Did you all see that Facebook challenge a few weeks ago? The one where you list the 10 most memorable/influential books of your life? You know, and then you tag 3 people and challenge them to post their own top 10. I really enjoyed checking out all those lists and although technically nobody challenged me, I decided to come up with my top 10 anyway!
I tag… myself. It’s ok, I’ve never been the cool kid on the block. But I’ve been mulling it over and finally narrowed down my list.
Here are my ten… **
I started reading the series in 2006 right after the 6th book came out. So I was a little late to the party but still got to enjoy the immense hype leading up to the release of the 7th and final book. It’s a little fuzzy now but I’m pretty sure I signed my name on the “I trust Severus Snape” website. Anyway, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what gripped me so with this series. I loved Harry from page 1 and really all of the rich and wonderful characters created by Rowling. I particularly enjoyed the exploration of choice in the novels and how a person might, at any moment, choose to make different choices and thus change the trajectory of their life. Even if there is a prophecy spelling out how you will perhaps save the world from evil or a Sorting Hat that tells you where you belong, you can make a different choice. This particular exploration is one that has informed my theology over the years and continues to fascinate me, as you’ll see with my other book choices below.
We also named our son, Gryffin, after Gryffindor House; the house for the courageous. A griffin is a mythical creature – half lion, half eagle – and in the Middle Ages was often found on church buildings as a symbol of the dual nature of Christ. King of the air and king of the land. I mean, come on, JESUS and HARRY POTTER? Can’t beat that! The whole HP series is full of symbolic names and beings and I enjoyed the intrigue and digging around for the deeper meanings.
Some Favorite Quotes
“It is our choices…that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” —Dumbledore
“It’s the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness, nothing more.” —Dumbledore
I think this beautiful book stood out to me in particular because I read it as an adult and therefore already knew all that Maya Angelou had gone on to become. The prose is captivating and it gives light to something that was otherwise dark and suffocating — an amazing gift.
Some Favorite Quotes
“The fact that the adult American Negro female emerges a formidable character is often met with amazement, distaste and even belligerence. It is seldom accepted as an inevitable outcome of the struggle won by survivors and deserves respect if not enthusiastic admiration.”
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.”
I’ve already written about the Brothers K and my admiration of the author, David James Duncan, so I won’t rehash it all here. I wish I could include the entire excerpt of Kincaid’s dream about the kingdom of God but it’s much too long so I pulled out just a small piece of it…
“The truth is, I’d never been in a place less like a church, and can hardly say what a relief this was… I picked up the plainest thing I could find – a pebble – and popped it in my mouth, started clunking it around… cautiously at first, then harder and harder, and was amazed to discover as I crushed in into sand, then into mush, that my teeth were like industrial diamonds and my jaws were like a vise. I felt like Paul Bunyan, hell, I felt like Superman â€“ and just the pleasure of such godlike chewing got me so excited that when the pebble-mush began melting and turned out to taste better than the best chocolate in the world, it seemed like a waste somehow. I mean, I swallowed it anyway, but I sensed as it was going down that the special quality, the joy that had been in the taste, couldn’t go down with it. It just wouldn’t fit inside me. There was simply no way to squeeze a thing so vast and heavenly into a container as small and earthly as myself.“
I think I’ve read this book 5 or 6 times. It’s the true story of Corrie ten Boom and her family in Holland during WWII. I think I like it in part because the ten Booms seem so ordinary and humdrum but when they were presented with genuine life or death choices, they were brave and their faith proved to be the bedrock they always believed it to be. It’s not that I wish to be faced with such danger and hardship but sometimes I think my life lacks urgency. The faith of Corrie’s father and sister, in particular, who both died in the concentration camps, stands out to me and has always buoyed my own faith.
A Favorite Quote
“No pit is so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.”
I read this one in college and I’ve read it 2 or 3 times since. Like, Harry Potter, it deals with the concepts of choice and free will and although it’s technically “young adult fiction,” it never fails to shake up my thinking. I often find myself believing that it might just be easier if God preordained everything in our lives. It just feels like might be easier to understand if it were so. I was in a terrible car crash in college but walked away essentially unscathed. Will of God. I was tested a few years ago for MS but my scans came back clear. God’s plan. I have a new job because God ordained that it should be so. Scored a sweet parking spot today when I picked Isaiah up from school. Thank you, LORD. See what I’m saying? But my theology and my understanding of God runs into trouble here because I then must also contend with the person who didn’t walk away from the car crash; the one whose MRI’s didn’t come back clear, and the friend who has been job hunting for two years.
Reading The Giver always brings me back to a place where I feel ok (or a little better at least) with the mystery of it all. The mysterious dance of God’s will and human choice.
A Favorite Quote
“Now he saw another elephant emerge from the place where it had stood hidden in the trees. Very slowly it walked to the mutilated body and looked down. With its sinuous trunk it struck the huge corpse; then it reached up, broke some leafy branches with a snap, and draped them over the mass of torn thick flesh. Finally it tilted its massive head, raised its trunk, and roared into the empty landscape.”
Still working out my theology of free will! This one by John Steinbeck fascinates me, like Harry Potter and The Giver, for it’s examination of choice and human free will. The story winds all about and gets pretty “dark & twisty”at times but we learn so much about ourselves and God in the process. Each character has choices to make, and while some seem stuck and destined to remain the same, we get to see the ways that their choices impact their lives and the lives of the other people around them.
A Favorite Quote
“But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—‘Thou mayest’— that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.”
The memoir of Antwone Quenton Fisher. He was a foster baby from day 1 after his mother gave birth in prison and his father was murdered. He recounts his life in foster care, particularly the 14 years he spent with the Picketts who abused him in every possible way. This book shook me up. I read it before we had the boys and it weighed heavy on me. I was especially struck by the impact even a small, seemingly infinitesimal, act of kindness can have on a person’s life.
Before I read this book, I thought there was no way I could be a foster parent. Having to relinquish a child you love has always seemed too great a burden to bear. But after reading Finding Fish, that feeling changed to ‘how could I not be a foster parent?’ I don’t know what, exactly, this will look like for us but I feel like it’s going to part of our family’s story – and that feeling took root reading Fisher’s book.
“I reach my hands up and out, as if that can stop my getting wetter, and open my mouth, trying to swallow the downpour, till it finally hits me how funny it is, my trying to stop the rain.”
Written by Olive Ann Burns. It’s set in Georgia circa 1906 and is told from the perspective of 14-year-old Will Tweedy. It gives such a colorful depiction of life in their fictional town and probes social taboos, death, and religion. The writing is absolutely wonderful and I remember my parents reading the book out loud to one another on a road trip once. I can still hear them laughing.
“It was like he didn’t hear the silence that greeted them and didn’t see Mama go pale or Aunt Loma flounce out of the parlor and down the hall, handling the baby so rough he woke up squalling. Grandpa walked in like it was the usual thing to go off and get a new young wife before your old wife is cold in the grave. Like it never dawned on him anybody would mind.”
Oh man, the character of the grandma in this book is so well done. She is a hoot. The book is set in backwoods North Carolina in the mid-1900s and centers on the lives of 3 generations of women living in the same house. Charlie Kate is the grandmother and she is a self-taught midwife/healer/dentist/you name it. I was so captivated by the story and felt a sort of longing to be part of their brood.
A Favorite Quote
“What is most fascinating with regard to her dentistry is that she would put women patients under, but work on the men as is. She believed that although women, as a rule, could stand more pain and take more punishment than men, they should not have to and would not ever suffer under her care….The degree to which a woman looked tired in the face dictated the amount of chloroform she received, and sometimes when my grandmother recognized that a woman was too taxed by her life, she did her the favor of knocking her out to the point that she couldn’t neither lift her head nor say her name the rest of the day.”
I feel like I’m cheating a little bit with this one because I haven’t actually finished it! But I’ve been reading it for the last year and it has had such a potent and profound impact that I have to include it here. It’s difficult for me to put into words what this book has meant to me. Have you ever read something and just felt like the author gets you? Like their soul speaks the same language as yours? Yeah, I know, that’s maybe a tad too effusive, but this book speaks to me and it speaks to my faith and it has made me feel less alone.
A few excerpts
“When I assented to the faith that was latent within me — and I phrase it carefully, deliberately, for there was no white light, no ministering or avenging angel that tore my life in two; rather it seemed as if the tiniest seed of belief had finally flowered in me, or, more accurately, as if I had happened upon some rare flower deep in the desert and had known, though I was just then discovering it, that it had been blooming impossibly year after parched year in me, surviving all the seasons of my unbelief.”
“Christ, though, is a shard of glass in your gut. Christ is God crying I am here, and here not only in what exalts and completes and uplifts you, but here in what appalls, offends, and degrades you, here in what activates and exacerbates all that you would call not-God.”
“There are definitely times when we must suffer God’s absence, when we are called to enter the dark night of the soul in order to pass into some new understanding of God, some deeper communion with him and with all creation. But this is very rare, and for the most part our dark nights of the soul are, in a way that is more pathetic than tragic, wishful thinking. God is not absent. He is everywhere in the world we are too dispirited to love.”
There are so many things I like about this book. Anne Lamott is the kind of writer I aspire to be. I’ve read nearly all her work and I think she is at her absolute best with non-fiction. She is vulnerable and brave with what she writes. With regard to her faith, I appreciate that she’s willing to say the things you might think but wouldn’t dream of saying out loud yet she remains stalwart in her beliefs. Her conversion story has always stood out to me as compelling and genuine and just the honest truth of how it happened.
Some Favorite Quotes
“F@#$ it. I quit. All right, Jesus, You can come in.”
“The depth of the feeling continued to surprise and threaten me, but each time it hit again and I bore it…I would discover that it hadn’t washed me away.”
**Yes, yes, I know, that’s actually 11 books. It’s alright. I’m a writer, not a mathematician.
Oh, and I tag all of you. Let’s see some more lists! If it’s too daunting to select the most influential, just tell me one or two that stand out in your mind as memorable.