June is usually the month when I get most of the year's blogging done. This June has been full of distractions, so here I am at the end of the month just putting together a post on Summer Reading.
Every summer I put together a prospective reading list. At the end of each summer, I award the best of those books the Seven Heavens of Summer Reading awards in honor of Michael Ward's Planet Narnia. So what's made the list so far?
First off, I finished up a little more reading on the Salem Witch Trials with Mary Beth Norton's In the Devil's Snare, a book I found excellent but ultimately unpersuasive (especially because I was uncertain of what exactly the author was trying to persuade me). A more satisfying read was Escaping Salem by Richard Godbeer about the witch trials in my own back yard (Fairfield County Connecticut) that I never knew about. Godbeer manages to treat his subjects as real people inhabiting a real time and place without the sanctimonious rush to judgement all too common in histories of witch trials (other notable exceptions are Charles Williams and John Putnam Demos).
Finally finished with witchcraft (for now), I decided to move back to my first scholarly love, the Ancient Greeks. This means wading through the published version of Christopher Matthew's doctoral thesis A Storm of Spears. If Matthews is right -and he looks right so far- then the mechanics of Hoplite warfare need some serious revaluation. You don't often get a game-changer like that in Ancient History, so although the book's a slog (a doctoral thesis has to be), it's also an absorbing read.
Next on the list has been a return to the works of J.R.R. Tolkien (never far from my mind). I read Rice professor Jane Chance's Tolkien's Art earlier in the year and am in the process of following it up with her study of The Lord of the Rings, A Mythology of Power. I've always heard people talk about how popular Tolkien was with the counter-culture, but A Mythology of Power is the first attempt I've seen to explain why. Chance locates resonances between Tolkien, Third Wave Feminism, and Michel Foucault that are a salutary corrective to current portrayals of his thought as Crunchy-Conservative-Catholic.
Not all of this year's summer reading is non-fiction, however. My wife and I have been working through Ursula K. LeGuin's Earthsea Series this year and we've just started The Farthest Shore. We also finished a massive slog through the Finnish Kalevala after reading Tolkien's Tale of Kullervo with accompanying essays by Verlyn Fleiger. This was my second read of The Kalevala, and I found it every bit as unique and amazing as it was when I first read it fourteen years ago (listening to all that Nightwish made it a bit of a surreal experience as well). Finally, we made a detour into speculative fiction with a friend's work Reboot, by Emmett Biffle. Having heard the manuscript read by the author during peer-group sessions I may be a little biased, but this is one of the few works of speculative fiction that I actually enjoyed and I look forward to reading the sequels when they appear.
So there you have it: the start of Summer Reading 20016. It won't end where it began, but it looks like it will be a fun ride along the way. Stay tuned mid-August to early September for the 2016 Seven Heavens of Summer Reading Awards here at Platypus of Truth!