By Laura H
For those of you who don’t know me, I love to read and I think that’s why I was asked to write this post.
Although I have an ever growing “Reading List in Progress,” I make a separate “Summer Reading List.” There’s something about the idea of summer reading that offers a fresh start, the need to make a list especially for this season. Maybe it’s lingering habits from all those library summer reading programs I did as a kid. I still feel nostalgia remembering my weekly bike rides to the library and the sense of satisfaction in returning a completed pile of books, mingled with the excitement of wandering through the lines of shelves to carefully select the next batch. And of course there was the free dilly bar I got for every 10 books I finished. Although, I hardly needed the dilly bar, the joy of systematically making my way through the long row of tattered Nancy Drew books was incentive enough!
So, my task here was to assemble a list of Top 10 Reads. To be completely honest, I struggle with the concept of a “Top 10” list of books. Coming up with ten titles is no problem; I could give you 50 if you want, but it’s that pesky little word “top.” As if these are the definitive books of my literary endeavors. It’s too absolute.
I’m forever evading questions asking me to rank my favorite books, usually either refusing to answer the question altogether, or fudging my way through it with emphatic disclaimers, like, “These are some of my favorite books” or “Not in any particular order.” Each experience with a book is so unique, there are so many and such varied reasons why a book may be meaningful that it’s difficult to take them outside that experience and compare them to one another. I have no problem claiming certain books to be of the best I’ve ever read, but to be forced to assign them a precise slot in a ranking order as if I could quantify their beauty, genius, the enjoyment they’ve given me, the impact they’ve had on me? It can’t be done. And, quite frankly, I’m too indecisive, so I just can’t commit to an ordered list of, well... anything.
But, all that aside, I’ve spent much of my time preparing this post by staring at a list of 18 titles and wondering how to narrow it down to 10. I finally managed to get it down to 11, making some particular decisions along the way. One of my intentions in compiling this list was to include a variety of genres, for diversified reading (though I admit that my default taste falls to 18th and 19th century British literature, and I can’t go too long without a good fiction read), as well as books encompassing various time periods. I wholeheartedly embrace C.S. Lewis’ insightful words that we must, “keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can only be done by reading old books.”
So without further ado, here are some books that I believe have great worth, have inspired much pondering, and which have given me much pleasure in reading. I hope you add one or two of these to your summer reading list...or maybe even feel inspired to write a summer reading list for the first time!
The Aeneid by Virgil (published c. 20 BC)
One of my favorite aspects of this epic poem is the incredibly beautiful language and imagery that carry the story. It’s especially striking in the battle scenes. Be sure to get the Robert Fitzgerald translation.
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky (published 1866)
Dostoevsky has a genius understanding of the human soul. He brilliantly confronted the worldly philosophies of his day not through an academic treatise, but through story-raw and human.
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (published in 1908)
Witty and endearing children’s stories that give a beautiful portrait of turn of the century English countryside life. And Mr Toad will have you bursting out laughing!
Surprised by Joy by CS Lewis (published 1955)
Lewis’ account of his childhood and early adulthood, especially as regards his own spiritual journey. His experience and explanation of “Joy” resonated immediately and deeply with me. I highly recommend this book.
The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan (published 1678)
Allegorical story of the Christian’s life that has an innumerable amount of characters and concepts to connect with. Consider getting a modernized translation or annotated original, as the archaic English can be difficult, but well worth the challenge.
The Confessions by St. Augustine (published 398 AD)
A beautiful and soul-stirring book, from a man who writes in an intensely human way, from the depths of his soul. It feels like you’re reading pages torn from his journal, which they kind of are in a sense. Much to glean regarding life and theology.
The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis (published 1954), and The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald (published 1872)
I cheated here and included two in one. Two fantasy children’s stories that give a powerful picture of God’s good sovereignty. George MacDonald’s writings had a profound effect on Lewis and his spiritual searching.
A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn (published 1980, with updated eds)
Covers from 1492 to 2001. I liked that Zinn openly acknowledges that all historical accounts have a bias, but is straightforward about what his bias is- to give a voice to the people, especially those whose voices weren’t heard. It’s all the history I didn’t learned in school. Helped me to create a more holistic understanding of history by seeing it through other perspectives.
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (first published 1887)
An enormous amount of material here, consider starting with some of his long stories. While “The Hound of the Baskervilles” is the most famous, I suggest reading, “A Study in Scarlet” or “The Sign of the Four.” Conan Doyle has created a most fascinating character in Holmes- his genius will astound you! If you want quick reads, get a collection of his short Sherlock Holmes stories- there are 56 in total.
MacBeth by William Shakespeare (published c. 1623)
Time to revisit our old high school friend with fresh eyes. Fascinating plot and characters- it’s helpful to keep SparkNotes as a companion! Shakespeare presents an interesting theme regarding the idea of a fixed versus a self-fulling destiny (obviously it’s not from a theological perspective, but it may inspire some good conversation on the topic!).
The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell (published 2000)
Gladwell is a social theorist who here explores how little, small scale things or events “tip” to become epidemics. He explores everything from fashion trends to crime rates, and the people behind their spread. Very interesting and easy read.