David Holland’s post yesterday inspired me. He wrote about some of the books that had changed his life and why. It made me think about some of my personal favorites, and I wanted to share them.
Forgive me, David, if you’re reading this; but I am using your idea for my post today. I hope you take this “copy cat” post as the highest form of flattery.
As I am starting this post, I feel like I am in an art gallery, and someone just told me to pick out the five best paintings and take them home. That’s how excited I am to talk about some of the authors and books that have impacted me. Although I will mention a few books, I want to emphasize a few authors whose books in general have brought about change.
I love what David Holland wrote about the Bible: It comes first for life changing, but it can’t really be considered a book. It is living and active, and rather than my reading it—it reads me. Well said, David! With over six-billion copies sold, I think someone else out there agrees with David and me.
“Through Gates of Splendor” by Elisabeth Elliot radically changed my life. It is the story of five American missionaries who were martyred in South America in the late 1950s. I read it as a young teenager. Their true-story adventures raised my hair and my faith. After Elisabeth Elliot’s husband, Jim, was murdered, she and her daughter, Valerie, stayed on in South America. They continued to reach out to the Indians who had committed these murders. In time, Valerie was baptized in the very river in which her dad had been killed. When I finished the book, I laid my head down on the sofa and cried for three hours. Not a joke. Now, I understand the experience became a call. As a teenager, I reached out to God with all I had and cried out for faith like that. This book has guided me in my life choices.
“Spiritual Authority” by Watchman Nee continues to be a foundational book in my life. I read it every few years to reinforce its strength and solid message. Clear understanding of the healthy purpose of authority and its role in life is what is missing from American culture and the world in general. I am not speaking of abusive authority, but the fact that every person on earth needs to understand loving authority–God’s authority, the authority that He has placed on the earth (loving and unloving), and the role and importance of authority personally.
We may be living in a “me” generation and time, but the lack of regard for authority has caused considerable suffering in this world. This book has saved me from much heartache by teaching me to embrace and honor the authority around me. It has also taught me how to use authority as a leader.
“Release of the Spirit” by Watchman Nee. This book explores the function of the body, soul, and spirit for the Christian. It talks about appropriate reactions to suffering and hardship and how God turns those things for good. It gave me the tools to embrace betrayal, pain, and injustice in life.
At the risk of sounding archaic, no English-speaking writer has exceeded Shakespeare. Although I don’t read him all the time, I am in awe of his gift to write, not just words but plots and applications. His plots and applications are still used today, and his words have been translated into hundreds of languages. All I can say is I am incredibly blessed to read and understand him in the original. Not a crumb of nuance or shifting shadow is lost. How impoverished my life would be without the master, Shakespeare.
In this same category, I have to put Emily Dickinson. In my opinion, she is the greatest American poet. Her brilliance outshines Emerson, Whitman, Sandburg, Plath, Moore, Eliot, Cummings—everyone. I have read everything of hers over and over. I have read every single critical writing about her work and life that I could find. Who can match?
Tell all the Truth but tell it slant—
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightening to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind—
This poem by Dickinson sums up the whole teaching style of Jesus!
When I read her words as a young woman, I knew I wanted to become a poet. I still feel that way. And by the way, I only write prose to put bread on the table. Poetry is the best way I know to “tell the truth slant…”
In this category, I have to mention three modern-day poets that I adore: Mark Strand, Billy Collins, and Ted Kooser—not too cryptic or dark—just sheer delight and depth. My favorite book of these is “Sailing Alone Around the Room” By Collins and “Delights and Shadows” by Ted Kooser. But they all have several great books.
Lastly, I am going to throw in the five books of humor by Erma Bombeck that I took with me when we first moved to Ukraine. Although most friends piled their suitcases full of the popular Christian books of the day, I tucked away Bombeck’s latest funnies. While not classic or earth shattering, they kept me laughing and in touch with reality in the midst of three of the most difficult years of my life. Living in an ex-communist country in 1996 was rough for this pampered American, and those books kept me sane. My favorite: “Eat Less Cottage Cheese and More Ice Cream.”
More to come…
Please let me know what books have changed your life and why.