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Summer Reading

One of my friends recently told me that when July 4th passes, she feels like summer is basically over.  I can completely relate, especially as my fall calendar is filling up quickly.  Not mention that, as always, I’m getting to that point in the season when I’m struck by the growing suspicion that the optimistic summer to-do list that I make every May may not get totally done.

Ah well.  But maybe there’s still time to do a little summer reading.  I hope so since I know absolutely nothing about Pokemon Go (which suddenly appears to be all the range).  Either that—and I’m sorry to say that my great affection for The Great British Baking Show no doubt confirms this—but this may be a very middle-aged response to tempus fugit. So be it.

So if your summer reading list still has a little room, here’s a few things I’ve been appreciating this summer:

Frederick Buechner’s 90th birthday was Monday, so I’ve been perusing the new Buechner 101 collection. If you’ve never read Buechner, this is a lovely way to dip into his work; and if you’re a long-time fan, it’s a nice compendium of work across all the genres in which he’s written.

And speaking of classics, you still have time to start Middlemarch.  There’s always time for Middlemarch.

Current Events:
Two books have been on my to-read pile for an unconscionable amount of time: Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me.  I know I am far behind the rest of the world in reading these powerful and convicting works. But, in my opinion, they should be required for every American, particularly at such a time as this.

I’m firmly on the Hamilton bandwagon (it’s often the soundtrack to my daily walk, so if you see me walking along muttering, don’t worry–I’m really Eliza-ing it up).  Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton as well as the accompanying book for the musical, Hamilton: The Revolution, are well-worth investigating.

And in the more literary realm, finally an even-handed Bronte biography.  Claire Harman’s Charlotte Bronte: A Fiery Heart takes the best of previous scholarship without taking on some of the crazier tendencies to which Bronte scholars can be prone. It’s a portrait of Charlotte and her family that actually brings new understanding.  That’s saying something 150 years later.

I’ve finally caught up on Canadian writer Louise Penny and her Chief Inspector Gamache crime series.  Penny sets the action mostly in the intriguing village of Three Pines, and she writes not just a compelling mystery, but imbues the characters with real humanity.  The puzzles are as much about “who are we as human beings” as “who done it.”  She has a new novel coming out at the end of August.

Kids Books:
Even if you do not have children to justify the purchase, get the gorgeous fable The Fox and the Star by Coralie Bickford-Smith as soon as possible. Aesthetically and thematically it will enrich your life.

Happy reading!

Jennifer L. Holberg

I am professor and chair of the Calvin University English department, where I have taught a range of courses in literature and composition since 1998. An Army brat, I have come to love my adopted hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Along with my wonderful colleague, Jane Zwart, I am the co-director of the Calvin Center for Faith and Writing, which is the home of the Festival of Faith and Writing as well as a number of other exciting endeavors. Given my interest in teaching, I’m also the founding co-editor of the Duke University Press journal Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition and Culture. My book, Nourishing Narratives: The Power of Story to Shape Our Faith, was published in July 2023 by Intervarsity Press.


  • Amory Jewett says:

    Thank you for your book selections for summer reading, Jennifer. I will probably try to read some of the books. I had always done well in college english classes. I truly enjoy reading and writing. I’ve been accepted onto the In-residence M.Div. program at Western Theological Seminary. I hope to start this fall. However, lack of money and financial help may well delay things another year. I hope that your summer continues to be a pleasant one. I know that “To Do” lists are often ambitious; my lists certain are!

  • Andrew Hoeksema says:

    Thanks for the tip on the new Buechner book! JUST MERCY so good and so challenging. Our church is doing a summer reading program on it. And my lovely wife is reading that Bronte book currently, and loving it!

  • Kate Kooyman says:

    Always with the Middlemarch! Haha some things never change.

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