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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

On the Bookshelf: Summer reading list (for me!)

The older three children were sent off with their grandparents Monday morning, their bags packed with the library books I had borrowed for them from the list I gave you several weeks ago. We rejoin them Friday in Chicago. You might imagine how the house has quieted considerably, even with two four-year-olds still running around in Darth Vader capes and Storm Trooper masks.

Finally, I have my summer reading list together. It's ambitious, I know. But if you've been reading for any length of time here, you probably aren't surprised, knowing my penchant for planning BIG.

For as much as I love reading, I find it requires no small amount of discipline. It takes discipline to read great books. It takes discipline to reflect on what I've read  (which, by the way, is just one of the many reasons I love writing here as it forces me into that habit). It even takes discipline for me to finish books. (Gasp! You didn't know, did you, of my habit of walking out early on my books?)

But sharing book recommendations is a tenuous thing. It's sort of like my brother-in-law and his movie recommendations. Forgive me, Brent, but I know now never to trust you when you suggest a movie. Rarely do I like them (and yes, that probably makes me some sort of movie moron).

So, understanding that you may not all enjoy the same kinds of books I do.  .  . here's my summer reading list:

The Women's Room by Marilyn French

I was about a third of the way through this book before I had to return it to the library. I won't lie: this is a stridently feminist novel. At many points, I wanted to put it down - it was making me that sick. But I'm sticking with it (as soon as I can borrow it again), feeling like it's really important to understand the movement of feminism and how women of the 50's and 60's fought for many of the freedoms I now enjoy.

Eat This Book by Eugene H. Peterson

If you're a language-lover, you've got to read Peterson. Peterson, who's long been a pastor, has the advantage of not only decades of immersing himself in the Scriptures but the ministry experience of working with people on the ground. He is theologically challenging and very incisive when it comes to understanding culture. This particular book forms part of his spiritual theology series, which I now own. The Jesus Way is another book from the series and is fantastic. Eat This Book is a compelling read on how to read Scripture, but he is NOT a how-to kind of writer. If you're looking for something immensely practical, you may not find it here. On the other hand, if you want to chew on some deeper questions and reflections, eat this book!

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver

This comes recommended by a friend. It's about eating locally, which is something we've been able to do much more of since moving to Toronto. I have a huge interest in food, not just because I love to eat and cook, but because I feel that mothers (and fathers, if they're the ones in the kitchen) have a huge responsibility to teach their children how to cook and eat well. It's such an earthy part of our lives, and it matters. Kingsolver is a great writer - (I did love The Poisonwood Bible.)

Madame Bovary (en français) by Gustave Flaubert

I've read this, but never in the original French. I have to be honest: I'm not sure I'll stick with this. I'm about forty pages in, and it's SLOW reading for me. I wish I could say that's because I was diligently looking up unfamiliar words in my dictionary. I am not. I do want, however, to continue to work on my French, especially because we are spending three weeks this summer in Montreal!

Bossypants by Tina Fey

I'm grateful to Lina who had this book on her summer reading list. Everyone needs something light to read - I'll probably actually listen to the audio book at night when I'm puttering with dishes or laundry. I just think Christians should be funnier. (If you remember, I'm immensely jealous of my husband, who's terribly witty. He's told me I need to be funnier, too. Thanks, hun.)

Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation by James K.A. Smith

"Malls, stadiums, and universities are actually liturgical structures that influence and shape our thoughts and affections. Humans--as Augustine noted--are "desiring agents," full of longings and passions; in brief, we are what we love." That's an excerpt from the back cover. It comes recommended from a friend, who compiled a list of the year's best reads from fellow colleagues at Wheaton College. The book I'm writing is on the subject of desire, so this seemed relevant.

Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis

I must admit - I am very Lewis-illiterate. I think everyone assumes that if you're a Christian and if you're a reader, you have of course devoured all of Lewis. Unfortunately, I have not. Last summer, I read his spiritual autobiography, Surprised by Joy. (Holy cow, the man is a genius.) And I've heard Till We Have Faces is a must-read. But of course, which Lewis book isn't?

Silas Marner and Middlemarch by George Eliot

Eliot is a great novelist. I read something by her in graduate school. (See? I can't remember the most basic things like titles.) Middlemarch is Peterson's favorite Eliot novel, and you can't go wrong if he is recommending it. Silas Marner was my friend, Wendy's recommendation, and I trust her immensely, too. I will try and read both.

The Lord and His Prayer by N.T. Wright

I am reading this now. If Peterson and Wright were in a room together and you forced me to choose which I liked better, I don't know that I could choose. I met N.T. Wright after a lecture last year, and he signed my copy of The New Testament and the People of God. I may as well have been 13 and meeting Justin Bieber, I was that excited! Then, last summer, a parcel came in the mail from my friend, Heather, and when I opened it, I found Wright's translation of the New Testament - inscribed to me! Best. Gift. Ever. Wright has the uncanny ability to write theologically dense works (which, by the way, I generally can't understand) as well as practical books for simpletons like me. This book is of the practical kind: it was actually compiled from a series of sermons he did on the Lord's Prayer.

The Second Coming by Walker Percy

Another recommendation from Eugene Peterson's Take and Read: Spiritual Reading: An Annotated List. I have read more reviews elsewhere, and it seems like a worthy read. It's my almost contemporary novel, written within the last twenty years, I think!

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(Thanks to Joe for asking for book recommendations and inspiring me to finish my summer reading list!)