If you are like me (which if you’re in the English department you more than likely are) you love reading. One might even say in a thick tone of condescension that you are obsessed with reading, like has been done to me.
What people like this don’t understand is that one of the primary beauties of life is that there will never come a day when the fountain of books will run dry. And one of the primary beauties of summer is that it is often the best time to catch up on all of those books you couldn’t read during the spring.
Sure, doing stuff is cool too, but… Books > Other Stuff
Oh, the irony that the English department would keep you and I from our reading.
Yet now that the season of hours and hours of outdoor reading is here, this humble English office blogger is here to provide you 10 personally-loved book titles for reading this summer.
I enjoy diversity, so I won’t be that blogger that only lists one or two genres, mistakenly convinced that everyone reads the same stuff I do. Hopefully, I’ll have enough range (and enough uniqueness) that even if our tastes are so far removed from each other you’ll be able to take at least one book away with you to add to your book bucket list.
Also, there is no particular reason to my order. They’re all amazing, guys. I swear.
Uno – 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
You may have heard of Haruki Murakami, the famous Japanese author, but in case you haven’t, Murakami has a style that is enchantingly strange. He is known to write what I would like to call hard-boiled, dream-esque fiction. The strangeness that he is able to achieve in the midst of an often mundane setting as well as beautifully simple language is extremely enviable.
This novel, though admittedly quite lengthy (but as a fellow lover of books, surely you’re not deterred!), is my favorite novel by him. I have read a number of his works, and while I have not read a novel of his I have not been enraptured by, 1Q84 succeeds in a way more profound than the others. It is hard to put into words what exactly I love so much about this novel, yet his skill at achieving something borderline indescribable is much of Murakami’s appeal. If pressed, however, to force the reasons I love it so much into crude words, I suppose I’d say, without giving any of its content away, that I was put under a spell not unlike seeing a painting you are so taken with and being saddened yet gladdened by its being unattainable in description.
Did I beat around the bush in my answer? Why yes, yes I did. Just read it. Try to describe it afterward. I triple-dog dare you.
Dos – The Winter King by Bernard Cornwell
I don’t about you, but I have always been attracted to Arthurian legends. It has a general magic to it that one, I think, would have to try no to see. And of all of the novels I have read of Arthur and his knights, none, not even the enchanting lyricism of T. H. White’s The Once and Future King, have surpassed Cornwell’s trilogy in my personal enjoyment.
Yes, I said trilogy. The Winter King is the first book of a trilogy collectively called The Warlord Chronicles. But for the sake of this blog, I will only include the first of the three in this list.
The Winter King hangs up some of the fantastical elements of other versions of the Arthurian legend and focuses on a more gritty character of the story. It doesn’t mean there’s no fantasy element in it, however. You could compare it to George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire in this respect.
Cornwell tells his version of the story from the perspective of a character known as Derfel. The characters take on different shades than are typically seen. Lancelot is not the great warrior everyone knows him to be, Nimue is more fleshed out than ever before, and Arthur becomes more a character in his own right than a boring eye of the storm with interesting characters circling him like usual.
If you’re into Arthurian legends, you will find nothing better than The Winter King. This novel joined with Tolkien’s The Hobbit became my gateway drug into literature. It’s quite possible I owe a debt of gratitude to this novel for my place in the English department today.
Tres – Phantastes by George MacDonald
Phantastes is a “faerie romance” written in the middle of the 19th century. I was led to this enchanting tale through my utter love and adoration of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. Lewis in particular considered MacDonald to be more or less his literary master, providing much influence for Lewis’s own works.
Phantastes tells the story of Anodos (cool name, huh? #meaning), who eventually finds himself in the dream-like world of faerie. (I think I like fantasy, guys. Don’t tell any millennials. They wouldn’t understand.)
His journey through this strange land is one led by his desire to find his ideal embodiment of womanly beauty. I won’t give anything away, but I’ll just place #morals right here.
The world of this novel can only be described as enchanting. And while I can admit MacDonald’s writing style is not one of lyrical superiority, the journey is breath-taking. One chapter in particular is one of the most beautiful things I have ever read.
Also, fun fact: Lewis Carroll (You know, the guy who wrote–yeah, that.); well he was the apprentice to George MacDonald who in fact pushed Lewis Carroll to publish Alice in Wonderland. Yep. It’s alright to say “Thank you, George MacDonald.”
Fun fact #2: MacDonald had a most luxurious beard. Just saying.
Cuatro – Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
Credit where credit is due and all of that, I have to say it was Dr. Hale’s class on British literature that introduced me to this novel. Thank you, Dr. Hale.
Brideshead Revisited is, if you ask me, a story of nostalgia. It has other themes too: love, religion, family, but it’s the effect of it being a memory within the novel that makes it so appealing to me.
Of course, the writing itself is superb. Simple but lyrical, no one can deny it’s written well. Yet, much like a Dickens novel, it is the characters that give the story weight. The characters have a depth that is always a delight to see. I’m a sucker for character depth and character development, both of which you see a lot of.
It’s a traditional-style novel in an nontraditional time (1945), which again calls to mind a certain nostalgia, ironically preferring to make a point in its tradition. As a lover of classic British works, dating all the way back to Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene, this more traditional voice appealed to me.
I like solidity in the midst of chaos, and like a statue in the constantly shifting tide of the 20th century, Waugh refused to conform to a chaotic lyrical style. So if you’re looking for experimentation, I admit you won’t find it here. But if you have a taste, like myself, for beautifully-written traditional works, this is the novel for you.
Cinco – Tree and Leaf by J. R. R. Tolkien
It would’ve been far too easy for me to list The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, or The Silmarillion for my Tolkien choice in this list. And let’s be honest, I needed a Tolkien book in here somewhere.
I chose Tree and Leaf 1) because the works listed above are, I believe, self-evident as need-to-read books to those who haven’t read them and 2) because it’s more than worth reading in context of a certain literary understanding. That understanding is seeing myth and faerie in the proper light.
It’s very eye-opening, and if you’re already a lover of Tolkien, it is instrumental in getting a better grasp on the world he created. The essay On Fairy-Stories, included in this collection, particularly provides a well-articulated argument against the condescension against fantasy and fairy stories in the literary and general world.
I’ve already mentioned my adoration for The Hobbit as my literary gateway drug, so if you haven’t read that yet… Shame.
I jest, guys. I jest. But do I? You should get on that.
seis – Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
Again, credit where it’s due. You rock, Dr. Hale
Salman Rushdie is a great source of controversy, as you’ve probably heard. Say what you will, but controversy attracts like a magnet the curious. Everyone likes to know what all the hubbub is about. The work of his that is so controversial, earning him a fatwa calling for his death is however, The Satanic Verses, not Midnight’s Children.
I read Midnight’s Children for class, and in that regard it took me a while to fall love with it. But when I did, I fell hard. After I had finished it, being drawn to understanding the controversy surrounding The Satanic Verses, I read that as well. Both novels are great and well-written, but out of the two, Midnight’s Children had the greater appeal for me.
It’s a great source of oddity which I always lean toward, but more than that, it is a great source of knowledge in trying to understand India. Gaining knowledge from entertainment is the best of both worlds after all!
I wrote my final paper that semester on Midnight’s Children, connecting it to my great love of myth. In doing that, poring over the text and studying it, my attachment grew. It is a phenomenal story, weaving fantasy and historical reality into a wonderful tale both engaging and informative about 20th-century India.
There’s mind-reading, knees of supernatural strength (yep. Not a typo), witches, and so much more. If that doesn’t draw you in, I don’t know, you might have issues.
Siete – On Writing by Stephen King
I will be the first to admit that I have read next to nothing of Stephen King’s work. Besides this book, zip. With that said, On Writing is grade A for anyone looking to improve their writing or looking to get a better idea of what to expect and work toward.
There are few surviving writers, if any, that have been as successful as Stephen King. His experience would be extremely beneficial for anyone hoping to be published.
What I find enjoyable about this book is that King doesn’t just give a bunch of advice on what to do when writing. I mean, he does that obviously. But he does more.
He gives his own journey from a kid who simply wanted to tell stories to an insanely successful and popular novelist. He shows you the timeline of how he got to where he did, providing a road map for any other’s hoping to traverse similar ground.
You don’t have to be a Stephen King fanboy or fangirl to get a lot from this book, speaking from personal experience. It’s filled to the brim with good writing advice, something I’m sure others besides myself are hungry for.
Ocho – Looking for Alaska by John Green
This novel is the king of John Green novels, my friends. I cannot accept any other opinion in this matter.
Okay, I’ve only read this John Green novel, but I stand by my decision!
It’s a story that’s impossible not to fall in love with. Cupid’s always waiting to pierce someone with a love dart every time this novel is opened. It is one of the few, and perhaps the only young adult novel I would recommend without wanting to throw up in my mouth.
It’s a relatable story for anyone, filled with incredible characters and witty dialogue. It’ll make you laugh and, if you have a soul, make you cry. I’ve been hard-pressed to find characters better realized than those in this novel.
Nueve – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
Lisbeth Salander, who is, you guessed it, the girl with the dragon tattoo, is one of the most sympathetic and beloved characters of any novel ever written. It’s hard not to love her. And the relationship between her and the other protagonist, Mikael Blomkvist, is pure gold.
The first novel of the series is more contained than the rest, allowing it to essentially stand on its own. It leaves you wanting more though, and then you’re thankful you have more novels.
The mystery, which is the focus of the plot in this novel is great, but again it’s the characters that lift it to the height its reached. The style is hard-boiled, making it in tune with the overall melancholy of the novel.
If you haven’t read it yet, I encourage you to treat yo’ self.
Diez – The Discarded Image by C. S. Lewis
C. S. Lewis is, without a doubt, my main man. I have read more than 20 of his works and have never failed to fall in love with his uniquely intelligent visions. Among all of the works I could have included here, though, I’ve chosen an academic work of his.
It seems fitting I would make two of the more academic works in this list Lewis and Tolkien. Their fantasy is so often in the forefront that I believe their contributions to academia are often undervalued.
The Discarded Image is a short book written with the effort of helping those interested in medieval works to get a better handle on the mentality behind them–their perceptions of the world, of heaven, of fairies, of angels.
All of this provides a better understanding of the authors we love so much and why they wrote what they did and how they did. Many authors are included in this book for discussion including but not limited to Geoffrey Chaucer, Edmund Spenser, Dante, Sir Thomas Malory, John Milton, and John Donne.
It’s a great road map for anyone interested in medieval and renaissance literature. With the wit and style Lewis is loved for, he makes attaining the mindset of the old classics accessible to anyone eager to learn.
Well! Hopefully you’ve found at least one book from my list to add to your own. And the summer still has a ways to go, so if you’re awesome level is over 9,000 you should definitely read them all. I hope you have a great rest of the summer! And remember: Reading > Sleep.