This is another selection from the Cody’s Recommended Summer Reading lists. Mostly from 1998 -2001. All of the books below are in print and as wonderful as ever.
Great Books, David Denby, The author returns to Columbia after 30 years and takes his original core classes on great books. It is both a reexamination of the great ideas of the West from a layman’s point of view and a look at the younger generation and their reaction to these ideas. This book is fascinating and written with great vigor and clarity.
Roman Blood, Steven Saylor, This is the first of a series of historical mysteries featuring a private detective in ancient Rome named Gordianus. Originally he is an associate of Cicero. But in succeeding stories, he encounters all of the great statesmen of the Late Roman Republic including: Crassus, Pompey, Caesar, Cataline, and Sulla. It is a perfect blend of history and mystery fiction. At the end of reading all five of his novels, I returned to Plutarch to discover the accuracy of his characters and events. Also read Arms of Nemesis, Catalina’s Riddle, and others.
The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver, Barbara Kingsolver is a national treasure. Her new novel is set against one of the most dramatic political chronicles of the century, the Congo’s fight for independence from Belgium. It is narrated in turns by 4 sisters of startling perception and individuality, freshly transplanted by missionary parents to the heart of the Congo. This is Kingsolver’s most ambitious work to date. Also read Kingsolver’s Animal Dreams.
A Widow for One Year. John Irving. 20 years after The World According to Garp, John Irving continues to surprise us with amazingly rich characters and bold unpredictable plots. This new novel traces the life of Ruth Cole through 3 periods of her life. As in most Irving novels, it is at times comic and disturbing and always unforgettable. It is Irving’s greatest novel yet. Also try reading Irving’s Cider House Rules.
Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Rosen, The author of this book is a white American male who has, nonetheless, accomplished a miracle. He has created a seamless and wholly believable world of a geisha coming of age in 1930’s Kyoto. Her story is utterly compelling and her voice is perfect. It is a magnificent first novel which recreates a fascinating and far off culture.
Gates of Fire. Steven Pressfield. What a supurb historical novel! It is the story of the Battle of Thermopylae, one of the decisive battles of history, in which 300 Spartans held off the army of Persia numbering 2,000,000 men for 7 days. This book is a great story of ancient Sparta and of the universal quality of courage.
Straight Man. Richard Russo.. Richard Russo is one of America’s contemporary masters of the realistic novel. Straight man is an hilarious sendoff on the academic profession. It includes the usual farcical academic battles, sexual tensions, and funding struggles; but also great prose and brilliant characterizations. Also read Russo’s Nobody’s Fool.
Saints & Villains. Denise Giardina. This is a majestic and compelling biographical novel of the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German theologian and an emblematic representative of the anti-Nazi resistance. This book captures the spirit of Germany in the 30’s and the war years through Bonhoeffer’s life. He is a flawed hero whose tenacious commitment to moral values in the face of the practical impossibility of serious resistance makes him a perfect representative of the noble, yet ineffective, acts of German opposition to Hitler.
The Killer Angels. Michael Shaara. The Killer Angels is one of the great war novels ever written. It is a sweeping narrative of the Battle of Gettysburg that captures its epic grandeur and its tragedy. It is told through the eyes of the leaders of both armies as a battle of ideas. The narrative of Pickett’s fatal charge up Cemetery Ridge on the 3rd day is heartbreaking. Michael Shaara’s son, Jeff Shaara, has written both a prequel and a sequel that are worthy accompaniments: Gods and Generals and The Last Full Measure.
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