By Cole Hartin
I am taking my summer vacation late this year. My hope, when planning this, was that our province would be facing fewer COVID-19 restrictions, and thus the possibility of seeing friends and family would have been more likely. It turns out my waiting paid off.
In preparing for some time away, I’ve begun to create a little stack of books beside my 70s-era rust orange reclining chair that I intend to read (or at least flip through) when I am free from the busy rhythms of parish life.
Summer reading, for me, needs to steer away from some of the subjects I’ve been thinking about constantly during the year. In addition to the regular consultation of the church fathers and more recent commentaries in my preaching preparation, most of my other reading time goes to academic research and reviews — this year focusing mostly on nineteenth-century Anglicanism and the theological interpretation of Scripture. I try to keep a novel on the go, and of course, there are bedtime stories with my two oldest sons (we are just about to finish The Voyage of the Dawn Treader), but my time feels pretty squeezed and so the summer is the time when I let my reading meander. I try to find something that delights, something that’s entertaining, and something that’s nourishing to my vocation. I try to keep to modern authors; summer reading shouldn’t be demanding. I try to stay away from academic books and articles.
Here is a miscellany of what I have in queue for the coming weeks:
A Burning in My Bones: The Authorized Biography of Eugene Peterson by Winn Collier
I have already read this once. My wife and I read it aloud together in the evenings and I found the biography only deepened my appreciation for Peterson and his vision of the pastoral vocation as “a long obedience in the same direction.” His ministry brought together the life of the mind and the cure of souls in way that I find deeply compelling. Peterson struggled to be faithful to the pastoral calling, to be diligent in his writing, and most importantly, to be a loving husband and father. Though he had his faults, his life is commendable.
Collier writes this biography in an inviting and easy style. This book was good for my soul, and I intend to read it a second time with a pen handy for underlying the best bits.
Bone by Jeff Smith
I am reading this series with my sons. I actually only started reading comics in the past couple of years, after listening to God and Comics, a podcast featuring a member of the Covenant blog. We are only on the first volume, but I have most of the others collected. It’s the weird saga of three cousins who are literally bone people, making their way back to “Boneville.” So far we’ve encountered a smoking dragon and racing cows. Zany stuff.
White Teeth and Feel Free by Zadie Smith
Last summer I started Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle series and found I couldn’t put it down. When I finished the sixth book this past winter, I started to read some of the press surrounding his works. I came across some kind words by Zadie Smith, and then one thing led to another and I decided I should give her novels a try. I am beginning this summer with her celebrated first, White Teeth. Fortuitously, I found a copy of her 2018 essays, Feel Free, on the clearance rack at my local bookstore. I picked it up as well.
The Wild Iris by Louise Glück
Partly because of the pandemic, and partly because of my demonic shopping habits, more often than not, I purchase my books online. I still haunt some used bookstores, and occasionally stroll through one of the couple new booksellers left in Saint John, where I live. When I do purchase books in-store, it’s usually after I have scoped a title out and am already on to the author.
I mixed things up this past week, however, when I planned to purchase a poetry collection. The rules: Walk into the bookstore, flip through some titles, and select what catches my eye. This is exactly what I did. I confess I don’t know modern poetry well, by after rifling through a few pages of Glück’s The Wild Iris, I liked what I read, so I purchased it. I am looking forward to reading this slim volume slowly while drinking coffee on foggy mornings.
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières
I try to run every couple of days. When I am not pumping post-hardcore into my eardrums, I try to listen to something interesting. Podcasts have slowed to a trickle over the summer months, so I am working my way through this sixteen-or-seventeen-hour-long audiobook. Think summertime in Greece: cafes, low-stakes political debates, and the peripatetic work of a village physician.
Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton
This is another re-read, at least for me. After finishing Collier’s, A Burning in my Bones, my wife and I started to read Chesterton aloud before bed. Nobody writes with such playful, boundless joy as Chesterton. His writing is lively enough to keep us awake for a few more minute than usual.
I received a print subscription to Image as a birthday present. Shipping has been slow in Canada, so I am still waiting for the summer issue, but I found the last edition to be a wonderful balance of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. I can only speak to the one issue I’ve received, but I was impressed by the quality of the publication, the attention to good design, and the beautiful prints. This is not an academic journal to shelve for a few years before giving it to Goodwill. It’s not a magazine that will be recycled in a couple of weeks. I like to keep a copy on the coffee table of our living room.
Well that’s about all I have planned for the summer, though this morning I was reminded that I purchased Alec Ryrie’s Protestants this past winter, and if I can stomach some more serious reading, I might take up this tome up off my bookshelf as well.
The Rev. Dr. Cole Hartin is assistant curate at St. Luke’s in Saint John, New Brunswick.