My high school Literature teacher was fond of reminding us that bestsellers were not always good books. A bestseller, in his definition, was a book that appealed to the masses but was of dubious literary merit. I concluded from his remarks that there is no accounting for taste in books. With that disclaimer, if you are looking for something to read this summer, here are a few suggestions.
Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife is Eben Alexander’s retelling of his own near death experience. In his account, Alexander describes his experience of existing in another dimension of reality when he was in a coma. His story has fascinating elements, but Alexander’s attempts to describe the ineffable fall flat. While I found his proof unconvincing, this book seems to have broad appeal; it has been on the New York Times bestseller list for well over a year.
Two standout non-fiction selections are “The Juggler’s Children” and “In the Garden of Beasts”.
In The Juggler’s Children, Carolyn Abrahams describes her search for her ancestral roots through DNA analysis. The book reads like a novel and the scientific explanations are easy to follow. If I were to take one lesson from this book, it would be that we are all members of the same human family. A National Bestseller, and a 2013 finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction, this book deserves its accolades.
A New York Times bestseller, Erik Larsen’s In the Garden of Beasts paints a vivid picture of Berlin in the early 1930’s. Through the experiences of the United States Ambassador to Germany, William E. Dodd, and his flirtatious daughter, Martha, Larsen elucidates the slow, quiet march of insidious events that eventually led to the Holocaust and brought the world to war.
I read a number of novels this year whose main characters set out on a walk.
The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared, by Jonas Jonasson, is a bit of slapstick and black comedy. The story revolves around a likeable hero whose talent with explosives shaped world history before, at the age of 100 years, he meets up with an assortment of criminals.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce, is about a man who sets off to mail a letter to a former colleague who is dying, and ends up walking from one end of England to the other. As he walks, Harold works through his past. While he cannot save his friend from dying of cancer, he finds healing for himself, his wife and their relationship.
Medicine Walk, by Richard Wagamese, is the journey of a teenage boy and his estranged father, who is dying of the drink, and wants to be buried in the “warrior way”. The book deals with the formation of identity, and with the complexities of coming to grips with our personal and collective histories.
In books, as in other things, taste is subjective. May you find at least one book this summer that pleases your reading palate.
Trail, BC resident Louise McEwan is a freelance religion writer with degrees in English and Theology. She has a background in education and faith formation. Her blog is www.faithcolouredglasses.blogspot.com. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.