Every now and then I’ll read about book about reading other books. It’s kind of weird when you think about it like that, but some books are more about other books than they are about themselves. My favorite in this category is probably Tony Reinke’s Lit. While that’s a more comprehensive theology of reading with general tips about how to do it well, it still is a book about reading other books.
More recently I recommend a book called You Must Read, and did the write up for Christ and Pop Culture’s member offering, A Christian Guide to The Classics. Both of those books were aimed at making you want to set down the book you were reading and go read something better (no offense). In a very similar vein, Douglas Wilson takes the space in his most recent book to recommend 9 authors that you should read. Those authors are:
- G. K. Chesterton
- H. L. Mencken
- P. G. Wodehouse
- T. S. Eliot
- J. R. R. Tolkien
- C. S. Lewis
- R. F. Capon
- M. S. Robinson
- N. D. Wilson
There’s a few things we could note about this list. One is that the last author listed is Doug’s son. The other is perhaps that Robert Farrar Capon and Marilynne Robinson don’t usually abbreviate their names. Another is that this is pretty exclusively a 20th century type of list. However, if we think of this as Wilson’s suggestion of people he personally enjoys reading, it’s not that big of a deal. He at least admits he contrived it to be all abbreviated names, and he makes no bones about presenting his son, who objectively speaking, is a pretty accomplished writer.
Wilson seems to be one of those kinds of pastors/writers that you either love or hate. I think Andy Naselli sums up well how I feel:
Doug Wilson is brilliant, and he communicates brilliantly. That’s a rare combination. I’ve saidbefore that when I read or hear Doug Wilson, he usually evokes one of three responses: (a) I strongly agree. Witty, pithy, insightful. I wish I would’ve written or said that. (b) I strongly agree, but an improved tone could win others over. (Think Tim Keller.) (c) I strongly disagree, and the tone is off-putting.
I think it’s healthy to have this kind of range of responses. It is probably unhealthy, for your opinion of any writer, to feel (a) all the time. On the other hand, Wilson, being someone who wrote a book defending sarcastic satire (see Frame’s review, and Wilson’s response), can very often rub people the wrong way. I’m not usually on the receiving end of that and so usually enjoy reading Wilson and find myself agreeing more often than not.
If one thinks of the book like the earlier ones I mentioned, then the take-away is in the conclusions to each chapter where Wilson offers his suggested path through the works of the authors he recommends. His brief biographical sketches in each chapter are entertaining, but ultimately, if this book doesn’t make you want to read at least some of the authors listed, it has failed to meet its own goals. I came away wanting to read more Wodehouse, who Wilson originally got me interested in back in seminary. I was also intrigued about Robert Farrar Capon and Mencken. I’ve read much of Lewis already, as well as the main works of Tolkien. I need to read Gilead at some point. And of course, I should give Chesterton a shot sometime soon.
While this was an enjoyable read for me, it’s not a book for everyone. If you like Wilson, you’ll like this book. If you don’t like Wilson, then you probably wouldn’t want to read this or anything else he writes and might be tempted to be overly critical of this book. That would be unfortunate since the focus of this book is one the other authors that Wilson wants us to read. As a road map to their writings, I think this book is worth checking out. But, since the meat is in the conclusions, you could almost just skim it in your local bookstore, and then go buy some Wodehouse, Lewis, or Robinson.
Douglas Wilson, Writers to Read: Nine Names That Belong on Your Bookshelf. Wheaton: Crossway, 2015. 176 pp. Paperback, $16.99.
Read an excerpt
Visit the publisher’s page
Thanks to Crossway for the review copy!