Summer is made for reading. Bookstores and online booksellers devote entire sections and special marketing to summer beach reading. My 8-year-old’s summer reading list for fourth grade requires him to read several books and choose one to talk about on the first day of school. Even though many of us don’t shift our work schedules in the summer, we still seem motivated to slow down and enjoy a good book.
But how do we get started on knowing what to choose? How do we find out about good books that are worth our time?
There are a lot of lists out there. One appeared in my inbox recently from the New York Times. “73 books for your summer reading list…” It’s divided into sections – thriller, true crime, audio, cookbooks, fiction, music, and more. I recommend that as a good starting place.
I want to recommend two books for your summer reading. The first is “The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song” by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Gates is clear in this book that the Black church is not a single story, just as there is not one Black religion. The Black church, in Gates’ view, is central in understanding the African American story in the United States.
I appreciate many parts of this book – the history, connections to social justice and community engagement, and how he confronts the issues for the church today. I was especially moved, though, with his treatment of the importance of music. Music has been a liberating force in and out of the church from slavery through Civil Rights on up to President Obama’s moving rendition of “Amazing Grace” during his eulogy for the Rev. Clementa Pinckney in Charleston, South Carolina, in June 2015. This book is an important read given the state of race in the United States today.
Just in time for Father’s Day gifts is “Pops: Learning to be a Son and a Father” written by my college friend and “Today Show” host, Craig Melvin. Pops is Craig’s story about fatherhood – his own, his dad’s, and fathers along the way who have made a difference to him in his life. In his personable and authentic way, Craig is honest about how difficult our human relationships can be, especially with family. His story is touching and beautiful and often quite funny. I am grateful how vulnerable he (and his own father) are willing to be in the book, something needed in our society today.
Digging into a good book gives me life. Earlier this year, I discovered what many people had been telling me for years. Book clubs can also be life-giving. Along with a co-worker, we started a Harry Potter book club and even though we have been meeting on Zoom due to the pandemic, we have formed a community. Either of the two books mentioned here would be ideal for your next book club. Don’t have a book club? Be courageous and start one.
Now that vaccinations are up and COVID cases down, I am hearing about book clubs returning to meet in person. We need these communal gatherings after such a long stretch of isolation and computer screens. We also need books like the two recommended here for deeper understanding and to increase our capacity for vulnerability.
Rev. Dr. Lyn Pace is a United Methodist minister and college chaplain who lives in Oxford with his spouse and 8-year-old.