Summer Reading for the Scholar

Since I’ve postponed my university degree indefinitely I’ve taken my education into my own hands. So far I’m liking it. Oh, the freedom! But with great power comes great responsibility and these are a few of the books I think will round out my little endeavor.  Most of the time non-fiction is non-cool, but I think these might break out of that mould. I’m sure you’ll see a few of the reviews over the summer!

(This compilation stems from an online book list I have since lost track of- but thank you to whoever it was that inspired this!)

Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation – Lynne Truss

I’ve wanted to read this book for so long! As I like to dabble in writing here and there, using proper grammar would be a great skill to acquire and I’m scarily excited to learn more about it. This is an area I feel was totally neglected in school, hence its large void in many peoples’ education.

Truss’ 228-page book dedicates one chapter to each of the major points of punctuation (ie: apostrophes, italic type, emoticons and those dreaded semicolons). Also included are the history, anecdotes, and geographical differences surrounding the proper use of grammar.

(I think I made like, 2-3 grammatical errors in this section. But I’m not sure! I need this book now!)

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin – Benjamin Franklin

Franklin’s unfinished record, written between 1771-1790, was initially a guide for his son to understand the man his father was. It is written in four parts, denoting different stages in his life.

“His work– in effect the life of Benjamin Franklin– portrays a fascinating picture of life in Philadelphia, as well as Franklin’s shrewd observations on the literature, philosophy and religion of America’s Colonial and Revolutionary periods. Franklin wrote the first five chapters of his autobiography in England in 1771, resumed again thirteen years later (1784-85) in Paris and later in 1788 when he returned to the United States. Franklin ends the account of his life in 1757 when he was 51 years old.” – Archiving Early America

His old-fashioned language is supposed to be tough to get through, but I get the sense that this book is a tome of his continual strive to improve himself in all things- a goal I try to replicate in my own life. I’m really looking forward to learning more about a man everybody knows, but knows so little about.

Mythology – Edith Hamilton

Though written in 1942, this 335-page textbook is still a favorite of those who enjoy a good ole tale of Greek, Roman or Norse gods. It is supposedly a great starting point for those who want learn more, though I have been warned it can be cumbersome in places. Besides giving you a well-rounded education on its subject, the book also breaks down complex texts like the Iliad and the Odyssey, steeped in lore as they are, giving you all the context you need to truly understand the masterpieces. I love that an older book like this can still be so beloved by readers, and can’t wait to learn more about the vast world of mythology.

Millennium: Tribal Wisdom and the Modern World – David Maybury-Lewis

Originally ten, hour-long VHS videos, this 416-page companion book surveys eleven of the traditional societies shown from all over the world with stunning photographs and great maps. It examines numerous aspects of life in a tribal society, inquires as to what the modern world would stand to learn from this type of life, and looks at the threat of technology to these indigenous peoples. This is also an older book, written in 1992, but I still look forward to reading the timeless issues it will touch on.

Friendly Shakespeare: A Thoroughly Painless Guide to the Best of the Bard – Norrie Epstein

Decoding the language, plot and history of Shakespeare’s major works, Epsteins’ 576-page guide from 1993 is said to entertain readers with disarming humour and a lack of academic pretension (according to Publisher’s Weekly, at least.) Which is good because as much as I love Shakespeare, I just can’t read it! Who can? It’s brilliant, yet completely over my head. The writer draws on various interviews with actors, critics and experts to round out her compendium of the life and works of the bard.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – Robert M. Pirsig

So this book is technically about a 17-day motorcycle journey the author took with his son Chris, but from the bit of research I have done, I can see that it is much more than that. It’s a philosophical novel from 1974 which explores the metaphysics of quality. Ok, then. Though the reviews I’ve read have seemed to hint that this book is a bit of a mess, I can also see that it perhaps might be a brilliant log of one man’s journey to find meaning in life. The motorcycle trip is said to be punctuated by discussions on numerous topics, which are tied together with the story of the narrators’ own past self, a man who went a bit too far down the rabbit hole, and was subjected to electroshock therapy. It was turned down by 121 publishers (!) before becoming a favorite around the world. If that doesn’t pique your curiosity, the Times Literary Supplement called it “profoundly important, disturbing, deeply moving, full of insights, a wonderful book”

Favorite Folktales from Around the World – Jane Yolen (Ed.)

This 512-page collection consists of 160 tales from over 40 cultures, containing both classics and lesser-known tales. I’m so excited about this book. It’s another oldie, from 1988, but it doesn’t really matter when it was published as the stories are all timeless.

“[This volume] provides a wealth of delights. The tales are diverse geographically. There’s also a welcome diversity of types of tales. … The primary audience is clearly not intended to be either children or scholars so much as general readers, yet the collection also provides scholars with food for thought.” — The New York Times Book Review

The Origins of the Second World War – A.J.P Taylor

In his controversial 1961 book Taylor breaks away from the popular views of World War Two, which often misplace blame or gloss over the unhappy details of the war, and instead gives a forthright explanation of what happened, and why. Origins was groundbreaking, it seems, because of Taylors’ notion that Hitler was just a normal guy making the best of his situation, carrying the same ferocious anti-Semitism that so many of his countrymen held as well.

“By portraying the leaders of the 1930s as real people attempting to deal with real problems, he made the first strides towards attempting an explanation of the actions of the appeasers rather than merely condemning them.”–

Despite Taylor’s divergent opinions, his book has become a must-read for those who, like me, enjoy reading the history behind the war.


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