I am a big fan of books. The reading and learning process that transpires from pouring your time and energy into a quality text is what makes reading a fun adventure. Good books and authors make the process that much better, while of course books that fail to meet expectations can make reading nothing more than a methodical exercise wherein you cannot wait until the book is over, not from anxious expectation, but rather because it was such drudgery.
Anytime I can obtain recommendations concerning authors that I should be paying attention, then that is something to which I take notice. More important, recommendations from an individual who writes for a living, understands the process of writing, and recognizes the value of great books written by outstanding and noteworthy authors is shall we say something that perks my attention even more. Douglas Wilson is such an individual and his latest book Writers to Read: Nine Names that Belong on Your Bookshelf takes a look at nine authors, examining their works, important aspects of their lives, and why they have left such a lasting legacy.
This is not a book that contains nine mini-biographies. While there is some biographical material contained in Wilson’s discussion, clearly necessary in order to explore these authors’ lives and works, the main focus of the book is commentary on why these individuals have such a continuing positive influence. I was familiar with six out of the nine authors and even more familiar with the likes of C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, H. L. Mencken, and J. R. R. Tolkien and nominally acquainted with T. S. Eliot and N. D. Wilson. Three of the authors, namely P. D. Wodehouse, R. F. Capon, and M. S. Robinson are authors whose contributions to writing for which I was quite unfamiliar. As an aside, I am curious if the fact each of these individuals is known by their first two initials and their last name has some bearing on the quality of writing. Perhaps someday D. A. Carson will be included in the mix or perhaps R. C. Sproul.
Regardless, this book was a pleasure to read. These are men who that were given by God the gift of communicating through the written word. Anyone who has every read the Lord of the Rings series (as well as The Hobbit I might add) understands the depth of writing ability of a man like J. R. R. Tolkien. C. S. Lewis is one I would venture to say most all believers have at least a minimal familiarity with and anyone who has watched the Chronicles of Narnia movies of late have been reintroduced to his fiction works. The non-fiction contributions of Lewis are standard fare reading for many as well.
But this book by Wilson is more than just an attempt to reintroduce people to classic works by excellent authors. While that is certainly one element, Wilson is also helping writers become even better writers. One thing I have learned from my days in Bible College and Seminary, as well as spending a fair bit of time over the last few years trying my hand at blogging, book reviews, and journal articles, writing is a learning process. Good writers have a desire to learn how to write better. Excellent writers take the time to engage and pay attention to how noted writers parse words, how they relay concepts, and how they themselves craved to continually better themselves in the craft that is writing.
Wilson does a marvelous job of noting how each of these nine men were able to get their message across, messages that have spanned a great deal of time and continue to have an impact even today. Now it must be noted that not all these authors were believers, nor can we submit that all of them focused on matters of theology or provided commentary on theology upon which we can find agreement. An individual such a Menken, while an atheist, is nevertheless a writer who understood the power of writing. One can learn from the manner in which he engaged in the craft of writing.
Reading the works of good authors makes us better readers and for those engaged in writing on a regular basis, noting how good authors went about their business will go a long way towards improving how we write and more importantly, the methodology and manner by which our own thoughts are relayed to our readers. Wilson’s book was a pleasurable read, it was informative, it was helpful, and it introduced me (and at times re-introduced me) to nine individuals whose works should indeed be paid attention to and whose books I will certainly engage with in the coming years.