In a life time of reading, we make friends with a variety of authors, usually total strangers to us in real life, but nonetheless, known and beloved, because we have come to know them intimately through their books. In Writers to Read, Douglas Wilson invites his readers into the circle of friends he has formed with nine favorite writers whose dates straddle the twentieth century, whose nomenclature leans toward the use of initials, whose faith commitments are all over the ecclesiological map, but whose writing and thinking are sure to be as iron sharpening iron — the best sort of friendship.
What sets these writers apart and makes them worthy of space on our crowded bookshelves? In Douglas Wilson’s delightful enneadic biography and book review, five resounding reasons surfaced:
1. Their gift of seeing — G.K. Chesterton was a master of paradox who had a “way of turning everything upside down so that we might be able to see it right-side-up.” Robert Farrar (R..F.) Capon was able to portray grace in his writing to display the inexhaustible gift of God that cannot be overdone (although he tried), but his real gift was in writing about food, observing what “went on the table and what went into getting it there.”
2. Their artistic imagination — N.D. Wilson happens to be Douglas’s son, a fiction and fantasy writer and a creator of villains and plots involving great danger. He and Chesterton agree that stories with intense plots do not teach children to be afraid. “They have dragons under the bed already. They had the fear already. The stories actually teach children that dragons can be killed.” I still need to be reminded of that and applaud a writer who can bring them into being on the page.
One of my favorite authors, Marilynne Robinson, is also on Douglas Wilson’s list (rendered M.S. Robinson for his purposes), and her ability to create a world and to populate it with believable characters is unrivaled. When I read Gilead for the first time, I found myself checking and re-checking the back cover author bio to assure myself that the book truly had not been penned by an elderly parson writing his son’s “begats” in the twilight of his life.
5. Their ability to be both fun and good for you — In all feigned humility, I must call attention to the remarkable restraint that I have exercised to this point in not including C.S. Lewis in any or all of the previous categories, but perhaps this final quality summarizes him best and touches all the others as well. Douglas Wilson helps us to see that the “mainspring” of this ability in Lewis is “the idea of aching after joy.” As a romantic rationalist he fused logical reasoning with glorious imagination that turned every description and dialogue in his work into a feast for the heart and for the mind. Who doesn’t love a talking beaver with great theology?
Although the biographical information provided in Writers to Read is informative and includes a thorough probing of influences and motivations which set the stage for digging deeper into the authors’ works, it is the final section of each chapter that presents the not-to-be-missed material. “If You Read Nothing Else” points out a short selection of titles from each author, narrowing down the dizzying list of great books to manageable proportions. Douglas Wilson goes one step further in his Afterword with his “you-can-do-it” encouragement to become acquainted with his nine friends. As a book-blogger, I love reading about books and authors, and I make an effort to read as much and as broadly as I’m able, but few have made it into such an entertaining journey!
This book was provided by Crossway in exchange for my review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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