Becoming by Michelle Obama (Viking, £25 (£22.50); 978-0-241-33414-0)
I don’t read a lot of memoirs. They can, sometimes, feel dull and over-introspective. I certainly cannot remember the last time that I described a memoir as transformative; but this is exactly how I would describe Michelle Obama’s memoir Becoming. The story is gripping because of the characters it portrays, but also because it suggests, on page after page, that this is not just a story of Michelle Obama’s “becoming”, but of how we, its readers, might also become who we are meant to be.
Dr Paula Gooder is a Reader and Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral.
The Lost Man by Jane Harper (Little, Brown, £12.99 (£11.70); 978-1-4087-0821-7)
I read too many crime novels — not just on holiday, but all year round. I think I know why. There is always a sense of mission. There is usually an uncomfortable encounter with darkness. There is even an ending.
Set in the searing heat of the sprawling Australian outback, Jane Harper’s latest, The Lost Man, eschews the beat-up hero of a detective to drive the narrative along: instead, there is a broken, excluded, lost man. But, in its portrayal of heat and harshness, power and its abuse, you’ll find a satisfying, page-turning account of wheat and tares growing up together.
The Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell is the Bishop of Chelmsford.
Silence: A Christian history by Diarmaid MacCulloch (Penguin, £9.99 (£9.99); 978-0-241-95232-0)
I’m re-reading this summer Diarmaid MacCulloch’s Silence: A Christian history — an uncharacteristically trim volume from one of our most eminent historians and commentators on contemporary Christianity. None the less, it is pure MacCulloch: elegant, grounded, infused with his particular charism of making the complex coherent. He interrogates Christianity’s mixed relationship with silence — the silence that allows for wisdom — and the silence that colludes with, and compounds, evil. This is the book to read alongside the recent reports from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.
Canon Judith Maltby is co-editor (with Alison Shell) of Anglican Women Novelists: Charlotte Brontë to P. D. James (Bloomsbury, 2019) and Reader in Church History in the University of Oxford.
Planetary Solidarity: Global women’s voices on Christian doctrine and climate justice, edited by Grace Ji-Sun Kim and Hilda P. Koster (Fortress Press, £58.99 (£53.10); 978-1-5064-3262-5)
Theological engagement with our environmental crisis is regularly (and rightly) criticised for two things: being too white, middle-class, and male, and being insufficiently rooted in the orthodoxy of Christian faith. Here is a book that tackles both criticisms head on. Bringing together the voices of leading feminist and womanist theologians around the world, it is ecumenical in scope, rich in doctrinal reflection, and provocative in its implications for the Church: a challenging and theologically transformative read for this summer.
Hannah Malcolm is the co-ordinator of the project God and the Big Bang, working with children, young people, and teachers on science and faith. She won the 2019 Theology Slam competition.
Mama’s Last Hug: Animal emotions and what they tell us about ourselves by Frans de Waal (Granta, £14.99 (£13.50); 978-1-78378-410-3)
Frans de Waal has been writing about the intricate world of primates for decades now. In this, a companion piece to his previous book on animal intelligence, he takes on the world of animal emotions. Readable, reasonable, well-evidenced, and witty, Mama’s Last Hug makes you wonder how biologists and behaviourists ever came to doubt the reality of animal emotions, and suggests that emotions, virtues, and moral evaluation may be as built into creation as planets, plants, and people.
Nick Spencer is Senior Fellow at Theos.
The Greengage Summer by Rumer Godden (Pan Macmillan £8.99 (£8.10); 978-1-4472-1101-3)
It sounds twee, but isn’t. It treats awakening sexuality with a matter-of-factness that is astonishing for 1958. PMT and menstruation get unembarrassed help. A young brother’s homosexuality needs neither explanation nor apology. Key to the plot is getting rid of the mother, leaving the children stranded at a small hotel in France. The action unfolds through the eyes of a girl on the verge of adolescence, perceptive and innocent. It is a crime story like no other: unique, and life-enhancing to read.
The Revd Dr Cally Hammond is the Dean of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge.
Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan (Jonathan Cape, £18.99 (£17.10); 978-1-78733-166-2)
Set in an alternative 1982, when driverless cars already exist, the Beatles have regrouped, and Alan Turing is alive and working hard, this latest novel by McEwan plunges us in his disturbing art of unease. The narrator buys “a manufactured human with plausible intelligence and looks, believable motion and shifts of expression” called Adam, but, for all their intelligence, robots just can’t understand how humans endure contradictions in life and love. Ambiguous characters with faulty inner navigation, a dissection of human motive and energy, combined with a deft storytelling, all shape up two questions: will artificial intelligence develop a moral superiority over the human? and then what?
Canon Mark Oakley is Dean of St John’s College, Cambridge.
The Rapture by Claire McGlasson (Faber & Faber, £14.99 (£13.50); 978-0-571-34518-2) (hardback)
With the investigative skills of a journalist, Claire McGlasson, in her first novel, The Rapture, delves into the true story of The Panacea Society, a religious millenarian community of virtuous ladies awaiting the second coming of Christ and based in Bedford, where else? Tracing the authoritarian leadership of Octavia, who claims to be the daughter of God, this novel addresses issues of certainty, doubt, and faith, through the eyes of Dilys, one of the disciples who begins to break free from the constraints of 12 Albany Road and, in the process, discovers a different kind of truth.
The Revd Victoria Johnson is a Residentiary Canon of Ely Cathedral and a Tutor for the College of Preachers.
Sabbath: The hidden heartbeat of our lives by Nicola Slee (DLT, £9.99 (£9); 978-0-232-53399-6)
This is just the book to make you feel even better about the break that you are taking this summer and let you go even deeper into its rest and renewal. Guided by one of Wendell Berry’s “Sabbath poems”, whose inviting images she opens out, chapter by chapter, Nicola, a poet herself, helps the reader enter with confidence into the rich, renewing rest of sabbath, which is always there for us to enter, however briefly, on any day of the week.
The Revd Dr Malcolm Guite is Chaplain of Girton College, Cambridge. His latest collection of poems is Love, Remember (Canterbury Press, 2017).
Doughnut Economics: Seven ways to think like a 21st century economist by Kate Raworth (Random, £9.99 (£9); 978-1-84794-139-8)
My shelves are not heaving with economics books, but here is an exception. Kate Raworth redraws traditional economic diagrams, and offers “seven ways to think like a 21st century economist”, in which people have enough to live, but we don’t destroy the planet. Recommended if, like me, you’re terrified about the environmental crises that we face, and would like to see a world where the rich no longer grow richer at the expense of the poor.
Dave Walker is a cartoonist.
The Professor and the Parson: A story of desire, deceit and defrocking by Adam Sisman (Profile Books, £12.99 (£11.70); 978-1-78816-211-1)
Sisman’s new book about the sometime cleric and full-time con man Robert Parkin Peters is proof that life is stranger than fiction. Drawing on Hugh Trevor-Roper’s archive of Peters’s misadventures, Sisman reveals a figure who roamed the globe posing as a cleric and academic, charming and exploiting some of the most respected clergy and scholars in the Church of England. It is testimony to Sisman’s skill as a biography that he finds pathos in the midst of Peters’s fantasies. A truly eye-popping read, by turns sad, funny, and compelling.
Canon Rachel Mann is Rector of St Nicholas’s, Burnage, and Visiting Fellow of Manchester Metropolitan University.
The Restless Wave by Sarah Meyrick (Marylebone House, £9.99 (£9); 978-1-910674-54-3)
This is a powerful and ingenious novel that knits together three generations of a family deeply involved in the dramas of their time. From pre-partition India, through the Normandy landings, to Greenham Common, the Jungle at Calais and the dilemmas of teaching today, Sarah Meyrick deftly splices the stories together as the novel explores the disquieting questions posed by a recently discovered envelope. The final surprise is perfectly judged. This second novel engages both heart and mind and will linger long in the memory.
The Rt Revd John Pritchard is a former Bishop of Oxford.
Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons (Penguin Classics, £7.99 (£7.20); 978-0-141-44159-7)
I’m re-reading Stella Gibbons’s Cold Comfort Farm, a pitch-perfect parody of rural doom-and-gloom melodramas, as urbane Flora has to go and live with her cousins (members of the Church of the Quivering Brethren) in the village of Howling. Whether gobbled up over the course of a rainy afternoon or eked out over a week on the sun lounger, it’s the ideal light summer reading, which will have you checking for “something nasty in the woodshed” as the evenings draw in again.
The Revd Fergus Butler-Gallie is Assistant Curate of Liverpool Parish Church.
The Cut Out Girl: A story of war and family, lost and found by Bart van Es (Penguin, £9.99 (£9); 978-0-241-97872-6)
If you want a lesson in the dangers of complacency about anti-Semitism, read The Cut Out Girl. Despite the Netherlands’ pre-war tolerance and integration of Jews, Dutch collaborators enabled more than three-quarters of its 140,000 Jewish population to perish during the country’s Nazi occupation. Van Es tells the story of one Jewish girl who did survive, thanks to her parents’ giving her away. An enchanting account of childhood meets horror and betrayal, but it concludes with love.
Catherine Pepinster, a former editor of The Tablet, is UK Development Officer of the Anglican Centre in Rome.
Ruskinland: How John Ruskin shapes our world by Andrew Hill (Pallas Athene, £19.99 (£17.99); 978-1-84368-175-5)
In this bicentenary year of the polymath John Ruskin, the eyes of many people with only the fuzziest notion of what he stood for are being opened to the still-visionary potency of his ideas, about art, work and society as a whole . . . a dazzling array of subjects. From his detached but enthusiastic perch as management editor of the Financial Times, Andrew Hill has written a wonderfully accessible introduction to the complexities of John Ruskin, and his very continuing relevance in troubled times.
Peter Day is a former presenter of Global Business on the BBC World Service.
The Salt Path by Raynor Winn (Penguin. £9.99 (£9); 978-1-4059-3718-4)
“We lost our home, so just walking seemed a good idea. . .” Armed with a map, basic camping equipment, limited funds, and a copy of Beowulf translated by Seamus Heaney, Raynor and her husband Moth set off to walk the 630-mile South West Coast path from Minehead to Poole [Reading Groups, 7 June].
It’s a heart-warming, heart-wrenching story, told by Raynor in vivid yet plain prose. There are so many wonderful passages, yet for me the best is when, at a penniless moment, Moth starts to recite Beowulf, and cash from the crowd pours into his hat.
Peggy Woodford is a novelist.
Sympathy for Jonah: Reflections on humiliation, terror and the politics of enemy-love by David Benjamin Blower (Resource Publications, £9; 978-1-49823727-7)
Blower takes the reader to the tale of Jonah. It’s a partner piece to his album The Book of Jonah, a collection of raucous sea-shanties.
This little book delights and unsettles, making the Jonah story strange again. What if the prophet offers a radical invitation to enemy-love? Will we search for the lost shards of God’s image shattered within, and by empire? Will we gather those shards, enduring the lacerations, to find the image of God in the other, and maybe, even within ourselves?
The Revd Azariah France-Williams is Associate Priest of St Peter and St Paul, and St Mary with St Alban, Teddington, Middlesex.
Invisible Women: Exposing data bias in a world designed for men by Caroline Criado Perez (Chatto & Windus £16.99 (£15.30); 978-1-7847-4172-3)
I know from my own research that the data on stress is gender-biased, but I hadn’t realised quite how at risk women are from bias in so many other areas. Did you know that women in Britain are 50 per cent more likely to be misdiagnosed after a heart attack because of a reliance on male data? And that women involved in car accidents are nearly 50 per cent more likely to be seriously hurt because crash-test dummies are modelled on men? This book is a wake-up call for us all; so it’s what I’ll be reading this summer.
Dr Eve Poole is the author of Buying God: Consumerism and theology (SCM Press), and is the Third Church Estates Commissioner.
In Your Loving Is Your Knowing: Elizabeth Templeton — prophet of our times edited by Peter Matheson and Alastair Hulbert (Birlinn, £14.99 (£13.50); 978-1-78027-563-5)
In these times, when the Zeitgeist moves along so fast, we need way markers where prophetic feet have walked. With introductions by Richard Holloway, Rowan Williams, and five others, this warmly readable collection of the late Liz Templeton’s essays [Books, 29 March 2019] remind us that “if you speak of God-informed existence you cannot distinguish your knowing of some-one from your loving of them. . . In your loving is your knowing, your capacity to speak the truth. And out of love you know nothing.”
Alastair McIntosh is the author of Spiritual Activism (Green Books, 2015) and Poacher’s Pilgrimage: An island journey (Birlinn, 2016).
House of Names by Colm Tóibín (Viking, £8.99 (£8.10); 978-0-241-25769-2)
This book connects us with timeless pictures of humanity. The story is rooted in Greek myths — the story of Agamemnon and his wife, Clytemnestra, and their children. It’s all there: leadership that seems strong but is actually weak; love and betrayal; long-nursed desire for vengeance; questions about the power of the gods.
The writing is wonderful. It is tense and strong, vivid and yet sparse and economical. Colm Tóibín really grips the reader.
The Rt Revd David Chillingworth is a former Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church.
The Gospel According to Lazarus by Richard Zimler (Peter Owen, £14.99 (£13.50); 978-0-7206-2062-7)
Novels based on Bible narratives are thin on the ground in our secular times, and can be hit-or-miss affairs, but Richard Zimler’s The Gospel According to Lazarus is both engaging theology and literary thriller. How amazing to be Lazarus and get a second bite at life, I used to think, until I read this reverent and subtle meditation on the ways in which the dead can interact with the living, chronicling a profound friendship between Yeshua (Jesus) and Lazarus, in which each saves the other’s life.
Peter Stanford is a writer, journalist, and broadcaster.
My House is Falling Down by Mary Loudon (Picador, £14.99 (£13.50); 978-1-529-00527-1)
Mary Loudon built her reputation as a perceptive interviewer and meticulous stylist in her books on nuns and the clergy. My House is Falling Down, her first novel, shows similar sharp insight and elegance of phrase. A woman and her husband pride themselves that their marriage is strong and well above the normal. She falls passionately, physically, in love with an older man. She has only one rule: total honesty with both her husband and lover. The same honesty characterises this totally absorbing book. A difficult theme is handled with great realism and without a trace of sentimentality or mawkishness.
The Rt Revd Lord Harries of Pentregarth is a former Bishop of Oxford. He is the author of The Beauty and the Horror: Searching for God in a suffering world (SPCK, 2016).
Home Fire by Kamilla Shamsie, Bloomsbury £8.99 (£8.10); 978-1-40888-679-3)
Antigone of Ancient Greece meets Aneeka of Wembley in Kammila Shamsie’s pacy novel, winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018. The chilling drama is retold, exploring love and duty, faith and fantasies, death and delusions. Cultures clash everywhere. The Home Office minister is a lapsed, wealthy Muslim, and his son falls in love with a woman whose disgruntled twin makes a fateful journey to Syria to work for IS. Each character must make tough choices; tensions rise; tragedies erupt. Never have the patterns of the ancient past seemed so similar to those of the present.
The Revd Jennie Hogan is Chaplain of Goodenough College, London, and Associate Priest of St George’s, Bloomsbury. She is the author of This Is My Body (Canterbury Press, 2017).
The Uninhabitable Earth: A story of the future by David Wallace-Wells (Allen Lane, £20 (£18); 978-0-241-35521-3)
The Uninhabitable Earth is not light reading. Although it is beautifully written, its subject matter is grim; for it describes the future planet in which our grandchildren and theirs will live. Divided into four sections — Cascades, Elements of Chaos, The Climate Kaleidoscope, and The Anthropic Principle — the book takes the reader through the many and varied effects of rising global temperatures. For faith leaders, and others who need informed opinions on this most crucial issue, The Uninhabitable Earth is essential reading.
Rabbi Dr Charles Middleburgh is Dean and Director of Jewish Studies at Leo Baeck College.