Summer reading recommendations
The days are longer, weather is turning warmer, kids are out of school, and vacation plans are starting to take shape. Now is the time to pick a book or two to fill your down time. Here are some of my favorites from the past few months that just might be what you’re looking for. So grab a good book, set up your lawn chair in the back yard or at the beach, and settle in to some good old fashioned summer rest.
My top 12 from this year in no particular order…
- Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. Laura Hillenbrand, 2014. Random House.
After seeing the movie by the same title, I had to read the book to fill in all the details. I am not normally drawn to war stories, but Louie Zamperini’s life was so full of rich lessons that I couldn’t say no. Hillenbrand takes us from Zamperini’s delinquent childhood in LA to his running career through high school, college, and the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany. From the apex of the Olympics to the trenches of WWII, Hillenbrand weaves the story of Zamperini’s journey, which turns for the worse when his B-24 Liberator, Green Hornet, crashed into the south Pacific Ocean, leaving most of the crew dead and Louie and two other men adrift for 47 days. With little food and no fresh water except when the rains fell, the men endured starvation, dehydration, the scorching sun, and tireless sharks. One man died. Louie and his surviving partner may have wished that they had died too. When they washed ashore on the Japanese-occupied Marshall Islands, the relief they felt for reaching dry land alive was overwhelming. But that soon melted away as the life of a WWII Japanese POW began to set in. The remainder of the book is a beating, both literally and figuratively, as the two men endure trials beyond words. Unbroken is inspiring (think Miracle) and at the same time intensely disturbing (think Saving Private Ryan). This book (or the movie for that matter) is not for the faint of heart or for young kids. But if you have the stomach for the brutality of the story, the life lessons are priceless.
- The 100 Thing Challenge: How I Got Rid of Almost Everything, Remade my Life, and Regained my Soul. Dave Bruno, 2010. Harper.
If you’ve ever complained about the clutter in your garage or the closet that won’t take another shirt – of if you’ve ever had to move and thought, “Why do I still have all this stuff,” then this book is for you. Dave Bruno takes a hard look at what he calls “American-style consumerism” and judges it to be an inadequate mode of living. As he explores the motives that drive our consumerism, and our slavery to stuff, he uncovers some surprising insights. In his humorous way, Bruno helps us to see what is right under our noses: the dangers of our addiction to things. And as a committed Christian, he takes not a cynical view, but one of hope and redemption. The 100 Thing Challenge will leave you convinced, convicted, and inspired to live life differently. You can also check out Bruno’s excellent TEDx talk here.
The title Wild is appropriate in so many ways. Strayed’s life was one of wild, reckless drug abuse and sexual promiscuity. Her decision to walk away from everything and hike the Pacific Crest Trail alone was nothing short of foolish. Her 1,000-mile adventure on the PCT was equally wild as she encountered bears, snakes, snow, and creepy backwoodsmen. While I didn’t need all of the details of her sex life, which at times seemed gratuitous, and I’m not convinced that she really “found” herself as the subtitle suggests, the adventure on the PCT is incredibly well written and gripping. I had butterflies in my stomach nearly every chapter as if I was there with her, sloshing through the rain or trying to find the lost trail. If you love outdoor literature, and if you can tolerate her language and sexual discussions, then Wild is a fun, exciting book that will make you want to drop everything and run to your nearest REI store. This one is not for those easily offended or for kids. If you’re still not sure about this book, see my full review here.
- Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in and Ordinary World. Bob Goff, 2012. Thomas Nelson.
Love Does by Bob Goff reminds me of the song Love is a Verb! by DC Talk. Love, Goff says, is not a feeling, or a concept, or an idea. Love doesn’t happen in our Bible studies and missions board meetings. For that matter, ministry is not something separate from our daily lives. Love and ministry are all about how we live, each and every day. And love requires spontaneity. It requires whimsy. Love Does is a book about Goff’s spontaneous love around the world, saving lives through his fearlessness and contagious laughter. Love Does is funny, witty, and remarkably simple. If you read only one book this summer, let it be Love Does. I’ve written a full review of Love Does here.
When someone asks you politely how you are doing, does your answer often include the word “busy”? I never noticed it until DeYoung pointed it out. But it seems that many of us today define our lives by our busyness. Some even take pride in it, bragging about the three sports our kids are in, our two jobs, the remodel at home, and the homeless ministry we direct. But is busyness the same as productivity? Is a busy life equal to a rich and fulfilling one? DeYoung would say no. And I would agree. He argues that the busier we become, the less effective and useful we are. We suffer emotionally, physically, and spiritually with lives that are overcrowded with activities and responsibilities. But, mercifully, DeYoung doesn’t simply call us out. He offers wisdom that, if taken seriously, will change our thinking, our behavior, and our lives. See my full review of Crazy Busy here.
- The Short List: In a Life Full of Choices, there are only Four that Matter. Bill Butterworth, 2009. Tyndale.
A quick, light read with some good insights about priorities. Butterworth discusses the supremacy of love, honesty, faith, and courage. And he’ll have you in stitches as he recounts stories from his own life. This would be a great family read around the dinner table. If you are unfamiliar with Butterworth’s style, check out these two video clips on You Tube.
A collection of short essays on the lives and principles of the Pennsylvania and Ohio Amish. In this world of deep discontentment (more, bigger, better, faster), Amish Peace is refreshingly simple and uncomplicated. From our addiction to digital devices to our breakneck pace, Fisher contrasts our non-Amish lives to those of a people who know what they value and are committed to those values in everything they do. While you can certainly enjoy this book alone, it is an excellent choice for group study in a book club, Bible study, or other small group setting.
- Teaching Your Children Healthy Sexuality: A Biblical Approach to Prepare them for Life. Jim Burns, 2008. Bethany House.
With our increasingly connected and digital world, healthy sexuality is not something we can expect our kids to absorb from us by osmosis or learn at school. Guiding our kids through adolescence and raising them to be sexually healthy adults, free of the addictions and other hang-ups that you and I struggle with, requires intentional mentoring. I have always enjoyed Jim Burns’ wisdom in parenting and marriage, and this book is no different. Our children will learn about sexuality one way or another – we cannot shelter them from it forever. The question we must ask, then, is this: Do we want to be the ones to speak sexuality values into their lives, or are we content to let their friends and the media do it for us? Teaching Your Children Healthy Sexuality is a great resource for parents of pre-teens and teens.
- Every Man’s Battle: Winning the War on Sexual Temptation One Victory at a Time. Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoker, 2000. WaterBrook Press.
Statistics show that the vast majority of men in our culture struggle with sexual temptations of one sort or another: online pornography, exotic dance clubs, prostitutes. And those who aren’t tempted by these taboo forms of sexual gratification are often tempted in more subtle ways to view women as sexual objects rather than human beings with inherent value and dignity. Every Man’s Battle is for the man who is ready to get his sex drive under control. It is frank, blunt, and makes no excuses. But it is exceptionally practical in helping men to understand themselves and other men, and to put in place both a plan for change and the motivation to do so. There is also a companion volume for fathers and sons to read together called Preparing your Son for Every Man’s Battle.
- Revolution in World Missions: One Man’s Journey to Change a Generation. KP Yohannan, 1986. GFA Books.
The churches I have attended over the years have often brought in missionaries to speak to the congregations about their lives in exotic places, the dangers they face each day, and their needs from Americans. In Revolution in World Missions, Brother KP announces the exciting progress of the gospel in India while underscoring the unique needs of the missionaries. Of particular interest is his insistence that American missionaries are not the answer, rather what are needed are locals, national missionaries, who understand the people, their needs and culture, and are not viewed as meddling westerners. If you count yourself a Christ follower, this book is a must-read that will challenge you and change you forever. It is available free at the Gospel for Asia web site.
I have always been bothered by phrases such as “it was a God thing” or “it made God real to me.” Now I know why. Everything, from the miraculous to the mundane, from pulling a baby out of a fiery inferno to doing the laundry, is a God thing. There is nothing on this planet that God has exempted Himself from. And there is no place where God is absent. God is real whether mankind believes or not. Nothing can make Him more real than He already is. In God Hides in Plain Sight, Nelson helps us open our eyes to the hand of the Father in everyday life, revealing the profound and sacred in the mundane and ordinary. This is a book that will demand your uninterrupted attention. But it is well worth it. Are you ready for a spiritual and intellectual challenge? Then this may be the book you are looking for.
In principle, Yancey’s Finding God in Unexpected Places is similar to Nelson’s God Hides in Plain Sight. But these two excellent works differ in important ways. While Nelson searches for God’s fingerprints in everyday occurrences, Yancey focuses on major world events. As a good journalist, Yancey examines the disturbing realities of this world that have caused some to doubt God. He incorporates data, research, interviews, and site visits to gather the full story. At times it feels like you are reading a national newspaper written by a godly man who knows the Father is there, somewhere, in the midst of the pain and suffering. As dark as this world can seem at times, Yancey shines the bright light of hope into places where all hope seems to be gone. God hasn’t left this world, Yancey argues. You can find Him if you know what to look for.