Here’s a look at my reading list for the third week of August.
I have several reading lists, and I’ve written about their benefits elsewhere. One of them is my “always reading” list, containing the books and authors who have had the most profound influence on me. I always have at least one of these books open on my reading table. This week, I have three open:
- When I Was a Child I Read Books. Marilynne Robinson’s novel Housekeeping holds a prominent place on my “always reading” list. Robinson’s early essays, on the other hand, are dense and difficult nuts to crack. They are worth the effort, just as the view at the end of a 15-mile hike is worth the rubbery, useless legs the hike inflicts. When I’m finished with a Robinson essay, my brain usually feels as rubbery and useless.
- But the essays in When I Was a Child are different. They use a more lucid, accessible prose, but without losing any of their intellectual rigor. The title essay is a great tribute to the role that books play in shaping the type of person we become. In “Imagination and Community” Robinson argues that the strength of any community is proportional to its willingness to allow difference without feeling a need to force like-mindedness. This essay alone was worth the cost of the book for me. If you’re looking for some robust, fibrous, tough-minded essays written in liquid prose, check out this title. (And don’t miss Robinson’s first two novels, Housekeeping and Gilead!) Amazon: Print, Kindle
- The Collected Poems of Richard Wilbur. On my “always reading” list are three volumes of poetry: George Herbert’s Temple, Seamus Heaney’s Opened Ground, and Richard Wilbur’s Collected Poems. I’ve learned more practical theology from George Herbert than from anyone else. All poets seek to give their readers new eyes to see the world, but Heaney has actually taught me how this is done. And Richard Wilbur has taught me to revel in all the goodness and messiness of the stuff of this world. Herbert teaches me to be, Heaney teaches me to see, and Wilbur teaches me to be grateful for it all.
- After launching my latest ebook, which talks a bit about Richard Wilbur, I decided to reread my collection of his poetry from cover to cover. Wilbur organizes his Collected Poems with the most recent in the beginning. Reading this book in order allows the reader to move backward through Wilbur’s developing vision, which creates an interesting effect. The sweet cherries of maturity temper the occasional sour, shrill tone of his earlier poems. His later poetry lends flavor and balance to his earlier poems. Too few people read poetry regularly anymore. Richard Wilbur would be a good place to start. Amazon: Print, Kindle (not available)
- On Fairy Stories. In this remarkable essay, J.R.R. Tolkien discusses not only the nature and function of fairy tales, but also presents a cohesive theory of language, art, and literary making. Tolkien coins the term “sub-creation” to describe the process of creating the “secondary world” that is essential to fairy tales and fantasy. He also argues that by taking us to these secondary worlds, fairy stories actually aid our lives in this world by whetting our desires for what is truly desirable and strengthening us to pursue it.
- Finally, Tolkien explains how fairy stories always contain a “eucatastrophe,” a sudden, joyous turn that ends the story in peace. This type of ending never denies the possibility of tragedy and suffering—in fact, it often comes about through suffering. But the eucatastrophe—and fairy tales as a genre—deny the universal final defeat of goodness. Tolkien concludes his essay by pointing out that the artistic process is a glorious one because it actually assists in the “effoliation and multiple enrichment of creation.” God makes the tree of the world, and calls artists and makers of all sorts to help fill out the details.
- Though difficult in places, this is a brilliant essay and will repay your reading efforts a hundredfold. When you finish this essay, be sure to read Tolkien’s “Leaf, by Niggle”, a companion piece that is usually published with the essay. I have written more about Niggle in an earlier post. Amazon: Print, Kindle (not available)
Question: What are you reading this week? Leave a short note in the comments below!