When it comes to summer reading, I’m usually a list-o-holic. May arrives, my fingers start to itch, and pretty soon I’m spending every waking moment writing and revising my perfect summer list.

This year, though, I was a bit preoccupied. In mid-March, I realized I wanted to move, not just out of my parents’ house, but to a different state. The thought terrified me, and I spent all of April hemming and hawing, but by the time May rolled around, I had decided to move. What followed was a frenzy of car-shopping, dog-walking, house-sitting, and half a dozen other odd jobs — anything, really, to earn money, because moving is expensive and so are cars. Amidst all this chaos, I had to actually move — as in, box up my belongings and drive them all to Arkansas — so instead of haunting Goodreads, I spent my summer packing.

One day toward the end of June as I was walking the dog and chatting on the phone, my friend asked what I’d been reading. I immediately felt guilty. I hadn’t been reading — at least, not the way I usually did. “Well,” I hedged, reigning the dog in as we passed a family of runners, “I’m almost done rereading Eat Pray Love.”

“Oh, I love that book. It’s such a good one, Shelby.”

“Yeah,” I agreed with a sigh. “I’ve been meaning to get back into novels and stuff, but I’ve kind of slipped into a rut of rereads. Liz Gilbert and Annie Dillard and Madeleine L’Engle, too. I guess my concentration is shot.”

“Well, you’re going through a major upheaval right now, so it’s only natural that you stick to the books you love. Don’t beat yourself up about it; you’ll get back to where you want to be.”

After that, our conversation shifted, but her words stuck with me. Don’t beat yourself up.

My friend Laura always says that life happens in seasons. Sometimes you’ll have a reading season; other times, a writing one. In my case, this season has been one of transition. All my energy — mental, physical, and even creative — has gone toward moving out of my parents’ house and into an apartment of my own.

When I look at my “books read” list in June and July, I see a lot of nonfiction. That makes sense, because nonfiction is my security blanket. It’s easy and familiar and reminds me that things are going to be okay; people have done crazier things than moved from Memphis to Arkansas. Anne Lamott survived a drug addiction, Jhumpa Lahiri moved to a new country to learn a third language just for fun, and Liz Gilbert traveled the world in search of happiness after her life fell apart. All experienced major upheavals…and survived.

So yeah, maybe my summer reading wasn’t as diverse or challenging as I imagined it would be, but you know what? That’s okay. I’m not gonna beat myself up about it.

Shelby’s Unstructured Summer Reading

The book that reminded me it’s okay for life to be messy (& even more okay to postpone trying to fix it)


Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott
Nonfiction | 275 pp | ★★★★☆

The book that made me want to move to Italy


In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri
Nonfiction | 233 pp | ★★★☆☆

The easy-to-read book on Christian identity in a multi-faith world that was so much better than its hokey title implies


Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? by Brain D. McLaren
Nonfiction | 276 pp | ★★★★★

The book that has been there for me at all the right times


Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Nonfiction | 334 pp | ★★★★☆

The book that lost a little luster on the second time through, but only because my first encounter was perfectly timed


The Irrational Season by Madeleine L’Engle
Nonfiction | 224 pp | ★★★☆☆

The book that reminded me why I studied literature in school instead of straight-up history


The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore
Nonfiction | 410 pp | ★★★☆☆

The book I thought would educate me on the inner workings of Trump supporters but ended up teaching me about all sides of the debate


The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor
Short fiction | 555 pp | ★★★★☆

Because Flannery is just that good.

The eccentric, exultant, esoteric book I love that probably only two of my friends will ever care to read


Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
Nonfiction | 271 pp |★★★★★


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