This summer is going to be unlike any other with the uncertainty of Covid spread. We cancelled our summer travel plans and will be continuing to practice social distancing since two of the beloveds in our bubble are high risk. Homeschooling has felt like a strange limbo somewhere between school and summer for months and so we enter the summer having already exhausted some of the tricks and tools we use to keep young minds engaged, occupied and out of fights. So this week I spent some time making a list of activities we can do at home with (mostly) items we already own. And I began thinking about what I might read this summer since I will have extra time to stretch out in the backyard while the kids swing and splash in the kiddie pool. 

I am a mood reader which means I drift from book to book depending on my mood, with the exception of non-fiction which I try to impose some deadlines on so I complete those reads with consistency. It’s sort of the perfect balance between letting the mood move me and having a plan (I’m an Enneagram 1, I love a good plan). All of that is to say that my Summer Reading List is a compilation of books that I want to read this summer…but who knows if they’ll all make it onto my Summer Reading Recap List. Either way, here are some of the books I am looking forward to reading this summer. This list will be weirder than other lists out there because I am keeping it real–included are new release fiction, backlist fiction, poetry and non-fiction (particularly church leadership, theology and research books). In other words it’s the typical mash-up you’ve grown accustomed to getting from me. 


New Release Fiction

The Vanishing Half Brit Bennett 

I am keeping my new release fiction list short because I want everyone to check out the first two books on this list. The Vanishing Half Brit Bennett’s second novel after the wild success of The Mothers is one of my (and the rest of the bookish world’s) most anticipated read of the year. Early reviews are positive for this story of two white-passing sisters who grew up in the American South and are living two very different adult lives.


Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

Tied with The Vanishing Half as the most anticipated book of the summer, Yaa Gyasi author of the moving and widely acclaimed Homegoing (if you have not read it, run to your local bookstore, this one is a must read) is releasing her second novel Transcendent Kingdom. Following Gifty a PhD student studying brain chemistry, this is a story about family, science and faith. 


Beach Reads by Emily Henry 

I am not a big beach read person but reviews are out that this is not your typical summer fluff but instead a weighty book about two authors with side by side beach homes working through the complications of life. I enjoyed Lily King’s Writers & Lovers so I am hoping Beach Read is a similar struggling writer vibe. 


The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd 

A book that creates a fictional account of Ana, the wife of Jesus, has about a million ways that it could go wrong. Maybe a million and one, for this theologically trained reader to cringe. But after a seminary friend listened to this interview with the author Sue Monk Kidd and recommended it to me, I thought, “this doesn’t sound like an ill advised idea, it might be good. I’ll give it a shot.” 


These Ghosts are Family by Maisy Card 

I received a copy of These Ghost are Family from the generous people at Simon Schuster via Net Galley and have yet to dig into what has been described as a sweeping intergenerational story of migration and identity in a similar vein to Homegoing. Reviews by #ownvoice reviews praise this book and so it’s time to move it off the to-be-read pile.


Backlist Fiction 

Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry 

I have long wanted to read Jayber Crow, not only because it get excellent reviews and shows up on every list of novels about progressive faith but I also adore Wendell Berry’s poetry and have found his non-fiction on agrarian life foundational to how I live my life. No pressure on this poor book, right?! But it’s time to stop being worried my expectations will let me down and finally pick this one up. 


The Overstory by Richard Power 

This Pulitzer Prize winner has been sitting on my shelf for a while now, as I have read mixed reviews from colleagues about it’s value in adding to the conversation on ecology and conservation. I generally defer to Native theologians and writers, whereas Power is a white man so I am going in a bit apprehensive. But I want to see what the hype is surrounding The Overstory and it’s sweeping family narrative set in and around trees (does anything sound more peaceful this summer than imaging you are in the forest?). 


Jubilee by Margaret Walker 

Walker tells the story of Vyry, the daughter of a white plantation owner and his black mistress in this moving and unflinching tail of slavery in the south. This is another one that came on my radar from #ownvoice book reviewers’ consistent positive reviews. Walker was a prolific African American scholar and writer and I would love to read more of her work, so I will be starting with Jubilee this summer. 


The Majesties by Tiffany Tsao

Published earlier this year (January) The Majesties is not too far of a backlist, but it’s also one I don’t want to let slip by. Narrated by Gwendolyn, the sole survivor of an attack that killed 300 people perpetrated by her sister The Majesties explores this wealthy family in all its manipulations and deceit that led to the tragedy that tears this sister appart.  


Theology/Church Leadership

Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory by Tod Bolsinger 

The one book consistently recommended when I was at an eccumenical gathering of clergy was Canoeing the Mountains–each clergy person could excitedly recommend this as a book that spoke most closely to their experience navigating the church in these times. I can’t imagine that Covid has made this book any less relevant. 


Uproar: Calm Leadership in Anxious Times by Peter L Steinke 

I read Steinke’s earlier work in seminary and appreciated his application of family systems theory to the work of doing congregational work. I am curious to see if his theories and insight still connect and if he’s added new insight to his earlier work in this newest work Uproar.


How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You Are Going: Leading in a Liminal Season by Susan Beaumont 

A clergy colleague I deeply respect who is doing transformation work at their historic downtown church recommended How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You Are Going as one that rang true to their experience and also pushed some edges of their transformation practices. Coupled with the fact that I deeply admire and appreciate Susan Beaumont’s work in church staff management and have attended several of her staffing seminars and I am looking forward to this one. 


Christianity and the New Spirit of Capitalism by Kathryn Tanner

This read is what I call “Cara keeping it real” because it’s one of the books selected for reading and reflection by a clergy cohort group I am in. It’s dense, it’s assigned and I love that I will have accountability to make it through Christianity and the New Spirit of Capitalism with a paper and discussion due in July. 


The Practice of Prophetic Imagination: Preaching an Emancipating Word by Walter Brueggemann

In part two of “Cara keeping it real” is our second book for the clergy cohort group, The Practice of Prophetic Imagination. I love everything Walter Brueggemann writes not because it affirms my own thinking but because it pushes me to consider a slightly different view or interpretation that challenges how I practice my faith. Although, a deadline and having to discuss it competently with colleagues will definitely help. 


Trauma-Sensitive Theology: Thinking Theologically in the Era of Trauma by Jennifer Baldwin

Recommended by a former professor who has been an immense resource and encourager of my research grant, Trauma Sensitive Theology should be a helpful read to do some framing for the constructive portion of the book I am working on that intersects trauma and pastoral care.


Spirit and Trauma: A Theology of Remaining

Another recommendation by a trusted colleague in the field, I am hoping to work my way through Spirit and Trauma to see if it offers any insights on the liminal nature of trauma and survival as it pertains to how we locate ourselves within communities of belonging.  



Homie by Danez Smith 

The Easter bunny brought this volume of poetry by a queer black author and that’s the kind of resurrection I am looking for in the world! Despite my enthusiasm to receive a copy of Danez Smith’s most recent volume, I have yet to pick it up. So I will be reading Homie this summer over my morning coffee. 


The Poetry of Impermanence, Mindfulness and Joy ed by John Brehm 

This collection has been on my radar for a while, sitting in my cart of un-purchased books but I have enjoyed so deeply Poetry of Presence that I am looking for another collection to add to my rotation I read from each morning. I am hopeful that The Poetry of Impermanence, Mindfulness and Joy will be perfect for those slow summer mornings. 


While I likely won’t get to all these titles, I am hoping to get to most of them while still allowing the spirit to surprise me with some unplanned reads. I am so curious–what are you hoping to read this summer? Any of these titles catch your eye? 

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