9 Names that Belong on Your Bookshelf

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.

3.  Their use of metaphor P.G. Wodehouse is first on my list of untried authors from Douglas’s recommendations, and I can hardly wait to dive in, because, apparently, “the metaphors and similes found in the work of Wodehouse cause the reader, even if alone, to laugh like a hyena with a bone caught in his throat;” and since we’re on the topic, that quote is evidence that Douglas Wilson is also no slouch in the creation of similes.
It will surprise no one to find that T.S. Eliot is also on this list of nine with his “streets that follow like a tedious argument,” and his description of fever singing “in metal wires.”  Wilson’s most encouraging and heartening contribution regarding Eliot came from Thomas Howard who explained Eliot’s “habit of treating us as though we know as much as he did.”  This is a great relief to me.
4.  Their distinctive voice — The only atheist on Douglas’s list, H.L. Mencken came across as the skeptical cynic in his writing, but with a deep vein of kindness and an ability to convey fascination.  Too, having read out loud four and a half (we bailed out on The Silmarillion) of J.R.R. Tolkien’s books, his love for language and his lyrical depiction of camaraderie and adventure are  magical.  All who have been drawn into the warmth of The Fellowship will enjoy Douglas Wilson’s analysis of the uniqueness of Tolkien’s fictional world.

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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22 thoughts on “9 Names that Belong on Your Bookshelf”

  1. Michele – Thank you for sharing – I have some of the 9 on my shelf, but not all of them and it looks like I will be adding some more 🙂 I appreciate the 5 points you made of who and why we should read them – that was brilliant! Thanks for sharing your post today at #DanceWithJesus


  2. I have to say that each time I visit you with your book suggestions, I find myself envious of all these amazing books you get to read and share. I am a D. Wilson fan, actually I am reading one of his books right now called, Angels in the Architecture. Being a lover of history and of classical thought it has been a enjoyable read.

    This is a book I think I would enjoy, Michele!
    Always enlightened by your posts!


  3. Thanks, Michelle! This is a great list to keep in the back of my mind. Have a wonderful weekend!
    Blessings and smiles,


  4. I don’t know how you do all the reading you do, Michele! This was a great one to review. I remember reading Gilead and loving it. So beautiful. And PG Wodehouse IS absolutely hilarious. So fun to read. I’d never heard of him until my son’s senior year of high school at home.


  5. Found you on Literacy Musing Mondays; I liked the title of this post, and it’s interesting to think of different authors in terms of what they can offer to us. I suppose my favourites would be those whose gift is encouragement: Holley Gerth and Jennifer Rees Larcombe come to mind first.


  6. This is a great list! I have to tell you that P.G. Wodehouse is my husband’s favorite laughable author. I make sure I have a few Wodehouse books from the library or store when he comes down with a cold as he loves to read them and forget he has a nasty cold! There are Masterpiece Theatre/BBC videos of many of these stories too.
    Thanks for sharing these authors. I have some but would like to test the waters on a few others.


  7. Is it odd that I get excited every time the link-up click lands me on your page, Michele? No, not really because you offer such inviting reviews, ones that cause me to start flipping through the electronic card catalog at my trusted and beloved local library. A stack of books sits on my nightstand. I’m pretty certain you just deposited a few more there with this review. Love it! #testimonyTuesday

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I think I know who will probably most clicked this week. I haven’t checked, but wow what a great post. I have read most of the writers. I composed a major paper on H.L. Mencken in college years ago. I didn’t get the reason he was assigned as a term paper at the time. Ah youth. I wish I could go back and take that assignment more seriously. Thanks for sharing with us again at Literacy Musing Mondays.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m jealous — I’ve never read anything by Mencken or Wodehouse, and I can hardly wait! Writers to Read was fascinating to me, and it’s always fun to read about old friends like Tolkien, Lewis, and Chesterton!


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