If you have vacation time in the upcoming weeks, you have a great chance to catch up on your reading. And, if you’re anything like me, you could probably use some recommendations before you head to the library or bookstore. With all of you classic readers in mind, I asked the Cana team for a short list of great reads. Here is what they had to say:
Summertime means beaches, pools, road trips and camping; and reading in those contexts should, I think, be on the lighter side.
For fiction, I recommend Tony Hillerman's mysteries that take place on the Navajo reservation spanning the four corners region of New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Arizona. Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn are the main characters—two Navajo cops, both masterful students of the glorious but dangerous land that is their "beat" and the mysterious people they serve and protect. Hillerman weaves a good tale and makes this world come alive. Start with his first in the series, The Blessing Way, 1970, and make your way through the lively set of mysteries.
I also recommend G.K. Chesterton's The Man Who was Thursday. The main character, British detective Gabriel Syme, understands people and the God who made them. He is forced to confront an anarchist circle, which puts his well-grounded wisdom and keen logic to clever use.
For history buffs, I love popular history that tours us through the twentieth century. Daniel James Brown's The Boys in the Boat is a beautifully crafted story of our 1936 Olympic male crew team. Set, of course, in Depression-era, pre-World War II America and Germany, this fine historical work is deeply human as it poignantly touches on the personal stories of the team members in their pursuit of Olympic gold.
Summer is a good time for adventure stories. Hemingway loved Beryl Markham’s West with the Night and said it made him "ashamed of myself as a writer…[S]he can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves writers" (from his 1942 letter to Maxwell Perkins). West with the Night is Ms. Markham's exciting memoir of her years flying supplies and passengers to some of the remotest regions of Africa in the 1930's.
In the mid-1990’s, Tony Horwitz decided to rediscover the Civil War and its roots by taking his own adventure through the geographical heart of the war, traveling from Alabama to Georgia and Tennessee and exploring battlefields from Gettysburg and Vicksburg to Charleston. Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War is the delightful result. Horwitz’s account of Civil War reenactors and ancient southern rituals is sympathetic, insightful and incredibly entertaining. You can also learn quite a lot of forgotten American history.
When it comes to mystery novels, no one reigns supreme like Dorothy Sayers and her charming, intelligent protagonist, Lord Peter Wimsey. The Lord Peter mysteries are abundant, with a collection of short stories and numerous novels. However, Lord Peter is at his best when his investigative skills are complemented by those of his (reluctant) true love, mystery-novelist Harriet Vane. I recommend starting with Strong Poison, the first of four novels about the crime-solving pair.
Mary Frances Loughran
Now that it’s summer, you may want to dive into something you do not normally have the time to read. Here are some recommendations that fall into the “long-read” category, as well as a suggestion if your summer is on the busier side:
Evelyn Waugh’s masterpiece Brideshead Revisited is a record of the memories of Charles Ryder, a young Oxford student now World War II soldier. Brideshead Revisited recounts his relationships with the individual members of the aristocratic Flyte family. As we follow Charles through his bittersweet experiences, we see a man remembering these transformational moments, the memories themselves leading to further transformation.
The Moonstone, by Wilkie Collins, is widely considered to be the first mystery novel. Using the technique of interviews with each character, Collins weaves a tale of intrigue centered around the theft of a huge gemstone. Collins’ The Woman in White is an equally engaging page-turner full of surprising plot twists.
Finally, if you are enjoying a busier summer, try reading a collection of short stories, such as those by William Trevor or Flannery O'Connor or the vignettes of James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small. I think these are perfect for summer reading because the stories fit well into interrupted time.
In my book, vacation is a great time to tackle a lengthy classic you’ve been meaning to read for a while or some non-fiction that’s on the lighter side.
Charles Dicken’s last major work is also arguably his most underrated and my personal favorite: Our Mutual Friend intertwines in typical Dickensian fashion the lives of a sometimes hilarious and sometimes heartbreaking cast of characters in mid-19th-century London. As they navigate the joys and difficulties presented by an unexpected inheritance, grinding poverty that drives men to trawl the river for dead bodies, friendships true and false, an arranged marriage that falls through when the groom is murdered, and a man with a wooden leg, each character’s path is crossed by the same, mysterious man, the “mutual friend” of the title: John Rokesmith. Who is John Rokesmith? What is he up to? The way Dickens answers this and all the other mysteries of Our Mutual Friend will, to quote one of my favorite characters, “surprise and charm you.”
For another “lengthy classic,” I recommend some Jane Austen. You’ve no doubt already read Pride and Prejudice, but what about Austen’s personal favorite, Emma? Although it is somewhat overshadowed by its more popularly known predecessor, Emma is no less a masterpiece. Austen’s depiction of the title character, Emma Woodhouse, reveals her subtle understanding of the human heart and its foibles. The older I get, the more I see these characters in real life.
Finally, for substantial but easy-to-read non-fiction, I recommend Fr. James V. Schall’s Another Sort of Learning. Actually, the full title of this eccentric but intelligent collection is Another Sort of Learning: Selected Contrary Essays on How Finally to Acquire an Education While Still in College or Anywhere Else: Containing Some Belated Advice about How to Employ Your Leisure Time When Ultimate Questions Remain Perplexing in Spite of Your Highest Earned Academic Degree, Together with Sundry Book Lists Nowhere Else in Captivity to Be Found. The essays range in subject matter from an analysis of why reading is crucial to a reflection on the importance of sports, and each chapter ends with a list of further reading recommendations by Schall himself.
Now you’re ready for that beach trip. Happy reading!
Helen DeCelles-Zwerneman is Operations Manager, Web Master, and Artistic Director for Cana Academy.
All photographs by Helen DeCelles-Zwerneman.