What We’re Reading This Summer (2019)

Summertime is around the corner, which for some of us means we’ll have extra time to read what we’d like or explore genres outside of our common literary diet.

I asked my editorial colleagues at The Gospel Coalition to share what they’ll be reading this summer. Maybe you’ll be provoked to add one or two to your own list. Then share with us: what are you reading?


Collin Hansen (Editorial Director)

Jen Pollock Michel, Surprised by Paradox: The Promise of “And” in an Either-Or World (IVP Books, 2019). I always learn when reading Jen, and this topic fascinates me. Orthodox theology requires that we live with paradox.

Caroline Fraser, Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder (Metropolitan Books, 2017). I’m reading the books of Laura Ingalls Wilder to my son, and I grew up near the Ingalls home in South Dakota. I’m already realizing how much Wilder shaped my moral and literary imagination as a child of the Great Plains.

Michael P. Winship, Hot Protestants: A History of Protestantism in England and America (Yale University Press, 2019). Who can resist that title? I’ve read a lot more from the Puritans than about the Puritans, so I’m looking forward to gaining context from this new history.

Megan Hill (Editor)

C. J. Sansom, The Shardlake Series (Macmillan/Mantle). My dad recently introduced me to this series of historical mystery novels. In addition to the usual palace intrigue and captivating detection (and, fair warning, some strong language), the books also sympathetically explore the spiritual lives of Protestants and the convictions that brought them into constant danger during the reign of Henry VIII. I read Lamentation (the sixth book in the series) a few months ago, and I’m debating between going on to book eight (Tombland, published last year) or going back to start the series at the beginning.

R. J. Palacio, Wonder (Knopf, 2012). My boys (age 10, 11, 12) have wanted to read this book for some time now. I haven’t read it myself—nor seen the 2017 movie—but I told them we would read it aloud this summer and discuss its themes of human nature, disability, and social interaction together.

Katie Butler, Between Life and Death: A Gospel-Centered Guide to End-of-Life Medical Care (Crossway, 2019). I‘ve already read this helpful and sobering book about end-of-life care, but I recently asked my husband to read it so we can establish priorities for our own end of life—whenever Christ would call us home. Conversations about the value of life-supporting measures don’t seem obviously well-suited to picnics in the park or days at the beach, but the lazy days of summer may be our best opportunity to prepare for life’s approaching winter.

Betsy Childs Howard (Editor)

Sonia Purnell, A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II (Viking, 2019). During the Second World War, Virginia Hall was considered by the Gestapo to be “the most dangerous of all Allied spies.” The debutante from Baltimore with a wooden leg she called Cuthbert never shied away from danger, but she did shun any recognition after the war. Instead she chose to keep a low profile so she could go on spying for the CIA for the next 16 years.

Michael Brendan Dougherty, My Father Left Me Ireland: An American Son’s Search for Home (Sentinel, 2019). I’ve heard only good things about this epistolary memoir of growing up without a father.

Jane Austen, Mansfield Park (Wordsworth Editions, 1998). I’m currently giving this classic a reread, this time aloud to my husband while he does the dishes after dinner. Nothing is better for a read-aloud than Jane Austen.

Melissa Kruger (Director of Women’s Content)

Eugenia Cheng, How to Bake Pi: An Edible Exploration of the Mathematics of Mathematics (Basic Books, 2015). My fellow editors at TGC are some of my favorite sources for books ideas, and I’m thankful for Joe Carter’s recommendations of two books on my list. I’m already reading How to Bake Pi; it’s absolutely brilliant and combines my love of mathematics with my love of cooking. I’ve also picked up a copy of The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck. I’m interested to learn more about the last emperor of China through this fictional account of one family’s life during his reign.

Rebecca McLaughlin, Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion (Crossway, 2019). McLaughlin holds a PhD in literature from Cambridge and a theology degree from Oak Hill College in London. Many have recommended her book as an excellent resource for cultural engagement, so I’m researching it as a possibility for one of our upcoming mentoring groups.

Sarah Rose, D-Day Girls: The Spies Who Armed the Resistance, Sabotaged the Nazis, and Helped Win World War II (Crown, 2019). Last fall, I was browsing books at my local library and picked up a copy of Code Name: Lise, the True Story of the Woman Who Became WWII’s Most Highly Decorated Spy by Larry Loftis. It introduced me to the work of female spies during the French resistance, many of whom courageously fought against the Nazis and endured excruciating suffering while imprisoned. When I saw this new book, I eagerly picked up a copy—I’m looking forward to learning more.

Brett McCracken (Senior Editor)

Josef Pieper, Only the Lover Sings: Art and Contemplation (Ignatius Press, 1990). I love Pieper’s classic, Leisure: The Basis of Culture, and I believe the German Catholic philosopher has increasing relevance in our harried, desensitized digital age. With its title inspired by Augustine’s quip that “only he who loves can sing,” Only the Lover Sings promises to offer insightful reflections on the important connections between beauty, wisdom, and worship.

Florence Williams, The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative (W. W. Norton & Company, 2017). As I do most summers, I plan to spend lots of time outside: hiking in the mountains, swimming in the ocean, strolling the paths in our neighborhood. More than just a pleasant thing to do, I’m increasingly convinced that being out in God’s creation, unplugged and clear-headed, is an indispensable habit of cultivating wisdom in a digitally chaotic world.

Walker Percy, Love in the Ruins (Farrar, Straus, 1971). I always try to read a novel in the summer, and if I spent the next 10 summers working through the novels of only Wendell Berry and Walker Percy, I’d be happy. Percy’s Love in the Ruins has long been on my list, and its exploration of the spiritual malaise of modernity (like so many of Percy’s novels) feels as relevant now as it did a half century ago.

Ivan Mesa (Books Editor)

Edmund Morris, Theodore Rex (Random House, 2001). I would’ve found Teddy Roosevelt insufferable in life—a type-A egotistical man, constantly on the move, and always seeking the spotlight. But despite or because of the flaws he had I’m still drawn to the man—for his boyish humor, his unbounded joy of life, his literary accomplishments, his awe of nature, his insatiable curiosity, his tender love for wife and children, his patriotic verve, and courage amid life’s trials. The first volume in this trilogy won the Pulitzer Prize, which isn’t surprising since it elegantly tells the story of Roosevelt’s meteoric rise from sickly boy to president of the United States—and all in the span of 40 years. The second volume, while less dramatic, follows Roosevelt through his two administrations as president.

Brandon Sanderson, The Way of Kings: Book One of the Stormlight Archive (Tor, 2010). Sometimes I think the only fantasy novel Christians are willing to read is The Lord of the Rings. But some of the best written sagas, with careful character- and world-building, belongs to this overlooked genre that Tolkien popularized more than half a century ago. Patrick Rothfuss, Brandon Sanderson, Michael Sullivan, Jonathan Renshaw are excellent contemporary writers. A friend encouraged me to give this series a read, and I’m eager to dive in. (While I wouldn’t recommend Game of Thrones and enough literary friends have told me to not bother with the books the show is based on, I appreciated this reflection from Ross Douthat on the series. And that op-ed directed me to this wonderful read by Alan Jacobs on fantasy and the buffered self, engaging the work of Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor.)

George Packer, Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century (Knopf, 2019). Sometimes you read such an exquisitely written review that you’re willing to pick up the book no matter how uninteresting the book may seem. This happened recently to me when reading Walter Isaacson’s review of a new biography of American diplomat Richard Holbrooke.

Jeff Robinson (Senior Editor)

Peter Guralnick, Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley (Little, Brown, and Company, 1995). I’ll never forget the day the King of Rock n’ Roll died in 1977. It was a dark afternoon for all the citizens of north Georgia because we had lost Elvis—our Elvis. I wasn’t alive when President Kennedy was assassinated, but I can’t imagine the public reaction was any more despondent, at least where I grew up. I’m confident Guralnick, a top-shelf music historian, tells Elvis’s story with verve, exegeting its significance for race, class, fame, money, pop culture, and religion, particularly as these elements boiled together in the cauldron that was the 20th-century Deep South. Last Train is volume one of a two-part biography that covers Elvis from birth to 1958. While the weather is warm and the kids are out of school, I’m hoping to squeeze in volume 2, Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley (Little, Brown, and Company, 2000), which tells the sad, sobering, and sorrowful climax of Elvis’s quintessentially American story.

Tyler Kepner, K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches (Doubleday, 2019). Anyone who knows baseball will tell you that good pitching will most always stifle good hitting. If Koufax could face Ruth, I’d take Koufax. After all, the game starts with the pitcher throwing his pitch—a blister-inducing fastball, a mind-bending curve, a fool-making changeup, a butterfly-aping knuckle ball. The pitcher is the dealer, and the batter is more or less at the mercy of the cards. Kepner introduces readers to the rich and colorful metanarrative of baseball history through the matrix of 10 pitches, drawing on insights from some of the liveliest arms in baseball history: Walter Johnson, Lefty Grove, Bob Gibson, Steve Carlton, Nolan Ryan, Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, and Mariano Rivera, among myriad others. Early reviewers praise this book as a feast for those of us who love excellent writing about the summer game.

Albert N. Martin, Pastoral Theology: The Man of God, His Preaching and Teaching Labors (Trinity Pulpit Press, 2019). This book is volume two in a three-part work on the pastoral ministry by a man who has been at his craft for decades. Martin was among the founding pastors of Trinity Baptist Church in Montville, New Jersey, where he labored for 46 years. Volume one, published last year, examined the pastor’s calling and spiritual life and includes a concise biography of Martin. I’d love to see more young Reformed pastors and future pastors engage these volumes and acquaint themselves with the earnest, faithful ministry of Albert Martin.

Matt Smethurst (Managing Editor)

Wright Thompson, The Cost of These Dreams: Sports Stories and Other Serious Business (Penguin, 2019). Summertime is great for sports reading, and Wright Thompson is one of my favorite sportswriters. His body of work includes the most-read articles in the history of ESPN. (The Michael Jordan reflection I wrote a few years back was occasioned by one of Thompson’s essays.)

Ben Macintyre, The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War (Crown, 2018). I am a sucker for narrative-nonfiction page-turners, and this promises to fit the bill.

David Gibson, Living Life Backward: How Ecclesiastes Teaches Us to Live in Light of the End (Crossway, 2017). I’ve heard so many people commend this book that I feel indirectly rebuked for having not read it. I plan to remedy that this summer. I imagine it will be a potent follow-up to Matt McCullough’s terrific book Remember Death.

Anna Smith (Assistant Editor)

Sarah Arthur, A Light So Lovely: The Spiritual Legacy of Madeleine L’Engle, Author of A Wrinkle in Time (Zondervan, 2018). I loved the Wrinkle in Time books growing up, and I always enjoy author biographies, so I’m excited to read this spiritual biography of L’Engle.

Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption (Spiegel & Grau, 2015). Last spring I visited the Equal Justice Initiative’s Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Justice and Peace in Montgomery, Alabama. I learned so much about America’s history of racial injustice. Stevenson is the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, and in this book he tells the story of how he founded EJI to serve people mistreated and abused by our justice system.

Susan Orlean, The Library Book (Simon & Schuster, 2018). A friend recommended this history of the 1986 fire in the Los Angeles Public Library. It also delves into the history of libraries in general. A book about books, what could be better?

Taylor Turkington (Director of Women’s Training Network)

Scott M. Gibson and Matthew D. Kim, editors, Homiletics and Hermeneutics: Four Views on Preaching Today (Baker Academic, 2018). I hope to dive into this compilation on preaching to help me better articulate how my hermeneutic is fleshed out in my exposition of a text. The names on the front cover make me confident it will be a good conversation. Bryan Chapell has greatly influenced my thoughts on exposition, and I’ve appreciated interacting with Scott Gibson and Abraham Kuruvilla’s perspectives.

Ajith Fernando, Discipling in a Multicultural World (Crossway, 2019). Biblical principles for discipleship are not biblical if they only fit in our Western context. We need a global perspective when we think about growth as disciples of Jesus Christ, and I’m looking forward to learning from Ajith and growing in my own teaching of discipleship.

Sam Allberry, 7 Myths about Singleness (Crossway, 2019). I’m not single, but I recognize the myths about singleness surrounding me. Even some recent online flurries regarding the roles of women seemed to ignore the possibility of singleness. I want to learn from Sam in how we think about people, including those who are single.

Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra (Senior Writer)

Paul David Tripp, Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens (P&R Publishing, 2001). When our kids were toddlers, my husband and I read Tedd Tripp’s Shepherding a Child’s Heartand it drastically changed the way we thought about and practiced discipline. Now the oldest of those kids is 13, and I’m eager to soak up Paul’s wisdom for this next stage.

David McCullough, The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West (Simon & Schuster, 2019). McCullough is a master of telling history’s stories without making them boring. I’ve read almost all of his books, and I can’t wait to start this one.

Elliot Clark, Evangelism as Exiles: Life on Mission as Strangers in Our Own Land  (The Gospel Coalition, 2019). This book outsold every other one at TGC’s April conference in Indianapolis, which is all I need to know to add it to my pile.

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