What to Read This Summer

It is, in my opinion, the most wonderful time of the year. Yes, the high in Kentucky today is 88 degrees, but as consolation, the sun won’t set until well after 9 p.m., making the last couple hours of the evening perfectly suited for a walk to the local ice cream shop or a sit on the porch with a book (or, if you’re really living, both).

If you’re like me, you can get a little over-ambitious with the summer’s reading goals. It’s as if I stack my books forgetting that I still have the everyday to live — work to do, people to see, and probably a few more than the usual places to go. Don’t I need to finish Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield before I read Barbara Kingsolver’s Pulitzer-winning Demon Copperhead? Or Ann Patchett’s Dutch House in anticipation of Tom Lake‘s release this August? I’m embarrassed to tell you how long it’s taken me to finally get to Cloud Cuckoo Land. As much as I hope that extra sunlight will make up lost time for me, it doesn’t. But there aren’t really any rules, are there?

Here’s to a to-be-read stack as tall as you want it to be. And to a few longer evenings to go with it. I hope you’ll enjoy these recommendations from the Common Good team. (And I hope you’ll let me know yours as well.) — Sarah Haywood, associate editor

Novels? You should read these.


by Min Jin Lee (Grand Central Publishing, 2017)
If you’re wanting less introspection and a more immersive read, go get Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. Yes, it’s an older one. This multi-generational, gazillion-page story set in Korea and Japan follows one woman, Sunja, as she grows from girl to mother to grandmother. But don’t let the epic nature of the tale scare you off. In all of its intrigue and heartbreak — so much heartbreak — and joy, Pachinko zooms. I still can’t quite get my head around how the thunderously talented Min Jin Lee tells such a lengthy, complex drama so readably. I read its 544 pages in about a week, which is faster than I’d normally read a book half that length. Oh, and whatever you do, ignore the Amazon Prime show version. — Aaron Cline Hanbury, editor at Common Good

Hannah Coulter: A Novel

by Wendell Berry (Counterpoint LLC, 2005)
Wendell Berry’s Port William series is perfect summer reading, and Hannah Coulter is the perfect introduction to the series. Hannah’s reflections on the joys and sorrows of an ordinary life help the reader appreciate and savor each day. — Eric Schumacher, contributor to Common Good

The Snow Child

by Eowyn Ivey (Back Bay Books, 2012)
Eowyn Ivey’s 2013 Pulitzer-finalist novel explores a homesteader couple’s longing for a child, a wish that comes true in enchanting and mysterious ways. Amid the heat of this summer, you may find joy, as I did, in this beautiful story of belonging, hope, and community set in a rugged Alaskan landscape. Similarly, I recommend Claire Keegan’s Foster (Grove Atlantic, 2022), a heart-rending story of parental love and childhood hope and loss, set during a hot summer in rural Ireland. — John Terrill, contributor to Common Good

And these people, you should know them.

Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Spiritual Life

by Nancy Koester (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2014)
Koester tells a compelling story of the spiritual journey of Harriet Beecher Stowe, a remarkable woman who changed the minds and moved the hearts of a torn nation. — Tom Nelson, president at Made to Flourish

The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.

by Clayborne Carson and Martin Luther King Jr. (Grand Central Publishing, 2001)
Compiled by Clayborne Carson from Dr. King’s writings, interviews, and speeches, this book explores chronologically (and in Dr. King’s own words) his life — from his growing up years to his time in college and seminary to his church and social/political activism. A true page-turner chronicling the life of this remarkable leader. — John Terrill

Timothy Keller: His Spiritual and Intellectual Formation

by Collin Hansen (Zondervan, February 2023)
My latest read is Collin Hansen’s Timothy Keller. It’s authors and preachers who influenced Keller, so we can walk in those same footsteps by drawing from these same resources. I appreciate it because it mentions my personal 9/11 experience, and discusses how important 9/11 was to the growth of Redeemer, Keller’s church in NYC. My husband and I joined the church right after 9/11, and so it was as if I was reading about my own journey too. — Christina Ray Stanton, contributor to Common Good

Tao of Charlie Munger: A Compilation of Quotes from Berkshire Hathaway’s Vice Chairman on Life, Business, and the Pursuit of Wealth

by David Clark (Scribner, 2017)
I’ve been in to wisdom literature lately — from King Solomon to Marcus Aurelius to Benjamin Franklin — and this book compiles wisdom from one of today’s greatest sages: Charlie Munger. If you haven’t heard of Charlie Munger, I could not more highly recommend that you get to know him. — Brandon Giella, contributor to Common Good

Don’t miss the stories about all of us.

Self-Made: Creating Our Identities from Da Vinci to the Kardashians

by Tara Isabella Burton (Public Affairs, June 2023)
Burton explains the phenomenon of “self-making,” which none of us are unfamiliar with by now, given the influencers and media personalities we come in contact with every day. But she begins the story where we might not expect — with an artist in the year 1528. As it happens, we’ve been making ourselves for a very long time, in many ways. It can be dangerous, of course, but, as Burton says, it’s also a way by which we are all figuring out what it means to be human.
— Sarah Haywood, associate editor at Common Good

Nonverts: The Making of Ex-Christian America

By Stephen Bullivant (Oxford University Press, 2022)
The “nones” have garnered significant attention in recent years, but it’s not always clear who makes up this group of “non-religious” and how they got there. In this important work, Stephen Bullivant explores the growing segment of “nones” who used to identify as religiously affiliated but no longer do. What’s driving their decisions to disaffiliate and what does the research tell us about the future religious landscape in America? Bullivant’s work wrestles with these questions and much more. — John Terrill

The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11

by Garrett M. Graff (Avid Reader Press, 2020)
I thought that when my book on 9/11 came out in 2019 that it might be one of the last ones written on the subject, since 2019 was so long after the attacks. However, a year later The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 by Garrett M. Graff released and quickly became one of my favorites. It is a comprehensive collection of poignant stories that are absolutely breathtaking, and puts together different voices of eyewitnesses to recollect that day in a way I’ve never seen before. I’ve read dozens of 9/11 books, and this one is simply one of the best on the subject. — Christina Ray Stanton

A Non-Anxious Presence: How a Changing and Complex World will Create a Remnant of Renewed Christian Leaders

by Mark Sayers (Moody, 2022)
Sayers describes why we’re all feeling a little anxious these days. In short, we’re in a chaotic period of human history (obvi). By recounting recent history and putting our zeitgeist in its proper context — from advancing technology to geopolitical concerns — Sayers does a good job of giving narrative to a common feeling for the common good. — Brandon Giella

Tend to your spirit.

Our Secular Vocation: Rethinking the Church’s Calling to the Marketplace

by J. Daryl Charles (B&H, 2023)
Charles unpacks with rich theological and historical reflection how the church has greatly missed equipping followers of Jesus for their Monday worlds. — Tom Nelson

Recovering Eden: The Gospel According to Ecclesiastes

by Zack Eswine (P&R, 2014)
Everything Zack writes is worth reading, and this commentary on Ecclesiastes is no exception. Zack’s accessible, relevant, and devotional thoughts help the reader both understand and apply a challenging but valuable book of biblical wisdom. — Eric Schumacher

Broken Signposts: How Christianity Makes Sense of the World

by N.T. Wright (HarperOne, 2020)
— Charlie Self, contributor to Common Good

How about changing the way you think?

The Anxiety Opportunity: How Worry is the Doorway to Your Best Self

by Curtis Chang (Zondervan, May 2023)
Anxiety is everywhere, and most of us feel it, whether on an occasional or chronic basis. Curtis Chang provides a moving window into his lifelong experience with anxiety, while pointing us to insightful reasons why it can be a powerful source of spiritual growth in our lives. — Matt Rusten, executive director at Made to Flourish

Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress

by Steven Pinker (Penguin, 2019)
Steven Pinker is a great thinker. In one of his latest books — following an earlier work, The Better Angels of Our Nature — Pinker provides reasons for Reason. While he might disparage religious belief, he does advocate for our God-given resources like intelligence and statistics to help make a heaven on earth. — Brandon Giella

The Wandering Mind: What Medieval Monks Tell Us About Distraction

by Jamie Kreiner (Liveright, January 2023)
I’ve spent time reading a bit about our ability to pay attention over the past few years but haven’t we all? It’s the brevity of the content on Twitter. The speed at which the news comes at us. The next new thing. Or just whatever the algorithm wants us to pay attention to. In The Wandering Mind, Kreiner points out that distraction isn’t something new to us or even new to the previous century. Even in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, monks in particular were working out what it means to be distracted — and what it means to rid ourselves of it.
— Sarah Haywood

Try something new.

The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World

by Sandor Ellix Katz (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2012)
I got this because I wanted to try 1) try my hand at making my own sauerkraut and 2) learn more about the kombucha I’ve been keeping alive on my kitchen counter for the past few years. There’s so much to learn in this book, and I’m excited to dig in again this summer.
— Sarah Haywood

New York An Illustrated History

by Ric Burns, James Sander, and Lisa Ades (Alfred A. Knopf, 2001)
A companion book to the PBS series that came out in 1999-2003, the series is eight episodes, and the book mirrors the series. It covers 400 years of NYC history in a way that is academic and alive, relatable and understandable. Almost every January ever since the series aired, I read this book and watch the series all over again as I prepare for the tour season, and I deeply rely on it to refresh my facts and recall pivotal events. This book and the series are my secret sauce as a licensed NYC tour guide! — Christina Ray Stanton

Explore poetry too.

Horoscopes for the Dead

by Billy Collins (Random House, 2012)
For the kind of reading that just fits the summertime pace, you should look for a copy of Horoscopes for the Dead by Billy Collins. This collection of poems appeared more than a decade ago, I know, but the little paperback seems to be a regular at libraries and in used bookstores, which has to be one of the main considerations for summer reading, right? You’ll find in it Collins’ characteristic easy way and sort of nonchalant insight. You’ll sense the heaviness of life and death and, in the best way, the boredom of the middle parts. And you’ll enjoy it, which certainly is a consideration for summer reading. — Aaron Cline Hanbury

And these are just good practice — books for leading, living, and serving.

You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why it Matters

by Kate Murphy (Celadon Books, 2021)
Good listening, to others and ourselves, is a skill that few people possess. Yet, it might be one of the most important skills any of us can cultivate, for demonstrating neighborly love and growing as leaders. Murphy’s vocation as a journalist makes it an engaging read. — Matt Rusten

Lead: 12 Gospel Principles for Leadership in the Church

by Paul David Tripp (Crossway, 2020)
Hands down the best book on church leadership that I’ve read. It is a helpful and needed corrective, too, to many worldly approaches to leadership that have taken root in the church (and anywhere else we lead). Regardless of your context — church, home, politics, or business — let Paul guide you into better ways of thinking about leading. — Eric Schumacher

Before You Go: A Daily Devotional

by Jack Hempfling (Xulon Press, 2009)
Jack Hempfling has written short-term missions devotional books that I adore. I even had our Redeemer mission teams take along the books with them on their trips all over the world to use as their team and individual devotionals. The examples in the daily devotions Hempfling uses in Before You Go are spot-on and highlight the blessings and pitfalls that can occur on short-term trips — and how God can use it all to turn our hearts and minds towards him and serve others in a more Christlike manner. — Christina Ray Stanton

Lessons from the Least of These: The Woodson Principles

by Robert Woodson Jr. (Bombardier Books, 2020)
Woodson’s work is inspiring and my colleagues and students are enjoying the narratives of local change. I recommend this title as we help God’s people see renewal in their neighborhoods. — Charlie Self

The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog

by James Sire (IVP Academic, 2020)
As we navigate a world in continual transition, having confidence in the gospel and understanding the way our neighbors see the world are quite important. — Charlie Self

The Doctrine of Good Works: Reclaiming a Neglected Protestant Teaching

by Thomas H. McCall, Caleb T. Friedeman, and Matt T. Friedeman (Baker Academic, July 2023)
At its best, a Christ-centered, gospel-oriented Christian life should lead to a compelling commitment to good works. This important book reminds us that if we have forgotten or even become suspicious about the connection between grace and good works, we must return to Scripture as our authority and church history as our example. This book not only reminds and instructs, it also inspires those who have experienced God’s grace in Christ to commit themselves to good works. — Matt Rusten

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