Opinion

Summertime And The Reading Is Easy: 20 Writers Worth Diving Into

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Students regularly ask me for a summer reading list of my favorite books to help them continue their nascent reading habits. I’m always hard-pressed to come up with a list because, as I will explain, my favorite books are those that I have recently finished, am reading, or am about to start. However, I do manage to give them a few suggestions, trying to avoid anyone they might know and trying to provide a diverse list of genres—history, memoir, and poetry, for instance. The idea of reading poetry always raises a few eyebrows.

I know they won’t read all of the books, or even most of them, but summer is the quintessential time for reading. Notice how many publications publish lists of books to read, with brief synopses of each one, from The Wall Street Journal to the local newspaper.

I’ve always wanted to weigh in with my own list, avoiding the beach-read, chick-lit recommendation. I only have one reason for this avoidance: I don’t know anything about them, not that I think they are unworthy. What follows in my list, rather, is an eclectic collection of books from numerous genres — from economics to biography to fiction to memoir to poetry. In short, there is something for everyone—or so I intend. I’ve also tried to avoid writers whose books I felt were already familiar enough and didn’t need any more advertising. Some of these writers include: C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Ben Franklin, and Neil Gorsuch. What I can tell you is that I have read several (if not all) of the books of each person I have included in the list below.

I also had another decision to make: to recommend a particular book or simply the writer. Unless I had a compelling reason to mention a specific book, I decided to let the writers stand on their own. All are so good that no one can go wrong choosing anything in their canon.

Finally, I made the decision to include writers who speak to our failing Republic or to current, contentious issues, but such writers are not in the majority. In other words, this isn’t a collection of books on current events, despite there being writers included who speak in large and important ways to the political, moral, and philosophical issues of our day. It is, as I said, an eclectic list of writers, in no particular order, who have challenged, entertained, or taken my breath away, over and over, through the years.

Introducing the Writers

  1. Bradley Thompson, historian of our country’s founding. He writes with love and passion, especially in his most recent book, “America’s Revolutionary Mind.”
  2. Thomas Sowell, economist and long-time member of the Hoover Institute. Sowell is known for his data-driven research, and “Intellectuals and Society” is no exception. Of note here is his work on gun control, which is the reason why I mention this specific title among his forty-some books.
  3. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Dutch-American political activist, commentator, and colleague of Sowell at the Hoover Institute. She is originally from Somalia. Her first two books, memoirs, inspire young and old readers alike.
  4. Victor Davis Hanson, another member of the Hoover Institute, who writes military and classical history and contemporary political commentary like no other.
  5. Markus Zusak, a children’s book writer, best-known for “The Book Thief,” set during World War II.
  6. Chaim Potok, late American Jewish novelist, Zionist, and painter.
  7. Andrew Roberts, British historian, whose recent one-volume biography of Winston Churchill is the best in or out of print.
  8. Dorothy L. Sayers, British mystery writer and inventor of the iconic sleuth Lord Peter Whimsey. Several contemporary mystery writers, such as P. D. James and Elizabeth George, owe her a debt of gratitude for elevating mystery to literary fiction.
  9. A.S. Byatt, British winner of the Booker prize for “Possession.” She is also an accomplished short-story writer; her sister is the novelist Margaret Drabble.
  10. Charles Williams, a member of the Oxford literary group known as the Inklings during World War II, an editor with the Oxford University Press, and a writer of spiritual thrillers.
  11. Flannery O’Connor, Catholic, Southern gothic short-story writer.
  12. Reynolds Price, fellow Southern novelist, poet, essayist, and previous member of the Duke University English department.
  13. Andre Dubus, the late American short-story writer.
  14. Wendell Berry, Kentucky farmer, who writes about contemporary agricultural issues and is also a novelist, essayist, and poet. His Sabbath Poems deserve to be read aloud to another person, as I did on a hiking trip to the Chianti Valley, Tuscany before my husband’s death. 
  15. Billy Collins, American poet; I think of him as bread and butter.
  16. Wislawa Szymborska, was a Polish Nobel Laureate poet. Even in translation, her grammatical and intellectual power comes striking through.
  17. Annie Proulx, American novelist and short-story writer. I am particularly fond of the hard-scrabble collection, “Wyoming Stories.”
  18. Alexandre Dumas, nineteenth-century novelist. When students ask me for my favorite book, I have an answer: “The Count of Monte Cristo.”
  19. Naomi Wolfe, journalist and political commentator, who has become something of an expert in Covid matters.
  20. Antonin Scalia, the late conservative Supreme Court Justice, whose legal opinions, besides being brilliant, are hilarious. If only we had more like him.

Choose one, two, or more and dive in this summer. Choose a genre you have never read and read it aloud to a friend or loved one. Share these writers. Reading can never be just a solitary occupation, an isolated pleasure. What you read changes you and will spill out of you, willy-nilly. There is no other activity like it. Just ask Dr. Ben Carson who credits reading as the root of his success. Let it be yours.

Cheryl Forbes is Professor of Writing and Rhetoric at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, NY. She is the author of eight books on theology, philosophy, science, and memoir.

The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.

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