Friday, June 9

Summer Reading

Readers are inveterate and unapologetic list makers. There are lists of books that must be read. There are lists of books that must be reread. There are lists of books that must be read by others. There are lists of books that must be bought. There are best-seller lists. There are best of the best lists. There are the indispensable book lists--those titles readers might profess to be their preferred companions were they stranded on a desert isle. It seems that list-making simply goes with the territory--it is the natural accompaniment to the shelf life. As Umberto Eco has quipped, "Lists are the most necessary literary accessories of all."

Every summer and every winter, I make new lists. I make lists of all the books I want to somehow find the time to read in that coming season. To that end, here is my current summer list--and as always it is prone to frequent revision:

Classics: "A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say." Italo Calvino. "When you reread a classic you do not see more in the book than you did before; you see more in you than was there before. A classic is a mirror that reflects the truest self--and all the more clearly than the mere looking glasses of our own vain manufacture." Charles Gillespie.

I love the books of Sir Walter Scott. He was once ranked on a par with Shakespeare, Johnson, and Milton--the greatest writers in the English literary tradition. Alas, in recent years Johnson, Milton, and Scott have fallen out of academic favor--which has made them even more attractive to me than ever. This summer is going to be my Scott summer. I hope to reread The Antiquary, which is my favorite of the Waverly Novels. But, I am also planning on reading a good bit of his epic poetry including Marmion and The Lady of the Lake.

Devotional Theology: "It is an old and healthy tradition that each home where the light of godliness shone should have its own bookshelf. Blessed is the man or woman who has inherited such a cultural and spiritual bequest." John Macleod. "Reading means borrowing. Reading the best means borrowing from the best." George Christoph Lichtenberg.

My wife and I will be reading Sacred Marriage, by one of my favorite contemporary Christian writers and thinkers, Gary Thomas. I am already starting to dig into the remarkable book on worship, With Reverence and Awe, by D.G. Hart and John Muether. Sam Storms has a new book, One Thing, about the need for Christians to develop a passion for the beauty of God. I always find that his books, like those of John Piper and Jerry Bridges, are not only helpful, they are delightfully convicting. I am also thrilled that Sinclair Ferguson's sermons on the book of Ruth have been published as Faithful God. And Zach Eswine has produced a new study of the preaching of Charles Spurgeon, Kindled Fire, that I am really looking forward to delving into.

Fiction: "The end of reading is not more books but more life." Holbrook Jackson. "There is a great deal of difference between the eager man who wants to read a book and the tired man who wants a book to read. A man reading a Le Quex mystery wants to get to the end of it. A man reading the Dickens novel wished that it might never end." George MacDonald.

With the passing of Ellis Peters and Patrick O'Brian, perhaps the greatest living practitioner of the historical novel is Bernard Cornwell. His new series is about King Alfred the Great during the ninth century Viking invasions. The Last Kingdom and The Pale Horsemen are the first two installments--and I hope to read them both this summer. Another remarkable historical novelist is Colin Thubron--his novel Falling is a tour de force. I have never read one of his older stories, Emperor. So, this summer I hope to linger long over his invariably marvelous prose. I haven't decided yet about John Updike's new novel Terrorist, which has just been released. The thing about Updike is that he is sometimes astonishingly brilliant and sometimes outrageously offensive. I may have to wait on a few reviews before I finally make up my mind.

History: "The reading of all good books is like a conversation with the finest men of past centuries." Rene Descartes. "A good writer is basically a story-teller, not a scholar or a redeemer of mankind." Isaac Bashevis Singer.

My favorite history books are invariably biographies. I've got three of Peter Ackroyd's new Brief Lives set out for this summer: on Isaac Newton, Geoffrey Chaucer, and J.M.W. Turner. But, even more exciting to me is Paul Johnson's new book, Creators, which looks at the lives of Bach and Durer, Verdi and Dante, Tiffany and Dior, Picasso and Disney. It is a thematic sequel to his brilliant Intellectuals, published two decades ago. I am also reading Joseph Pearce's biography of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn--I started it last fall and was interrupted and I am just now getting back to it.

Current Events: "A broad interest in books usually means a broad interest in life." Lyman Abbott. "The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them." Mark Twain.

On my list for the summer are four books of contemporary interest. They are hot-button-issue books. Two books on Islam and the West are by the preeminent Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci, The Rage and the Pride and The Force of Reason, both published by Rizzoli. Also on the subject of Islam and its assault on the indigenous Christian peoples of the Middle East, is William Dalrymple's travelogue, From the Holy Mountain. And finally, I am looking forward to reading Joseph Pearce's fresh look at the legacy of E.F. Schumacher, Small Is Still Beautiful.

Art, Music, and Architecture: "Books are the food of youth; the delight of old age; the ornament of prosperity; the refuge and comfort of adversity; a delight at home; no hindrance abroad; companions at night, in traveling, in the country. Indeed, no wise man ought ever be found apart their company." Cicero. "I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library." Jorge Luis Borges.

I love books on art, music, and most especially architecture. This summer I hope to make my way through a new book on classical Roman architecture by Mark Wilson Jones, The Principles of Roman Architecture as well as a classic of American architecture criticism by Henry Hope Reed, The Golden City. I will also reread Witold Rybczynski's The Perfect House, which examines the work of the sixteenth century genius, Andrea Palladio. I also intend to reread Greg Wilbur's Glory and Honor. It is a remarkable biography of Johann Sebastian Bach that, it seems to me, has even more to say about the future of music than it does about the past--despite the fact that it is an historical biography of a man who lived some three centuries ago.

Sport: "A life being very short, and the quiet hours of it few, we ought to waste none of them in reading valueless books." John Ruskin. "Mediocre minds usually dismiss anything which reaches beyond their own understanding." Duc de la Rochefoucauld.

Two of the world's greatest sporting spectacles occur this summer--so, it is a great time for me to catch up on the sports reading that seems too often to get shoved aside by the tyranny of the urgent. I always follow the Tour de France with keen interest. Without Lance Armstrong this year, competition should be even more intense than usual during the month-long event. I typically buy Bob Roll's Tour Companion just so that I can follow the action with some level of intelligence. Likewise, when the World Cup comes around every four years, I find that I have to bone up on all the international soccer rules (what all the rest of the world calls football). To that end, I will have John Motson's World Cup Extravaganza handy throughout (starting today with Germany v. Costa Rica and Poland v. Ecuador).

Obviously, I have a good deal of reading to do. I'd best get started.


Ben said...

In Johnson's The Creators, the chapter on the two dress designers is so good that it will make you want to drop the book, grab a bolt of material and a pair of scissors and start making dresses for your wife. I am surprised that the British government has not confiscated Paul Johnson's mind in order to regulate and control it. He is wonderful.
When are you doing a list on some serious reading? All you listed was fun stuff?


Steve said...


When you were here you mentioned a book about the impact of the weekend on our cultural development, do you have the author and title to hand?

Steve Hayhow
London UK

Lawrence Underwood said...

Ah, the Cup. I'm a like long soccer fan and player. This will be the first Cup that I've not been able to watch since I was a lad. (We've turned off the television for the summer.) But, that will leave more time for reading! My list right now is far too long, and too many of them are also on Whitefield's list ;)

Thank you for the mention of Cornwell's books on Alfred. I'll have to add them to my list.


nathan said...

Sheesh. And i though i was accomplished for reading "Oliver Twist" and "David Copperfield" and ambitious for re-starting "The Silmarillion" and the "Lord of the Rings"!

Lilithravengirl said...

Thank you Thank you! I am so excited to look these over. One of my goals is to make it through the entire list that you have posted to Shelf Life. I figure if I keep telling everyone, then I might actually do it :-)

I am reading "Up From Slavery" at the moment. Its very good!

larry white said...

Your summer menu looks super, though I know I will be fortunate to read even a few of them. The list will be circulated, though, along with previous ones, and the quotes re reading will be posted in my library and its column. I hope to also get to at least one of your books from the Biblical Blueprints series. Thanks.

YeOleImposter said...

I just finished both of the Bernard Cornwell books you have on this list and want to say, Thank-You!. I thoroughly enjoyed them both. I look forward to book 3.

I do wonder what your take is on Cornwell's presentation of the church in that period. It is not too flattering.

Gary Paulson