It’s as much a part of the season as a beach trip or baseball: compiling a summer reading list. To help get you started, members of the HDS community shared what they’ll be reading this summer—for work and for pleasure.
Kerry Maloney, chaplain and director for religious and spiritual life
The promise of free summer evenings and weekends brings with it the delicious prospect of diving into the books piled up by my bed. A few that I’m already reading include Richard Rothstein’s new publication The Color of Law: The Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America; Mary Oliver’s Upstream: Selected Essays; Arundhati Roy’s Capitalism: A Ghost Story; and the latest collection of poetry by our colleague at HMS Rafael Campo, Alternative Medicine.
I also plan to reread Jim O’Connell’s Stories From the Shadows: Reflections of a Street Doctor; several of Wendell Berry’s publications, including Our Only World: Ten Essays; Edwidge Danticat’s Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work, as well as Paul Kalinithi’s exquisitely rendered account of his journey toward death When Breath Becomes Air. My friend Nancy Mairs died this past December, and in honor of her life, I hope to reread some of her remarkable works as well, including A Troubled Guest: Death and Life Stories, Waist-High in the World: A Life Among the Disabled, and Ordinary Time.
Taylor Stewart, MDiv candidate
This summer, I am spending quality time with Toni Morrison. I wanted to focus on literature that is both set within a variety of African American contexts throughout history, while also being extremely engaging. Morrison's novels do both exquisitely. Currently, I am reading Love, which is perfect for beginning the summertime—particularly because it takes place in a beach town in Georgia. However, it is full of the drama that occupies those associated with Cosey's Hotel and Resort, a once thriving vacation destination that has moved quite past its prime. I am thoroughly enjoying it thus far.
I also have Morrison's A Mercy and Sula on my summer reading list. I haven't dived into those two yet, but am looking forward to beginning them after my time with Love is complete.
Charles Stang, Professor of Early Christian Thought, and incoming director, Center for the Study of World Religions
In June, I’m returning to one of my favorite books, T.E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom, a memoir of Lawrence’s days in the Arab Revolt of the First World War. This time I’ll be reading a different version: not the standard 1926 edition, but an earlier, longer, and much rawer 1922 version that has recently been published in a beautiful and accessible edition. I am returning to Seven Pillars of Wisdom as part of an effort to get a new book project on Lawrence started.
When Lawrence died in a motorcycle crash in 1935, he was sketching out a new book, to be entitled “Confession of Faith.” All we have of this book is a short outline and some few notes. But I’m firmly convinced that all of Lawrence’s writings should be understood as one long, tortured confession. As I’m conceiving of it now, the book will try to read all of his earlier writings, including Seven Pillars of Wisdom, through this confessional lens, and will try to intuit what his unfinished “Confession” would have included. I’m wagering that in the earlier version of SPW Lawrence is even more nakedly confessional.
Sally Finestone, counselor to Jewish students
I visit Israel every summer, and always bring several books with me. (I get teased about the weight this adds to my suitcase, but there is something irreplaceable about the feel of a book in one's hands.) My summer reading is always a mixture of serious, "should read" books and fun, escapist books.
This summer, my "should read" books includes The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman. It explores the gradual and dramatic changes to our environment that would occur if all of humanity were to somehow vanish overnight. Especially now, my concern about the environment is high, and I feel that this book is a good thought experiment in that area.
A second book is titled Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea. One of my areas of interest is Hebrew Bible, and that brings with it study of other ancient cultures and ideas. The role that mathematics played in shaping ancient cultures and even religion has always interested me. A third book is H Is For Hawk, by Helen McDonald, a memoir about a woman who adopts and raises a wild hawk while dealing with the loss of her beloved father. I am hoping to learn additional insights about how people cope with loss from this acclaimed book.
My fun, escapist list includes Under Heaven, by Guy Gaviel Kay, a fantasy novel set in ancient China, and Written In My Own Heart's Blood, by Diana Gabaldon, the last book in the Outlander series. I've loved learning about Scottish history through this series of impossibly long books!
Charles Hallisey, Yehan Numata Senior Lecturer on Buddhist Literatures
I have reached a point in my life where I have a tremendous urge to re-read things, and as I think ahead to the summer, I find my mind going to thoughts of what I want to re-read. Some things that have already come to mind are “classics” read long ago. The controversy this summer about the Public Theater's Shakespeare in the Park production of Julius Caesar has made me want to re-read that play, first read in the ninth grade of high school.
Others are things read more recently. I am finishing Colin Thubron’s striking new novel, Night of Fire, which builds off the Lotus Sutra’s “Parable of the Burning House,” and it has made me want to re-read Marilynne Robinson’s Home, which builds off the New Testament's “Parable of the Prodigal Son.” Both Night of Fire and Home are beautiful reminders of how novels can be occasions for religious reflection.
I have already started re-reading the works of the late German novelist, W.G. Sebald. I was surprised to find at the end of re-reading Austerlitz that I wanted to start re-reading it again immediately. Jon Cook, the editor of a book of essays about Sebald by contemporary writers, says that “Reading Sebald can be a little like engaging with a special kind of map, one that will reveal previously unimagined connections not just across space but across time as well” (After Sebald, edited by Jon Cook , 13). That had been my experience in first reading Sebald and I already know that the revelation of things "previously unimagined" also happens when re-reading Sebald.