Saturday, July 9, 2011

Summer reading selections

Visiting the local library at the start of summer holidays was a ritual when our children were little. We’d scour the shelves, make our selections, and sign out armfuls of books. A few days later, we’d be off to the lake, books in tow.

If the summer was a scorcher, we could retreat to the coolness of the cottage to read. If it rained, books helped to wait out the bad weather.

Those years are long past, but I still look forward to summer as a time to indulge in reading. Even if I'm not at the cottage, sitting under the gazebo with a good book makes an ordinary day into a holiday.

If you are heading off to your equivalent of cottage country, and are looking for something to read, I offer a few suggestions.


Lydia Davis’s new translation of Madame Bovary brings Gustave Flaubert’s classic to life. On the book's dust jacket, Emma Bovary is described as “the original desperate housewife.” Smart and pretty with refined sensibilities, Emma struggles to accept her situation as a married woman with limited opportunities for self-actualization. Married to a mediocre doctor, and living in a small provincial town, Emma gradually loses touch with reality. She inhabits a delusional world of romance, indulging her senses with expensive goods and her sexuality with a series of doomed affairs.

Originally published in 1856 in six installments in a periodical, the story quickly became notorious. Flaubert and his editors were tried and acquitted for offenses against public immorality and religion.

A family chronicle:

My favorite read this year, without a doubt, was Rain of Gold by Victor Villasenor. Rain of Gold walks the line between fiction and non-fiction. Villasenor masterfully incorporates elements of myth, magical realism, Catholicism, indigenous Mexican spirituality, and history in the retelling of his family history. There are scenes in this chronicle that will have you laughing, crying or cringing. In an amusing scene, Villasenor describes his grandmother sitting in the outhouse with her cigar and whiskey, “gossiping with the Virgin.”

Non-fiction, spirituality:

If you are looking for something to nourish your soul, you might enjoy one of the following.

Maria Boulding’s translation of Saint Augustine’s The Confessions, published by New City Press is very readable. I have tried to read other translations of The Confessions in the past without a great deal of success. Translated from Latin, the language always seemed stilted and inaccessible. 

Boulding’s translation captures Augustine’s voice, including his sense of humor. The edition includes an informative introduction, useful notes and a comprehensive index. Parts of The Confessions are so beautiful; they will make your heart ache with the desire to know God as Augustine came to know God.

In one of his essays, Francis Bacon, a literary figure of the 17th century, divided books into three types. One type of book is to be tasted or read only in parts. Another type is to be swallowed or read superficially. These types of books are common. The third type of book is rare. It is to be chewed and digested, read “wholly and with diligence and attention.” The Confessions is one of those rare books that deserves to be chewed slowly and ruminated over.

The Prodigal God, by Timothy Keller is easy to read and challenges the reader on a personal level. This in-depth look at the parable of the prodigal son, found in The Gospel of Luke 15:11-32, provides new insight into the parable. Keller focuses on the limitations that the sons place on their love for their father and on the father’s loving response to each. Keller challenges readers to evaluate their actions and motivations, to make changes, and to accept the father’s invitation to the banquet.

The Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life, edited by Wendy Wilson Greer, is a compilation of some of the writings of Henri Nouwen

Although noted as a man who was faithful to prayer, Nouwen was no stranger to the demands of a busy schedule or the intrusions that an active mind have on solitude and time with God. His humanness gives authenticity to his writings. The compilation is not an academic treatment of prayer, but a resource for nourishing a prayerful life.

The Only Necessary Thing is a series of short passages on a variety of topics, all relating to prayer in some way. The passages average around a page each, making this little book perfect for daily reflection.

Whether you prefer to taste, swallow, or chew and digest your summer reading, your local library or bookseller is certain to have something to please your palate.

Happy reading!

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