Summer Reads Review: Eliza's Top Five

Sharp: The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion, by Michelle Dean

Literary Criticism, 312 pages

8/10 Librarians

Best place to read: In a local bookstore with a cup of coffee in hand, pretending to be smarter and cooler than you are

Comparable titles: Almost Famous Women, The Last Love Song: A Biography of Joan Didion

Get ready to meet your new (S)heroes. Michelle Dean’s Sharp chronicles the personal and professional lives of ten female authors who have each been hailed as famous wits, making it a must-read for aspirational young women. Beginning with the original female wit, Dorothy Parker, and ending with the lauded author of The Journalist and the Murderer Janet Malcolm, Dean covers a wide – yet still impressively detailed – swath in 312 pages. The women celebrated in this book come from all across the political, social, and economic spectrum, highlighting the similarities in each author’s struggle to earn a living by writing. Whether the reader is familiar with Nora Ephron’s Heartburn, Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism, Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem, or none of the above, Sharp is an engrossing read; at turns it provides hilariously caustic witticisms, moving depictions of the adversity faced by career-oriented women, and scathing takedowns of sexism in the 20th century.


Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen, annotated and edited by David M. Shapard

Fiction/British Literature, 446 pages

7/10 Librarians

Best place to read: In a small cottage by the seaside

Comparable titles: Pride and Prejudice, Little Women

NOTE: For all of Jane Austen’s major works, I read the annotated editions by David M. Shapard. The length may seem extraordinarily long, but that is because these editions have a page of original text directly next to a page of annotations. I highly recommend these editions for everyone, whether you’re a lay reader of Austen or a top-notch scholar. The annotations provide clarifications of word definitions (ex, “peculiar” then meant “particular” and “particular” meant “peculiar”), literary analysis, historical context, and citations from Austen’s life and letters which greatly enhance the reading of any of her works. Also, if you are interested in Jane Austen we would love to have you at the Austenite Society of Rhodes College, a book club dedicated to furthering the appreciation of the great woman herself! This club is for all lovers of Austen, whether you were raised on her prose or have just heard of her for the first time. Follow our instagram (@austenites.unite) or shoot me an email ([email protected]) for more information!

After their patriarch dies, a family of all women sadly fall victim to the cruel entailment system by which only male heirs can inherit an estate and its revenue. Sisters Elinor and Marianne struggle to adapt to their new life in a small cottage far from their then-home at Norland Park. As with every Austen novel, Sense and Sensibility provides gallant and eligible matches for the sisters, this time in Mr. Edward Ferrars and Colonel Christopher Brandon. But aside from the complex love story, Austen provides a brilliant tongue-in-cheek satire of the cult of romanticism. Marianne’s propensity to indulge in her feelings in spite of what society – and more importantly, her older sister Elinor – dictates as proper behavior leads her down a thorny path to heartbreak. Elinor goes too far in the other direction, keeping all of her emotions in her head which renders her positively miserable. Can these sisters reconcile their differences and learn to adopt even a modicum of the other’s behavior? As excellent as all of Austen's works are, Sense and Sensibility certainly reads as an early major work. Some of the prose is rough around the edges, lacking the same degree of refinement found in her later novels. But this story is still worth a read for anyone looking to add some Regency flair and intrigue to their lives!


Emma by Jane Austen, annotated and edited by David M. Shapard

Fiction/British Literature, 863 pages

9/10 Librarians

Best place to read: Some grand country home, surrounded by elegant landscaping

Comparable titles: Lady Susan, Anne of Green Gables

On the subject of her controversial heroine, Austen once remarked, “I am going to take a heroine whom no-one but myself will much like.” Emma is admittedly more stubborn, reckless, and mean than Austen’s other heroines, but that makes her more realistic. Her (over)confidence charms the reader, especially in the beginning, but it becomes increasingly frustrating as the novel progresses. Emma, when read with an eye for comedy, proves to be hilarious. Jane Austen, a masterful comedic writer, offers gut-wrenching laughs and plenty of cringe-worthy moments in her fourth novel. Emma is also home to the tragically underrated hero, Mr. George Knightley. Witty, perceptive, gregarious, extremely compassionate, and gentleman-like, darling Mr. Knightley off-sets Emma’s cocksure nature with his carefully considered opinions (can you tell he’s my favorite Austen hero?). But the hidden plot lines lend Emma to the mystery genre as well, setting it apart from her other works. The way in which Austen describes certain situations alerts the reader to something (or, more often, many things) that the heroine misses, but little is revealed until the climax. There is, however, one caveat to Emma: it is extraordinarily long. Every plot point is drawn out, speeches and conversations elongated, the climax given an enormous build-up. One chatty character in particular, Miss Bates, seems to extend the length of the book by fifty pages, at least! Emma is an exciting read, but be warned: it is surely a commitment.


The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel

Christianity and Religious Thought, 306 pages

10/10 Librarians

Best place to read: In bed at 3 AM, desperately trying to finish after having devoted the entire day to reading it

Comparable titles: Mere Christianity, The Case for Faith, Jesus Under Fire

Can the biographies of Jesus be trusted? Have they been reliably preserved? What about extra-biblical attestation? Okay, if all of that checks out, then does the Jesus of history match up with the Jesus of Christianity? Did Jesus even claim to be God? Well, maybe He was just crazy. The Resurrection, I’ve got you there! There’s no way that that could have happened. Maybe He just pretended to die and chilled out in the tomb for three days. Maybe no one actually saw Him after He “rose from the dead” and they just made it up. 

In The Case for Christ, Yale Law grad and seasoned journalist Lee Strobel takes on all of these questions, his own skepticism, and more. Interviewing top theologians from across the country, Strobel asks the tough questions even when he risks offense. Though discussing heavy theology, history, and science might seem like a pursuit befitting scholars alone, Strobel presents the information in such a way that almost anyone who picks it up could understand its content. Almost as important as content is its narrative style. In spite of his original inclination to write the book as a Q&A reference guide, Strobel followed the advice of his publisher and crafted a story where he takes the reader along with him into the offices and hearts of theologians. This gives the scholarship-focused work a surprisingly personal touch which reveals a more intimate aspect of Christianity. Whether you have questions about your own faith, lack thereof, or just want to learn more about that man who claimed to be God, The Case for Christ is my second recommendation (my first being the Bible, of course). 


The Case for Faith, by Lee Strobel

Christianity and Religious Thought, 304 pages

8/10 Librarians

Best place to read: At 7 AM the morning after you finished Case for Christ, desperate for more

Comparable titles: Reasonable Faith, Mere Christianity, the Bible (duh)

So, you’ve read Case for Christ, perhaps you’ve dug into the sources a bit, and maybe you looked up the biblical passages most commonly cited, but you still have objections. Or, like me, you just love apologetics and crave more, constantly! Either way, The Case for Faith is an excellent next read which tackles the big eight philosophical issues people have against Christianity, such as: If there’s a loving God, then why is there suffering? What about corruption in the Church, and the history of violence? Why does hell exist if God loves us so much? Written in the same style as The Case for Christ, this book takes things a step further. If we can trust the historicity and theology of the Bible, then let’s move on to points where the Bible seems to contradict itself. Or, even if it’s consistent, points where it just doesn’t make sense. Once again interviewing top theologians (with some return appearances from Case for Christ), Strobel assumes the role of a skeptic to shed light and provide insight on the problems in the Church, the Bible, and the hearts of men. The readability of this book is still high, but the thick philosophy makes The Case for Faith a more challenging read than its predecessor.


Other summer reads that did not make the cut for review (but are still worth delving into!): The Return by Lacey Sturm, John Dryden: Selected Poems, E.E. Cummings: Selected Poems edited by Richard S. Kennedy