The Art of Lazing: Your Summer Reading List

Hey, you. Yeah, you over there: Posting your pictures of summer home improvement projects; the litany of outdoor activities, parties and marathons that fills your calendar; your Pinterest board full of landscaping ideas, cooking adventures, and craftiness; the ‘before’ pictures of your closet, about to become glistening ‘afters’ worthy of a spot in the Pottery Barn catalogue… YOU ARE WEARING ME OUT. Everybody knows what summer is really for.

Reading.

Hours and hours of reading.  Glorious lazing about– on a blanket in the backyard with your kids and their big pile of library books. In the sun by the pool with the guilty pleasure mystery/western/crime novel. In the air-conditioned office with the spiritual memoir you’ve been gazing at longingly for months on end. On the couch with the Kindle or iPad, where you power through a marathon re-read of all the Outlander books before the new one comes out. Or maybe piled up in bed, with cool sheets and a big-ol’ nonfiction something that you’ve been longing to learn about your whole life long.

I wouldn’t know about that last one. Non-fiction is for suckers. ESPECIALLY in summer. If you really want to do the lazing bit right, try these instead…

At the moment, I’m reading 11/22/63. I’m one of those die-hard Stephen King fans who thought he should have just quit after the Tower series, and I haven’t gotten more than a chapter into anything he’s written in the decade-plus since then. UNTIL THIS. I am deeply grateful for whatever person, drug, or act of God drew him out of the funk and lit this creative spark. All you need to know is that a man named Jake travels back in time to try and stop the assassination of JFK, thinking that if he succeeds, countless other lives will be saved as well. But the past doesn’t want to be changed… Ahhh! Good late-night reading (terrible late-night reading) at its best.

My friend Christian Piatt (check his Patheos blog here) just wrote his first work of fiction. Blood Doctrine is geared toward the young adult set, but makes good grown-up reading as well. The premise is Dan Brown-esque, with a healthy measure of Christopher Moore irreverence thrown in for effect. Using genetic material found in an ancient collective gravesite–material that matches DNA from the titulus crucis–scientists are able to clone Jesus. And thus, we meet him as an angsty young adult hipster in modern-day Denver. “Jacob” is a wonderful clueless messiah type, who’s yet to find out who he really is. In the meantime, he finds that strange and inexplicable things seem to happen to him–and that he might also be in great danger. Throughout the book, we get wonderful flashbacks; extra-biblical glimpses of Jesus’ family and friends in the aftermath of the resurrection. Those scenes are especially powerful and thought-provoking. It’s a good, quick read (and would make a great movie!) I had many unanswered questions by the end, but I think that was intentional. The door is wide open for a sequel, or even a series. Looking forward to seeing what happens when that plane lands…and you will be, too.

For a good laugh/cry, Carry On Warrior delivers. Glennon Melton writes with an honesty that is sometimes painfully squirmy to read. But that’s what also makes it hilarious, inspiring, and ultimately life-affirming. Melton empowers readers to embrace the messiness of life and transform it into deeper compassion and more meaningful relationships. Ultimately, her story is about the power of giving up all pretense of perfection. You’ll breathe a little deeper by the time you finish this one.

Did I mention there’s a new Outlander book coming out this summer?? You might not see me for awhile.

These is My Words is one of the best things I’ve read in a long time. Nancy Turner drew this tale from her great-grandmother’s journals of the Arizona frontier… It features a strong, scrappy heroine; a family’s journey to make a living off the land (in the desert) at the turn of the century; and ultimately, offers a glimpse of the kind of grit it took to settle the west. Full disclosure, I’m a sucker for cheesy western—but this one has much more substance (and a  lot more girl power) than the Zane Grey and Louis L’amour varietals. Note: if you struggle with the first few chapters, power through. Sarah gradually learns to write, and it gets much easier to read.

Oh! The Goldfinch! I just finished it last week, and it contains more gorgeous, elevated prose than anything I’ve read this side of the Victorian classics. It is an emotionally taxing book to read—lots of grief, neglect, substance abuse and mental health struggles—but you will not be able to put it down. Among other things, Donna Tartt absolutely nails the erie solitude of the newer desert suburbs in the aftermath of the housing market crash.   I lived in one of those neighborhoods for years, and it does make for a powerful literary backdrop—especially for a story so full of sadness. But! It’s not all sad, and it’s not all in the desert (most of it takes place in New York). There’s an aching beauty behind all the darkness, much like the artwork at the center of the narrative. It might be a long and laborious read, but…wouldn’t you rather labor over these pages than over the mulch in the backyard?

Ok, also read The Chaperone. When I was getting ready to move, and desperately seeking context and asking for great Kansas authors—why did nobody point me to Laura Moriarty?? This historical fiction centers around the life of (real life film star) Louise Brooks in 1920’s Kansas and New York. The main character, however, is Cora Carlisle—the woman from Wichita who volunteers to escort the young performer to her summer dance program in the city. Though they differ in age and temperament, both women struggle with the societal constraints that defined the lives of women—and both find their own ways to step outside those norms. (The girdle is a constant metaphor). If you’re in the mood for prohibition, speakeasies and sassy women with bobs, this book is your new best friend.

Excited as I was to find a great Kansas author, I will always be partial to a good mountain tale, told in mountain voice. Wiley Cash does not disappoint in A Land More Kind than Home. This story reveals the dark underside of atonement theology, especially in backwoods churches—and especially if you happen to be a vulnerable woman or child. I had one gripe with this book. The church at the center of the drama is a “Church of Christ.” However, Cash mentions in passing, more than once, the guitar or piano music that could be heard coming out of the church building during worship… (polity moment: Church of Christ congregations do not allow instrumental music in the worship service).  While this oversight compromised the Appalachian integrity of the experience, it didn’t, ultimately, ruin the story. Well-developed characters, rich context, and authentic mountain-speak… Can’t wait to read more of this guy.

Is this enough to distract you from whatever you should be doing? Go on then, and be quick about it. Summer is short, but there’s good news in these pages.  Re-acquaint yourself with the restorative properties of the written word. Your yard and closets may suffer, but your soul will say thanks.

Or rather–Thankee. Thankee-sai.

About Erin Wathen

Rev. Erin Wathen is the Senior Pastor of Saint Andrew Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Olathe, KS (www.sacchome.org). She's a Kentucky native, a long-time desert dweller, and she writes about the sacred thread that runs through pretty much everything. For more info, click the 'about' tab above...


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