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Editor’s Pick: Summer Reading (2024)

Summer is for reading. Actually, for many of us, all of life is for reading. It’s more of a physical need than a duty. But the different cadence of life during the summer invites a different sort of reading.

I take great delight in having study as part of my vocation as a church elder. A lot of that reading tends to be high-content Christian books or deep cultural analysis. It’s necessary and good. And yet there are times when I want to read something beyond these genres. I need to find new illustrations and fill my imagination with new ideas. That sort of reading is perfect for summer.

Summer is for beach reading, and you can’t take your systematic theology to the beach. The books cost too much and the risk of lingering sand in the binding of the latest Bavinck volume is too great. For many people, the ideal beach read includes sharks, potentially a mystery, and maybe a little romance. It’s a book with a peppy plot and not many cerebral requirements.

But readers of The Gospel Coalition are discerning and want something between a paperback of Vampire Sharks Take Over the Mall and anything by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. This list of books I’ve read and enjoyed is meant for you.

1. Rebel to Your Will by Sean Demars (Christian Focus, 2024)

I’m a sucker for a good conversion story, and Demars tells his in this little book. He highlights the way he was shaped by abuse and neglect as a child but how the gospel’s power has transformed him. Demars hits the right balance by sharing who he was before Christ without glorifying the mess. Most significantly, he demonstrates God’s power to save even those who are running as fast as they can in the wrong direction.

2. Skies of Thunder by Caroline Alexander (Viking, 2024)

There are so many fascinating World War II stories we never hear about. Alexander digs into original sources to masterfully recount efforts by the United States to provide supplies to the Chinese to keep them in the war against Japan. The men who flew the large aircraft over the Himalayan mountains risked much. Many lives were lost for a mission whose value remains questionable to this day. But the interpersonal conflict, the danger, and the accounts of courage will draw readers in. Alexander’s narrative style keeps the story moving, making this an excellent poolside read.

3. Sailing Alone by Richard J. King (Viking, 2024)

Part personal narrative, part historical account, this book reminds the sand-weary beachgoer that maybe the grit from staying on shore isn’t all bad. Though seafaring is nothing new, the ocean remains a wild frontier that calls adventurers suffering from fits of wanderlust. As it turns out, there has been an explosion of interest in solo sailing adventures in recent history. This book is engaging enough to draw you in and varied enough to allow for casual reading.

4. The Penguin Book of Pirates edited by Katherine Howe (Penguin Classics, 2024)

I don’t have any vampire fiction on this list, but I certainly enjoyed The Penguin Book of Pirates. Howe collects original sources, updates some of the language, and provides short introductions for each offering. Most chapters are only a few pages long, which makes for easy reading. However, since I frequently dressed like a pirate for Halloween, these entertaining accounts about (mostly) real-life pirates satisfy my inner child.

5. Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber (Thomas Nelson, 2013)

This book isn’t new, but the screen adaptation is now widely available on streaming platforms after a limited theatrical release in 2023. (I was able to watch it free through my local library.) As Brett McCracken wrote in his film review, “It’s a faith-friendly film that’s actually good.” It’s an entertaining film, but as usual, the book is much richer as Weber details her movement from combative atheistic feminist to faithful Christian. The audiobook was well produced (note: it has a couple of curse words) and would be a pleasure to listen to on a summer road trip.

6. Knowing What We Know by Simon Winchester (Harper Perennial, 2024)

Winchester may be best known for The Professor and the Madman, which tells the story of the Oxford English Dictionary. Knowing What We Know, just out in paperback, is an engaging read that “seeks to tell the story of how knowledge has been passed from its vast passel of sources into the equally vast variety of human minds, and how the means of its passage have evolved over the thousands of years of human existence.” That’s a big project and Winchester doesn’t entirely succeed, but he does explore the idea of knowledge and its transmission through narratives and anecdotes both informative and entertaining. The book is subdivided well, which makes it easy to read a few pages at a time while keeping an eye on the kids playing outside.

7. Make the Most of Your Productivity by Ana Ávila (TGC/Crossway, 2024)

Sometimes vacation reading can be dual purpose. Ávila’s book isn’t groundbreaking, but she summarizes several popular streams of thinking on productivity while reminding readers of our work’s ultimate purpose: to glorify God. If you’re looking to jump-start your organizational efforts or find tips to encourage you to work hard for God’s glory, then Ávila offers a concise resource.

8. Get Better at Anything by Scott H. Young (Harper Business, 2024)

Young’s first book, Ultralearning, offers lessons for being a better autodidact. Get Better at Anything moves into more general learning theory. Young summarizes recent research in problem solving, practice habits, and application of new skills. This is dangerously close to not being true summer reading because it’s potentially helpful in various ministry and business applications. However, the prose is so readable that the experience won’t detract from the idyllic reverie of summer.

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