On Monday, I shared my Top 10 Books I’ve read so far this year. I didn’t include re-reads on that list, but it’s become a summer tradition at this point to re-read several books by 3 authors in particular. To kick off “List Thursday,” I thought I’d let you know who those authors are so you can get on it for your own summer reading activities.
I think part of why I like all three of these authors is first, that they are all professional writers and are all good at their craft. Second, each of these authors is conducting sociological analysis in their own ways and I find that kind of thing almost always thought provoking. Third, it’s almost like each of these authors is offering non-fiction that reads like fiction in the sense that it’s story oriented. I think after a year of heavy reading, these guys provide just the kind of refreshing reading break I need each summer.
First, you should acquaint yourself with travel writer Bill Bryson. If your like me, you probably can’t afford to take summer road trips like you used to (or would never want to spend that much time in a car if you could avoid it). Reading Bryson’s narration of his road trips and other travels is the next best thing:
- The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America
- Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe
- In a Sunburned Country (travels in Australia)
- A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail
- Notes from a Small Island (travels in England)
The first three are my personal favorites, but I’m still prone to re-read all of them during the summer. Bryson does more than travel writing though, and if you fancy yourself a wordsmith, you really ought to check out his books on language:
- Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States
- The Mother Tongue – English And How It Got That Way
- Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words: A Writer’s Guide to Getting It Right
- Bryson’s Dictionary for Writers and Editors
And just so there’s something for everyone, he also has a memoir, a history of private life, an excursion into science, a book on Shakespeare, and a collection of magazine articles. Of those, I’ve read the science book and the collection of magazine articles. But thanks to our local library’s eBook collection, I downloaded the first two onto the Kindle to read this month, and am particularly enjoying the memoir.
Second, you should meet pop culture thinker Chuck Klosterman. I’ve talked about Klosterman before, and the short story is I like him because he writes about music, sports, and philosophy in a very entertaining way. Klosterman is a media ecologist without the title or academic training, but definitely with the conceptual sensibilities. I’ve made it a habit to re-read the following books each summer:
- Fargo Rock City : A Heavy Metal Odyssey in Rural North Dakota
- Killing Yourself to Live: 85% of a True Story (a road trip book that would make Bryson proud)
- Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto
- Eating the Dinosaur
- Chuck Klosterman IV: A Decade of Curious People and Dangerous Ideas
He also has written two novels, neither of which I’ve read though I will probably check them out of the eLibrary once I return the Bryson books. One advantage to exploring Klosterman’s writing is that Amazon has selections of his essays (taken from the last three titles listed above) and organized them by category:
- Chuck Klosterman on Pop
- Chuck Klosterman on Sports
- Chuck Klosterman on Media and Culture
- Chuck Klosterman on Living and Society
- Chuck Klosterman on Film and Television
- Chuck Klosterman on Rock
If you have a Kindle, or if you read Tuesday’s post, you can check out Klosterman that way, or even more cheaply, you can read any of these stand alone essays:
- If you ever watched Saved by the Bell
- If you’re a fan of the Lakers or Celtics
- If you geek out about Star Wars
- If you’re religious about football
- If you like every genre of music except country
- If you wonder what a non-Christian would think of The Left Behind series
That last essay is particularly eye-opening and not without profanity (as you might expect from a non-Christian trying to grapple with Revelation). In any case, I think it’s definitely worth a read, as is most of his writing if you’re interested in interacting with pop culture.
A discovery I made last summer are the writings of Malcolm Gladwell. So far he has four books (a fifth is on the way):
- The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference
- Outliers: The Story of Success
- Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
- What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures
I’ve mused about the triperspectival implications of the first book before, but that’s all I’ve really written on until now. Gladwell is a kind of layman’s social psychologist, and his writing takes on an engaging narrative form. The last book above is his collection of previously published magazine articles and they cover a wide variety of topics. Blink is a kind of sequel to the The Tipping Point, which is a book on how social epidemics form and ultimately spread. Outliers is just what the subtitle says, it’s a book exploring why someone highly talented people don’t get anywhere and why some people you’d never expect succeed.
Gladwell though is the only one of these three authors that comes off as eminently practical in what he is writing. Of the three authors, he is the only one that I think is a “must read” for everyone. Bryson and Klosterman are entertaining for sure, but one is mostly talking about his travels and the other is talking about pop culture in a stream of consciousness style. Gladwell is actually sifting through academic journal articles on human psychology and making them accessible to the mainstream in a practical way. In that sense, he’s probably the model of a writer that I think more theologians should follow.
That will have to be the topic of another post. In the meantime, let me know if you do end up reading any of these authors (or already have) and tell me what you think!