Reading in the dog days of summer

"Sitting down with a book is my idea of the perfect activity for the dog days of summer."

Sitting down with a book is my idea of the perfect activity for the dog days of summer.  This summer I have set myself the goal of reading through Dante’s  “The Divine Comedy”.   The “Commedia” (as the Dante scholars call it) is not a work of literature that I want to approach without some guidance, so I have been watching lectures on it to help my understanding.

Fortunately, not every book requires the guidance of a scholar.  Nor would I want every read to require such extensive effort.  That would lessen the pleasure of finding a patch of shade, stretching out and reading for the sheer enjoyment of it on a blistering summer’s day.

Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres, providing the book is well researched. I always turn to the back of the book to check the bibliography and the author’s acknowledgement before I select a piece of historical fiction. I have no problem with artistic license; I just want to know where and why an author has altered the facts.

Kimberly Cutter’s “The Maid”, a novel about Joan of Arc, is a realistic portrayal of Joan’s life from the time she first hears voices until she is condemned to death.  Initially I was lukewarm about this novel, but after listening to Mary Himes interview Cutter on “Tapestry” I had a better appreciation for the book. Or maybe I was just impressed with Cutter’s dedication to her subject. Prior to putting pen to paper, Cutter retraced, on horseback, Joan’s historic journey to meet Le Dauphin.

My book club always reads at least one classic work of fiction each year. This year we tackled “The Master and Margarita” by Mikhail Bulgakov, a novel that I first encountered in university. This thought provoking and funny book has entire websites devoted to it. While some readers may want to delve deeply into its political, economic, social and cultural contexts, the novel can be read for its highly original and macabre story – the devil’s visit to Moscow.

I am a fan of well-written biographies; for me, this means that the author does more than merely provide a chronological retelling of events. I like something that integrates facts, events and analysis. Robert K. Massie’s “Catherine the Great: A Portrait of a Woman” fits my criteria for a well-constructed biography. This biography reads like a novel, and in Massie’s skillful hands Catherine comes to life.

I would be remiss if I neglected to mention something in the theology/spirituality category. Father Ronald Rolheiser has written a series of meditations on the Eucharist. It discusses Eucharist as a mystery central to the life of faith and it considers the many ways in which Christians understand Eucharist. As always, Rolheiser writes in plain language and illustrates his insights with story. “Our One Great Act of Fidelity: Waiting for Christ in the Eucharist” is a must read for those who seek to deepen their understanding of Eucharist.

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 Contact her at