WHO John Fraser is Master of Massey College in the University of Toronto, where he also teaches newspaper history at St. Michael's College.
WHAT The Bible: A Biography, by Karen Armstrong; Fire and Fury: The Allied Bombing of Germany 1942-45, by Randall Hansen; Too Much Happiness, by Alice Munro; Sovereign, by C.J. Sansom; The Reign of Henry VIII: Personality and Politics, by David Starkey
WHY The usual cache of summer books has been hauled up to the cottage, only half of which will be read properly. The other half will be sampled, sniffed at and either set aside for "later" reading or simply decreed unworthy. Summer reading is always a pleasure, but sometimes the preparation approximates a literary abattoir.
In non-fiction, Karen Armstrong's The Bible: A Biography (Atlantic Monthly Press) has easily made it into my readerdom, but then I am an old Sunday-school teacher and a sucker for biblical exegesis, especially if it is done with brio and solid research. Ditto on research and style for Fire and Fury: The Allied Bombing of Germany 1942-45 (Doubleday Canada), by the brilliant young University of Toronto historian Randall Hansen. The tale is told from both sides and, while Hansen never forgets who started the Second World War, it still makes devastating reading.
In fiction, I am getting caught up on Alice Munro's forthcoming collection of short stories, Too Much Happiness (Douglas Gibson Books), and rejoice that she was awarded the 2009 Man Booker International Prize for lifetime achievement. She was short-listed for this spectacular honour when the list was announced at Massey College two years ago.
I should also admit a weakness for good mysteries. P.D. James at her worst is good enough for me, and at her best it is enormous fun to follow her intricate plotting and carefully constructed suspects. That's why I so enjoyed C.J. Sansom's Sovereign (Penguin), a wonderful thriller set in the reign of Henry VIII, one of four novels (so far) in the Matthew Shardlake series. The book is dedicated to James, who obviously admires Sansom from the blurb she has provided.
Sansom is a real scholar of Tudor history, one who knows how to make you feel you are walking the streets of 16th-century London or York. His hero is a hunchbacked lawyer, and it is through his sensitive eyes that we are brought into the engrossing religious and political chicanery of the times.
I also found it hugely enjoyable to read, at the same time, David Starkey's brief but luminous study The Reign of Henry VIII: Personality and Politics (Vintage). Starkey is the academic authority on Tudor politics, and reading the two books together - both page-turners, but in profoundly different ways - has provided some of the most enjoyable summer reading I have ever had.