“Becoming one” is a way to describe this journey we’re all on toward wholeness. And part of that for me includes reading (as I’ve previously explained). Several months ago (maybe more than a year!) a friend of mine challenged me to come up with a list of the 10 most influential books I’ve read. When I finally sat down to think about it, it really didn’t take me that long to come up with a list. While I’ve read lots of books, I find that a few keep coming to the surface as books that I ponder, recommend, reread, and still cite as the basis for much of my way of thinking.
So here is the list of the top 10 books that have had the biggest impact on me in my life thus far, in no particular order:
1) “A Severe Mercy” by Sheldon Vanauken gave me hope for a good marriage and a life-long love, along with getting me to think. It includes not-elsewhere-published letters of C.S. Lewis. A truly amazing non-fiction story.
2) “The Giver” by Lois Lowry is a mature book dealing with adult themes, yet is appropriate enough to read to children. Somehow I missed this book in my childhood, but even coming to it as an adult, I find something new every time.
3) “Henry IV, Part 1” by Shakespeare wasn’t the first Shakespearean play I read, but it was the first one I REALLY read. It is such an engaging story, and Falstaff is one of the most clever comedic characters of all time. This play instilled in me a love for Shakespeare and I love for literature. It is a huge part of the reason I became an English major in college.
4) “The Bible Doesn’t Have to Be Hard to Read” by Michael David McGehee was the first book I read that opened my eyes to the nuances of reading scripture. It’s about 100 pages, but there is so much wisdom contained in these pages. Seriously, track down a copy and read it ASAP if you’re interested in learning how to better understand genres in the Bible.
5) “The Lord of the Rings” by J.R.R. Tolkien taught me about the beauty of a journey. It taught me what it means to enjoy those quiet moments in life. PLEASE don’t think if you’ve seen the movies you’ve read the book (and it IS one big book!); they are simply not the same! Tolkien paints a beautiful world, and I fell in love with Samwise Gamgee when reading this.
6) “The Prophetic Imagination” by Walter Brueggemann was the first deeply profound religious work I read in seminary, and maybe ever. I love Brueggemann’s simple description of a prophet as one who calls out the problems of this world, and then points to the hope of the world to come. So simple, yet so profound! And what a wonderful way to draw people to Jesus: “Let’s get to what’s really wrong with your life and this world. Now let’s see how Jesus provides the answer.”
7) “Sacred Companions” by David Benner was the first book to open my eyes to the beauty of spiritual direction and spiritual friendships. I knew in my head the importance of steeping myself in God’s love for me, but Benner’s description of how “trying harder” isn’t the answer to loving people better hit me at the precise moment I needed to hear it (which has including countless moments since then!). I still need this constant reminder to let myself be loved first and foremost; only then can I love others out of the overflow.
8) “The Magician’s Nephew” by C.S. Lewis has to be my favorite of the Chronicles of Narnia series—at least the one that sticks with me the most. Unless like so many, I argue that this is the sixth book in the series, not the first. (e.g. Who cares about a tree’s wood if one doesn’t know that a certain wardrobe will bear significance later on?) Still, when Aslan cries with Diggory over his mom’s sickness, there really isn’t a more beautiful picture of Jesus suffering with us in our pain. This image has comforted me much in various trials, and I’ve shared (and tried to embody!) it with countless friends as they’ve struggled.
9) “Harry Potter and the…” by J.K. Rowling—all seven have truly impacted me, but if I had to choose one it would be “… Order of the Phoenix.” It’s such a theological book! The whole discussion of the prophecy at the end of the book is a perfect picture of Wesleyanism vs. Calvinism. I know this is totally a theologian’s reading of it, but the truth here is profound. (Does prophecy come true because it’s predicted? Or because someone believes it and makes it true? Who really is in control of our destinies?) Plus, Harry’s wrestling with Sirius’ death still brings tears to my eyes every time I read it.
10) “The Wind in the Door” by Madeleine L’Engle is the most recent of these influential books I’ve read, but its impact is already lasting. The whole concept of “kything” and being one with God has had a great influence on me, as well as the idea of resting and being at peace rather than always needing change and activity. I could revisit this book 1,000 times and still have more to glean from it.
Runners-up: “The Dream of a Ridiculous Man” by Dostoevsky (not really a book, but easily my favorite long-form short story of all time); “Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer” by Lewis (a powerful pondering on prayer); “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe (the first non-Western work of literature I really devoured, again part of why I majored in English); anything by Henri Nouwen or N.T. Wright.
What books have had an impact on you? How have they shaped your life and your way of thinking? Please share!
Journeying with you toward becoming ONE,