly offer the following titles for your consideration.
At the bottom of the post, leave us a comment to tell us what is on YOUR summer reading list this year!
Veneer: Living Deeply in a Surface Society (2011) by Timothy Willard and Jason Locy is the latest project from our friends at Q Ideas. I read a lot of spiritual Christian stuff, and this is good fodder for discussion. Willard and Locy don’t hold back. They come down strong against the evils of a consumer society that finds worth and meaning in its consumption. My favorite chapter is “Celebrity Me” in which they renew the old cliché, “Everyone has his 15 MB of fame.” As the name implies, the book calls us to strip off our veneer and refuse to settle for imitation living. Best of all is the credibility of Locy whose critiques of standard marketing hype come out of his own successful renewal of branding practices as the creative director of FiveStone.
BONUS: Faith Without Illusions: Following Jesus as a Cynic-Saint (2011) by Andrew Byers is another book I’ve been enjoying. It has helped me personally as I try to avoid negativity in my thoughts—and would make a great study book for a small group.
Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not a Gadget (2010) is a self-described “Manifesto.” The book is one of those extreme arguments that makes for good summer reading and back porch discussion. In particular, Lanier worries that we have created an unsustainable culture of free (and often superficial) content. “A writer like me,” he writes toward the end of the book, “might choose to publish a book on paper, not only because it is the only way to get decently paid at the moment, but also because the reader then gets the whole book at once, and just might read it as a whole.” Anyone interested in the idea of culture making should consider this powerful and quirky perspective on digital culture.
BONUS: I only read an excerpt of James Gleick’s new book The Information in Smithsonian (“What Defines a Meme?” May 2011). But it was one of the most exciting intellectual pieces I’ve read in a while. The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood by James Gleick (2011) is on my personal list of summer reading.
Once a year or so, some book comes along that excites everyone at The High Calling and the Foundations for Laity Renewal. This year, it is The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement (2011) by David Brooks. The book is a loose narrative about Harold and Erica, who provide context for a survey of science and speculation about human emotion, logic, and character. There are new definitions of what it means to be human: “You are the spiritual entity that emerges out of the material networks in your head.” There are new directions for parenting and education: “Socialization is the most demanding and morally important thing [students] will do in high school.” There are new definitions of genius: “What really matters is the ability to get better and better gradually over time.” This is one of those rare books of good ideas, where a gifted writer synthesizes many sources into a strong argument. We are social animals, and our relationships are more important than money, fame, success, even profession.
BONUS: I’ve not yet read Clay Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age (2010), but I look forward to doing so at some point this summer. In my experience, Shirky is one of the wisest voices in technology and social networks. I've also just ordered Business for the Common Good: A Christian Vision for the Marketplace (2011) from our friends at IVP. It seems like a good fit for the High Calling audience!
The Foundling (2006) by D. M. Cornish begins with the story of a young orphan, Rossamund, who is growing up in “Madam Opera’s Estimable Marine Society for Foundling Boys and Girls.” The book is about his journey to employment as a Lamplighter and his travels across the country to his apprenticeship. Along the way, he meets Europe, a powerful woman of nobility who wants Rossamund to set aside his professional plans and become her personal servant. By the end of the book, Rossamund is wrestling with questions of calling and purpose in his work. Equal parts Charles Dickens and J. R. R. Tolkein with a dash of steam punk and zombies, this is young adult fantasy at its most literary (which is to say, Rossamund is a young adult and the plot lacks the sexuality and vulgarity of much mainstream fiction). Yes, the book has monsters, but its real magic is the author’s creative use of language. I add it to the summer reading list because the third volume Factotum released in late 2010, but also because it is just so very good.
BONUS: Two more young adult books might interest readers looking for a good story. If you haven’t yet heard of The Hunger Games (2008), get a copy so you can be ready for the water cooler conversations about the upcoming movie. It’s fun. Also, Across the Universe (2011) by Beth Revis is a great mashup of ideas from 1984, Brave New World, and Robert Heinlein’s Orphans of the Sky.
Amazon’s summer reading list does not include poetry, but ours does! I have to recommend Contingency Plans (2010) by David Wheeler because it is the first book of poetry to come out of The High Calling community, not that we can take credit for the hard work of L. L. Barkat at T. S. Poetry Press. (I must go on the record that I did edit the manuscript with David and L. L., though.) David Wheeler’s work is mature beyond his years—both in subject and form. He writes, “My hope is that my poetry serves as a temporary testament to how grace has made right what I have gotten wrong.” This is demonstrated over and over throughout the collection, like the conclusion of his holy sonnet “Against Acedia”:
Rejoice, again, my tired, doleful soul.
Rejoice, yet, even while tonight grows cold.
BONUS: Horoscopes for the Dead (2011) is the latest from Billy Collins. If you are new to poetry, start with Billy. I also plan to spend some time enjoying Human Chain (2010) by Seamus Heaney and Harvesting Fog (2010) by Luci Shaw.
How to Speak Zombie: A Guide for the Living is definitely not for everyone, but this short little guide“features an electronic sound module that demonstrates proper zombie pronunciation (‘RAHHHhh!’).” One section even talks about how to deal with zombies in the office: “In the professional arena, letting on that you’re not ‘with the program’ or lack a firm grasp of your company’s strategies and goals is almost as bad as revealing that you are still human.” We can’t expect to live out the high calling of our daily work if we don’t bring life into the workplace!
Now, leave us a comment to tell us what is on YOUR summer reading list this year!
Image by Seon Hong, Lee. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr. Post by Marcus Goodyear.