Summer Reading (and beyond) – 2011 Edition

After a Lent that involved my reading Anthony Esolen’s excellent translation of Dante’s Inferno, it was time to move into a more typically light summer faire. I’ve just finished Dan Barry’s wonderful book Bottom of the 33rd and am ready to begin my summer reading in earnest. Considering the paradox of the booming thud and chirping crickets that my published book excerpts have rendered so far I’ve decided to relax and do some reading instead of writing this summer. If it comes, it comes.

Compiling a list like this since 2008 has taught me that I am often too ambitious in my attempts. Every year I am only able to read a little over half of the books on my list, but I do wind up finishing them during the winter. So perhaps this should instead be my summer/fall/early-winter reading list. I do plan to save Jekyll & Hyde for October heading into Halloween, and I always prefer reading Dickens in the fall for whatever reason.

As always I am asking that readers list some of their planned readings for the summer as I always learn of a book or two to read later on.

Looking for the King: An Inklings Novel. By David C. Downing. Other than The Thirteenth Tale, the best book I read in 2010 was Matthew Pearl’s The Dante Club. I loved how Pearl brought 19th century figures such as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Oliver Wendell Holmes to life in a post-Civil War Boston. In Looking for the King Downing attempts to do the same by combining a 1940s quest for historical evidence of King Arthur with the fabled Spear of Destiny, involving The Inklings and their two most famous members: C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.

The Hobbit. By J.R.R. Tolkien. While the two part Peter Jackson movie is not due to begin in theaters until December 2012 I’m hoping to re-read Tolkien’s tale at some point this summer. It’s been a few years and I want to revisit The Lonely Mountains.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. By Robert Louis Stevenson. I’ve had this book on my shelves for a few years and Nolan recently read it. It took him a few days and he recommended I do the same.

Unbroken. By Laura Hillenbrand. Several months ago a close friend wrote to me instructing me to hold my nose and purchase the latest copy of Vanity Fair (with Cher on the cover so yes, I held my nose) in order to read an excerpt from a soon-to-be-released book by Laura Hillenbrand, the woman who had written Seabiscuit. I trust her, so I did as directed and was immediately enthralled with the true story of Louie Zamperini. During a routine search mission over the Pacific during WW2 Louie’s plane crashed into the ocean, and what happened to him over the next three years of his life is told in this book. I’ve no doubt it will be a major motion picture one day.

The Sparrow. By Mary Doria Russell. Having first read Russell’s third book, A Thread of Grace, a few years ago after seeing it in airports every time I travelled, I finally decided to read her acclaimed first books this summer. Where Grace takes place in the past (WW2 era Jewish refugees escaping across Italy), The Sparrow and its sequel Children of God take place in the future.

In 2019, humanity finally finds proof of extraterrestrial life when a listening post in Puerto Rico picks up exquisite singing from a planet which will come to be known as Rakhat. While United Nations diplomats endlessly debate a possible first contact mission, the Society of Jesus quietly organizes an eight-person scientific expedition of its own. What the Jesuits find is a world so beyond comprehension that it will lead them to question the meaning of being “human.” When the lone survivor of the expedition, Emilio Sandoz, returns to Earth in 2059, he will try to explain what went wrong…

Children of God. By Mary Doria Russell. I’ve read a lot of good things about the sequel to The Sparrow, enough that I want to read both back-to-back. It continues the story of Fr. Emilio Sandoz, the Jesuit priest whose faith was brutally tested after his harrowing experiences during his first mission into space. I haven’t read much science fiction lately, but am very interested in these tales of philosophical science fiction that explore the questions about ourselves and our existence.

Toward the Gleam. By T.M. Doran. Not unlike Looking for the King, this novel takes place in the mid-20th century and is a historical novel with hints of Tolkien. Indeed the main character John Hill is a prototype of Tolkien. It has its own promotional trailer as well. You can read more about this book at The Inklings’ website.

Days Off and other digressions. By Henry Van Dyke. Long one of my favorite sources of quotes, several months ago I stumbled across a collection of eight volumes of Van Dykes’ collected writings published by Scribner & Sons from 1895-1920. Each is a series of short stories or essays and were ridiculously inexpensive. Being found in good shape I purchased them for my shelves. I’ve enjoyed browsing through them and decided that this book would be the perfect lazy summer’s day book for 2011. The opening story, Days Off, about a conversation on leisurely summer days between Van Dyke and his Uncle Peter is worth the price of the book, first published in 1907.

“You see it is the change that makes the charm of a day off. The real joy of leisure is known only to the people who have contracted the habit of work without becoming enslaved to the vice of overwork.

“A hobby is the best thing in the world for a man with a serious vocation. It keeps him from getting muscle-bound in his own task. It helps to save him from the mistake of supposing that it is his little tick-tack that keeps the universe a-going. It leads him out, on off days, away from his own garden corner into curious and interesting regions of this wide and various earth, of which, after all, he is a citizen.

The Old Curiosity Shop. By Charles Dickens. Because a year not spent reading at least one book by Charles is a year wasted.

And for the winter:

Les Miserables. By Victor Hugo. Having finally witnessed the incredible musical this past April I am ready to read the book. I purchased the book last fall once I’d secured tickets to the 25th Anniversary touring production of Les Miz, but didn’t want to read the book until afterwards so that I could experience the musical without knowing the story. I’m glad I did as I thoroughly enjoyed the show. This winter I’ll dive into the very long tale of Cosette, Jean Valjean, and Hugo’s other characters in 19th century Paris.


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