Whether it’s because you’re stuck in your house still or because the beaches are open and you need a good book to read while you get Vitmain D, here are five books I read in April that I’d gladly recommend.
Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton
I finally decided it was time to wade into the world of Thomas Merton, America’s most prolific 20th century mystic. While I found his autobiography a bit dull (am I allowed to say that about Thomas Merton?!?) in the beginning, I did by the end really enjoy it — and I think it was good to read this before reading any of his more popular spiritual and theological works. Worth reading, especially if you enjoy autobiographies and are curious about more mystical branches of Christianity. If you don’t care about any of that, you just won’t have the interest in pushing through.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beacher Stowe
I am almost embarrassed to admit I had never read this classic — somehow it was not assigned to me in high school literature class as it appears to have been the rest of the American population (or, if it was, I failed that particular assignment). What a moving story. I really did not expect it to have so many angles, with Stowe giving a peek behind several curtains of experience in the slavery-plagued South simultaneously. I can see why the book was controversial as it was released in serial form and then altogether as a novel, and I can see why Abraham Lincoln referred to Stowe as the “little lady who started the Civil War.” If you haven’t read it, where have you been the last 180 years? Probably the same place I was. Time to catch up. Read this book.
Bonhoeffers Black Jesus by Reggie Williams
Recommended to me by one of my closest friends, I’d been looking forward to this one for months. Dietrich Bonhoeffer is well known for his theological work around discipleship, and for his plot to assasinate Adolf Hitler. His life was taken much too early, hung at a concentration camp as punishment for his crimes. What I didn’t know is how much of his theology (and willingness to commit those “crimes” on behalf of the oppressed people of Germany) was framed by his experience in Harlem while studying in seminary. You can make a persuasive case (as Williams does), that if it weren’t for him experiencing the faith of the early-20th century black community in the United States he would not have stood for the Jewish community in Europe as he did. Bonhoeffer himself considers his time in Harlem instrumental to even considering himself a Christian. I had not idea about any of this, and this book sketches the portrait of a changed man quite well. This is an academic paper, originally, with almost as many pages of end notes as the book itself. So know that going in. Still, super readable and very fascinating.
Camino Island by John Grisham
I heard Grisham was releasing a follow-up to this book and so I went back and re-read it. John Grisham is my favorite fiction author. I have read and own copies of all his books (save his young adult series), and when I need a quick fiction read I often grab one to revisit. I have read him since I was a teenager with A Time to Kill and The Client. His style has changed, his interests have broadened, and even if this isn’t his best book ever, it serves as a perfect escape during quarantine — and since it’s set in a beach town, would make for a delightful beach read, too.
Camino Winds by John Grisham
With an unfortunate, soap-opera sounding title (like, really, it could be a daytime series starring Moira Rose), this was nowhere near Grisham’s best effort. I can see fans enjoying it, but this shouldn’t be your first title if you’re just catching up to the Grisham thing. Still, the plot of a contract killing happening during a hurricane is different — I can honestly say I’ve never read a book about that before. And I’ll give Grisham a few style points—I am convinced he plotted it like a hurricane. Fast and furious in the beginning, an “eye” in the middle with a very calm plot, and then more action at the end. So that’s fun.
So there you go. A mystic, a classic, an academic paper, and two easy-to-read novels. Something for everyone. Happy reading.