Summer Reads

There are some books that you just can’t read in the summer. Last winter, Philip and I whiled away the better part of the January and February evenings with Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend, settling in by the fireside at the end of a long day and losing ourselves amid the intrigues and adventures of a whole host of new-found companions. But I can no more imagine curling up with that book on a sultry summer afternoon than I can Tolstoy’s frost-haunted Anna Karenina, with which I was mesmerized back in a still-chilly March.

Summer reading, in my book, at least, calls for a whole different criterion. Not necessarily ‘lighter’ or less thought-provoking, but certainly requiring less effort in the uptake. When it’s too hot to think, I need something that is going to lift me into another plane rather than a book to sink my teeth into. I need substance, but of a more delicate variety than is called for in the quieter days and longer nights of winter. I still want to be challenged…I just don’t want to be quite as aware that it’s happening.

I’ve found some titles this summer that have just fit the bill, and I feel richer for having made their acquaintance. They have indeed made the summer a memorable one. Allow me to pass a few introductions:

bredeIn This House of Brede by Rumer Godden

This is a book that I had wanted to read for some time. I had already come to love Godden’s graceful style, her mastery of language and nuance, her almost shimmering touch with words that reminded me in many ways of my beloved Elizabeth Goudge, but from the very first pages of Brede I knew that this book was like nothing I had read before. It is the story of a wealthy and successful career woman who enters a Benedictine monastery in England in the 1950’s, and much of the detail of cloistered life was taken from Godden’s own experience of living in the gatehouse of an English Abbey for three years. Philippa Talbot’s story is woven amid that of the threads of the other nuns and novices in a tapestry as complex and beautiful as the richly-colored ceremonial vestments made with loving skill in the workrooms of Brede Abbey. It is a tale that is strangely gripping for its quiet setting of shaded cloisters and flowering parkland. But the real venue is the hearts of the women who inhabit the monastery, and the true drama lies in the choices they make whether or not to give Christ full sway in their lives. It is an absolutely gorgeous book, radiant with spiritual truth and written with a lovely starkness that only emphasizes the renunciations these courageous women have made. But it is a starkness that glows beneath with warmth and fire and godly love, and it rings with what Phyllis Tickle in her introduction calls a ‘bright sadness’.

Lark Rise to Candleford by Flora Thompson

What a jewel! Loosely masquerading as fiction, this trilogy (Lark Rise, Over to Candleford, Candleford Green) comprises the memoirs of a lower class childhood in the Oxfordshire of the 1880’s and ‘90’s. It doesn’t take long to be convinced that Thompson’s narrator ‘Laura’ is none other than the author herself, as the richness of detail and candor of expression attest to a first-hand experience. The reader is taken with Laura through her small world, a world rarely glimpsed in the somewhat ‘prettier’ accounts of period novels, and it’s an admittedly gritty journey at times. But an enchanting one for that, and there’s not the slightest taste of bitterness over the hardships of the poor but rather a straightforward account of their ingenuity and determination in the face of great deprivation. Laura’s childhood straddles the worlds of the old and the new, the one with its country manners and gentle ways giving place to the relative improvements of the Industrial Revolution—but not without a sigh for the loved customs and pace of life that were lost along the way. It is tender without being sentimental; forthright without condescension. Thompson has preserved for us the last generation of a world that is gone forever, and with it, an appeal to what makes for real human happiness.

Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeleine L’Englewater

I feel like I always need to be dipping into something by Madeleine L’Engle. My books of hers have pages folded and passages underlined and whole sections starred to be read and read again. I think that she was a genius—and a true Christian artist in the greatest sense of the words—and I can hardly recount how many times she has hauled me out of a writer’s funk with her honest appraisals of what real creativity is all about. Walking on Water is a fascinating and inspiring exploration of what it means to be a Christian and an artist, and what mighty verities are implied in ‘Christian art’. She leaves little excuse for degrees of talent or gift, and places the whole lot of our inborn creative desires at the door of obedience. “Created in the image of a Creator.”

We live under the illusion that if we can acquire complete control, we can understand God or we can write the great American novel. But the only way we can brush against the hem of the Lord or hope to be part of the creative process, is to have the courage, the faith, to abandon control.

A stirring, stream of consciousness read, like a peek at the journals of a great artist and a great saint.

So, what have you been reading this summer?


  1. My husband and I have been reading out loud to each other the first three books of the Chronicles of Narnia series. We are now onto Prince Caspian and enjoying it very much. It is a great, relaxing way to spend time together, and I think C.S. Lewis’s books are beautifully written.

    I’m majoring in Art Education right now at my university, so naturally Madeline L’Engle’s “Walking on Water” looks like a very interesting read! I’ll have to pick it up sometime.

  2. I’ve been on a Russian literature kick. 🙂 I just read Anna Karenina, by Tolstoy, and now I’m in the middle of The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky. Very different from my normal reading pattern! (I love Elizabeth Goudge as well). In both stories, the (numerous) characters are forced to live with the consequences of their own choices, with many of them being poor choices. Anna Karenina, particularly, was a page turner as well as sometimes hard to read because of sheer frustration with how she was throwing everything away for a short term passion. Sad.

  3. I loved reading about what you’re reading, Lanier!! 😉
    This summer, I haven’t read much other than various books in the Bible but I have slowly been through 2 good reads: “The Shepherd of the Hills” by Harold Bell Wright and “Ruby Among Us” by Tina Ann Forkner.

    Both are very thought provoking and in some ways, “deep” books.
    I’d recommend both though the latter is probably not suited for anyone under age 16.

    Review on “Shepherd of the Hills”

    “Harold Bell Wright was truly one of America’s master writers of the early twentieth century. His books have sold millions of copies. He possessed an amazing ability to capture a slice of memorable history, to introduce unforgettable characters, and through it all to weave meaningful truth and spiritual significance.

    The Shepherd of the Hills is the classic story of the stranger who takes the Old Trail deep into the Ozark mountains, many miles from civilization. His appearance signals intellect and culture, yet his countenance is marked by grief and disappointment. He is a man with a mission, yet one which no one understands. What is his purpose in taking on the lowly work of tending local sheep? And how is it that he befriends these simple hill folk, despite his coming from the world beyond the ridges?

    Mystery and romance envelop this gentle yet compelling story as the identity and purpose of the strange-turned-shepherd is gradually unveiled.”

    Review on Ruby Among Us:

    “Lucy DiCamillo is safely surrounded by her books, music, and art — but none of these reclusive comforts or even the protective efforts of her grandmother, Kitty, can shield her thoughts from the mother she can barely recall. Lucy senses her grandmother holds the key, but Kitty seems as eager to hide the past as Lucy is eager to find it.

    From the streets of San Francisco and Sacramento to the lush vineyards of the Sonoma Valley, Lucy follows the thread of memory in search of a heritage that seems long-buried with her mother, Ruby.

    What she finds is as enigmatic and stirring as it is startling in this redemptive tale about the power of faith and mother-daughter love.”

  4. Suzanne England says:

    My husband and I are reading Wisdom of the Last Farmer by David Mas Masumoto.
    It is about an organci family orchard in Central California. Both of us can relate to the feelings of working and being as one with the land since we are ranchers.
    It is wonderful to have book recommendations to plan for future winter and summer reading!

  5. I also like to pick books that someone I trust has read first! Thank you, Lanier, for these reviews! I just ordered two of them off of PaperbackSwap and can’t wait to read them!

  6. Lanier, I love how you described some books as “winter” books and some as “summer”. That is so true! I too, met dear Mr. and Mrs. Boffin and John and Bella for the first time last winter! Thanks for sharing your reading list. I nearly always pick my books based on someone else’s recommendations!

  7. Lanier,

    You may be interested to know (or perhaps even you already do!) that the BBC produced a wonderful televised adaptation of Lark Rise to Candleford earlier this year. It was extremely popular here in the UK, and would be well worth trying to source in US.

  8. I just finished reading The Two Towers and The Return of the King, the last two books in the Lord of the Rings Triolgy. They are so much better then The Fellowship of the Ring. I am reading Love as a Way of Life right now and I am being very challenged, especially when I think that I am doing God in one area and I am not.

  9. Ruth Wiechmann says:

    In between my garden and my milk cows, my three children and my husband, I am picking my way through “Golden Fleece,” by Hughie Call. Mingled with the stories of a “Tenderfoot” sheep rancher’s wife in Montana are truths about being that best of helpmeets to her husband, and good neighbor to her community. It’s definitely better “summer fare” than the Three Musketeers series that my husband and I read over the course of about a year—and yes, we did read it ALL:-)—a book to make you laugh, especially if you are at all familiar with sheep, but also a book that has reminded me of the role I cherish as helpmeet to my own husband.

  10. I am currently reading two wonderful books: Little House in the Big Woods, and Jane Eyre. The former I am reading with my husband, and the latter I am reading alone. I haven’t read Little House in the Big Woods since I was little, and my husband has never read it. We love it! It is giving us so many ideas for the life we want to create for our own family. As for Jane Eyre, it really might be more of a winter book…but perhaps, it being summer, the unrelenting tragedies of Jane’s young life don’t bog me down as I imagine they might in winter. I love it dearly so far; it is a book I can read anywhere. Some books, if I read them in a place with noise and distractions, it’s all I can do to concentrate on it; but with this book, I get so engrossed that it seems there is nothing that can distract me. My husband and I also just finished reading The Witch of Blackbird Pond, which is so excellent.

    1. I think it must be so special to read with a husband! It is so wonderful you are taking the time to do it! I grew up on the Little House books and re-read them every few years. It is interesting how I relate to specific books in the series depending on what season of life I’m in. Be sure to read the entire series! Then, check your local library for books about the real Laura and her family…one of my favorites is the Laura’s Album: A Remembrance Scrapbook of Laura Ingalls Wilder. It has so many gorgeous photos and artifacts.

      1. Thank you, Sarah! It really is special. We started reading aloud about a year ago, when we were timid and a little shy about it. Now, we do all the voices! We do plan to read the whole series, and we get all our books from the library. That book you recommended sounds like just the thing I would love! Anyway, I would recommend reading aloud with a husband or with a husband and children…we like it so much we plan on doing it for the rest of our lives!

    2. “Jane Eyre” is my most favorite book. I agree that it might be more of a winter book, but I’ll pick it up anytime of the year. “The Witch of Blackbird Pond” is also a favorite.

      I usually give myself a challenge for my summer reading. Last year, my goal was to read “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” between Memorial Day and Labor Day. This year, I chose to focus on Southern literature and my reading list comprised of the following:

      “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee
      “Everything That Rises Must Converge” by Flannery O’Connor
      “The Moviegoer” by Walker Percy
      “Gone with the Wind” by Margaret Mitchell
      “As I Lay Dying” by William Faulkner

      Now that my challenge is over, I’m spending the rest of the summer reading “Freckles” by Gene Stratton Porter and “Captain Blood” by Rafael Sabatini.

      1. Wow, what cool literary ambitions! That survey of southern literature sounds fabulous. I’ve only read To Kill a Mockingbird, from those, but I’d love to read more. My current literary adventure is an attempt at a survey of Victorian literature; I have this crazy idea that I’ll write a historical novel. I’m praying that I will be able to do it! Anyway, I’m trying to read Victorian literature as research, because I’d like to play with its themes and forms in my hypothetical novel. Do you have any Victorian novels to recommend?

        1. Ahh, Victorian Literature. It is my great weakness. In fact, that was one of the reasons that I chose to read the Southern lit books this summer, so that I could expand my horizons. There are so many great novels from this period, but here are some of my favorites:

          -Anything by Charles Dickens, but “Bleak House” is my favorite so far.
          -“North & South” by Elizabeth Gaskell (check out the BBC adaptation as well).
          -“Kidnapped” and “The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde” by Robert Louis Stevenson.
          -“The Moonstone” by Wilkie Collins
          -“The Tenant of Wildfell Hall” by Anne Bronte
          -“Wuthering Heights” by Emily Bronte
          -Any Sherlock Holmes story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

          Other works that I want to read but haven’t made it to yet:

          -“Villette” by Charlotte Bronte
          -“Daniel Deronda” by George Elliot
          -“The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde
          -“Lorna Doone” by R. D. Blackmoore

          Soo many books and soo little time! BTW, I think that your idea for a Victorian lit survey is great!

          1. Thank you so much for the list! I really appreciate it. 🙂

  11. “Loosely masquerading as fiction…”

    I just want to say that I really relate to this phrase. There are some books that touch too deeply, are too descriptive of things intrinsic to our natures as human beings to simply be called “stories”.

    Anyway, I am re-reading Little Women as of the moment. I have always loved this book and am glad to have finally picked a copy up for myself. As far as I’m concerned, between Jo and Meg and Amy and Beth, there is someone for every young girl to relate to.

    Another book which I actually just picked up for the first time was To Kill a Mockingbird. Wow! That was a seriously fascinating read in some unexpected ways.

    Also, I am a huge Jules Verne fan, and tracked down the long-lost sequel to 20,000 Leagues under the Sea. I haven’t read that one yet, but I’m certainly looking forward to it.

    Granted, I have varied tastes. 🙂

    1. Little Women is my favorite book! One of the reasons it is my favorite is because every time I read the book (which is many, many times) I get something different out of it. As a spirited, young, attention-loving youngest daughter, I related most to Amy. Now, as a young woman learning how to be a good wife, I find that I relate most to Meg! I recognize just about every passage…reading it is like being home.

      1. I, too, just finished re-reading Little Women and once again was inspired and humbled through it. Watch for more on it here at some point! 🙂

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