Wrapping up the Summer with a little reading


fullsizeoutput_a989Summer seems to be a time when adults have more time for leisure. Perhaps our one-week long vacation that takes us from city to city, amusement park to amusement park is not truly leisure. While it’s packed with activities, we return home trying to catch our breath, as well as to catch up on our sleep before having to catch up on our work that awaits us at home or the office. Perhaps it’s best that the topic, “The Rush Into and Out of Our Vacations” be saved for a later time!

Memorial Day weekend is the time when summer reading lists come out, such as the NY Times and NPR book reviews, along with blog and Facebook posts suggesting what to read or what others are reading for the summer.  As we enter the last part of summer, many of us will take vacation time, so consider grabbing a book for your trip or the time away from the office. To help you on your journey, I would like to suggest four books: one retro novel, two current novels, one autobiography and one self-help book.

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

A Gentlemen in Moscow by Amor Towles

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

Hero by Meg Meeker

Murder on the Orient Express: I have watched many Agatha Christie movies over the years and sadly did not know who she was. It was not until this past spring that I read my first Agatha Christie mystery, Murder on the Orient Express.  When I heard that Kenneth Branagh films was going to release this into a movie in November 2017, I thought now is the time to catch up on my Agatha Christie reading.




As there has been revival of Sherlock Holmes through movies, and two television series, among the last ten years or more of CSI and other crime-type dramas, it is obvious that Agatha Christie would make a return on the big screen. What movies and television
cannot do with character development Dame Christie does very well and thus the story unfolds. Published in book form in 1934 in both the U.K. and the U.S., was another classic crime novel that had Private Detective Hercule Poirot as the main character, who solves the murder. I suggest as you get halfway through the novel you will not want to put it down but read it to the end!

All the Light We Cannot See: I read this book sometime in 2016 as part of book club, which we spent a couple of sessions discussing the text. It takes place during WWII, and as novels often do, it begins with characters that quickly fade away and others that come and go. All, however, intersect with a blind French girl, names Marie-Laure.


In 2015 Doerr won the Pulitzer Prize for this novel. The story is written with short succinct paragraphs that moves the reader and the characters along. Two aspects of this novel stood out for me as I was reading. First was how the characters deal with suffering and their surviving of a war and whether the character was French or German.  Second was how the reader engages the world through the ears of a blind girl, thus seeing the characters in a different light, as well as how Marie-Laure perceives the landscape of the war.

A Gentleman in Moscow: I recently began reading this novel, and I can say thus far it is a good summer read.  What is most surprising is the how Towles takes what a reader amormay consider a bleak life of “house arrest” and fills Count Alexander Rostov’s with life, humor, suffering and even joy during the hard times over Moscow and the people of Russia under the Soviet oppression. Towles reminds us–sometimes when we expect it and other times when we don’t–of the dangers of living during the Soviet regime and to the point of acknowledging daily life pre-Stalin and during his rule.  The teacher is always the student, and in reading about the Count, I too want to learn the ways of a gentleman. Count Alexander is attractive in his grounding in his humanity and as a gentleman, even when titles, money and family are all gone. He has been raised to know who he is and to engage those around in in their fullest humanity, whether the characters are colleagues, members of the inner Soviet bureaucracy or young children.

Hillbilly Elegy: Over the decade and one may say even longer, Americans have had to personalize who are Muslims versus an ambiguous group of people known as terrorists, as well as understanding that Black Lives Matter is not a vague group but fellow Americans, and recently in the last economic downturn turn Americans learned about the 99%,  All this to say J.D. Vance puts names and faces on another group in America, the hillbillies of Appalachia.  Each individual person who makes up this great country, all have a story. While we may not get to know many, recently, we learned President Obama’s life story as he ran for President of the United States, Justice Sonia Sotomayor as she was elevated to the U.S. Supreme Court. Now in his own words, we learn the life of 31-year, white, male, straight, Protestant, who graduated from an Ivy League Law School.


J.D. Vance, even with five boxes checked off for a possible privileged background, comes from Appalachia where most of his family and friends will not leave but succumb to the culture that has overcome the white working class in Kentucky and Ohio.  It is a riveting story of who this young man becomes and how he attains the life he has.  Whether from fiction or real life, the main characters have pillars in their lives that move them to greatness. We see his grandparents, his grandma, known as Mamaw and his half-sister, Lindsay, as three such pillars that give him the ability to look ahead and move beyond Middletown, Ohio, but who also keep him grounded from where and from whom he is from. Perhaps, I have said too much, but go and read it and allow yourself to get know other Americans in a personal and more human way.

Hero: Meg Meeker has written another book that all parents should read.  In her sixth book, Hero, Dr. Meeker focuses on the importance of fathers and fatherhood.  Her subtitles always get to the point and in this case what is so important about being a father? as her subtitle states, Being the Strong Father your Children Need.  In the world we live in, all around us are one parent families…Dr. Meeker’s text is not for one to go out and find spouse, but rather challenges us to introspection. Just because one is part of a two-parent family does it mean both parents are engaged with their children.  Even so, with more than 50% of families being divorced, or not married, Dr. Meeker even presents the questions for dads who are divorced, widowed, or even stepfathers.


I recommend Dr. Meeker’s books and particularly Hero for your summer reading. While some books are geared to mothers and others toward fathers, I always recommend that both read such books, so they continue to further their knowledge about their parental roles and the importance that each has in the family. It is also a small step in assisting parents in communicating and talking about their children with one another and how each can support each other and raise their children together. So once dad is finished with this book, hand it off to mom, she will enjoy it in her own way.

Where ever your vacation takes you, pick up a book from this list as it will bring you little closer to leisure.

Summer Reading for Students- 2017

St. Louis Cathedral and General Andrew Jackson“Once you know how to read, then it is up to you to read and read well.  A learned man, a learned lady, is someone who not only knows how to read but who has read well.  This means that you will have to spend time by yourself with books, not just with machines of various sophistications lost in horizontal relationships of the now.” —James Schall, S.J. How are we to live in this broken world, Thursday, 25 May 2017. (1)

“Those of us who have been true readers all our life seldom fully realize the enormous extension of our being which we owe to authors…The man who is contented to be only himself, and therefore less a self, is in prison. My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through those of others. Reality, even seen through the eyes of many, is not enough. I will see what others have invented. Even the eyes of all humanity are not enough. I regret that the brutes cannot write books. Very gladly would I learn what face things present to a mouse or a bee; more gladly still would I perceive the olfactory world charged with all the information and emotion it carries for a dog.” —C.S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism. (2)

As we prepare to open the doors of Ozark Catholic Academy in August 2018, I am pondering what could students and parents read over the summer that will begin laying the groundwork for this new adventure. This post focuses on what I would suggest students dive into if they are entering grades 7, 8, and 9 in August 2017.


Seeing through the eyes of others or walking in their shoes, are phrases or notions that have been told to us by our parents, mostly our moms. In recent years, we’ve heard this from Everlast through the lyrics of “What It’s Like ” and more recently from Pope Francis when Roman Catholics meet sinners where they are. Opening and expanding our imagination through reading is a necessary step for us to be able to see reality for what it really is–reality.  C.S. Lewis understands that readers desire to see through the eyes of humanity, but even that is not enough for them.  For me, to walk in one’s footsteps, that is to understand or know someone, is to ask about what book he or she is reading and then be able to converse over it.

As your eyes peruse the list of books below, know that it is not meant to be “a list” but a spring board to inspire summer reading. The lists below are by no means dogmatic but do have a theme.  In Fr. James Schall, S.J.’s opening quotation a distinction is made between reading and reading well.  “Reading well” is an inference for possibly the following ideas.

First knowing how to read well, is about getting the most out of the fiction or non-fiction book you are engaged in.  An example of this, even with a novel for enjoyment, is to underline or highlight key lines that make you laugh, cry or leave you with wonder.  Mortimer Adler’s How to Read a Book, is the key text that can give you the tools to further enjoy what you read.

Second in Schall’s understanding of “reading well,” can be taken as reading books that are understood to be good.  Such a notion does not mean there is one list that you should read by the time you leave high school, or even pass from this life to the next.  But rather there are books that truly expand our sight or our experience by allowing us to see through the eyes of others or to walk in their shoes. The list below reflects just that. There are books worth reading that have been recently published, but perhaps the true enjoyment of such books can come about when one has read well those worthy of reading that have come before.

Of course, these books are only suggestions but I hope they will engage the imagination of students whether, it is poetry, fiction, or non-fiction. And by all means the lists below can be read and appreciated by adult readers.  Parents reading books along with their middle school or high school child is a step that we all can take and enjoy a hearty conversation over dinner, whether that dinner is around a camp fire, the beach or while visiting grandparents this summer. Just a reminder that this reading does not supersede any reading you have to do for the school you are currently attending.

Also, I know local libraries offer programs for children to read during the summer and even bookstores, like Barnes and Noble offer reading challenges to young readers.  Visit your local library or even better, a used bookstore and ask if they have such a program or that they might even begin one to bring in young readers.

Enjoy the summer and whatever adventure you have planned or those unplanned; either way, carry a book with you and you may possibly have two simultaneous adventures!

Entering Seventh Grade

  • Conan Doyle, Arthur. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
  • O’Dell, Scott. Island of the Blue Dolphins
  • Serraillier, Ian. The Silver Sword
  • Armstrong, William. Sounder
  • White, E.B.. Stuart Little
  • Currie, Eve. Madame Currie: A Biography
  • Alcott, Louisa May. Eight Cousins
  • Burnett, Frances Hodgeson. The Secret Garden
  • Speare, Elizabeth. The Bronze Bow
  • Fitzgerald, John. The Great Brain series
  • Stevenson, Robert Louis. Treasure Island
  • Portis, Charles. True Grit

Entering Eight Grade

  • Stevenson, Robert Louis. Kidnapped
  • Verne, Jules. Around the World in Eighty Days
  • Wyss, J.D.. Swiss Family Robinson
  • Herriot, James. All Creatures Great and Small
  • Keller, Helen. The Story of My Life
  • L’Engle, Madeleine. The Austin Family Chronicles
  • Twain, Mark. The Prince and the Pauper
  • White, T.H. The Once and Future King
  • Morris, Willie. Good Old Boy
  • Tarkington, Booth. Penrod
  • McCullough, David. 1776
  • Orwell, George. Animal Farm
  • Hillenbrand, Laura. Unbroken (Young Adult Adaptation)

Entering Ninth Grade

  • Sienkiewicz, Henryk. Quo Vadis
  • Douglas, Lloyd C. The Robe
  • de Wohl, Louis. The Last Crusader: A Novel about Don Juan of Austria
  • Rawicz, Slawomir. The Long Walk
  • Austen, Jane. Emma
  • Austen, Jane. Sense and Sensibility
  • Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451
  • Cather, Willa. Death Comes for the Archbishop
  • Shaara, Michael. The Killer Angels
  • Sutcliff, Rosemary. Silver Branch
  • Buck, Pearl. The Good Earth
  • Lewis, C.S.. Space Trilogy Series: Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra. That Hideous Strength


  1. http://www.catholicworldreport.com/2017/05/28/how-are-we-to-live-in-this-broken-world/ found on June 7, 2017.
  2. https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/11/26/c-s-lewis-literature-reading-books/ found on June 8, 2017.