Summer Reading SymposiumSymposium — By Matthew Lee Anderson on June 10, 2010 at 6:09 am
We thought we’d help you make it through the summer doldrums by listing a few–okay, more than a few–books that our contributors think you might find worth your time. Without further ado, then…..
Alas, summer doesn’t provide much of a break for those of us no longer in school. I very much dislike hot weather, so I’ll spend my summer holed up in every air conditioned church, office, hotel lobby and theater I can find with the following:
1. The Qur’an
Like it or not, this is something that anyone who wants to engage the culture on a national and international level must read. It’s very difficult to argue fairly against a worldview unless you have first given its primary source material a thorough and open-minded read.
After reading a primary text on my own, I find it helps to read through other readers’ interpretations to see what I may have missed and to solidify my own views.
3. Stay Home, Stay Happy by Rachel Campos Duffy
I’m convinced that stay-at-home moms have the most difficult job there is. That’s why I’m always interested when an intelligent, well-educated woman wants to talk about how to do the job well.
Ain’t nothin’ like a lazy summer day, a tall glass of sweet tea and a good book. For me, summer’s a time to recharge my creativity and challenge my view of the world. Here are my picks for the next few months:
1. Auralia’s Colors by Jeffrey Overstreet
The first book in a brilliant fantasy series by film critic and author Jeffrey Overstreet is the kind of delight that sneaks up on you. When I found myself absently sketching the characters weeks later, I realized how powerful the story was. Overstreet is currently writing the final book in the series, The Ale Boy’s Feast, so this is the time to get caught up with the story (Cyndere’s Midnight and Raven’s Ladder).
2. The Marble Faun by Nathaniel Hawthorne.
I take an annual trek through this expatriate murder mystery set in 19th century Rome. Hawthorne wrote that he wanted to write a story that felt like a magic lantern show, where characters pass out of focus and meld into the shadows just as they first become clear. He succeeded. It is haunting, beautiful, and frightening all at once.
3. The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns
I can’t wait to dive into this meditation on Christ’s teachings and the problem of poverty, penned by the president of my favorite charity organization, Worldvision.
And, if you’re going to the beach, I think it’s required to bring a copy of The Odyssey to read as you gaze at the waves.
I’ve always considered summertime to be a season particularly suited to letting our souls come out to play. In that spirit, the three texts above present us with stories that break us out of our everyday modes and allow us to explore ideas and sentiments we might otherwise be too distracted to notice.
1. Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
2. The Fairy Tales of Hermann Hesse by Hermann Hesse (Translated by Jack Zipes)
3. Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson
Summer reading should be fun. I am saying that partially in bitterness—my summer course coming up will require me to read some pretty fatty (literally and allegorically) books. So, here are the books I wish I had time to re-read, and that, if I hadn’t read them before but knew how simply awesome they are, I’d get extension on my schoolbooks just to read them.
1. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
2. The Brothers K by James Duncan
3. Harpo Speaks by Harpo Marx and Rowland Barber
Okay, okay, the part about extensions is a lie. But still.
Figuring out a summer reading list can be daunting — to say nothing of actually completing it! I am often overwhelmed by the sheer variety of genres, much less individual titles to choose from. To help with these feelings of inferiority, feel free to use my trick, the old mnemonic heard a lot around summertime, though usually only at weddings: “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.” To wit:
1. Something old: It’s unlikely that this year’s writers of good beach books are going to surpass the riches of literary history. Time is the most effective book critic, and a novel’s endurance through time is its own best review. Read a classic, something you’ve always wanted to have read and know to be good. This summer, I’m re-reading The Pilgrim’s Progress which, by any standard, counts as an all-time best seller, and which will surely outlast the summer. As for fun reading, I’m going to trot out my well-worn copy of P.G. Wodehouse’s incomparable Jeeves and Wooster stories. Light (I have injured myself laughing) and lasting, Wodehouse is the perfect thing to give you a mental break without wasting your time.
2. Something new: But, hey, let’s not bash what new literary minds have to offer. See if your favorite contemporary authors have been up to anything lately — if not, try a new author. Though current literary celebrity need not indicate a book’s lasting greatness, it’s a good place to start expanding your reading list. It’s worth trying a new genre as well — only go in for Science Fiction? Try a biography, maybe of Tolkien. Heavy on the non-fiction? Pick up a collection of short stories. I myself can’t wait to sink my teeth into Marilynne Robinson’s new Absence of Mind, based on a set of lectures she’s given on the tendentious relationship between science and religion.
3. Something borrowed: Can’t think of what to read? Ask around! Ask people you respect, friends, neighbors, relatives, the guy at the bookstore, that nice librarian — people who love books love recommending them almost as much as reading them. Besides, we’re friends with our friends for a reason, and though you may not see eye-to-eye with your nearest and dearest on things literary, it’s worth taking at least one book recommendation for your summer reading. I’m taking the recommendation of a friend (who also had the kindness and good sense to just give me the book he wants me to read) to take my first foray into the works of Jacques Maritain, one of the most important Thomists of the 20th century. I’m also setting aside some time for Kathleen Jamie, a poet little known outside of her native Scotland, recommended to me by no less than Garrison Keillor.
4. Something blue: Admittedly the least intuitive mnemonic, I take this to mean “something serious.” Summer isn’t the time to let your critical faculties atrophy. Read books you want to read this summer. Read fun books. But devote some of your leisure time to something that’s good for you. Though we don’t think to lug our tomes of theology or books on budgeting to the beach, times of leisure are often the times we are refreshed enough to read things we would otherwise be too frazzled for. A year out of college is a good time to remember my Complete Works of Plato isn’t useful just as a doorstop, and Calvin’s Institutes seems only to grow larger the longer I leave it on my shelf. My complete set of William Faulkner doesn’t recommend itself for bright, brisk summer reading — nor does the Truman Capote I’ve been meaning to get to — but they can stand to get a little sand in their pages, and are worth a little summertime work…even if I am working on my tan at the same time.
Dallas Willard has long been considered a modern sage on the spiritual life. These three books make an excellent summer read to refresh and deepen your spiritual life. Interestingly enough, the books should be read in reverse chronological order in order to follow a topical progression from general to specific.
As a sidenote, it looks like In Search of Guidance is a little hard to find, and I think Hearing God might make a nice substitute to it.
Relaxing over the summer is good, but don’t lose your edge. My list of top-3 summer reads for this summer is like reading Forbes on the beach – you’ll stay sharp while kicking back.
1) Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind.
Typically, I enjoy non-fiction books; that’s because I’m a nerd. However, the Sword of Truth series by Terry Goodkind has captivated my imagination and lately given me many hours of fun fantasy reading. I highly recommend this series of which Wizard’s First Rule is the first book; it’s the basis of the Legend of the Seeker television show.
If the rapid spiral of the housing and stock markets has your head spinning and you’re looking to re-capture a sense of equilibrium, I highly recommend The Big Short. This book will take you behind the scenes of the sub-prime mortgage crisis and give you a helpful snapshot of why things fell apart. If you feel like the forlorn lover of free-market capitalism, re-kindle your passion with The Virtues of Capitalism; it will remind you of the virtues of capitalism that wall street and the media have forgotten.
3) Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
I read this book while reclined facing the ocean from the living room of my friend’s beach house. It’s a perfect summer read. Gladwell’s winsome manner and thorough research makes for fun, smart, and enlightening reading.
1. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
2. Obasan by Joy Kogawa
3. God’s Silence by Franz Wright
Each of these books is as distinct from one another as the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, but one theme that pulls them together is an ever present and allusive “silence.” Sobering summer reading, Steinbeck’s East of Eden and Joy Kogawa’s Obasan touch upon historical periods and cultures sometimes neglected by modern day audiences and both gravely portray broken familial relationships. Wright’s God’s Silence also calls for the same personal and interpersonal reflection, but in poetic form, and with the enduring hope that someone will answer the silence.
1. Till We Have Faces (C.S. Lewis). I read this once every 4th summer. This fictional re-telling of the myth of Psyche is one of Lewis’ masterpieces, tying together themes of trust/betrayal, selfishness/sharing, paganism/deism, despair/joy and facing oneself. Take a deep look at the darkness of your own heart and the sins against Love in this novel.
2. Common Ground without Compromise (Stephen Wagner): If you’re dedicating any time to think more deeply about the abortion issue, pick up this light reading. It will give you food for thought on the major premises on which both pro-life and pro-choice sides agree.
3. Education for Human Flourishing (Paul Spears & Steven Loomis): For any students, whether about to embark on a new academic journey (starting college or grad school), or in the tired midst of one, think hard about exactly why you are taking that journey. Spears & Loomis dig deep to the foundation of what being educated and educating others is all about.
1. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Jules Verne. Jules Verne is one of my favorite “science fiction” writers. This is an excellent and engaging book, and his novels always center around technology or expeditions that were ahead of his time. As a bonus, this book will probably help expand your vocabulary too!
2. Three Philosophies of Life: Ecclesiastes, Life As Vanity Job, Life As Suffering Song of Songs, Life As Love, by Peter Kreeft. Dr. Kreeft is one of my all time favorite writers and does an excellent job capturing the big ideas in very accessible ways. Most especially though, he writes from a very classical perspective, intertwining theology, C.S. Lewis, and classical works in almost all of his writing. This one is a particular favorite as he looks at Ecclesiastes, Job, and Song of Songs, as three different perspectives on life, and parallels them each respectively with the three parts of Dante’s Divine Comedy.
3. This Mortal Flesh: Incarnation and Bioethics, Brent Waters. This is one of my favorite new works on bioethics. Brent Waters is definitely in the “Who’s who?” category of individuals in the world of Christian bioethics. For any bioethcs nerds, this is will be intellectual candy. For anyone else interested in seeing what are some of the main categories of bioethics conversations today, this would be a great place to start. ‘