The summer is coming to a close (though the weather down here will be in the 80s and 90s until November). That means it's time again for the Seven Heavens of Summer Reading awards. These awards were created in honor of Michael Wards' groundbreaking book Planet Narnia which asserts that Lewis ordered his famous children's series around the seven planets of medieval cosmology. Following this idea, I award seven books from my summer reading list that best exemplify the virtues of the seven planets. Following the "summer reading" label at the bottom of this post will link you the lists of prior award winners. Without further ado, let's get to it.
Moon: This year's winner for the planet of change and madness has to be Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco. Following the adventures of three board editors to create the ultimate conspiracy theory is enough to blur the boundaries of reality for anyone.
Mercury: For the wordsmith's heaven, the award must go to The Ring of Words: Tolkien and the Oxford English Dictionary by Peter Gilliver, Jeremy Marshall, and Edmund Weiner. It's got Tolkien and the OED. Need I say more?
Venus: We have a two-time winner for the planet of love and creation: The Marble Faun by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Hawthorne took the award for Luna in 2008 when I was caught by the interplay of immutable stone and all too mutable human character. This year, I've been struck by Hawthorne's meditations on the biblical account of Man's creation and fall and the way he juxtaposes the two couples to explore whether a felix culpa was necessary for human maturation.
Sun: The planet of scholars always seems to go to an Inkling or someone writing about an Inkling. Happily, there's no need this year for two award winners as C.S. Lewis' An Experiment in Criticism pretty clearly sweeps the field. This late-career attempt to reconcile subjective literary experience with an objective understanding of aesthetics is a must read for anyone seeking a deeper appreciation of the written word.
Mars: For unleashing the dogs of war, this award goes to Jim Lacey's reconstruction of the battle of Marathon in First Clash. This book is not just about an ancient battle, however, it also seeks to reignite the conflict over the history and nature of Western military supremacy begun by Victor Davis Hanson.
Jupiter: There's an unusually strong field this year for the planet of kings. Past winner, The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian is back in the lists again along with Terry Brooks' aptly named First King of Shannara. Never to be ignored is the tale of the return of the King-Under-the-Mountain in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. The field has to make way, however, before a contender that can claim a double kingship. The Fall of Arthur gives us a picture of the Once and Future King as only the King of epic fantasy, J.R.R. Tolkien could deliver it.
Saturn: The planet of endings assumes its place at the end of the list. This bleak sphere fits well with The Fall of Arthur or the Pyrrhic victory of First King of Shannara. This year's award goes to a work that is only really ominous when seen in context, Agatha Christie's penultimate Poirot novel Elephants Can Remember.
There you have it: 2013 Seven Heavens of Summer Reading Awards. Runners up include The Power of the Ring, Spartan Reflections, C.S. Lewis: A Life, Worldly Saints, The Hobbit, The Phoenix and the Carpet, First King of Shannara, and The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian. We'll see you next summer with another round of carefree seasonal reading!