For years now, I've handed out awards to the top seven books of my summer reading. These awards are called "The Seven Heavens of Summer Reading" in honor of Michael Ward's groundbreaking dissertation Planet Narnia which attempts to prove that C.S. Lewis structured the The Chronicles of Narnia around the Seven Heavens of the Medieval cosmology (not actually that weird when you remember that Lewis attempted to do just that with the space trilogy, was a medievalist, and had a taste for private jokes). For the awards, I match each reading with the attributes of a corresponding planet.
Luna: The award for the Planet of Madness goes to that-book-which-must-not-be-read, The King in Yellow, by R.W. Chambers. This creepy work of decadent literature forms a bridge between Gothic writers like Poe and 20th Century Horror writers like H.P. Lovecraft. The work has just that combination of sophistication, refinement of sentiment, and gnawing pessimism that only exists in fin-de-siecle work.
Mercury: In the matter of Words and Voyages, one summer reading stands supreme: Moby Dick by Herman Melville. The man tosses words up and down like an expert juggler, making all their facets shimmer and sparkle and against the sun and then plunge down into darkness like the vast leviathans that are the chief subject of the work.
Venus: The award for the Planet of Life goes to a wonderful little book on a much under-studied aspect of Tolkien's mythology: The Plants of Middle Earth by Dinah Hazell. For sheer beauty and goodness, this work is worth the read; and most especially if you have a turn for herb-lore.
Sol: The Heaven of Scholars traditionally goes to an Inkling or to a book about the Inklings, and this year is no exception. The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings by Philip and Carol Zaleski is sure to become a landmark in all future studies of that wondrous band of Oxford intellectuals.
Mars: The Planet of Battles is usually an easy pick, but numerous summer readings this year featured war and ruin. In the end, I decided to go with The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past by manga master Shotaro Ishinomori for the sheer pleasure it brought me through my operation. My mom looked at my little book pile, Salem Possessed and A Link to the Past, and declared that nothing had changed since I was last in the hospital at the age of 16. Mom also says that I was born at age 40, so hopefully that's ok...
Jupiter: The Planet of Kings belongs this year to a man who might have been emperor. This year's Jupiter Award goes to Mao by master historian Jonathan D. Spence.
Saturn: The award for the Planet of Catastrophes goes to a book that describes one that almost went unnoticed: Pox Americana by Elizabeth A. Fenn. Fenn demonstrates with flair that all those seemingly isolated incidents of smallpox across North America from 1775-1782 were actually part of a vast epidemic that claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.
So there you have it folks: 2015's Summer Reading Awards. I didn't think I'd be able to get to them the way things were going, but I'm happy to see at the end of the summer that there was still a sufficient pile to chose from. Here's hoping next summer's pile will be much increased!