2017 Summer Reading List

Ah, summer reading. The longer days with opportunities to read outdoors means I ramp up my reading habits every summer. Since the presidential election, I have also been trying to absorb less from social media and instead dig into good books old, and new.

I’d love to hear about your book recommendations, and what is on your list. I tend to read more than one book at a time with a mix of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. Here are some of the things I am currently reading.

Hasanthika Sirisena explores Sri Lanki after the long Civil War. These shorts stories are filled with the living and the dead. The prose sparkles and pops with compelling characters, moving and disturbing images, and flashes of humor.

“With precise and poignant detail Sirisena conjures up an entire and original world in these stories. Through the intimate portrayal of the lives of men and women caught up in Sri Lanka’s turmoil she conveys all the uncertainty, the changing cultures, the terrors, and hopes of our lives.”

—Sheila Kohler, author of Dreaming for Freud

Thanks to Sirisena, I now know what a mantis shrimp is and how terrifying and beautiful it can be, like memories.

Samuel Peterson digs deep into his life as he describes his descent into drug addiction and the weird world of recovery. A trans* man, he expertly meditates on his gender journey and how he navigates it in the intimate world of a residency drug treatment program. In TRUNKY (transgender junky): A Memoir of Institutionalization & Southern Hospitality, Peterson plays with form and language to add depth and sophistication to a story that otherwise could be overwhelming. He brings a fresh eye to the recovery memoir.

Its been almost 17 years since the English translation of Soul Mountain was published. This novel filled with personal reflections on Gao Xingjian’s own life and struggles, toggles back and forth between first and third person narration. The melding of dream and reality along with memory and desire makes me slow down with this novel, taking my time to take it all in. Many themes emerge around the personal, political, and environmental.

“Young man, nature is not frightening, it’s people who are frightening! You just need to get to know nature and it will become friendly. This creature known as man is of course highly intelligent, he’s capable of manufacturing almost anything from rumours to test-tube babies and yet he destroys two to three species every day. This is the absurdity of man.”
Gao Xingjian, Soul Mountain

My friend and colleague, Rev. Dave Swanson, a Mennonite minister who studied theology at Duke under Willie James Jennings, highly recommended I read Jennings’ new commentary on the Book of Acts. It is part of a series of commentaries written by theologians. I am more of a Bible scholar kinda of guy, so I did not think I would enjoy the preacherly approach to the texts. I have only just started and find Jennings’ commentary to be fresh and scholarly with a strong message to engage in the world and do justice. He may be writing about an ancient text, but he has his eyes firmly set on present reality and struggles.

“Jennings writes as poet, preacher, and prophet. He takes the reader on a theological tour of Acts, and like a good tour guide, he describes the familiar places thoughtfully. Like the best of tour guides, he also takes the reader to places of importance that are often unnoticed. We are familiar with Paul’s beatings and imprisonment, but Jennings invites us to think theologically about prisons and beatings. We are familiar with the Jewish-Christian struggles in Acts, but Jennings guides us to think more deeply about the Jewish diaspora and the trauma that empire imposes. These visits to neglected places engender new understanding and perspective on the events recounted in Acts. This commentary preaches as faithfully as it teaches.”
—Daniel Aleshire, Executive Director, The Association of Theological Schools

You can read a sample for yourself.

It might sound strange, but David France’s book about activism during the early HIV/AIDS Crisis, is helping me a lot with my current work around climate change. The parallels between these two periods and two seemingly different issues continually amaze me and give me hope and direction. Based on the excellent documentary, How to Survive A Plague reveals LGBTQ young people and professionals suddenly faced with taking on the impossible in the face of a government and society that could care less.

While I never got into the HBO television series, I find George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones books a weird, guilty treat. Sometimes I need a plot-driven adventures with dragons and palace intrigue to get my mind off of the growing global warming dragon and the unfolding White House intrigue. I have been delighted with the many female characters in Books 1 and 2 who take on male roles as knights and fighters. Some people have already mentioned the climate change references inserted into the books. Perhaps, but sometimes stupid fun reading is required. I am currently on book two, but no one knows because I read it on my Kindle. Shhhh.

Finally, I have begun reading Fanny Howe’s essays, The Needle’s Eye. My friend, the poet, Karla Kelsey, gave me a copy of it in part because of its references to religious figures but also because it is smart, experimental, and deeply insightful. I am trying to break myself of a bad habit. I wake up and immediately reach for my phone.I check Twitter notifications, Instagram stories, Facebook notifications and messages, and finally email. I am not even awake. I have not had coffee, and already I am working and taking in the drivel and the disturbing stuff that social media constantly spews. Perhaps Howe’s short essays can serve as the source I reach for first before my digital day begins.

“[Fanny Howe’s] experimental tales, mixing poetry and prose, offer little miracles of meaning growing from the darkest detritus of our planet. If there are epiphanies here, they are matches struck in the dark, wonders shining through wounds, intimacies of the banal.”—Richard Kearney, Los Angeles Review of Books

One thing that is missing in my reading list is a book specifically about climate change. I tend to listen to many climate themed podcasts and shorter pieces in magazines and newspapers.

Let me know of your book recommendations. What are you reading these days?

UPDATE May 25, 2017

I have identified a climate themed book to read. The Great Derangement by Amitav Ghosh.

Here is a description:

Are we deranged? The acclaimed Indian novelist Amitav Ghosh argues that future generations may well think so. How else to explain our imaginative failure in the face of global warming? In his first major book of nonfiction since In an Antique Land, Ghosh examines our inability—at the level of literature, history, and politics—to grasp the scale and violence of climate change.

Not light reading, but hey, the reality of climate change is a stark and difficult one. Yes, I see there is still hope, but lots to be concerned about. As a climate advocate, I need to remind myself of that on a semi-regular basis. It helps keep me disciplined and focused.



This post has 2 Comments

  1. Martha Daniels on May 24, 2017 at 11:01 am

    I see I have couple to add to my summer reading list… I’m currently reading The Gay Revolution, by Lillian Faderman (it’s been out for a few years) for an LGBTQ+ history book club I just joined. Also Born Both:An Intersex Life, by Hida Viloria, and Richard Florida’s The New Urban Crisis; and God’s Red Son, by Louis Warren (an exploration of the Ghost Dance, with some different conclusions than the usually accepted explanations and rationalizations–I like Warren’s thinking). On the library wait list for Jennifer Finney Boylan’s newest, Long Black Veil, too (#2 on one copy, should get it soon!).
    And I like to read outside too–preferably with a glass of iced tea and a bowl of crunchies (almonds or cashews). Enjoy!

  2. Peterson Toscano on May 24, 2017 at 5:47 pm

    Yes, iced tea or limeade. I made a batch today. I have a super upstairs porch which is perfect for reading. Can even wear my PJs. Nice list. I am especially interested in Also Born Both.
    Thanks, Martha, for commenting.

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