Last August I offered Art of Simple readers a fall reading list—a syllabus of sorts to sharpen minds and open hearts. Even though we are preparing for a ​very​ different school year, I refuse to give up my commitment to lifelong learning. Reading across genres is such a simple way to nurture intellectual curiosity.


The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic, and How it Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World
by Steven Johnson

Okay, maybe not everyone wants to read about an epidemic during a pandemic. Give this one a shot. It has a brilliant, almost novelistic narrative and—spoiler alert—a happy ending. I loved learning about how people worked together to crack the case on cholera.


The Cross and the Lynching Tree​
by James H. Cone

I am amazed by how much my seminary education was weighted toward white male voices. It’s not that we didn’t read works by BIPOC or women; they were always just secondary to the “standard” canon. Now that I direct my own reading, I try to make sure I am reading theology by people of color on the regular. Few books have cracked me open quite like this contemporary classic by the father of black liberationist theology. It’s not an easy read—intellectually rigorous and emotionally devastating—but I truly felt like I saw Jesus—and the cross—through new eyes upon reading it.

Culinary Arts/American History

Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine​
by Sarah Lohman

With a remarkable breadth of history, the author traces the way each of the eight flavors became part of American culture. This is a book about food—but also a book about identity, racism, geopolitics, immigration, tradition, culture…from the first paragraph, in which I geeked out about the author’s association with Hale Farm (#northeastohio), I just loved every page.


by Yaa Gyasi

If this sounds familiar, it’s because Tsh only just recommended it. I borrowed it from the library on her recommendation and am here to tell you: ​you need to read this book​. The novel follows the lineage of two half-sisters, one who remained in the Gold Coast of Africa, and one who was sold into slavery in America. It’s the best kind of historical fiction, braiding meticulous research with breathtakingly real characters.


Full Woman, Fleshly Apple, Hot Moon​
by Pablo Neruda (Translated by Stephen Mitchell)

One of my all-time favorite poetry books, this collection of poems by Pablo Neruda is sexy and funny and exquisitely beautiful. Be prepared to be inspired to write your own odes to ordinary things.