A new challenge has been going around Facebook: list the ten books that have most impacted your life. Being a bookworm, I can’t walk away from that challenge… but limiting the list to just ten has proven to be more difficult than I imagined. But, as promised, here is my list (as well as a brief explanation why each book has stuck with me):
The Bible–Yeah, yeah, yeah… I know. This is cliche for a pastor to start her list with, but it’s true. The Bible has influenced my life for as long as I can remember. Most everything that has ever happened in my life I can trace back to my faith walk/struggle and the Bible is the living document through which God has been revealed time and time again.
Les Miserables (by Victor Hugo)–But the Bible isn’t the only source of wisdom or the only way God is revealed in this world. If there is just one other book that has come close to influencing my life and world view as the Bible, it would be Les Miserables. My drive for compassion, social justice, and to protect the sanctity and dignity of all lives has been shaped by the sprawling story of Jean Valjean.
Jacob Have I Loved (by Katherine Paterson)–This was the first book that made me realize I wasn’t just some crazy adolescent girl, but a real human being with real feelings. I recently re-read this book and found myself feeling the samerighteous indignation and shedding the same tears that I did so long ago as I followed Sara Louise Bradshaw on her journey to come of age.
Green Eggs and Ham (by Dr. Seuss)–as is the case with most American children since World War II, I broke my teeth on Dr. Seuss books. They taught me to love to read, to love the feel of the pages between my fingers, to enjoy the smell of a new book. They invited me into their pages, not just through the creative words and addictive meter, but also through the colorful illustrations and imaginative worlds. I learned to dream and to dream big while getting lost in the oversized Dr. Seuss books of my childhood.
Lightning (by Dean R. Koontz)–A friend gave me this book in junior high school as a Christmas gift. She thought I might enjoy Koontz because I loved Stephen King so much. After reading this entire book, almost in one setting, I promptly set about reading virtually everything else Dean Koontz had written (up to that point). Although my interest in Dean Koontz has waned a bit as an adult, and I no longer waited with bated breath for the next book from this prolific writer to be released, I am still grateful for the memories of curling up in a comfy chair or in my bed and getting lost in these stories.
The Shining (by Stephen King)–Not the first Stephen King book I had ever read, but the first one that I could compare a movie to. It was a great movie… it drove me to pick up the book and read it… but the book was soooo much better. I learned that there was nothing, no cinematic feat great enough, no special effect amazing enough, to ever replace the world that a good book opens up in your mind.
The Secret Life of Bees (by Sue Monk Kidd)–I read this as I was just beginning full-time ministry. I had come through seminary and was now serving a two-point charge (two churches) and working through my residency program a I headed toward ordination… and this book is an amazing, breath-taking exploration of divinity in the feminine form. I cherished ever page of this book and couldn’t wait to get together with my residency group so that we could discuss it.
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (by Carson McCullers)–In a lot of ways, I saw myself as Mick Kelly, the tomboyish girl who befriended the deaf-mute main character, John Singer. But aside from that, I found my passions for embracing the most rejected in our society, compassion, and justice affirmed time after time by this book.
Storming Heaven and The Unquiet Earth (by Denise Giardina)–I couldn’t decide on just one of these books, so I’m including them both. These novels were destined to be on every top ten books list I ever make because they unravel so much of my own passions so well: Appalachian issues, the coal war, the labor movement, oppression, a struggle for justice, rooting for the under dog, history, etc…
The Jungle (by Upton Sinclair)–it seems that year after year, when students are told to read The Jungle for some high school English class, the overwhelming majority will become vegetarians and obsessed with organic foods (for a little while at least). I don’t think I ever realized how much of an impact one short novel could have on us until I read, felt sickened by the scenes of unhealthy food production practices, outraged by the child labor, heartbroken by the unfeeling attitudes toward the masses of working poor who flooded the city looking for the American dream. Words have power. Stories have power. And thanks to Upton Sinclair, I’ve never taken that for granted.