November 30, 2020

Recommended Summer Reading

This morning we looked at some summer tunes I recommend are worth your time to explore. Before we turn to some good books to read during this season, let me try to explain why we take time to make book and music recommendations in the first place.

Yes, we are a “religious” blog per se, but that is not a narrow confinement to me. I see the whole world as God’s good creation, and that includes music and literature of all types. I find it fun to listen to Jackson Browne and hear God speak to me. It’s exciting to be reading a great novel and have Jesus pop up and say “Hi!” The categorization of things into secular and religious is one of the greatest victories of the enemy. If it can be labeled “Christian” because it uses the right buzzwords, then God must like it. If you have to actually think and work through metaphors to see Jesus, then it’s too much trouble. It’s not “straightforward” enough. I’ve heard a number of people tell me that the Gospel needs to always be proclaimed in a straightforward manner, not using fantasy or other artistic means to do so. When I tell them Jesus almost always spoke in parables that left his listeners having to think and work out for themselves what he had just said, they just harrumph and walk away.

We recommend pieces of art—books, movies, films—that touch us in some way. If they don’t help lead you closer to Jesus, ignore them. It’s ok. I like Neil Young, you like Frank Sinatra. Neither of us is wrong. (For the record, I love Sinatra as well.) Just look for Jesus in everything you allow into your heart. Should Young or Sinatra or any musical artist rob you of the peace of Christ, don’t listen to them. Same goes with what you read.

I do ask that if you are interested in a product we mention here, you use the link provided. That will take you to Amazon, and when you purchase through Amazon, we get a small percentage to help with our operating expenses. Thanks for helping us in that way.

Now, onto our summer reading list.

Summer and baseball are intertwined in my heart. My dad taught me to love baseball by taking me to many Cincinnati Reds games, and he taught me to read the newspaper by reading the box scores with me. Books on baseball are meant to be read in the summer while sitting under a shade tree listening to a game on the radio. Well, ok, I usually sneak in a baseball book in the winter just to help me make it from the World Series to Spring Training. But all things considered, baseball books are for summertime reading.

Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball by R.A. Dickey is the latest addition to my baseball library. (By the way, some of my most treasured books are ones given to me by First Lady Denise Spencer, including a good selection of baseball books that had belonged to Michael. He, too, treasured books on baseball.) Dickey is a knuckleballer, the only remaining knuckleball pitcher in the majors. (There are supposedly two more in the minors, but no one knows if they will ever make it to The Show.) Dickey, a strong believer, shares his rough upbringing (sexually abused as a young boy) and his suicidal thoughts as an adult. In other words, this is not your typical “I asked Jesus into my life and everything was roses after that” kind of book. Dickey is as real as he needs to be to get across the idea that Christians still have to deal with life on life’s terms.

His best writing is when he is describing his transition from being a “traditional” pitcher to throwing a pitch that is as difficult to catch as it is to hit. (Brewers broadcaster Bob Uecker once said, “The way to catch a knuckleball is to wait until it stops rolling, then go pick it up.”) Dickey explains this pitch so quirky he is the only one still employing it:

The knuckleball is the only pitch in baseball that works by doing nothing. Curveballs curve. Cutters cut. Sinkers sink. The knuckleball? You want it to float to the plate, rotation-free, and let the laws of entropy or aerodynamics or whatever else is in play take over from there, the air rushing around it, the seams creating a drag, the ball wobbling and wiggling and shimmying and shaking. Or not. Sometimes the knuckleball will be unhittable and sometimes it will be uncatchable, but rarely is it predictable. You can throw two knuckleballs with the identical release, the identical motion, in the identical place, and once might go one way and the second might go another way. It’s one of the first things you have to accept as a knuckleballer: the pitch has a mind of its own. You either embrace it for what it is—a pitch that is reliant on an amalgam of forces both seen and unseen—or you allow it to drive you half out of your mind.

I embrace it.

Oh, that’ll preach big time. We may just have to revisit this book sometime in the near future.

A book that looks at religion and sports in a broader and more historical manner is William Baker’s Playing with God: Religion and Modern Sport. This is a very readable tome looking at how sports and Christianity have clashed over the years. Then there were those who sought to allow God into the locker room and even out on the field of play. For instance, you’ll read about Knute Rockne’s mysticism. A fun and enlightening read.

Most of us live our lives in continual pursuit of safety, wishing to cling to the shore thinking (wrongly) that we are to stay out of the depths of the ocean where danger lies on every side. These forget Psalm 107:23, 24:

Those who go down to the sea in ships/Who do business on great waters;

They have seen the works of the Lord/And His wonders in the deep.

Susan Casey goes into the heart of the ocean to explore waves. She talks with big wave surfers who are foolish enough to ride waves that would snap an oceanliner in half. Casey takes us to these liquid mountains and the men and women who learn to ride on their tops. Again, this is a book that followers of Jesus should take to heart as we learn to let go of perceived safety and allow the Lord to take us where he will, even if it is to the top of a huge wave. I really recommend The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks and Giants of the Oceanbe added to your summer book pile.

Yes, I know that summer is a time to take it easy, that we are not supposed to learn anything in the summer. That’s for those who fail a class and have to take summer school. But I happen to think learning is fun. God has created an intricate and exiting world that we barely skim the surface of even on our best days. Two areas that have always intrigued me are physics and mathematics. What wondrous things the Lord has in place in our world that we overlook. I have tried to read some of the heavy-duty books on these subjects, only to give up in frustration. Until now. Physics: Without the Boring Bits and Mathematics: Without the Boring Bits were written just for me—someone who wants to know enough to open my eyes in wonder without then closing them again in despair of ever knowing just what in the world the author is talking about. These two books are practical and fun while still teaching a bundle.

Finally, let’s have some fun with a children’s book that, like most children’s books, is really meant for adults. Richard Peck’s A Long Way From Chicago is a series of short stories about two children from Chicago who go to visit their grandmother in a small town in southern Illinois each summer, starting in 1929. The adventures are told by one of the grandchildren, and are suspenseful enough that you won’t leave a story until it’s finished. This may cost you some sleep, but I think you’ll agree it’s worth it.

Well iMonks, have I given you enough to read for the summer? Now, please put down your Danielle Steel and Clive Cussler novels and do some real—and really good—reading.


  1. “Yes, we are a “religious” blog per se, but that is not a narrow confinement to me. I see the whole world as God’s good creation, and that includes music and literature of all types.”
    How important that statement is. God is not cloaked in religiosity. He is found in the back alleys of life in ways that would be impossible to perceive on Main St. He can certainly be found on Main St. as the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, so Jesus will be found where He chooses to be found; Main St., alley or otherwise. My point is that He tells us to do things sometimes that don’t follow protocol and we get leery about it because we are pleasing men and not God. I know I’m preaching to the choir here because most iMonks have already veered off the interstate but anyway I think it’s a good point.

  2. Since it’s an election year, I think I’m going to tackle reading the Federalist Papers this summer.

  3. It’s a little early for summer, but here’s what I’m wrapping up for mid-Spring:

    – Rez Life: An Indian’s Journey Through Reservation Life by David Treuer. Stories about the dire conditions and hopeless are all around (and just a little too close to Poorism to my taste). This is different: While it doesn’t ignore the injustices and difficulties, it also celebrates life on the US Reservations.

    – The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience by Ron Sider. I’ve always appreciated ESA’s non-hysterical, non-us VS Them view of things. This is a little less overly political, but still adresses the fact that Evangelicals are increasingly similar in practice to their non-evanglical Christian counterpart.

    – Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith. Yes, the gimmick has played itself out. Still, this is one I actually want to read for the silly premise. So far it takes itself quite seriously. I need to finish this up before the movies comes out.

  4. If you’re interested in the spirituality of surfing, see Bron Taylor’s article, “Surfing into Spirituality and a New, Aquatic Nature Religion” which argues–quite seriously–that surfing has religious dimensions:

    (The same issue of the journal had a similar article about fly-fishing.)

  5. If you want a good book that explores a surprising connection between mathematics and Christian mysticism, I recommend Graham and Kantor’s “Naming Infinity.” You don’t need to know much math to appreciate this simultaneous exploration of early 20th century mathematics in France and Russia and the way that a certain heterodox strand of Russian Orthodox mysticism influenced the relevant mathematics, especially my own field of probability theory.

  6. David Cornwell says

    This isn’t about a book, but it is interesting reading concerning Cole Hamel intentionally hitting rookie Bryce Harper in the back with his 93 mph fastball. The “Philadelphia Inquirer” website,, has an opinion piece entitled “Baseball and life: Still unfair” by William C. Kashatus that makes some good reading. Among the other statements he makes is this one: “Given that baseball and life aren’t fair, what really matters is how one responds to the injustice. One can surrender to self-pity and become embittered. Or one can demonstrate the fortitude to put the past behind.” The young Harper demonstrated some class with his handling of the matter.

    Take a peak.

  7. Radagast says

    For the Civil War enthusiast…recommended to me while I was journeying with 120 eighth graders last week…

    Cain at Gettysburg by Ralph Peters……

  8. My kids and I loved A long way from Chicago! Great as a read aloud (bear in mind that grandma is a colorful character with, if I remember correctly, some colorful language). I think we will read it again when we are done with the very silly Hank the Cowdog:-) (There are several places in Hank where it has seemed Jesus is “saying Hi”)
    thanks for the list!

  9. If you would just stop blogging then perhaps I could get to an actual book…
    I’d be embarrassed to admit how long it’s been since I finished a good book. I suppose I should resolve to read my first fiction in years over the summer, but my “to-do” list of non-fiction keeps growing faster than I can chip away at it… Oh the curse of the armchair theologian. So many books, so little time.

    I am so not into sports, it should be a crime. (…and only my pastor will ever know how many super bowls I’ve missed…) Of all your recommendations, R. Peck’s the most likely for me.

  10. I was fortunate enough to attend a children’s literature conference a couple of years ago at which Richard Peck was one of the keynote speakers. Excellent man, with a lot to say about the current state of education in this country. One of the main things I remember is him saying that we need to do away with Language Arts and start teaching English again. To which I say a hearty A-MEN!! Grandma Dowdle puts me in mind of a lot of the stories that my mom tells about our relatives.

    My only planned heavy read this summer is to finally finish “The Divine Conspiracy” by Dallas Willard. Otherwise, I’m enjoying a bit of fluff reading — since I get to teach a lot of the great books between August and May, my summer reading is usually for sheer fun. I’m going to try “A Game of Thrones.”

  11. Based upon recommendations here, I bought a copy of “Genesis for Normal People”. I’m impressed with it so far. If anyone knows of a bible commentary with a similar approach to the rest of scripture, I’d sure like to hear about it.

    • I guess I’ll answer my own question. The (New) Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary published by Abington Press seems to fit the bill. Very similar view of Genesis as Peter Enns. Even better: it is available as an ebook. I inherited my dad’s hard-cover copy. So, the answer was literally sitting on my book shelf.

      • Sample quote from the Interpreter’s One-Volume Bible Commentary, from the introduction to Genesis:

        “The patriarchal stories combine historical fact, tradition, poetry, and symbolism, according to what today is recognized as unscientific historical method. Their value lies not so much in the bits of historical information they provide as in the religious insights they disclose.”


        “The patriarchal stories undoubtedly contain historical material and are meant to convey historical fact, but the curious interest shown today in “proving the Bible true” reveals their dearth of historical information apart from the mass of knowledge made available through archaeology. Archaeology does not simply confirm bible statements – it clarifies them first and foremost..”

  12. Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell. True story of a Navy SEAL who hiked through the mountains of Afghanistan. Well-written, and true. Two of the most important criteria for me. If you like military stuff you’ll love this.

    If you are a G.W. hater, you probably won’t appreciate it.

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