Please note: I have intentionally decided not to include Amazon links (unless something is available exclusively on Amazon). Instead, if you are interested in reading any of the books I mention, I encourage you to check out your local library or independent bookstore. These places (and the communities around them) need your support, and they are generally quite willing to order any book if they don’t currently have it in stock. However, if Amazon is still the more practical choice for you, it is easy enough to search and find any of the titles that I mention.
Big Fish, by Daniel Wallace
I discovered this novel mostly because of the movie of the same name, directed by Tim Burton and starring Ewan McGregor. The movie Big Fish is one of my very favorites, easily one of my top five, and I was really curious to read the book that it was based upon. Naturally, the movie and the book are very different, but not in a way that bothered me. It was more that the movie took it’s inspiration from the book, but out of necessity to the different mediums there obviously had to be changes made to how the story was told. I really enjoyed the novel for it’s own merits, which include a unique style and an interesting look at parent/child relationships at the end of parent’s life.
The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury
I wish that I had discovered Bradbury’s writing earlier in my life, because I can’t seem to get enough now. Bradbury had such a gift for stories that are so simply told and yet are incredibly profound and rich with philosophy and social commentary. The Martian Chronicles is a collection of short stories that revolve around humanity’s colonization of Mars, but Bradbury was writing and publishing these stories in the 1940s when the threats of atomic war were heavy on the minds of the world and Bradbury was no exception. Even several decades later, the fears and worries of Bradbury’s generation still feel very relevant today, and some of those fears have even been realized in our day. Yet, even when he is tackling deep philosophical and moral questions, Bradbury’s writing and imagery are so beautiful and poetic that you can easily just get lost in his words. If you haven’t read any Bradbury before, I highly recommend checking him out. Dandelion Wine is my other favorite of his work.
Romeo and Juliet, by William Shakespeare
Because I was home schooled and never subjected to a public school curriculum, this was my first time actually reading Romeo and Juliet. Of course, I love Shakespeare and so I’ve seen plenty of productions of it: staged productions, ballets, movies, etc. I’d always thought I was pretty well versed in this play. However, I recently watched a DVD course about Shakespeare and his likely Catholic roots and sensibilities (the arguments are pretty convincing), and that combined with actually reading the text of the play has given me a new perspective on this story. For one, it’s never really emphasized how young Juliet is, but even her father at the beginning of the play is arguing that she is still too young to marry even Paris. Also, Romeo is a fickle jerk. He is obsessed with Rosaline at the beginning of the play, but she turned him down. He then becomes just as obsessed with Juliet, but she is too young and naive to know better. There is literally nothing romantic about this story, and it now just makes me really angry that it is always interpreted as a beautiful, if tragic, romance. Romeo is basically a narcissist who takes advantage of an immature young girl, gets his friend killed, and then himself kills two other people (I feel particularly bad for Paris). Not romantic, people. Not. Romantic.
The Merchant of Venice, by William Shakespeare
This is a Shakespeare play that I wasn’t all that that familiar with before. I had maybe seen a production or two, but I’d never studied it or paid very close attention. The play is actually classified with the comedies in Shakespeare’s First Folio, and yet modern productions tend to emphasize the role of Shylock and the dramatic scenes so much that it’s often confusing as to what the point of the play is meant to be. I’m not going to get into the different interpretations of Shylock and what we see modernly as antisemitism, but if you are curious I suggest looking up Joseph Pearce and what he has to say on the matter. What I will say is that having studied and read this play for myself, it’s actually becoming one of my favorites. I adore the characters of Portia and her maid, Nerissa. Portia’s speech on the quality of mercy is beautiful.
Jack, by George Sayer
This is an excellent biography of C.S. Lewis, written by his former student and long-time friend. I love the fact that Lewis went by Jack with all of his close friends and relatives, simply because he decided to give himself that name as a very young child. I’ve read a great deal of Lewis’ writing, from the Narnia books to his Space Trilogy to his theological non-fiction, and so it was wonderful to take a closer look at his life and the events that influenced so much of his writing. I’m always curious to get a closer insight into the personalities and habits of my favorite authors, as well. Lewis struggled with anxiety and depression his entire life, and he was always worried about money and finances and lived an extremely modest lifestyle. He was also very nearly a life-long bachelor until he married Joy Davidson when he was close to sixty years old, and yet the few short years that they had together before she died of cancer were, according to all those who knew them, filled with great love and even passion. He was truly a remarkable figure, and this biography gives such a wonderful, first-hand look at what he was actually like.
Please Don’t Come Back From the Moon, by Dean Bakopoulos
I picked up this book when I was in college, after hearing an excerpt read by the author at one of the faculty readings of the Warren Wilson College MFA program. As an undergrad, I worked for the MFA program a few times, and always loved attending the readings and lectures that were open to the public. Bakopoulos’ book is one of my absolute favorites that I picked up during that time. The novel is set in the outskirts of Detroit in the 1990s, including scenes at the UofM campus in Ann Arbor where I spent a great deal of my childhood, having grown up just a little ways north of there. The novel follows a young man from late adolescence to mid-adulthood, after his father, and all the fathers of their local community, vanish with barely a word. It starts with one or two men who first abandon their families, but one-by-one every husband and father in that community ends up leaving without explanation and is never seen again. The book then follows the abandoned sons who were left behind, who have to somehow finish raising themselves while also taking care of their mothers and younger siblings. The book is a fascinating look at a certain period of our history, the economic depression that hit Detroit in the 90s, as well as the crisis manhood and fatherhood that are very present everywhere in our country right now.