by Elizabeth Hunter—

In 1904 Jewish writer Franz Kafka wrote to a friend, “If a book does not wake us…why do we read it? …A book must be the ax to break the seas frozen inside our soul.” Certainly, many people of faith have found this to be true. Stories—the spiritual and the secular—increase our empathy, understanding and love for our neighbors. For Christians, books can bring to mind our baptismal call—something reformer Martin Luther encouraged us to remember daily.

Stories in books—like Jesus’ powerful, provoking parables— carry us like boats across barriers of geography, time, experience, culture, religion and more. Whether through a printed page, e-reader or audiobook, we connect deeply with unexpected folks (real and fictional). Walking in their steps, hearing their thoughts and discovering a world unknown to us can enrich our faith. Many Christian writers see reading—as widely as possible—as part of their spiritual practice. In addition to Scripture and devotional reading, Gather writers frequently read a wide variety of works.

For example, I recently finished Educated, by Tara Westover (HarperCollins 2018), a compelling memoir of a young woman determined to go to college (despite a lack of formal schooling), who almost didn’t survive her off-the-grid fundamentalist upbringing. It was worth the three-month wait to borrow the library’s copy. I also read How to Raise an Adult (St Martin’s Griffin 2016), author Julie Lythcott-Haims’ case for not “overparenting,” but encouraging the resilience of people from toddlers to teenagers. There were many implications for youth involvement in congregations.

At presstime, while “social distancing” during the COVID-19 crisis, I often escaped into the colorful stories and photos of In Her Footsteps: Where Trailblazing Women Changed the World, a travel guide to historic places touched by women’s leadership and creativity (Lonely Planet 2020). I also found a new prayer partner in Meta Herrick Carlson, whose Ordinary Blessings: Prayers, Poems and Meditations for Everyday Life helped me widen my gaze and pray more than pandemic prayers (Fortress Press 2020).

Just for fun, I asked other Gather writers what was on their bookshelf. Here’s what they said.


I’m reading My Grandmother’s Hands, by Resmaa Menakem (Central Recovery Press 2017). The author is a therapist, a “soul medic” who works with people experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder, from U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan, to police officers in Minneapolis, to black Americans suffering from race-based trauma. When I’ve finished this book, I hope to read Stringing Rosaries: The History, the Unforgivable, and the Healing of Northern Plains American Indian Boarding School Survivors, by Denise K. Lajimodiere (North Dakota State University Press 2019). The author, born to two boarding school survivors, interviewed many survivors of a practice that forced children to forget their cultures, languages and religions.

—Khabeb is a pastor at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Minneapolis, and the author of a chapter in Still a Mother: Journeys through Perinatal Bereavement, Joy M. Freeman and Tabatha D. Johnson, editors (Judson Press 2016).


I am reading with two intentions right now: to read more fiction and to be open to the amazing human diversity around me. My book group recently read Neither Wolf Nor Dog, in which author Kent Nerburn explores what it might mean to go deeply into the pain of another’s culture. We also read The Great Believers, by Rachel Makkai, a book that took me deep into the early years of the AIDS crisis, and how the trauma of those years is still with us all, the LGBTQIA+ community especially. Outside of my book group, I also read My Grandmother’s Hands (just like Angela). It opened my eyes to the impact of trauma on the instincts and responses of the traumatized. More compassion is my takeaway. Up next will be a book I’ve meant to read for years, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism, by Robin DiAngelo. Maybe the fact that it’s been on my list for a while is evidence of the truth of the title!

—Malotky is a retired ELCA pastor, and author of Carrying Them with Us: Living Through Pregnancy and Infant Loss, by David Engelstad and Catherine Malotky (Fortress Press 2019), about what the couple learned from the death of their infant daughter, Erin, 35 years ago.


To enrich my faith life, I’m reading ¡Gracias! A Latin American Journal, by Henri J.M. Nouwen, and We Will Feast: Rethinking Dinner, Worship, and the Community of God, by Kendall Vanderslice.

—Kleinhans serves as dean of Trinity Lutheran Seminary at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio. She is the editor of Together by Grace: Introducing the Lutherans (Augsburg Fortress 2016).


Finishing an M.F.A. in 2019 took up all my reading time, so reading for fun in 2020 has been a delight. A couple of recent favorites are Dani Shapiro’s Hourglass, a memoir about her marriage, and Julia Child’s My Life in France, which is all about her great career in food. Now I’m really looking forward to digging into Lauren Winner’s The Dangers of Christian Practice.

—Strickland writes about food, faith and life at


I’ve been reading: An On-Going Imagination: A Conversation about Scripture, Faith, and the Thickness of Relationship, edited by Walter Brueggemann, Clover Reuter Beal and Timothy Beal; Humble Pi: When Math Goes Wrong In the Real World, by Matt Parker; Rules For Visiting, by Jessica Francis Kane; and Wild Ride Home: Love, Loss, and a Little White Horse, A Family Memoir, by Christine Hemp.

—Kanarr serves as a pastor at Christ Lutheran Church, Belfair, Washington. This year she is celebrating the 30th anniversary of her ordination.


I recently read Telling Yourself the Truth, by William Backus and Marie Chapian. I’ve also had fun reading The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas. Next I hope to read The Hidden Rift With God, by William Backus.

—Hollingsworth is a retired pastor who teaches online classes and operates a community food bank.


I just read The Source of Self-Regard, a collection of essays, speeches and meditations, by Toni Morrison. Next up are The Inheritance Trilogy, by N.K. Jemisin and On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, by Ocean Vuong.

—Rector is a Ph.D. student at Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.


I recently read Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder, by Caroline Fraser. There is so much packed into this Pulitzer-winning biography, but what struck me especially was the history lesson built into it. Laura Ingalls Wilder was alive from shortly after Lincoln was assassinated through Eisenhower’s first term. The way this book follows an important century of American history through the life of one Midwestern woman and her family makes it both a great read and a learning experience. For fun, I also read Varian Johnson’s The Parker Inheritance, a great, multi-layered, middle grade novel. Next I plan to read My Victorians: Lost in the Nineteenth Century, by Robert Clark, one of my favorite essayists.

—Zarr writes essays and young adult fiction. She is a two-time Utah Book Award winner, and a National Book Award finalist for her first novel, Story of a Girl. Her new book is Goodbye from Nowhere (Harper Collins/Bray+Balzer 2020).


I’m reading Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. It’s so powerful I can only read a bit at a time. For fun I read mysteries—especially anything by Louise Penny, most recently A Better Man. With second graders at a local elementary school, I’ve been reading Pete the Cat books. Next on my list is The Overstory, by Richard Powers.

—Bockelman is a retired ELCA pastor in Duluth, Minnesota. She is called as a wife, mother, preacher, writer and church volunteer.


To explore life questions, I’m reading Mary Pipher’s Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing as We Age. For fun, I recently read Lori Gottleib’s Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, HER Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed.

—Stratton is a couples therapist in Roseville, Minnesota, and professor emerita of religion at Augsburg University (Minneapolis).


I’m reading The Power of Meaning: Finding Fulfillment in a World Obsessed with Happiness, by Emily Esfahani Smith, a book that opened my mind to the markers of a meaningful life. Next I want to read Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women that the Movement Forgot, by Mikki Kendall. The book addresses how mainstream feminism and feminist theory have failed women of color and women from varying socioeconomic classes. It also invites us to do and be better.

—White is the author of Love Big: The Power of Revolutionary Relationships to Heal the World. As the #LoveBigCoach, she helps people uncover what is meaningful and create lives that align with their values.


I’m reading Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Explain Everything About the World, by Tim Marshall. I’m also reading illustrator Carlie Mackesy’s first book, The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse (Ebury Publishing 2019). I recently read The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries from a Secret World, by Peter Wohlleben (Greystone Books 2016). I want to read Richard Powers’ The Overstory.

—Sparks is a pastor, comedian and columnist. She is also the author of Laugh Your Way to Grace and Miracle on 31st Street: Christmas Cheer Every Day of the Year—Grinch to Gratitude in 26 Days!


Dear readers: What have you read recently? How did it affect you? Please comment below. We’d love to hear from you!

Elizabeth Hunter is editor of Gather.

This article is from the June 2020 issue of Gather magazine. To read more like it, subscribe to Gather.