When making a list of books to read this summer, I had the always-beneficial problem of wanting to read far too many. After all, summers are also full of family time, cooking, and, of course, seeing the world. If you’ve been around for even a few posts, you’ve probably already surmised that there is always a paperback in my carry-on.
What you may not have surmised, though, is that these paperbacks are almost always fiction. I can devour a 500-page novel in 48 hours or less, if given a room, food, and no distractions.
But nonfiction? I need time with it. Even more time than the three weeks libraries give with a book. Some of the titles on this list of books to read this summer are from earlier this year, where I read a bit, then put them down. It’s time to pick them up again, and read a few more on the list before Labor Day.
If you’re interested in fiction, check out my other summer reading list.
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Graceland, At Last: Notes on Hope and Heartache From the American South, by Margaret Renkl
Although I am personally unfamiliar with Margaret Renkl’s New York Times column, I found the recommenders of her anthology of the South to be compelling in their descriptions of this work. In Graceland, At Last, Renkl shares personal essays and reported pieces on Southerners trying to make their home a better place.
The Struggle to Stay: Why Single Evangelical Women Are Leaving the Church, by Dr. Katie Gaddini
This one is on the list because I, too, have been a single evangelical woman struggling to stay. This is a work of anthology from Dr. Katie Gaddini, a woman with her own proximity to this subject. Its unprecedented level of access to interview evangelical and exvangelical women sets this book apart from others in the same category.
Spirit Run: A 6,000-Mile Marathon Through North America’s Stolen Land, by Noé Álvarez
I first remember hearing about this book from Nomadic Matt’s book club. As a marathoner myself, the premise of a 6,000-mile ultramarathon is absolutely beguiling. The mission of this book’s center makes it more than entertaining—it is now compelling. Noé Álvarez joins a group of indigenous runners making this journey to reconnect with ancestors and lands that never truly left them, even with centuries of genocide.
Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, by Jon Krakauer
One of my reading themes this year is cults. Learning about how they’re formed, how indoctrination forms and harms the brain, especially its decision-making processes. Ultimately, I’m trying to understand how this happens again and again. How thousands of people are harmed exponentially, especially those born into such groups and who do not have a choice in the brainwashing, and yet it continues to happen.
Under the Banner of Heaven is a book about the FLDS, or the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Their non-fundamentalist counterpart is the Mormon church.
The FLDS claim to infamy is polygamy. Its most notorious member in common knowledge is Warren Jeffs, perpetrator of numerous crimes and currently in prison for child sexual abuse. One of the survivors of this abuse is his nephew, Brent W. Jeffs, whose memoir I read last year. It comes highly recommended.
Another catalyst that put this title on my list of books to read this summer is a recently-released Netflix docuseries. I watched all four episodes within two days, every disturbing detail freshly etched on my memory as I pen this post. Titled Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey, this show takes viewers on a journey of how it started, how it lasts, and how survivors leave.
Leaving the Witness: Exiting a Religion and Finding a Life, by Amber Scorah
Since summer 2021, I have been reading women’s stories in various church environments at least weekly. Despite my extensive hours spent on blogs, comment sections, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, I had yet to read an account of a former Jehovah’s Witness. Leaving the Witness is Amber Scorah’s memoir on being raised in this religion and what led her to leave it.
Aside from its personal narrative, I’m interested in learning more about the Jehovah’s Witness, a group I know very little about. I have only interacted them with as a person that hides when they knock on the front door, desperate to avoid an awkward (to me) conversation while Richard (my grandfather) engages them in lively debate. This is my chance to learn more.
Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible, by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien
I will talk about this in passing quite a bit, but 2021 was a major turning point in my spiritual life. This book is one of many that made my TBR in this time, and it made its way to the top. Many theologians and authors I respect have called this a can’t-miss, so I will read it, and likely re-read it, as my fingers dance away on my Google Doc of notes.
There are many aspects of the Bible that Western Christianity, including and especially the Southern Baptist tradition that raised me, have gotten completely wrong. And not for lack of trying (or at least, not always)—this is par for the course when interacting with an ancient text set in cultures we are many thousands of years and miles separated from.
It is this reality that the authors address and, in their own way, attempt to rectify in Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes. I anticipate this one will be absolutely fascinating.
My Body is Not a Prayer Request, by Amy Kenny
For years, I have been woefully ignorant on ableism in the Church. Amy Kenny’s My Body is Not a Prayer Request calls the Church to reckon with its rhetoric that uses disabled people to advance a harmful narrative about prophetic healing. Kenny uses a mix of personal stories, biblical exegesis, and practical suggestions to give readers a means of including disabled Christians on their terms instead of ours.
Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine, 1921-1933, by Anne Applebaum
If you follow me on Instagram and watch stories, you know I am fiercely pro-Ukraine. Red Famine has been on my TBR for at least a year, and I decided in February that 2022 is the year to read it (unsurprisingly). My time with it wasn’t long enough to really take it in, so I plan to finish this summer.
The book is about Holodomor, the genocide against Ukrainians at the beginning of the 20th century by the Soviet government. Applebaum lays out exactly how it happened, who was targeted, and the destruction it wreaked on Ukraine.
The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story, by Dr. Nikole Hannah-Jones
The 1619 Project is a work of history that has drawn much ire and applause. A book as controversial as this deserves the chance to speak for itself. I read the preface and its first chapter months ago, so here it is on my recommend books to read this summer. The crux of The 1619 Project is its placement of slavery at the center of American history. The book itself is made up of history, poetry, personal narrative, and fiction from multiple contributors.
Related: I found this book excerpt published on Literary Hub to be insightful. The author mentions The 1619 Project as part of his own realizations about America’s past.
The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, by Bessel van der Kolk
Like the past two books on this list, I’ve read part of The Body Keeps the Score and have found it equal parts interesting and healing. Bessel van der Kolk is a therapist who shares how our brains and bodies experience, interpret, and store trauma. His observations of patients that suffered from PTSD are insightful.
My goals in reading this book are to be a better ally and to learn more about my own body and brain. The highly useful, yet still digestible, information Van der Kolk shares in this book merits a place on your TBR, too.
P.s. the idyllic Southern road trip and a delightful small town in Vietnam.