In case you still have a beach week ahead of you (lucky!) or are taking advantage of the post-dinner daylight to read by (or the Super Moon!), we thought you might want to see what we’ve been reading this summer. Here are some recommendations from your friends on The Cul de Sac. (And we’d love to hear your picks in the comments section!)
LEIGH » A Million Little Ways, by Emily Freeman
I wish I could tell you that I have read many books this summer. There was a time when I consumed books like food, but these days I chase boys and make food. There is, however, one book that I have managed to read four or five times since this spring.
Emily Freeman’s A Million Little Ways is a book that spoke truth so loudly into my heart that even life’s chaos couldn’t silence it. I inhaled it the first time and was forced to reread it in order to process the goodness it holds. Emily sets out to show you how God intends for you to live. She claims that we are all “image bearers with jobs to do.” We are, she says, God’s art and he intends for us to make art with our lives.
And this book actually leads you down the path of what that means. My life, art? I had never in a million years imagined that my life would amount to any sort of art, or that God intended it to be that way. But, Emily’s words about how God wired each of us with desires. Her words about how he puts us in places so that His love can shine through us, not just in one spectacular way, but in millions of little ways. Those words made me look at my place differently. This book will change your view of yourself and allow your soul the space it might need to see God working in you, through you and all around you.
I also recommend: Restless, by Jennie Allen.
ABIGAIL » Soul-Keeping, by John Ortberg
I’ve always kind of imagined the soul as some vague thing deep down, a secret center stuck inside my earthly body.
But Soul-Keeping turns this idea inside out. Ortberg, in his usual approachable style, explains the soul as one of four parts that make up our inner life: will, mind, body, soul. And it is the soul that encompasses and integrates the three other parts — not the other way around. It’s a stunning reversal, if you think about it. Suddenly I could recognize that the ways I often feel ‘out of whack’ — restless, dissatisfied, tired — are actually symptoms of my soul’s dis-integration. Or that the times I feel most settled and sure are when my soul is well-nourished and strongly steering the other parts of what makes me ‘me.’ Chapters are dedicated to the how-to’s of caring for our soul, and how living a ‘with-God life’ is the only way a soul can truly thrive.
Don’t think that this is a self-helpy kind of read. It is wise, and tender, and relational. The soul of this book, in fact, is the relationship between Ortberg and the late Dallas Willard, which poignantly unfolds chapter by chapter. Getting to sit in on their conversations may be the most valuable part of the book. I devoured Soul-Keeping at the beach in a couple of sittings, but should probably revisit it again with my journal in hand. Because, really, who wouldn’t want a well-tended soul?
I’m also reading: The Locust Effect, by Gary Haugen
BETH » The Giver, by Lois Lowry
Although it was published more than 20 years ago, The Giver recently crossed my radar. I confess, I love dystopian young adult novels, so I had to check it out. It tells the story of Jonas, a 12-year-old boy who has grown up in a society that has no sickness, no poverty, no crime, no conflicts — but also no choices. People have been genetically stripped of all memories and the ability to see color, hear music, or feel emotion. Sameness is valued above all to prevent injustice and insecurity. A group of Elders oversees the community and ensures the strict system of rules and discipline is followed. Lifelong job assignments are given at age 12. When Jonas is assigned the job of “Receiver of Memory,” he learns that he will receive all the memories of his mentor, “The Giver,” and that he alone will know the joys and horror of the world as it used to be. As the memory transfers begin, Jonas starts to see that his society is one big lie.
As I was reading this book, I couldn’t help but think about our society today. Fewer people than ever are looking to God and his word as their foundation for truth. Truth has become relative, and we are looking to the tides of today’s culture to tell us right from wrong. God’s truth alone is steadfast, unfailing and inerrant. I would hope that we would all prefer a world where we are free to embrace our uniqueness in the light of God’s love, rather than have our personalities stripped down to sameness, eliminating who God made us to be. The Giver shows us how bleak that existence would be. (Note: The Giver is the first in quartet of books. Although it stands alone fairly well, all four books need to be read in order for the story to come full circle.)
I loved this too: Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full, by Gloria Furman
MARY-EVELYN » East of Eden, by John Steinbeck
”Two stories have haunted us and followed us from our beginning,” Samuel said. “We carry them along with us like invisible tails – the story of original sin and the story of Cain and Abel. And I don’t understand either of them. I don’t understand them at all but I feel them. Liza gets angry with me.”
According to Liza, her husband Sam is “never satisfied to let the Testament alone.” Sam pleads that he is just trying to understand it. But Liza says, “If the Lord wanted you to understand it He’d have given you to understand or He’d have set it down different.”
When I read Christian books and blogs, I often feel like a Sam in a world full of Lizas. Sam is a fictional role model to me — he seeks truth ceaselessly, accepting the alienation and pain he knows seeking can bring, and still it doesn’t rock his faith. So this summer I am relishing re-reading Steinbeck’s East of Eden. It’s a surprisingly easy read for a book that tackles complicated issues: Why do we sometimes prefer one child over another? Whose responsibility is it when that child lashes out? Are some people born evil? Or is good or bad planted by the parents after the child “clears the womb”?
It doesn’t hurt that the story itself — the tale of two generations of brothers in early 1900’s California — is so engaging. You could gloss over the “deep stuff” and still list this novel among your favorites. I sometimes read conversations two or three times, not because they are funny or sharp, but because they are so real. You just don’t read dialogue this good — yet it feels familiar. That’s the wonder of this story. As Steinbeck puts it: “No story has power, nor will it last, unless we feel in ourselves that it is true, and true of us.”
Another good read: The Jesus I Never Knew, by Philip Yancey
JENNIFER » Department of Speculation, by Jenny Offill
When I read the gorgeous, final sentence of this beautifully written novel, I went straight back to the beginning, to read it again. It’s structured in fragmented bursts of thought, as if you’ve been granted entrance inside the narrator’s brain. And that brain is whirring.
She’s a middle-aged novelist and college professor, married with a young daughter. Life has gotten in the way of her early dream of being an art monster. “Women almost never become art monsters because art monsters only concern themselves with art, never mundane things. Nabokov didn’t even fold his own umbrella. Vera licked his stamps for him.”
But she is living an actual, real life, which is full of mundane things. I could spend all day quoting her, and copying down all the wonderful snippets she writes about those things. Or I could just strongly encourage you to open her book yourself.
Halfway through, there’s a betrayal which hurts her so deeply that the narrative point of view changes from the first to the third person. It’s as if she can’t bear to go on sharing such personal thoughts without adding a little literary distance. It’s the husband who betrays her. This is disappointing, since she’s previously described him so winningly. Just back on page 35, she noted that he’s a person who, ”if he notices something is broken, he will try to fix it. He won’t just think about how unbearable it is that things keep breaking, that you can never outrun entropy.”
Not being able to outrun entropy is a recurrent strain throughout this book. And yet, it’s such a pleasure to read! If you read one novel this year, make it this one. I dare you not to read it twice.
I also loved: The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt