Summer Reading List

| June 1st, 2024

Dear Beloved Community,

Every so often, I use this space in the newsletter to share with you some recent, non-churchy books I’ve read and loved, or podcasts I’ve learned from, or leaders and guides who have been inspiring to me. I realized as I began compiling this list that many of my recent favorites have a common theme about how we live in the world today. (I tend to be wired for optimization and productivity!) Yet as the school year gives way to summer, where rhythms change and routines shift, I am eager to let the different mood of this season invite me into a different mode of learning. (Meaning: more novels and memoirs, less sociological deep-dives!) 

Perhaps you too can let the summer call you toward the sabbath gift of curiosity in whatever form it might take! And perhaps these suggestions spark your imagination. 

The Anxious Generation: How the Great Rewiring of Childhood is Causing an Epidemic of Mental Illness, Jonathan Haidt

It’s no accident that The Anxious Generation has sat atop bestseller lists since its release earlier this spring. Here, Jonathan Haidt lays out exacting research about the dual forces that have changed American childhood, including the rise of anxious parenting and the total proliferation of smartphones. Haidt calls this move from “play-based childhood” to “phone-based childhood” one that has rewired the very nature of childhood itself and created a generation whose development has been profoundly impacted. Yet Haidt is not without hope, offering a number of specific actions that governments, schools, parents, and communities could take for the sake of millions. This book taught me so much, and I was struck immediately by how many action steps are ones we practice as the church! It seems gathering in embodied community, regularly, with purpose and deep connection can heal and inspire us all.

Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention – and How to Think Deeply Again, by Johann Hari

Continuing the theme of how to live in this particular season, Stolen Focus is a systematic, precise story of twelve reasons why our collective attention is so fractured and divided. It was painfully revealing, and illuminated for me, in the words of Maya Angelou, “when you know better, you do better.”

Slow Productivity, by Cal Newport

Cal Newport unpacks the common assumption among knowledge-based workers that good work requires increasing busyness. Not necessary, he says, positing an alternative based on three principles: (1) do fewer things, (2) work at a natural pace, and (3) obsess over quality. I have always appreciated Newport’s gift of articulating common experiences with searing clarity, and he does so here again.

The Book of (More) Delights, by Ross Gay

Ross Gay is an all-time favorite of mine – check out his The Book of Delights and Inciting Joy if you haven’t already! – and his newest collection of delight-based essays was just what my soul needed in the dark winter months this year. 

How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, by Jenny Odell

I quoted from this book several times during our May “All Nature Sings” series, and loved it. Jenny Odell invites her readers into the hum of the world around us, making a compelling case for endless meaning found right there.

Brene Brown’s podcast, Unlocking Us, and its recent series “Living Beyond Human Scale”

Longtime author, podcaster, and researcher Brene Brown hosts an 8-part podcast series that focuses on all the ways our world hurtles forward at a pace and scope beyond what humans are wired to experience.

Since last I shared my recent reads with you, I also loved Octavia Butler’s The Parable of the Sower (a post-apocalyptic novel of a young Black woman’s journey and the empathies and communities she finds along the way) Kristin Hannah’s The Four Winds (a novel telling one family’s story of the Great Depression and dusty move out West in search of new life), Amy Butler’s Beautiful and Terrible Things (stories from the former pastor of The Riverside Church in NYC of suffering and change and hope above all else), Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto (any book touting the goodness of checklists is, well, on my list!), and Maggie Smith’s You Could Make This Place Beautiful (an aching memoir of divorce and meditation on relationships).

This summer, I have several novels and memoirs on my reading list that I hope will tap into a different part of my brain. They are:

  • The two from our April Bookmarks series – Somehow: Thoughts on Love, by Anne Lamott, and Rogue Justice, by Stacey Abrams
  • Imagination in Place and A Place on Earth, by Wendell Berry
  • A Faith of Many Rooms: Inhabiting a More Spacious Christianity, by Debie Thomas
  • The Women, by Kristin Hannah
  • Taste: My Life Through Food, by Stanley Tucci

And if you need just two more suggestions, David’s favorite novel is A Prayer for Owen Meany, and Lena’s reading The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store and loving it! Speaking of our staff, throughout the summer, you’ll hear from all our staff in this weekly letter. Let them and all these wise guides inspire you for the warm days of summer ahead. 

Together in God’s work of Love,

Pastor Emily