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Five Books That Can Make Your Summer Better

Updated on October 21, 2011

Every summer it happens--you have some free time during vacation, but you don't know quite what to read. Well, fear not! I have come to the rescue with a list of five books I enjoy reading over the summer with the hopes that you will find them enjoyable, too.

Byzantium (Stephen R. Lawhead)

A renowned author of historical fiction and fantasy novels, Lawhead weaves the intriguing tale of Aidan, an Irish monk who goes on a pilgrimage to Byzantium with his fellow monks to present the Book of Kells to the emperor. On this journey, Aidan fully expects to die in Byzantium as he had dreamt, and his dreams are never wrong. After shipwreck and slavery, he finally arrives at Byzantium...and leaves alive. He now feels betrayed; he was ready to die! Death nearly finds him in numerous other situations, however, for Aidan inadvertently stumbles into a thick imperial plot that challenges everything he believes.

Byzantium is a novel that contains all of the prime ingredients--inner turmoil, heartbreak, adventure, romance, and, ultimately, redemption. It can get a little slow in parts, but just as Aidan's journey ultimately changed him for the better, hopefully it will do the same for you as well.

A Canticle for Leibowitz (Walter M. Miller, Jr.)

In my opinion, this is one of the most thought-provoking novels of the last century. Set five hundred years after a nuclear war that nearly wiped out all life on Earth, A Canticle for Leibowitz follows the lives of the monks of the Albertian Order of Leibowitz. Isaac Edward Leibowitz was one of the principal scientists behind the technology responsible for the nuclear war; upon seeing the resulting havoc, he repented of his role and dedicated his life to preserving knowledge so that the world could rebuild itself one day. Many other young men joined him, and their successors faithfully copy old texts of algorithms, keeping them in trust for when civilization is ready to begin anew. As the world slowly rebuilds its society, the monks find themselves reviled by the new scientists who are jealous of the role they played in keeping knowledge alive, but it seems the scientists will aid the downfall of civilization yet again.

A Canticle for Leibowitz can be rather chilling at times, and the anger of its author seeps into the characters. However, that anger gives the novel a certain beauty that helps it to stand out among all its competition. If you can only read one book this summer, A Canticle for Leibowitz should be that book.

Any of the Original Sherlock Holmes Stories (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

Many authors have tried their hands at creating logical, phenomenal detectives who are the best at what they do, but none has triumphed so absolutely as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's immortal Sherlock Holmes. The legendary detective and Dr. John Watson, his loyal friend and colleague, began solving crimes together in the 1887 adventure A Study in Scarlet and continued to do so for nearly forty years. This duo featured in four novels (A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of Four, The Hound of the Baskervilles, and The Valley of Fear) and fifty-six short stories (divided among the five collections of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, The Return of Sherlock Holmes, His Last Bow, and The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes). If you're looking for rousing mysteries this summer, look no further than 221B Baker Street! (And if you're looking for a good summer program, the new BBC drama Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman isn't bad, either.)

The Hobbit (J. R. R. Tolkien)

Oxford professor J. R. R. Tolkien was bored while grading papers, and he wrote on the back of one student's project, "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit." From that brief sentence grew the story of Bilbo Baggins, the unassuming hobbit who finds thirteen dwarves and a wizard on his doorstep one afternoon and is unwillingly recruited to help the dwarves recover a treasure hoard that was stolen by the dragon Smaug. Through all the subsequent turmoil, Bilbo often finds himself the hero of the day, aided by courage he wasn't aware he possessed and a magic ring he uncovers in a cave under the mountains.

The Hobbit is not your average fantasy novel. It's set in a world that at times feels just as real as our own. The writing is not as polished as it is in The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, but the story is exciting, humorous, and well worth your time. Plus, when the movie comes out next summer, you'll already know the basics of the story.

The Andromeda Strain (Michael Crichton)

Of all the science fiction novels I have read, The Andromeda Strain is definitely one of the most unique. It covers a five day period that begins with the retrieval of a satellite that has landed in Arizona. When the recovery team goes to retrieve it, they track it to a sparsely-populated town...a town with bodies strewn all over the street. Cue the staff of Project Wildfire, a top-secret division of the government founded to investigate and combat unknown pathological bacterial strains. The investigation takes many strange twists and turns, but even so, no one quite anticipates how the episode of the Andromeda Strain will end.

As implied, The Andromeda Strain has an original twist on its ending, marking it as a creative take on an old theme. At times it can be difficult to keep the various researchers straight, but such a minor complaint has virtually no impact on the quality of the writing.

Summer Reading

Of the books listed, which are you most likely to read this summer?

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Thanks for reading! I hope you find these books as enjoyable as I have. Have a great summer!


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