My summer reading plans

Last week, I posted my response to students who ask me how they should continue to read after graduation. I’m following that up with another post about reading.

I’ve mentioned before that every summer I read at least one book on writing/publishing, at least one book on teaching, and at least one book on higher education. Of course I do other reading, too — this summer, I plan to read quite a bit of Lorrie Moore’s work, for example — but my practice is to engage these three themes with regularity and intentionality.

Before I get to that summer reading list, I have two brief comments on last week’s post. (Skip ahead if you just want to get straight to books I’ve chosen for this summer.)

Two comments on my cover-to-cover reading comments from last week

Last week, I wrote:

  • “Read some things cover to cover.” For me, choosing to read a few publications cover to cover is a discipline that keeps me from picking the topics in which I already have interest, the perspectives that mach my own, the titles or headlines that intrigue me, or the authors that I already know and trust. My cover-to-cover reads are The Chronicle of Higher Education, Comment,  and The Hedgehog Review. [INSERT THE LAMENT FOR BOOKS & CULTURE AGAIN HERE.] For years, I’ve tried to cut down the amount of news and commentary that comes to me via social media. This semester, in order to get news slower, I specifically chose to subscribe to the Wall Street Journal in print — I read the front section cover to cover just about every day and the review section every week. (I also subscribe to the New York Times, but not in print (the educator discount isn’t as steep as it is for the WSJ), so I don’t read it cover to cover, exactly, and I try to stay away from the day’s breaking news.) Of course, my cover-to-cover reads are not my only reads. I read from a lot of other sources and some of it is crowdsourced or curated by who I follow on social media, but I think I’m in a better position to filter and interpret the reading that comes to me through those algorithmically determined and bubble-icious channels if I’m disciplined about regularly reading other sources.

First, I want to clarify that a lot of my reading still comes to me through social media. While I’m trying to avoid getting the day’s breaking news and hot takes that way, I still regularly encounter recommended commentary, essays, books, and more. I follow/friend a really diverse group of good readers, and I’m grateful that they find and post — and write! — good material. Moreover, I often crowdsource book recommendations. What I want to avoid is getting the news from my social media feeds.

Second, as soon as I posted this, I felt like something about my cover-to-cover reads was not quite right. Over the past few years, it hadn’t changed much. Books & Culture was discontinued [WORTH INSERTING THE LAMENT FOR BOOKS & CULTURE AGAIN] and I had added The Wall Street Journal, but something was missing. While in the past few years I have felt more keenly than ever the need to read and listen to Christians of color — and to allow their conversations to direct some of my attention — my cover-to-cover list didn’t reflect that. So I’ve asked some friends for recommendations about what I might add. I haven’t quite settled on anything yet, but Faithfully Magazine is one I’ll check out. If you’re reading this and want to suggest something, feel free to tweet the recommendation my way.

Now, my summer reading

Here are this summer’s choices in the categories of writing/publishing, teaching, and higher education (and a bonus category):

Writing/publishing

In this category, I’ll be reading What Editors Do: The Craft, Art, and Business of Book Editing. Over the years, I’ve read a number of books on editing, specifically. I think they’re helpful to me as I write, they demystify a key part of the publishing process, and, well, they may or may not be part of my strategy for writing procrastination.

Teaching

In this category, I’ll be reading On Christian Teaching: Practicing Faith in the Classroom, by David Smith. Smith may be the leading thinker on how integration of faith and learning happens in the classroom. I had the privilege of spending the first half of this week in a seminar/workshop that he led on the topic, and I look forward to diving into his latest book.

Higher Education

This summer, I’m choosing a few extra books (five in total) in this category. (I’m also coordinating a Wheaton faculty summer reading group on the topic, but we won’t be reading all of these.) Included below are books I’ll read this summer, but also a few on which I cheated and got a head start. I meant to include them in summer reading, but couldn’t resist and got to them in late spring.

I’ve recently finished Demographics and the Demand for Higher Education. It’s fascinating, worthwhile, and mildly depressing. Tl;dr version: Past models of higher ed demand have been too crude. The author, a labor economist at Carleton, develops a new, more sophisticated, and more granular model that accounts for variables like parents’ educational attainment and geography. The model suggests that our present slow decline in demand for higher education will be followed by a sharp but short-lived increase in the mid-2020s, which will be followed by a very sharp and uneven decline from 2026 on. Two-year schools and schools outside the top 100 in their categories will be hardest hit. Elite schools (top 50 in their categories) will actually see increasing demand. That will leave schools between 50 and 100, which will face a substantial decrease in demand, competing to fill their classrooms and dorms with the overflow from the top 50. So, my takeaway: if you’re in that 50-100 range, fight to stay near that top of that, get to the top of some niche, strengthen recruitment where demand will grow most, and develop programs and aid packages that make you a student’s top choice in their second tier.

I’ve also recently finished reading The Case Against Education: Why the Education System is a Waste of Time and Money by Bryan Caplan. This book has been getting a lot of press lately (in The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Atlantic, The Wall Street Journal, and other outlets). If you want my take, read the summer issue of The Hedgehog Review, in which I review it. Preview: Caplan is a clever writer and the book is a fun read. An Orwellian read, but a fun read.

In addition to those two, I’ll also read American Academic Cultures: A History of Higher Education, The Seminarian: Martin Luther King, Jr. Comes of Age (which I’m counting as a higher ed book)and Fundamentalist U: Keeping the Faith in American Higher Education.

Evangelicalism (bonus category)

This summer, I’ve decided to do some remedial reading on evangelicalism. While I’ve read a lot around the topic (e.g., evangelicals and higher education, evangelicals and the environment, evangelicals and race), I haven’t read as much as one might expect on the topic. That’s not to say that I’ve read nothing, but current conversations about the state of evangelicalism often leave me wishing I had given the topic more attention earlier. After crowdsourcing an incredible (and incredibly long) list of readings, I’ve chosen to read the following this summer:

I’ll start with the introduction to Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism and all of Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism. (These two are the first texts in another reading group I’m co-organizing this summer.)

After those, I’ll be reading Turning Points in the History of American EvangelicalismThe Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape AmericaApostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism, and Christians and the Color Line: Race and Religion after Divided by Faith.

We’ll see what’s next after reading all of that — my master list now includes several dozen books that have been recommended by friends. At some point, I may write a bit about what I think I’ve learned.

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