This morning I reviewed and printed the children’s summer reading lists, and it made me smile. Reading has been one of the greatest joys of my life. Many of the world’s most iconic leaders, past and present, practice(d) lifelong, voracious reading. Harry Truman once said that “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.” Warren Buffett spends 80% of his day reading, for example.
Some of my earliest memories are of my dad reading to me. My favorite books as a young child were What Was That! and The Digging-est Dog. As I grew older, I loved classic fairy tales, chapter books by Judy Blume, and poetry by Shel Silverstein.
By high school, I always had a book in-hand, and on my sixteenth birthday, I was among the inaugural team to open at what was then our city’s first Barnes & Noble. Every paycheck I received never saw my bank account. Every two weeks, I amassed a new stack of books to purchase with my employee discount. When it came time for college applications, I remember the question, “List the books you’ve read in the past six months.” followed by a response area of three lines. I stapled a second sheet and filled it from top to bottom, single spaced, with all the wonderful (and some, not really my speed) books I’d read.
In college, reading for pleasure was replaced by a host of other pleasurable activities (read into that what you will), and after graduation, I moved to New York and worked on my masters in city life. Then September 11th happened. Everything changed, including me. All of a sudden, at the ripe age of 24, life took on a much deeper, heavier meaning. I turned inward. In the two years that followed, books again became my refuge, my therapist, my pastor, and my guide. I identified with C.S. Lewis when he said, “We read to know we’re not alone.”
It was in that season of life upheaved that I realized a truth about myself: that I couldn’t live without beauty. Beautiful environments, like my favorite nook in Central Park, beautiful food and drink, especially the Colombian bakery on the Upper West Side and the coffee shop I loved so much near Union Square, and beautiful words became my lifelines as the world – my world – turned upside down.
Then came marriage, kids, etc. and beauty exploded in so many new and wonderful ways, including sharing my love of reading with my family. I’m quite sure I read aloud Big Smelly Bear , Go, Dog, Go!, and Goodnight Moon at least a thousand times to Reese, Jack, and Emmy. And now that they’re older, I am overjoyed to see them reading and even more so when they actually want to share with me what their books made them think about or feel.
Though I tend to go through seasons of drought in terms of desires to read and write, those seasons are always temporary. The rains come again and again, and I drench myself with wonderful (and some, not really my speed) selections. Inevitably, reading seasons are always writing seasons. One begets the other.
In the fall of 2016, I rediscovered a book I’d been introduced to as a child and had always had on my bookshelf but hardly ever picked up. The Bible – the living word of the God of this universe – found me, I like to think. I had been very sick that year, and as I landed on death’s doorstep, it was instead He who opened the door for me to walk through, into everlasting life.
Since then, I’ve read everything I could get my hands on to learn about Jesus. And what’s exciting to me is that, after seven years and hundreds of books, I’ve barely scratched the surface.
And so, when I printed off the kids’ summer reading lists today, I wondered what my summer reading list should be. It’s a fun exercise, so I thought I’d take a stab at it here. I’m sure I’ll add to these as the weeks pass, but right now, here are the books saved in my Amazon cart or that I’ve previously purchased with intention to read.
Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story by Bono
I added this to my Amazon cart last fall while watching the CBS Sunday Morning segment on Bono. U2 was my favorite band in high school and college. Interestingly, though, it wasn’t until the CBS Sunday Morning piece that I learned that three of the band’s foursome have always been deeply spiritual, engaged Christians. In fact, U2 was born out of a revival in their neighborhood in Dublin in their youth. I’m already halfway through this and am absolutely loving it. So many of the songs I’ve sung countless times were composed as a result of God’s influence. I don’t think I have loved U2 more than I do right now, as I re-discover them through Bono.
I learned about these books through my regular listening to the sermons of Bill Johnson of Bethel Church in Redding, California. Beni is Bill’s late wife, who passed away last year from a courageous and brutal battle with cancer. In a way that only God could explain, I am somehow spiritually linked to Bill and Beni. (That’s another post for another time.) Beni was a lifelong prayer warrior and a sought-after spiritual sage up until her last weeks. I know God will move as I make my way through these.
Life Worth Living: A Guide to What Matters Most by Miroslav Volf, Matthew Croasman, and Ryan McAnnally-Linz
Years ago, I learned of the “Happiness class” taught at Yale University. It’s been the University’s most popular class among undergraduates for quite some time and has what can only be described as a legendary status. Life Worth Living is a product of the Happiness class, written by Yale faculty, to help us answer the existential questions around what a life of meaning looks like. I’m really excited to dive into this.
Abba’s Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging by Brennan Manning
Jonathan David Hesler, half of the husband-wife duo behind some of Christianity’s most megawatt worship hits like “Raise A Hallelujah” and “No Longer Slaves,” dedicated one Instagram post a month last year to his twelve favorite books. That list is what led me to Brennan Manning. All I can say is, if you’ve never read any of his books, do yourself a favor. What a gift.
There are many more books in “the hopper” (my “Books to read” list, ever-growing in a Note on my phone), but these are the stand-outs at this point in time. Here’s to stepping away from screens for a little while.
“So please, oh please, we beg, we pray, go throw your TV set away, and in its place you can install a lovely bookshelf on the wall.”– Roald Dahl