Books, (Iced) Coffee, and Summer

Explore this summer's reading list of timeless gems.

By Rob Schwarzwalder Published on June 25, 2018

We are offering a spry new series called “Summer Reading,” with assorted Stream writers and contributors offering what they’ll be toting in book bags this vacation season or their reflections on summer reading. Here’s the fourth entry. See the others as they’re added here.

“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” So said C.S. Lewis, with whom I seldom disagree. This time, I do, a wee bit. Change tea to coffee. With half-and-half. Mixed with cocoa. Put in a blender with ice. Now, you’re ready.

There are lots of long books I can well do without. I have not read Artamene, a “novel” published in France between 1649 and 1653. Coming in at 1,954,300 words, it composes ten volumes — in three parts each. No cup of coffee, however large, would persuade me to take a shot at it.

But there are many, many books that I would read and recommend. Here are a few.

Huckleberry Finn. When at Samuel Clemens’ Connecticut home a few years ago, I asked a woman in the bookshop if there were a children’s version of the book. She said no — Huckleberry Finn is not a children’s book.

Huckleberry Finn is about the beauty and ugliness of life, captured in a narrative by a boy too honest to guard his thoughts. Huck’s basic morality exceeds that of the many more cultured men and women he encounters, shown by his decision to help enslaved Jim get free even if he goes to hell for doing so.

Huck and Jim on the river, which brings them encounters with scoundrels and charlatans, young lovers and old con-men, is one of the loveliest narratives in all literature. Huck ends the book by saying he would “light out for the territories.” His Aunt Polly wants to civilize him, and he wants none of it. “I’ve been there before,” he says.

Connected: Living in the Light of the Trinity, by Sam Allberry. Who is the Triune God? What does it matter He is three persons, distinct but not separate, all sharing the same essence? What does this matter to our eternal salvation? Or to our daily walks with God? Anglican rector and Christian apologist Sam Allberry explains — in readable, enjoyable prose — why God the Three-in-One is real, and why that matters. A lot.

Out West: A Journey Through Lewis and Clark’s America, by Dayton Duncan. Great fun, penetrating observations, a cast of colorful characters. In 1984, writer Duncan got into a VW camper and re-traced the journey of America’s greatest explorers. His many encounters with all kinds of people prove that to be ordinary does not mean you’re boring or unimportant. And that America is one remarkable country.

Anything by P.G. Wodehouse. Famous for his Jeeves and Wooster characters, “Plum” Wodehouse also wrote about other characters just as funny, including the ambitious young man named “Psmith.” He even wrote a piece from the perspective of an excitable, happy dog. “I don’t know, you know, don’t you know?” says Bertie Wooster in one of his innumerable moments of befuddlement. And this: “He was a tubby little chap who looked as if he had been poured into his clothes and had forgotten to say ‘when.’”

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At Ease: Stories I Tell to My Friends, by Dwight Eisenhower. “When I traveled to West Point in 1911,” writes Ike, “I traveled light.” If this doesn’t make any young man’s heart stir, he might not really be young. The great general and president recounts his youth and early military experiences in an entertaining and sometimes wistful series of personal stories. Ike’s education wasn’t merely formal. He drew deeply from the wellspring of experience and close observation. And, thereby, helped change the world.

A very readable and wise book on God’s will is Kevin DeYoung’s Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will. The subtitle says it all: “How to Make a Decision Without Dreams, Visions, Fleeces, Impressions, Open Doors, Random Bible Verses, Casting Lots, Liver Shivers, Writing in the Sky, Etc.” Solid counsel grounded in the changeless Word of God. And funny, too.

Finally, John Stott’s Basic Christianity remains, in my view, the best single-volume explanation of “the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 1:2) since it was first published nearly six decades ago. Want to understand the essentials of the Christian faith and how to find forgiveness and new and eternal life in Christ? Stott is a gracious, clear, and truth-focused guide.

Now? Ready to grab your iced mocha? Or — if you must — iced tea (sigh …).

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