As promised, today I am providing my 2021 Summer Reading List.
It seems summer is to books what the end of the year is to movies, as publishers introduce a flood of their latest and greatest. I guess it’s because, with summer being the traditional vacation season, there is a presumption that readers are looking for something new to throw in their suitcases.
There are innumerable summer reading lists. As I have said before, reading is no different for me in summer than in any other time of year. But since I have this forum, I feel obligated to get on the bandwagon.
As is my custom, I’ll give you both fiction and non-fiction recommendations, three of the former and two of the latter.
Before I do that, I would again like to ask for reading suggestions from you (please.) I would also like to gauge your interest in a future reading challenge, a virtual “Home Page Book Club” if you will, in which we all read the same book and exchange thoughts and comments with each other. Let me know what you think!
On to today’s list:
“Sooley,” by John Grisham. As Grisham readers are aware, he is best known for his legal thrillers, gaining notoriety for “A Time to Kill,” “The Firm,” “The Client” and many others. But he occasionally steps outside that genre, as he has done with his latest, this time combining his love of sports with his talent for storytelling. This one follows the life of Samuel Sooleymon, a South Sudanese teenager who travels to the U.S. to play in a basketball tournament that showcases international talent. He ends up with a college scholarship and, thanks to coaches who come alongside him to help hone his skills, as well as his own fierce determination, ascends to superstardom. But he is torn between the pursuit of a sport he loves and the knowledge of his family in Sudan gravely affected by civil war. His desire is to go back to them or, even better, bring them to the U.S., both of which are highly unlikely. This is typical Grisham page-turning, and longtime fans will not be disappointed.
“West with Giraffes” by Lynda Rutledge. Based on real-life events, “West with Giraffes” chronicles the depression-era journey of one Woodrow Wilson Nickel, a 17-year-old who becomes an accidental cross-country chauffer for two giraffes who survived a hurricane while crossing the Atlantic. Teaming up with a curmudgeon who has a soft spot for the two he calls “darlings,” Nickel’s destination is the San Diego Zoo. While it took me about 50 pages to get into this one, and I doubted him ever reaching his goal, it was worth the effort to stick with this fascinating tale.
“The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared,” by Jonas Jonasson. The main character, Alan Karlsson, in a nursing home about to have his 100th birthday, decides to skip out on his party and, as the title suggests, disappear. The reader soon learns Alan will not only have a remarkable journey as a centenarian, but has had some remarkable ones in the past, the descriptions of which are woven into the story. As I was reading, I thought of “A Man Called Ove” and “Forrest Gump.” It turns out I am in good company, as almost every online review I read made the same comparisons. (There is a sequel to this one I look forward to reading soon.)
“Between Two Kingdoms” by Suleika Jaouad. A few months ago, I saw the author interviewed on “CBS Sunday Morning” and was intrigued by her story. Diagnosed with leukemia just after graduating from college, Jaouad wrote about her treatment experience in a column for the New York Times, through which she made connections with a number of folks having similar experiences. After her final discharge, she embarked on a 100-day journey to meet some of them, with approximately the last third of the book detailing her trip. If you enjoy memoir, as I do, especially from someone with a unique perspective, I recommend “Between Two Kingdoms” for you.
“Faithful Presence: The Promise and the Peril of Faith in the Public Square,” by Bill Haslam. The former two-term Knoxville mayor and two-term Tennessee governor recounts how his faith guided him while in office, but also takes fellow Christians to task for too often letting their politics inform their faith rather than the other way around. If you’re a Republican looking for someone telling you what you want to hear, this one is not for you. As Haslam writes in Chapter Five, quoting former Tennessee Senator Howard Baker— for whom Haslam worked as an intern while he was in college— “Just remember, the other person just might be right.” But if you are interested in learning about the political process from someone who has been in the trenches, and his thoughts on how a person of faith can have an effective voice in that arena, “Faithful Presence” is definitely worth your time.
Bob McKinney is a longtime Brentwood resident, happy husband and proud father, father-in-law and grandfather. Email him at [email protected].