Got this in my inbox:
“I’m looking at doing hopefully a bunch of reading this summer in preparation for college this fall. As an English teacher, do you have any good book suggestions to read? This could be any genre or style.”
Answered with pleasure! Today’s list happens to be for kids heading off to Christian colleges who have already taken high school lit classes that feature fewer authors of the white male variety than are listed here. (Note: were the student heading to a public uni or nonreligious private university, I’d majorly modify this list as well.) Nevertheless, below I’ve featured some canonical works that we just didn’t get to in my lit classes that I recommend as great summer reading.
Theology Nearly All Thinking Christians Have Read
N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope – You need to be reading N.T. Wright because he’s the C.S. Lewis of this century, not to mention a leading New Testament scholar. Most thinking Christians today are intimately familiar with his work. He gives a lot of insight into how the early church thought about the resurrection. Warning: worldview shift ahead.
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.”
Not a light read, but you may be fooled 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. (I’ve blogged about Wright’s other writings here.)
C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity – A solid defense and introduction to the Christian faith, this book is an excellent example of Lewis’s direct and accessible style. Read this book if you want a taste for one of the most remarkable apologists of the 20th century.
G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy – Chesterton, the Catholic predecessor to C.S Lewis (who indeed inspired many of Lewis’s writings) offers a defense of Christianity as an Anglican, before he converted to Catholicism 14 years later. Interesting reading, considering the amount of influence he ended up having on C.S. Lewis.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn essays – You should probably know about this Russian critic of the Soviet Union and of anti-God communism. A lot of Christian high school students I know have studied his famous Harvard commencement address from 1978 called “A World Split Apart.” Another writer in the same vein, and of equal importance, is Malcolm Muggeridge, who Ravi Zacharias quotes extensively.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship – Read the theological writings of a German pastor caught in the middle of Nazi Germany. What is the responsibility of a Christian in a secular society? (You should know that Bonhoeffer was ultimately accused of an assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler and was executed in a concentration camp.) There is no room for hypothetical Hitler questions here; this man lived to tell about it. (Or did he?)
St. Augustine’s Confessions – an important autobiography (theological in nature), the first of its kind, from A.D. 400.
Classics That You Should Have Read in High School
John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress – The most classic of British classics, a must-read for every Christian.
George Orwell’s 1984 – An English dystopian novel, published in 1949, that’s all about government surveillance and public manipulation. Nearly everyone in college has read it.
J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy – Read the books or watch the movies. Without question, you should have familiarity with Tolkien’s work.
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas* – a memoir from 1845 that was an exceedingly influential piece of abolitionist literature. Features uncomfortable truths about slave life and the “Christian” South.
Booker T. Washington’s Up from Slavery* – one of the most popular African American autobiographies
The Federalist Papers and/or Thomas Paine’s Common Sense – You should probably have some familiarity with these great American political classics. Both will probably be very slow reading, heh heh.
Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov – A very long Russian novel about belief, doubt, mercy, and patricide.
Leo Tolstoy’s War & Peace – An even longer Russian novel about war and humans… broken, beautiful humans. (Be sure to read only the newest translations. I break them down here.)
William Faulkner’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech – The context in which Faulkner gave this speech illuminates its importance.
Shakespeare’s Hamlet – Read this Shakespeare play about a conflicted teenager, caught between doing the right thing and committing suicide. Or, if you can, find any Shakespeare play being performed in a local park this summer, read the Sparknotes ahead of time, invite a girl, and pack some popcorn.
Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations – a good classic to have under your belt, very Dickensian in style, and a little heart-warming. (Though it should be called Denied Expectations. Poor Pip.)
Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin* – the anti-slavery novel that Abraham Lincoln claimed basically started the Civil War
Books for the Lake – Reading That Your Professors Will Not Assign, but Are Nevertheless Helpful
Sheldon Vanauken’s A Severe Mercy – The perfect novel for the lake (or should I say, the cabin). Large glass of sweet tea optional. A true story about a pagan who finds his soul mate, rides an academic high, and becomes friends with C.S. Lewis. A cancer diagnosis means he ultimately must choose between his beloved wife and the Christian faith.
Nabeel Qureshi’s Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus* – This riveting personal narrative on Qureshi’s journey out of Ahmadiyya Islam to Christianity includes a glimpse into the importance of inerrancy within Islam. (Christians think THEY’RE Biblicists?) Qureshi’s narrative is gripping, risky, and thought-provoking as he offers a beautiful picture of Islam yet reveals how his allegiance to scholarship and academia ultimately forced him to reject Islam and embrace Christianity and the solidness of its Scriptures. A truly moving testimony.
Charles C. Mann’s 1491 – While the jury’s still out on the academic credibility of Mann’s research, this nonfiction book is nevertheless fun reading. What happened in 1492? Columbus sailed the ocean blue! But what was America like in 1491 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?! High school students of mine have done book reports on this book, giving it rave reviews.
Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz – Irreverent essays about the Christian bubble. Includes Don’s experiences at the secular-of-all-secular colleges, Reed College.
Sonia Nazario’s Enrique’s Journey* – A non-kosher exposé on the plight of illegal immigrants in the U.S. Journalist Nazario records the experiences of a Honduran boy who crosses the Mexican border to find his mother in North Carolina. Not recommended for Republicans.
Kelly Monroe Kullburg’s Finding God Beyond Harvard* – It may be because of the academic landscape described in this book that Sattler College was founded. I review the book here.
Finding God at Harvard* – Again, I briefly describe the book here.
Mary Poplin’s Finding Calcutta: What Mother Teresa Taught Me about Meaningful Work and Service* – The story of American educator Mary Poplin’s experiences volunteering with Mother Teresa in the 90s.
Chaim Potok’s The Chosen – This novel about a conservative Hasidic Jewish community in NYC during the 1930s is as comfortable and enjoyable as your favorite cousin.
Lee Strobel’s A Case for Christ or A Case for Faith – Vanilla and evangelical, but both very readable in style. Strobel comes to faith while working as an investigative journalist for theChicago Tribune.
Rosaria Butterfield’s Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert* – Because you ought to know how some in the homosexual community feel about Christians.
Selected Poetry, Because You’re Not a Caveman
John Milton’s Paradise Lost – You don’t have to read the whole thing (it’s over 10,000 lines long), but you should know that this epic poem exists. Just read a section or two.
T. S. Eliot poetry, maybe “The Waste Land”– Famous modernist poet despairs after WWI. Finish up with Faulkner’s Nobel prize speech after.
Any poem or poet featured here: https://www.artofmanliness.com/articles/20-best-poems/
Online Resources (Including News Sites) for Thinking Young People
Veritas Forums on Youtube – The Veritas Forum was founded at Harvard in 1992, and it is an organization which now serves over 50 American and international universities. Veritas hosts forums and speakers on college campuses in order “to inspire the shapers of tomorrow’s culture to connect their hardest questions with the person and story of Jesus Christ.” On Youtube, you can find Veritas Forums featuring (1) TED-talk like content, (2) full debates, or even (3) congenial conversations related to most fields of study in the university. A great resource for skeptics and thinking Christians. In fact, it may have been a Veritas forum that pointed me to Poplin’s book on Mother Teresa.
Random speeches on Youtube (or podcasts) by N.T. Wright, John Lennox, and/or Tim Keller, all important authors and apologists with whom you should be familiar.
The New Yorker – a magazine of current events reporting. Snobby academic writing at its finest. Read one online article a week.
First Things – This publication calls itself “America’s Most Influential Journal of Religion & Public Life.” Noticeably Catholic, the online version offers thoughtful (and conservative) social critique. Read one article a week.
BBC app – Skim the headlines of the Top Stories every day. Compare them to the headlines of the Popular Stories.
New York Times app – Once a week, skim the headlines of the Most Popular stories. Read anything interesting. You get access to 10 free articles a month.
NPR, especially the program “the 1A” – A co-worker recently told me that it’s dangerous to listen to NPR because they find that then you have a knowledge base that not everyone else has. In other words, it’s informative.
*books that aren’t written by white males