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Summer reading 2023: Uplifting reads

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HAPPY READING This summer is the perfect time to enjoy a few uplifting books. (Illustration:

Every summer, Back Porch takes a month to share what books neighbors are finding engrossing and inspiring. Sort of a “people’s choice” version of Cindy Burnett’s expert monthly Buzz Reads column.

This is our month, and this year’s theme is uplifting. It’s been a long three years – someone recently said, However long ago you think something happened, add three years. Did we lose them or were we just in a twilight zone? Doesn’t matter – there isn’t anyone who couldn’t use a little happy this summer.

Carin Collins is always reading, whether that means she’s reading an actual book or listening to one being narrated on her walks. “I love listening on Audible, because you get the voices,” she says. Carin, who works in wine sales, enjoys a laugh-out-loud book, or at least one that brings a smile. “Everything we read right now is about gender and race and politics,” she says. “But I have read a few that might not be Nobel Prize-winning but made me smile.”

One book she says made her laugh out loud is The Guncle by Steven Rowley. “It’s kind of a sad story – very sweet and touching. But the Gay Uncle, Guncle, has never had kids before and suddenly has to take over the care of his niece and nephew after their parents die. He makes these crazy rules he thinks make sense for children – you can Google ‘Guncle Rules’ – which make no sense.” The Guncle was named to numerous “best beach reads” lists last summer.

“There’s another sweet one called The Magic of Lemon Drop Pie,” Carin says. “It’s a love story with an unexpected twist, which I hate to hear people say, because then you’re looking for the twist the whole time!” Written by Rachel Linden about life’s circumstances and the path not taken, Carin says the novel “makes you feel good about wherever you are.”

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus lands on Carin’s list not only because it’s a “best book of the year” many times over or because it’s a funny delve into feminism and what it was like to be a brilliant woman chemist in the ’60s, but also because “one of the neatest parts is that one of the characters is the dog, and there are chapters written from his perspective,” she says. An Amazon Review says: “If you’re looking for delicious hilarity, characters filled with competency and quirk, and pure entertainment, then read Bonnie Garmus’ exuberant novel.”

The Jung Center – which once was named Houston’s “quirkiest bookstore” by Texas Monthly – holds the largest collection of books on depth psychology in the Southwest. Where better to look for books that help us refresh and renew? We asked Elissa Davis, longtime manager of The Jung Center’s bookstore, for her favorite picks for uplifting reads.

“Anything by Kate Bowler,” Elissa says. Bowler is the bestselling author, inspiring podcaster, and professor at Duke University Divinity School who is known for encouraging people to move beyond perfection to live lives that are “joyfully mediocre” (which was the title of her 2022 series of emails containing summer blessings).

Bowler’s latest book, co-authored with Jessica Richie, is The Lives We Actually Have: 100 Blessings for Imperfect Days. It's “a reminder that we don’t need to wait for perfect lives when we can bless the lives we already have.” Other books from Kate Bowler include the national bestsellers No Cure for Being Human (And Other Truths I Need to Hear) and Everything Happens for a Reason (And Other Lies I’ve Loved)

Elissa’s next pick comes from Koshin Paley Ellison. Untangled: Walking the Eightfold Path to Clarity, Courage, and Compassion is an introduction to a Buddhist way of finding meaning and aligning with our core values in order to “create a life of true pleasure” in the midst of a world that is increasingly filled with unhealthy distractions disguised as connection (think social media), often resulting in loneliness.

The Stress Prescription: 7 Days to More Joy and Ease by psychologist and stress expert Elissa Epel is also on Elissa Davis’ list. “It’s a little book,” she says, “and the copies I ordered for the bookstore flew out the door in a week. For me, that’s hotcakes!” 

And for little ones, Elissa loves May All People and Pigs Be Happy by local mindfulness teacher Micki Fine Pavlicek. Elissa loves the book so much, she made a felt pig, complete with a tiny felt bow in her hair, to gift her goddaughter alongside the book. 

Happy summer, and happy reading!

Editor's note: For more book recommendations, see this month's Buzz Reads plus our weekly Page Turners column by Cindy Burnett. 

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