Well, it seems my flight has been delayed by a few hours. Granted, I’d rather have mechanical difficulties here on the ground than up in the air, so that’s something to be thankful for in the time waiting. I’m on my way to the Anglican Way Institute in Dallas; I’m pretty excited about it and am a bit blue that I’ll be missing the first few hours. In the mean time, I’d like to share my summer reading list with you, especially since that’s what everyone else seems to be doing on the internets.
I tend to get a lot of reading done over my commute on the Metro. Sometimes it’s hard to keep track of what got finished and when. Let’s start with the Worm Ouroboros, a high fantasy novel by E. R. Eddison. The author wrote during the early half of the twentieth century, before all the post-Tolkien paperback trash came along to litter the bookstore shelves. The novel is nothing less than pagan in the old and authentic sense. It is cyclical, honorable, written in lofty Elizabethan prose, and has the feel of Nietzsche at his best (or, rather, most interesting). It audaciously posits beauty as superior to goodness and truth. With Rucker’s sense of doom and scale of magnificence, he even makes violence in combat beautiful (think of Norse sagas and Greco-Roman epics). His perspective was so contrary to the spirit of his time and so insightful, the now-famous Inklings invited him to read his works to their circle. Inkling member J. R. R. Tolkien nevertheless quipped that Eddison’s views were barbaric; Eddison countered that the Christian Tolkien’s were too soft. With these concerns in mind, I think the reader will not be disappointed by this work and should choose this over the abominable Game of Thrones series, a wonderfully scathing review of which can be found here.
Falling along the lines of epics, I should mention I read Lucan’s Pharsalia (sometimes translated Civil War). This is the premier epic poem of Silver Age Latin. Lucan was rightly deemed a prodigy of his time. His career was tragically cut short by his early death, leaving the Pharsalia unfinished. If you like Homer and Virgil, then you really ought to read Lucan as well. It’s a sweeping narrative of the struggle between Julius Caesar and Pompey, the latter acting as protagonist. You won’t be disappointed. It will also help you keep C. S. Lewis’ golden ratio of books: one should at least read 1 old book for every 3 new ones.
Speaking of Lewis, you really ought to read a collection of his essays entitled God in the Dock. People generally know Lewis through his more popular writings: the Narnia series, Mere Christianity, and Screwtape Letters. I contend that “you don’t know Jack” until you’ve gone through this fine tome. Here we see not only Lewis’ apologetic style, but also his thoughts on theology (thoroughly Anglican), understanding of the cosmos (thoroughly Romantic/medieval), and other interesting quibbles such as women’s ordination (thoroughly opposed) and punitive justice (thoroughly in favor). When I read these articles and essays, I’d almost exclaim “Aha! That’s exactly the way it is” several times on the train. Thankfully, my introverted nature won the day and prevented any embarrassment.
Speaking of dealing with human beings, I also romped through Walker Percy’s Lost in the Cosmos. Formatted tongue-in-cheek like a self-help book, Lost is really a hilarious, depressing, irreverent-yet-reverent investigation on what it means to be human in the 20th century. Especially problematic for him is how we deal with the self in the post-Enlightenment world. Percy cuts away a lot of the clutter to get to the core questions, existentially holding to Roman Catholicism. It’s a wild ride that should not be missed.
I’ve also read some great works on theology proper. First, I read M. F. Sadler’s The Second Adam and the New Birth. It’s basically an incredibly thorough explanation of and apologetic for baptismal regeneration. By “incredibly thorough,” think “biblical jackhammer.” Second, I studied Alexander Schmemann’s For the Life of the World. This is fast becoming a classic. For the Life of the World offers a sacramental view of human life, with redeemed mankind acting as a priesthood in a cosmological liturgy. It’s also an approachable snapshot of the Eastern Orthodox perspective. Schmemann keeps the cookies on the bottom shelf while reaching great depths.
Recently I finished Trust in an Age of Arrogance by C. Fitzsimons Allison. I picked this up at the Mere Anglicanism conference this January. I had the great pleasure of meeting Bishop Allison while in Charleston and got him to autograph his book for me. He really brings his erudite mind and decades of ministerial experience to the fore in Age of Arrogance. It is thoroughly pastoral and culturally incisive.
Currently I am reading Dante Alighieri’s masterpiece, The Divine Comedy. This is my first re-read; I studied it while an undergraduate at Patrick Henry College. I could fill post after blog post on this astounding poem. It is hands-down my favorite book of all time (outside divine Scripture). This cornerstone of medieval literature recounts Dante’s journey through the circles of Hell, the spirals of Purgatory, and the spheres of Heaven. It offers delight, metaphysical splendor, and chills up the spine. I have preferred the John Ciardi translation so far, but everyone has their favorite.
If I have any more time left, I don’t know what I’ll read next. I snatch time away for shorter literary forays through Plato, Robert Burns, John Keats, Allen Tate, William Hazlitt, John Milton, and George Herbert. Maybe I should settle down and finish one of them.
What about you? What’ve you been reading during the fiery hot months? Any recommendations?