It’s not easy suggesting books for summer reading. Some readers consider summer to be a time for easy, lazy reading: the slow, torpid days between the last hurrah of Pentecost and the chilly onset of Advent. Others want to spend their summers expanding their minds as well as their travel repertoires. I personally like to have a little of both in my pile of Ordinary Time reading. This here’s a list of what I have been reading and expect to be reading soon.
The Confessions, by St. Augustine (Catholic Classics)
What can be said about The Confessions that a thousand Catholic high schoolers haven’t said before? I have been taking my time rereading it, and frequently find myself disagreeing with this bishop who was surely far holier and erudite than me. Who can seriously hate tragic dramas? Bosh, I say.
Planet Narnia, by Michael Ward (Literary Criticism)
Long but readable, Ward’s extensive examination of the influence of Medieval cosmology on the Narnia series is educational, compelling, and fun. It goes to show how much work Prof. Lewis was willing to put even into his children’s books. I have little doubt this volume will spark the careers of many a future Medievalist.
Propaganda, by Edward Bernays (Essays on Culture)
One wonders how devious Mr. Bernays must have been to have written so clearly about the practical uses of propaganda in the ordering of a democratic society, all while having been one of its major practitioners. This is a short work, quick and to the point. Bernays was Sigmund Freud’s nephew, and perhaps a little of the old family desire to reshape humanity rubbed off on him.
In the Night Garden, by Catherynne Valente (Fairytale Fiction)
Both a throwback to the ancient art of fairy tales and an experiment in metanarrative, Valente’s first volume of her Orphan’s Tales series is rich in character and feeling. Witches, princes, fallen stars, necromancers, and mischievous foxes populate this fantasy world. It’s a bit like The 1,001 Nights with more intertextuality.
Mystical Theology, by Dionysius the Areopagite (Seminal Spirituality)
So short you can read it faster than this blog post, the Mystical Theology set the groundwork for many later schools of mysticism. He proposes the via negativa approach to the Divinity. It is affirmation through negation, the attainment of light through darkness. I am told that the perennially popular Cloud of Unknowing owes much in concept to this essay.
The Death of Woman Wang, by Jonathan Spence (Oriental History)
While I have only just begun this short book, it promises to be full of life and interest in a part of Chinese history poorly known in the West. The rural T’an-ch’eng county provides the backdrop of a 17th-century slice of life, wherein a tax collector, a farmer, and an unhappy wife live out a terrible drama that ends (unsurprisingly) in death. The contemporary short stories of P’u Sung-ling are used to recreate the inner lives of these real-life characters.
Walking to Sleep, by Richard Wilbur (American Poetry)
Admittedly, I do little but read “Seed Leaves” over and over, but Wilbur’s poesy demands a slow digestion. He could write a poem about paint drying that would make it seem to be of cosmic importance. (“But something at the root / More urgent than that urge / Bids two true leaves emerge…”)
Ancestral Shadows, by Russell Kirk (Ghost Stories)
I have already lauded this collection, but will happily repeat my recommendation. Perhaps ghost stories are better suited for late autumn than summer, when the chill winds have blown all but a few of the leaves from the trees, and begin to howl through the cracks in the house.
But maybe not.
After all, there is that old legend from St. Odilo of Cluny, who said that the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin sent such a shockwave of mercy through the cosmos that even the damned received a day of respite, and still do. Perhaps the ghosts of our ancestors walk the earth today, taking their short, yearly stroll through their old haunts and weeping for what has been forever lost.