An Exotic Summer Read to Recover from Finals

Summer reading has usually been defined as books so light that one can drop them in water and watch them float. For one of the last book reviews before summer, this might be something to consider: “High Spirits,” written by Robertson Davies, author of “Fifth Business” and “The Deptford Trilogy.”

The book is light enough in content and plotting to float on water, and funny enough to put in a final exam recovery kit. It’s a book of short stories assembled from Davies’s time at Massey College, in the University of Toronto, where he served 18 years as Master (Canadian title for Dean). Being a twisted fellow, Davies wrote these ghost stories to be told at the college Christmas party each year.

Yes, you read it correctly: ghost stories for Christmas, an odd idea, and each story is just as odd and demented as the author. One story has Davies encountering the University ghost, “of which it is justifiably proud;” a ghost that vanished by degrees-a Bachelors, Masters and a Ph.D-and a table inhabited by a Presbyterian ghost of irritable character. There is also Frankenstein’s cat, the man who discovered immortality through vinegar, the tenor turned into a frog and a story that stands as a warning to all English majors, “Dickens Digested.” Cameos also include the ghost of Queen Victoria and George IV, the three kings (King George the fifth, the sixth, and Prime Minister King), Ibsen, Einstein, a nasty, mercurial little demon, and the Devil himself as he tries to go home for Christmas.

The funniest story in the book is called “Refuge of Insulted Saints,” in which appears all the saints reduced to simple legendary status by Vatican II. In order to avoid Limbo, all 200 of them arrive at Massey College, complete with their attributes: dragons, cannons, St. Ursula’s 11,000 virgins. “You need us,” says St. George of Cappadocia, patron saint of England, “to balance the extreme, stringent modernity of your thinking; nothing grows so old-fashioned so fast as modernity, you know.”

Along the way, Davies manages to capture the proper sense of the absurd in everyday college life, and any educational major (and professor) can identify with the comments on academia. He has an equally appropriate sense of how bizarre it looks after the first few dozen hauntings, making fun of his own premise as he goes. The range of topics Davies touches upon is so wide and so varied that it encompasses education, religion, history, literature and murder.

It’s something for everyone, and as funny as Robin Williams off his medication, including the interesting suggestion of placing St. Christopher in the parking lot, allowing everyone to find a place-something that, as every student knows, requires a miracle.