Friday, August 05, 2011

Summer Reading

Last week I posted an item over on Vital Signs Blog about my discovery, lo those many years ago, of one of my favorite writers of all, G.K. Chesterton. That prompted the questions, "Do you still read him a lot? And are you reading anything by him right now?"

Well, yes; I do still read a lot of Chesterton. Although, a more precise answer might be that I do some new reading of Chesterton...and a whole lot of re-reading of Chesterton. But that's true of my reading habits in general. As I've grown older and put a ton of books behind me (good, bad and indifferent books), I find it significantly more edifying and entertaining to read things again rather than experiment. In fact, I'd guess that 3/4 of the books I read are books I have read at least once before.

And that includes Chesterton.

But to return to the specific question -- what am I reading of his right now? Actually, nothing. I do not, like some people, try and read more than one book at a time. My concentration and memory are limited enough as it is. But he is on my summer schedule and right after I finish Charles Dickens' The Old Curiosity Shop (right, another re-read), Nancy Pearcey's Saving Leonardo, and this month's Napoleon selection, Rafael Sabatini's The Lost King, I plan to visit several of my favorite Chesterton works: the novels Manalive and The Flying Inn, the polemical works Orthodoxy and Heretics, and the poem "Lepanto."

But those do not constitute the whole of this summer's reading. Besides the reading I do every week in the Bible and Bible study books (I am, after all, a preacher), I've managed to fit in the following since the beginning of May, many of them read while my Mom was in the hospital.

* The Seventh Cross by Anna Seghers. This is a novel published in 1941, if I remember correctly, but it was my first reading of it. It's a story of an escapee from one of the Nazi's concentration camps, full of intense drama, desperate chase scenes and profound insights into human emotions, relationships and motivations. It was superb. I'm sure it will be one of my nominations next November to make the Notting Hill Napoleon reading list.

* Scoop by Evelyn Waugh. A very funny 1938 novel from one of Britain's best writers, a novel which looked at English colonialism, journalism, racial prejudices and more.

* Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh. This is an early work of Waugh's -- published in 1930. It's a curious, rather uneven parody of English romantic comedies of the period. But in its derision of the upper classes, Waugh employs a pretty bitter comedy, one that is at times uncomfortably bleak. I've read several Evelyn Waugh novels and essays but this was my first time around with both Scoop and Vile Bodies.

* I Cover the Waterfront by Max Miller. I found this 1933 collection of short tales very interesting, sometimes even quite moving. Miller was a frustrated and lonely newspaper reporter assigned the beat of San Diego's docks. He was a man who desperately wanted the fame, fortune and high living of a popular novelist and that often mars his stories. So too does his cynicism and a self-detachment that sometimes borders on cruelty. Yes, he was an excellent observer and a fine writer but his nihilism keeps me from suggesting this one to the Napoleons...and maybe to you.

* Looking for the King : An Inklings Novel by David C. Downing. This is a new book which offered some nice moments but certainly not enough for me to recommend it.

* Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan. This short novel, though written very early in his career and not as full or sharp as his later works -- it was published in 1915 while Buchan was still serving as a soldier during WWI -- remains a very thrilling adventure. And, of course, it's the necessary introduction to the other novels which feature Scottish secret agent Richard Hannay, Greenmantle, Mr. Standfast, The Three Hostages and The Island of Sheep.

* A Taste for Death by P.D. James. In this, the 7th of James' mysteries starring poetry-writing detective Adam Dalgliesh, the story revolves around the double murder in a small church of a peer and a homeless drunk. But, like her other mysteries, James deftly explores character, ideas and culture as much as she does the complex plot of the crime. I had read this many years ago and, thanks to that shallow memory I mentioned earlier, I had forgotten enough of the details to keep me interested in the mystery as well as James' observations of life.

* Watership Down by Richard Adams. How can you not want to re-join Hazel, Fiver, Bigwig and all their rabbit colleagues in their long, perilous journey to their new warren, let alone experience again that desperate fight against General Woundwort and the soldier rabbits of Efrafra? At least that's what I want to do every few years. And I had a great time doing so again.

So, now on to Dickens, Pearcey, Sabatini and finally, Chesterton. I must say, it's a pretty good summer regimen. What's yours?