School’s out! Which means that it is time to begin acting out my single summer fantasy: reading barefoot on the patio. All. Summer. Long.
It’s been a humdinger of year, and maybe someday when I’m really brave, I will decide to write about it. At this point, I’m REALLY happy to be out of the classroom. Like. Out. Rolling in the grass. I have lots of goal-setting to do this summer for next school year, but right now that can wait.
Here’s my summer reading list, full of books which I will be voraciously devouring between trips to the library, the coffee shop, and the local farmer’s market.
1. Obligatory Classic: To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
Would you believe I have never read this book? I am quite possibly the least well-read English major with a bachelors degree. I always feel the need to apologize for my lack of knowledge of classic texts. Anyhow, I am making up for it by inhaling classics whenever I can. (I most recently finished Briggs’s translation of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, and it was an absolute delight. A monument to the theory of history, to Russia, and to everything that makes us human.)
I picked up my Warner Books copy of To Kill a Mockingbird at a garage sale a few years back, and it’s been waiting for me on my shelf. I had half a mind to save it until after I read Lee’s new novel due out in July called Go Set a Watchman. Here’s why. Lee actually wrote Go Set a Watchman before To Kill a Mockingbird! Lee wrote Go Set a Watchman first but publishers declined publishing it and instead encouraged her to create a novel about the main character’s childhood, which ended up being To Kill a Mockingbird. Technically, I had the chance to read these books in the order that Lee herself created them, rather than reading them chronologically. But. I couldn’t last. I guess I’ll leave that experience to some other young scholar and instead read the books in their chronological story order along with the rest of the population.
I’m halfway through savoring To Kill a Mockingbird, and besides being delighted with the vocabulary that reminds me of all things childhood (phrases like “open-faced sandwich” and “Miss Priss”), I am fully absorbed in Lee’s characters, and their familiarness, yet their curiousness, not to mention her slick and humorous descriptions (“Two geological ages later, Jem came home”) and her appropriately placed aphorisms (“The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience”). I think it is safe to say that everyone should read this book.
2. Obligatory Classic #2: Go Set a Watchman, by Harper Lee
In case you didn’t know, Lee wrote a book about Scout’s adulthood before she wrote To Kill a Mockingbird! I certainly didn’t know, and no one else really did either until Lee’s lawyer found the old manuscript last October and began working with 89-year-old Lee to get it published. Only two million are being printed, so you better snap yours up quickly! Mine is preordered from my local bookstore, and just so you know, July 14th will be theeee literary event of the year!
3. Theology: Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright
Is this theology? I don’t know. It’s definitely inspirational religious scholarship. Wright not so much as presents new topics but instead reminds us what we’ve always known according to the Bible but we sometimes let contemporary society drown out. What happens, for example, after you die? There is a bodily resurrection, and Wright explains why this is so important, and how that changes how we live here on earth. Wright writes his book because he has picked up on an oddity of Christians that even Harper Lee notices. In To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee’s Miss Maudie says, “There are just some kind of men who’re so busy worrying about the next world they’ve never learned to live in this one.” Wright notices the same. Perhaps he is perplexed by separatist Christians jamming fingers in their ears, determined they’re “not listening,” and seeking only to “endure” this life, until they get to the real one, heaven. Wright complicates this, determined to explore the mystery of “Why are we here?” and he does so by “rethinking heaven, the resurrection, and the mission of the church.”
I’m currently still in the beginning where Wright presents many facts about the early church and its views on the resurrection, and I’m learning A LOT. Not a light read, but he could have fooled me in the friendly, conversational introduction, which introduces the interesting landscape of British Christianity, which is in fact the viewpoint from which N. T. Wright is writing. Besides being one of the world’s top Bible scholars, he is also a Bishop for the Church of England.
4. Nonfiction: 1491 by Charles C. Mann
What happened in 1492? Columbus sailed the ocean blue!
But what was America like in 1491? What was life like in these United States before Europeans arrived? Many of our American history books begin with the story of Spanish explorers, and very little space is devoted to the history of indigenous people. This book gives a fuller history of pre-Columbian America along with ground-breaking research that brings into question many of our assumptions about our land before colonization, including assumptions like:
“The New World was relatively unpopulated.”
“Native Americans lived in the wilderness and never touched it.”
“Native Americans were unsophisticated and lived in simple societies compared to Europeans at the time.”
“Cities didn’t exist.”
However, did you know that the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan was larger than any European city at the time and also had running water?!
I suggested this book to a high school junior this year for a book report, thinking she might like it, and I got rave reviews! I’m so looking forward to reading this book! Hoping it might inform me before I dive back into American literature next year.
5. Nonfiction: Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
In much the same vein, Bury My Heart is an American history book about how the West was won, but it is written from a Native American perspective, one which happens not to leave out inconvenient truths about the American government. Historically, and contrary to popular belief, not all American Indians were tomahawk-thrusting, war-painted savages. Neither were all European settlers simply gentle pioneers. The fact of the matter is that the American government committed many atrocities against Native Americans. We are all aware, aren’t we, that “history” is essentially a narrative told from the perspective of whoever is in charge, right? I would argue that it’s probably good to hear from alllllll perspectives, not just the ones of those in charge. Basically, you are responsible for what is left out of your history book. You’re going to have to work a little bit to get the correct information, but the books are out there. Read them.
By the time I get through these, I’m guessing it might be the middle of July, and I’ll be heading back to the classroom.
What’s on YOUR summer reading list?