The idea of “summer reading” seems to evoke beaches and lawn chairs and leisure. I’m not sure that describes my summer, but in this spirit let me begin with the most popular genre I enjoy: mystery novels. I read these for pure fun and entertainment (and probably to indulge my yearning for a moral universe). Authors like Rex Stout, George Simenon, Agatha Christie, Robert Van Gulik, and even Seicho Matsumoto have been entertaining me lately, although I nearly died of an overdose of 1930s sexism when reading Margery Allingham’s The Fashion in Shrouds a couple of weeks ago. Most of these are vintage detective novels.
My favorite contemporary mystery writer however is the Spaniard, Arturo Perez-Reverte. Not only does he have a fine grasp of plot and characterization, he always meticulously researches and presents some area of human endeavor by way of context for his novels—chess, book collecting, fencing, art restoration, the drug trade, maritime treasure hunts, and so on. His feeling for human pathos, his capacity to create three-dimensional characters and have them surprise you, his lurking spirituality, all intrigue me. I’ve just gotten The Painter of Battles (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2007) out of the library and am very much looking forward to reading it.
On the more academic side, but still an easy read, I am enjoying a book by James McCartin: Prayers of the Faithful: The Shifting Spiritual Life of American Catholics (Harvard University Press, 2010). It’s a study of changes in devotional practices from the 19th century to the present. McCartin was a student of Jay Dolan at Notre Dame and now teaches at Seton Hall. I had the pleasure of meeting the author and his family at a social event this winter. This is what first drew my attention to the book, but I also believe it has gotten good reviews.
One of the things I like to do is to pick up older books that seem to grow more intriguing with the years. In this category, I have been reading in a leisurely manner Erich Auerbach’s Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature. It was written in Istanbul between May 1942 and April 1945, and first published in Berne in 1946. What an amazing book! Auerbach’s comments on the biblical narratives fascinating, but there is so much more here too. Of course, I feel like a bumpkin when I read some of it, because of the gaps in my own literary education, but that’s OK.
Now, here’s a true confession. I’ve had Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age (Cambridge: The Belknap Press, 2007) on the shelf for months, unopened. I guess I’ve been afraid of it. It seemed so massive and daunting. But just this week I’ve delved into it and am pleased to report that I’m fascinated and have been enjoying it immensely. He’s a very clear writer and his ideas and approach to the subject are already sorting things out for me in ways that are extremely helpful. The book may get to be tough going later on, but for now I’m just delighted with it.
Finally, never let it be said that you can’t have your reading list expanded by people who comment on a blog. Two books on my desk right now were recommended to me in this way. One book came to me through dotCommonweal (and an off-beat and fascinating book it is, too): Fabrice Hadjadj’s Le foi des demons ou l’athéisme dépassé (Paris: Éditions Salvator, 2009). Hadjadj is an essayist and dramatist and a convert to Catholicism. This is not work-related reading, but it does—in a broad sense—offer some stimulating ideas that may end up in my own writing sometime. The other I found because of a comment made here at PrayTell. Ryan Flanigan quoted James Torrance on one of my threads, and I said to myself, “Who is James Torrance?” Well, through the powers of Google I learned that he is a Scottish theologian in the tradition of Karl Barth (whom I greatly admire) and that he writes about the theology of worship from within a Reformed Church perspective. I now have Worship, Community & the Triune God of Grace (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1996) on my desk and something else to look forward to.
Happy summer reading, everyone!