Rev. Alicia's Summer Reading Guide
When I was in grad school, I had to work really hard to squeeze in some leisure reading, and when I picked up a book just for fun, I wanted to make it count! A lot of clergy folks I know spend most of their reading time with nonfiction for their vocational work. Fiction can be just as rewarding and inspiring, but it’s hard to know where to start or how to make it count (especially if you're not regularly reading a lot of it). Here are a few of my personal favorites that I whole-heartedly recommend for a variety of summer moods and readerly tastes, specifically curated for those who might need a break from ministry-focused non-fiction. I loved all these books, but please remember that not every book is for every reader, and not every reader is sensitive to the same things, so it’s always wise to do some homework to check out content warnings for yourself. Happy reading, friends! - Rev. Alicia
Short classics that are adventurous, fast-paced, and full of sun– perfect for a summer’s day!
Around the World in Eighty Days, by Jules Verne. Globe-trotting and a high stakes bet!
Death on the Nile, by Agatha Christie. Classic golden-age mystery set on a river cruise down the Nile. Glamorous travelers, dusty desert scenes, high drama– perfect summer reading.
True Grit, by Charles Portis. Maddie’s nerves of steel and Rooster’s adventures are legendary– you’re left lingering with the question, “What is true grit?” Read the book, then watch the film (starring Hailey Steinfeld & Jeff Bridges). You won’t regret it!
The Odyssey, by Homer. Most classic of classics! Sea-faring adventure, full of twists & turns, tragedy & triumph. Emily Wilson’s translation is amazing–Clare Danes narrates the audiobook!
Long classics that every pastor should read (at least once)– we love a giant floppy paperback!
The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Three brothers respond to their father’s untimely death (and their relationship) in different ways: Dmitri (the pleasure-seeker), Ivan (the intellectual), Alyosha (the monk). I recommend the Pevear & Volokhonsky translation.
Middlemarch, by George Eliot. A web of interconnected characters and the beauty of doing ordinary things with love– “for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts, and… the number who lived faithfully a hidden life and rest in unvisited tombs.”
East of Eden, by John Steinbeck. A retelling of Cain & Abel, generational sin, the chance of redemption & forgiveness– an American classic full of soul & beauty & power.
The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver.A fiery baptist preacher takes his family to a (failing) mission in the Congo– he’s a pretty despicable character, but the real story is about his wife and his daughters. Pay attention to biblical allusions and impact of misguided missions.
Award-winning novels about prescient issues– devastating, but in a good way, I promise!
Home Fire, by Kamila Shamsie (Women’s Prize for Fiction). Personal meets political in this story of family and duty– the ending made me literally GASP. (a retelling of Antigone, IYKYK)
The Round House, by Louise Erdrich (National Book Award). On a North Dakota reservation, an Ojibwe community is devastated by a violent crime– a woman is attacked but cannot speak about it. Her husband, the tribal judge, pursues justice through a legal system that resists at every turn. Her son Joe (13 yrs old) recruits his friends to find the truth in their own way.
The Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction). A black boy in 1960s Tallahassee is unfairly sentenced to a juvenile reform academy– and the only way he survives the horrors of that place is with his friend, Turner. The fate of these boys is tragic, and the state of juvenile “justice” is a travesty, but their friendship is beautiful & sweet & wholesome.
Miracle Creek, by Angie Kim (Edgar Prize: Mystery). Equal parts murder mystery, courtroom drama, and immigration story– a twisty literary thriller that will keep you guessing til the end!
Short, life-affirming novels celebrating humanity’s resilience and the power of showing up
Foster, by Claire Keegan. A young girl with a difficult home life spends a summer with distant relatives and blossoms under their loving, attentive care. The rural Irish setting is gorgeous.
The Monk & Robot series, Becky Chambers (A Psalm For The Wild-Built, and A Prayer For The Crown Shy). Sincere questions about vocation and what people really need– perfect for clergy.
The Summer Book, by Tove Jansson. A girl spends a summer with her grandmother– they find solace in each other and in the beauty of their rural island. Translated from Swedish.
Last Summer on State Street, by Toya Wolfe. The summer of 1999– four girls are trying to hold onto their friendships, their families, and their home (while it’s crumbling around them).
Reflective nonfiction that celebrates beauty & holiness in the midst of the ordinary
The Book of Delights, by Ross Gay. Short essays noting and celebrating joy and delight! Everyone should read this book and keep their own records of delight!
The Supper of the Lamb, by Robert Farrar Capon. An Episcopal priest who is also a chef talks about everything from prayer to puff pastry. A celebration of the divine grace of feasting.
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard. A perfect guide to learning to pay attention.
Devotions, by Mary Oliver. Beautiful, simple poetry, often about nature, full of faith & wonder.
Audiobooks great for road-tripping (or even summertime walks in the neighborhood)
The Anthropocene Reviewed, by John Green. Green takes elements of human life (soccer, “wintry mix,” Dr. Pepper, sunsets, etc) and gives them a star rating and a reflective essay explaining his basis for the rating. It’s a wonderful celebration of being human here & now.
The World-Ending Fire: The Essential Wendell Berry. Essays from a master of American letters, narrated by Nick Offerman, which feels like a cozy chat with Ron Swanson.
Hercule Poirot: The Complete Stories, Agatha Christie. Short stories featuring one of the greatest literary detectives. This would be a fun family listen if you have older kids!
This is What it Sounds Like: What the Music You Love Says About You, by Ogas (neuro- scientist) & Rogers (music producer). There’s an accompanying playlist on Spotify, and it’s such a fun way to talk about the music you love & share it with others while you’re in the car.
Books for little ones (that also speak to adults!):
Be-A-Heart crinkle books. For infants/toddlers. Love the depiction of the creation story!
What is God Like? by Rachel Held Evans. Strong theology for our little disciples.
Be My Neighbor? by Suzy Ultman. A lovely board book about welcome & hospitality.
Windows, by Julia Denos (Author) and E. B. Goodale (Illustrator). A story about walking through your neighborhood, knowing your community, and coming home.
Farmhouse, by Sophie Blackall. A multi-generational family and their beautiful farmhouse!