Summer Reading List 2018
Congratulations, you made it! Educationally and meteorologically it is Summer. To help you celebrate, we are pleased to present the Lee Alumni 2018 Summer Reading List.
We said this last year, but again it wasn’t easy getting this list down to 20 suggestions. For every book on this list, there are three committee members frustrated that other favorites aren’t also on the list. Alas, choices must be made and these are ours.
Just a little note on what we were thinking in making our selections. We are confident that most of you are reading the blockbusters this summer. Steven King, James Comey, Mary Higgins Clark, Bill Clinton, James Patterson, etc., will be read by pretty much everyone in North America between now and August. Our goal with this list is to bring you titles that wouldn’t automatically pop up on your “must read” list, but will make you glad that you discovered them.
We’ve divided the list into four simple categories: fiction, non-fiction, inspirational, and honorable mention. The first two are traditionally understood. The third, “inspirational,” means a topic or writer that we hope will inspire you. As you will see, that isn’t limited to spiritual inspiration. The honorable mention category is just because we can’t bear the thought of closing the list without mentioning some of our other “likes.”
Finally, we’d like you to know that this list is not an endorsement of the writers’ politics, lifestyles, theology, or philosophies. These have been selected on the authors’ ability to present an interesting subject in an intelligent, artful, thoughtful, and entertaining way.
Got it? Okay, here’s our list. Happy reading. See you at Homecoming!
Startup: A Novel (2017), by Doree Shafrir
This debut by veteran journalist Doree Shafrir is pure summer entertainment. Here is the recipe: Take a $600 million idea, position it for a major national expansion, tease the developer with fabulous wealth, add a gossipy blogger eager to make her own mark, then mix in a few questionable company details - presto – you’ve got a crackling good read. Have fun.
Turtles All the Way Down (2017), by John Green
Do you have a teen reader in the house? We’re confident that they’ll connect to veteran writer, John Green’s small cast of precocious, nerdy teens looking to split a $100,000 reward for solving the disappearance of billionaire, Russell Pickett. Aza Holmes, Green’s 16-year-old protagonist, is one of the best he has created in his five novels. Aza’s obsessive manner and turbulent teen mind will resonate with any adolescent lucky enough to pick up this award winning book. And no surprise, there are deep questions, difficulties, and loss in Green’s latest young-adult novel. Throughout, the dialogue is quick and clever, and the characters are both real and loveable.
Days without End (2016), by Sebastian Barry
Sebastian Barry is a veteran novelist of 7 major works. This is his fourth book to feature the McNulty clan, refugees from the Great Famine of Ireland (1845-1852). Like his characters, the story is gritty, real, and often violent, all set in the wild and unregulated America of the nineteenth century. Through the eyes of a young and gentle narrator, Barry testifies of an America that was once deeply promising and frequently cruel. Told with beautiful flowing prose, such as, “we have our store of days and we spend them like forgetful drunkards,” this story will quicken your heart, and break it too. Sorry. You’re welcome.
Saints for All Occasions (2017), by J. Courtney Sullivan
Okay, yes, the Irish again. We like the Irish. Sue us; but read this book first. We’re not totally sure why we liked this book so much. It’s the story of the Raffertys, an Irish Catholic family living in Boston (nothing original there). They drink too much, have problems with the church, and love Irish traditions (pretty predictable stuff). But there’s something about the way Sullivan tells the story that makes us want to know this clan. We only get to be with them for a few days as they prepare for Uncle Patrick’s wake (car accident), but Sullivan does this strange thing with time making it seem longer than it is (just read it). Sullivan has created a beautiful tapestry with all the lovely, complicated threads connect and confine us as family. You’ve got to do your own growing, no matter how tall your father was, as the Irish tend to say.
The Chilbury Ladies' Choir (2017), by Jennifer Ryan
It’s 1940 and women stay mostly in the home. In Chilbury, England, World War II is beginning to press in on the bucolic community, interrupting every aspect of town life. The men have gone off to war and the women are beginning to move into responsibilities once occupied only by the men, including the village choir. When a brash female college professor (think Carolyn Dirksen) insists that the women can do it too, the controversial group is formed. You’ll enjoy this too brief visit to a town experiencing all the drama, upheaval, love and loss of war.
Magpie Murders (2016), by Anthony Horowitz
We must have one whodunit. Thank you, Mr. Horowitz for giving us a good old fashioned murder mystery. We have here, of course, a ghastly murder (or was it suicide?), plus a drowning, and then some missing chapters from a manuscript. Hmmmm, this is very suspicious. Set in the English countryside, Magpie Murders is well written with good characters and a couple of compulsory plot twists. Still, it’s fun. No matter how many you’ve read, the formula still works. What else do you want, for heaven’s sake? Magpie is perfect.
Leonardo da Vinci (2018), by Walter Isaacson
In his latest book, the talented biographer, Walter Isaacson, continues his exploration of history’s greatest minds. This ambitious (nearly archeological) biography of the 15th century Italian polymath, Leonardo da Vinci, is a joy to read for anyone interested in understanding what made Leonardo one of history’s most powerful observers. Although Isaacson seems a tad smitten with the genius, he does draw some interesting and unconventional conclusions about da Vinci’s habits and techniques, including some about his most famous work, Mona Lisa. It’s not for everyone, but if you enjoy history, biography, and insights about historical geniuses, you’ll find this to be a good read.
One Child: The Story of China’s Most Radical Experiment (2016),
by Mei Fong
In 1980 with an exploding population threatening to destabilize the country, the communist party of China engaged in the largest social engineering experiment in world history. It prohibited families from having more than one child. That decision would send shock waves through the world and shape China for decades. In this thoroughly researched and candid account, Mei Fong offers an insightful and nuanced exploration of what happened and what is happening as a result of the cataclysmic decision by the Chinese government.
Round Ireland with a fridge (1998), by Tony Hawks
Again with Ireland, we know. Back in the 1990s, one Irishman bet another Irishman he couldn’t hitchhike around the circumference of the island with a refrigerator. The second Irishman accepted the bet and the story became a sensation with those crazy Irish. Along the journey, the second Irishman met a prince, got the fridge christened, took it to a bachelor, and booked radio appearances from coast to coast. This fun little book is just one of the outcomes of that besotted contract. Now, if you don’t want to read about that story, there ain’t a thing we can do for you.
The Righteous Mind (2012), by Jonathan Haidt
Jonathan Haidt (pronounced “height”) specializes in the psychology of morality and moral emotions. Raised in a Jewish home, Haidt says that he concluded early that religion was worse than just nonsense, it was harmful. That was his conviction until he started teaching at the University of Virginia where he noticed that his Christian students seemed different. He was inspired to reconsider the value of religion and the role it plays in the lives of all people. Relevant to our sulfurous political environment, The Righteous Mind explores the miracle of human cooperation and the origins of division and conflict. Don’t be scared of it. Haidt has been repeatedly named one of the world’s top thinkers and communicators. You’ll enjoy this and we’re certain you will be recommending it to friends.
The Man Who Fed the World (2006), by Leon Hesser
You know that old joke about a beauty pageant contestant who says her life goal is to end world hunger? Well this is the story of a guy who pretty much did just that. You’ve probably never heard of Dr. Norman Borlaug, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and US national hero. He was born to an underprivileged Iowa family who knew well the pain of hunger. When a wrestling scholarship took him to the University of Minnesota, he met his wife Margaret and developed many of the important relationships that would lead to his global calling to end hunger. You’ll love this story of the remarkable humanitarian who developed and freely gave away his superior seed strands, and revolutionary farming techniques that saved over a billion lives during the twentieth century.
The Myth of the Strong Leader (2014), by Archie Brown
If you’re watching a lot of news these days, you’re probably tired of reality, especially the political kind. So we understand that this might seem a strange recommendation given the current national fatigue. And that’s exactly why we highly recommend Brown’s wide-ranging survey of political leadership. He insightfully deconstructs the common belief that real leaders, great leaders, dominate colleges with skillful maneuvering and brute force policy-making. Brown instead suggests that the instinctively collegiate leader, one who delegates significant authority to colleagues, is ultimately the superior leader. In short, Brown argues that power should be entrusted to those who do not seek it. His focus is on the reluctant 33rd American President, Harry S. Truman, who found himself in power following the death of FDR in 1945. Some lessons from that era are powerfully relevant today.
Martin Luther (2017), by Eric Metaxas
We’re back with another Metaxas book, last year recommending his 400-page Bonhoeffer biography. Metaxas released this thorough profile just in time for the 500th anniversary of Luther’s revolutionary 95 theses. If you don’t know much about the father of the protestant reformation, (Luther, not Metaxas) this is the perfect place to start. Metaxas is a meticulous researcher with an ear for a good story. Luther lived a crazy and amazing life, full of confrontations, power struggles, and conflicted psychological anguish, all of which Metaxas brings to life. You’ll really enjoy this presentation of Luther, and people will think you’re smart as they walk by and see the cover (bonus).
Moonwalking with Einstein (2011), by Joshua Foer
The late and controversial novelist Gore Vidal once quipped that we live in the “United States of Amnesia.” No one can seem to remember anything, he suggested. Well, Joshua Foer shows us that Mr. Vidal doesn’t have to be right on this point. In 2006, Foer wrote a magazine article on the U.S. memory championship held in Fayetteville, NC. That writing project led to his participation in the memory competition, eventually making it all the way to the finals. The self-described “chronic forgetter,” Foer learned to display a prodigious memory using curious but highly effective mnemonic techniques. His journey is funny and fascinating, and, yes, unforgettable. We know you’ll enjoy it.
The Better Angels of Our Nature (2011), by Steven Pinker
The Canadian-American Harvard psychologist has a knack for tackling some of the big questions about the human experience. A data junkie for sure, Pinker skillfully uses research to talk in understandable language about ethics, aggression, presidential IQs, optimism, global intelligence, peace, cruelty, and many other normally grim issues. With touches of irony and humor, he painlessly walks the reader through history, cognitive science, economics, and sociology demonstrating that since the 17th and 18th century, the human experience has actually been steadily improving for citizens of earth (shocker). What has caused this positive trend toward peace and cooperation between people and nations? Grab Pinker’s bestseller and find out for yourself.
Suffering and the Heart of God (2015), Diane Langberg
Landberg is a Christian psychologist in private practice in Philadelphia. In her more than 35 years of trauma counseling, Landberg has been a powerful voice in the areas of suffering and recovery, in particular for women. In this work she beautifully weaves together her deep understanding of psychological concepts and the spiritual truths that can lead to healing. Langberg advocates a strategy of patient love and a modeling of Christian solidarity in ministering to trauma victims. She is a powerful, intelligent writer who packs many useful insights into this most recent work.
Everything Happens for a Reason (2018), by Kate Bowler
Read it sitting down because this one is intense. Set against the backdrop of prosperity gospel, Bowler’s specialization at Duke Divinity School, she deals with her diagnoses of stage IV colon cancer. In this memoir she takes us on the deeply personal journey in which she struggles to understand why it happened. Her candor is both heartbreaking and surprisingly funny. This is a raw look into the mind of an honest and thoughtful woman as she wrestles with her faith and the coming to grips with the sudden and unwelcomed reality of mortality.
The Pursuit of God (1948), by A. W. Tozer
Aiden Wilson Tozer was a self-taught theologian and American pastor originally from rural Pennsylvania. At the age of 17 while walking through Akron, Ohio, he encountered a street preacher and became a fervent Christian until his death in 1963. With Midwestern grit and the heart of a pastor, Tozer explores 10 aspects of pursuing God that he discovered during his many periods of extended isolation and prayer in an effort to better know God himself. Tozer described himself as a modern-day prophet, eventually writing 23 books, including his best known “The Pursuit of God.”
Girl Meets God (2004), by Lauren Winner
The secure, curious daughter of a Jewish father and erstwhile Southern Baptist mother, Winner originally sided with her father, moving toward orthodox Judaism. Yet even while she was in the midst of observing Jewish law and tradition, she was strangely drawn to Christianity. In this spiritual coming of age story, Winner takes us through a year of trying to reconcile her dual religious heritage. We think you’ll find this spiritual pilgrimage to be honest, funny, thoughtful and authentic.