Top Ten Books, Selected Personally for Me

My two daughters both have many amazing endearments, and this post focuses on one of the most remarkable qualities of my first daughter, Ginger.

Ginger is the most voracious reader that I know. She ravenously consumes 30-40 books per year. That may not sound like a huge number until you realize that’s a book every 10 days. I probably don’t average 10 books a year. She’s been reading at that pace since she was a teen, so she’s read hundreds and hundreds of books. She was the first person I knew who bought a Kindle, and she’s now on her second one. She once organized my home library by the Dewey Decimal system. So she knows her way around the library. The best part is she reads good books. Not romance novels. Not books with lots of pictures. She puts a lot of research and thought into the books she chooses to invest her time in, and so her opinions on books carry weight. (By the way, catch her blog about the finer things of life in The South, www.sweeticedtea.net. And her husband Matt is an officer in the Navy. Had to brag a little!)

A few months ago, I asked her if she would put together a list of 10 books that she would suggest to me personally. Not her top 10 favorites. Not her 10 critically best reads. But 10 books just for me. On Christmas Day, she presented me with this list, complete with annotations and a copy of one of the books, Art and the Bible by Francis Schaeffer. What a delightful and personal gift. Personal because it flows out of her heart. And personal because it is custom-tailored to fit my heart.

I believe her list and commentary bear sharing. So below is the complete text of her letter to me, list, and annotations. My New Year’s resolution is to read all 10 (can’t keep up with her 30-40!). You might want to join me. Good reading!…

Ten Book Suggestions from Ginger to Daddy

Upon a visit to Kentucky this past fall of 2010, you mentioned during a lovely Daddy-daughter date that you’d like for me to make you a list sometime of the top books I’ve read that you would enjoy.

I immediately started jotting notes of titles that came to mind. It was such a treasure to constantly be thinking of not just some of my favorite books, but some of my favorites that you might enjoy.

You should have known it was dangerous to ask an obsessive list maker to make you a list, let alone of books, one of my favorite, inexhaustible topics in the whole wide world.

So, this is my “final cut.” It wasn’t that hard actually. And most people that know me have probably heard me mention a few of these titles more than once. However, others are quite specific to you, that I may never mention to the average acquaintance (for instance, Anne of Green Gables is possibly one of my favorite, life-altering books, but I don’t think I’ll recommend it to you).

Even when you mentioned making the list, I had plans to gift this particular book to you, simply because I had read it a while back, and thought you might enjoy it, so it presented the perfect excuse to include it on the list, and include the list with the book.

So here is my list of the Top Ten Books You Might Enjoy, along with a short commentary from me on each as to what it’s meant to me and why I think you might enjoy it.

  • Art and the Bible by Francis Schaeffer
  • A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller
  • A Separate Peace by John Knowles
  • Desiring God by John Piper
  • Into Thin Air by John Krakauer
  • Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken
  • Telling the Truth: The Gospel As Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale by Frederick Buechner
  • The Chosen by Chaim Potok
  • The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard
  • The Way of the Wild Heart by John Eldredge

Annotations

Art and the Bible by Francis Schaeffer – Union University opened a world to me that I will always appreciate. I had long been a reader, but we were encouraged to read scholarly books, that also had a biblical worldview. I joined a book club and read my very first Schaeffer.

I know you appreciate art, but have a balanced approach to it that many “creative” types can’t always grasp. Though it’s been a few years since I’ve read this one, the main message I remember from a very wise Schaeffer is that “art is a tool, rather than an idol.” It is sort of a two-fold challenge for those who are artistically minded to remain within the free confines of the church, and for the church to realize the freedom we have in Christ, and accept, redemptively, “artists.” I think if many more of us would be willing to do this today, we might have a few more Whitmires in the Christian world, instead of producing wonderful, but secular and godless plays on Broadway. And as Christians, we should be among the most creative, rather than shy away from expressions of the image of the Creator in us.

Another excellent book on a similar topic, exploring some of the cloying nature of Christian art (read: Thomas Kinkade and “Footprints in the Sand”) is Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle.

——-

The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard – The Divine Conspiracy is one of those books I wish I could read once per year (though it’s not a short tome). It’s a topic by topic theological study, putting some of our most basic beliefs simply and provokingly.

——-

Into Thin Air by John Krakauer – This is one of my favorite books I’ve read in a long time. I started it one day, having just moved to Monterey, and didn’t put it down until I finished it about 24 hours later. I will admit, this is certainly an “R” rated book, so proceed according to your own convictions. There is some shocking language, and harsh medical realities, but in my conscience, I can justify based on the grave reality of the mountain, literal and philosophically, they were up against.

The true story is a journalist’s perspective of the Mt. Everest disaster of 1996, the deadliest in Everest history. More died in one single day, due to a comedy of errors, weather, and other factors, than have before or since. It’s a riveting true story that reads like fiction. Homebody that I am, this mountaineering book captivated my attention, and I’ve been fascinated by Everest ever since (reading, that is… no desire to climb anything but a flight of stairs at the mall).

——-

The Chosen by Chaim Potok – This is a beautiful story of friendship of two boys – one Hasidic Jew, and one modern Orthodox – who become dear friends. It reminds me a little of The Wonder Years.

——-

Desiring God by John Piper – I must admit I didn’t particularly like this book. It took me ages to get through (though the beginning is quick and entertaining enough). I think it’s because I don’t particularly feel comfortable with the message. The subtitle is “Meditations of a Christian Hedonist.” But one particular anecdote sticks out. He describes our joy in God as likened to his relationship with his wife. He knows that on their anniversary, he ought to show up with flowers and a card and such, but he also wants to. He knows she’d far rather receive flowers and a love poem if they come from his desire, rather than his duty. I don’t love the word “hedonist.” I tend to feel much more comfortable living from the law than from grace (and I think you and I sometimes have that in common), but it’s one of the more impactful books I’ve read in my life, and Piper’s words often stick in my mind, so I guess it’s an important and lasting work.

——-

Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken – Another true story that reads like fiction. Sheldon Vanauken was a humanistic atheist, who met and married his wife, Jean early in life, when they fall in love and create a “shining barrier” against anything that might separate them – even children. They lead an idyllic life in the late 1930’s through early 1950’s, traveling the world on their boat, hosting friends, reading the great literature. Until Jean (who he affectionately calls “Davy”), begins to think about Christianity, due in part to reading the works of C.S. Lewis. They begin a correspondence with Lewis, and are eventually converted to Christianity. The story of their life and travels, process of them coming to Christ, and subsequent life is full of charm, joy, tragedy, and everything else you could want in a story.

——-

The Way of the Wild Heart by John Eldredge – John Eldredge is one of my favorite authors. I’ve read all of his books multiple times. The Way of the Wild at Heart is one of his best. I read it during a pivotal time, having just been married, experiencing a slight life shift as my parents moved from our home of 10 years to a different place, and enduring the pains of a “breakup” of one of my first loves — Bellevue Baptist Church. As the Biblical model suggests, I often looked to three men in my life – my new husband, my father, and a pastor – for guidance, and was fascinated to see each of these men in three of the various stages Eldredge describes. I’m certain the stages aren’t always so clear in each man’s life, but it was a moment in time where there were clear pictures of each. Just a wonderful look into one aspect of God’s kingdom design through male leadership.

Deserving a special mention as well among his titles are Epic, Desire, and Walking with God.

——-

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller – Another book I could barely put down over a weekend. I enjoy Don Miller, because he is funny. He has a way of poking a little fun at our church culture that will make you laugh and think.

You’ve most likely heard of his most famous recent bestseller, Blue Like Jazz, which is excellent, but this is my favorite of his so far. A movie producer was interested, after having read Blue Like Jazz, in making his life into a movie, but upon sitting down to write the screenplay, he realized his life really wasn’t movie worth. He sets out to make it so.

——-

A Separate Peace by John Knowles – This was a high school reading assignment, but I’ve never forgotten it. The character’s lives at boarding school are a bit reminiscent of Dead Poet’s Society. As you may have noticed from more than one of my suggested titles here, it has my favorite themes of friendship and war, and who doesn’t love a good coming of age novel?

——-

Telling the Truth: The Gospel As Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale by Frederick Buechner – This was certainly my hardest choice. Frederick Buechner has steadily become my favorite author in the past years, so I’ve been systematically reading through his 36 books (to date), and while I’m sure there are many great titles to come that I haven’t made it to yet, my favorite so far has been Telling the Truth.

I suppose it’s rooted somewhere in being read too often as a child, and growing up loving stories, but I do love the concept that all stories point to the Original Story. It’s difficult to describe Frederick Buechner’s style, much less The word that comes to mind is simple. I will warn that there has been a sentence or two in his writings that has given me pause theologically. He is more of a questioner than a theologian, to be sure. But I appreciate his fresh approach at things, and as a recovering legalist, am constantly challenged by his causing me to look at my religious habits in light of a relationship.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Top Ten Books, Selected Personally for Me

  1. Bob

    I’m going to expect periodic updates on your progress against this reading list. While I always have far more books waiting to be read, I’ve always been rather haphazard in tackling them. You and your daughter’s joint efforts have inspired me to sit down between now and the New Year and make a plan.

  2. I love the story, Larry, and the feelings of guilt you describe and the illustrations of unconditional love and wisdom. Thanks! Well done!

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