Friday, June 20, 2008


The other day J and I got to talking about 'A Life in Books,' the column in Newsweek where an author lists his/her five most important books. Many of the books in this column week after week are ones 'old faithfuls', so to speak. Just this week, Michael Lewis, author of Moneyball (such a brilliant book about baseball I actually included it my novel), chose Huck Finn as one of his five books. Huck Finn, the one novel practically every one of us had to read in high school. If you didn't, don't tell J--he really hated that book, for some inexplicable reason, and will be very envious. But I liked it, understand why it's on this list and so many others, as well as the required reading lists of high schools. It was something new, said something deep and true about its world, deeper than its dialect.

But I digress. My point, and in the words of Ellen Degeneres, I do have one. J prompted a list from me, and I came up with one that sunny afternoon as I pulled weeds from my garden. Now, four days, and one Newsweek later, I have a revised list, which might just be as it should be, since I'm all about revision in this season in my life. When you think of it, even pulling weeds is revision, isn't it?
My Important Books (an annotated list, and without either the 'five' nor absolute 'most' in the title, because, first, I realized I had more than 5, though just barely, and trust me even limiting to what I did was excruciating!!!, and 'most' is impossible' because, after all, I might find some wonderful book tomorrow when I use the gift certificate E gave me for Mother's Day!)

1.A classic I can't live without:
The Complete Works of Shakespeare--you should have heard him howl when I said this. I really am cheating. Because that's 33 plays, not to mention the Sonnets. But I love Shakespeare, and find so much in him every time I read him. SK, our theater major, who was also sitting there, asked which ones I like best, and once I got started, I couldn't stop listing them. The tragedies have much to say for themselves--"Out, out damn spot" of MacBeth, with the notion of guilt killing you. Othello's jealousy, Lear's incredible madness and his daughter's perfect love "I love you as is your due...". Oh, don't get me started...Why, we say things every single day that we should give old Will credit for, and we barely know it.
2. A sentimental favorite:
Persuasion by Jane Austen--if I had to choose just one of her books, this would be my choice. And I'm telling you, it's not an easy choice. I first read Pride and Prejudice when I was 12-years-old, and I took everything literally. Years later, when I had to read it for a college class, I wondered how all that irony had managed to be inserted in the last six years! I found it wonderfully dry--as dry as my own dad (and the Beve and his friends!). Persuasion, the best of them, ends with this beautiful moment where Anne speaks of her constant love, Wentworth overhears her and writes of his...ah, I could swoon right now, thinking of it. And I sometimes think God knew I was a sucker for such things when he made my own romance so complex and unique.
3. A book that changed my life:
The Brothers K by David James Duncan--it's hard to explain the impact this book had on my life. I had to lead a seminar it in my first term in seminary, just after my father died, and it was no easy task--the connections for me in this novel were eery--to my hometown, to baseball, to a father who was the loving one... If you like baseball, you'll love it. But even if you don't, it won't matter, because it's funny and sad, and tackles religion and abuse done in the name of religion with both a light and heavy hand (which is powerfully difficult to do!)
4. A book I often recommend:
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell-- I've almost decided that when I recommend this book to people, that if they don't read it, we can't be friends anymore. I feel this strongly about this book. Now I'm not a science fiction reader by first choice, but this is something new. Though it has all the best elements of science fiction, it also has a theological undergirding. No, it's more than an undergirding. It's also the walls and roof. It's the whole structure. You simply have to read it. I can't talk about it with anyone who hasn't read it, but I love it so much, and the sequel--Children of God--that I'm willing to make it a dividing line in relationship. It's ok if you don't like it. I just want you in the conversation.
5. A book and author for our place and times:
Fidelity by Wendell Berry--Fidelity was the first of Berry's books I read, which is the reason I list it here. Since then, I've visited Port William, his fictional, yet true, town as many times as he's let me, via Hannah Coulter, Jayber Crowe, That Distant Land, and others. These stories are slow and quiet and tell of a people and place I know exists because I grew up there, but many people can't imagine. And Berry has a whole lot to say in his non-fiction about how we should care for this earth, and I've been changed by those words as well.
6. A book I have on my bedstand:
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
by Barbara Kingsolver. This book is changing the way I think about buying and eating locally. Also what it means to eat with the seasons. I am a huge Kingsolver fan--I LOVED The Poisonwood Bible but also love her non-fiction like High Tide in Tuscon & Small Wonder. She helps clear my head . When turning green is the new color of choice, she has been earth-keeping for two dozen years. With my own sister, a wise seminary prof, the Beve and I began making changes years ago--smaller house, increasingly smaller cars, etc. And she continues to inspire me.
7. A book I read to my children:
The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis. If you know me, you knew this was coming. I first visited Narnia in (wait a minute, let me check the date in the front of the books my mother's parents gave us) 1964. Yep, a long time ago. I have one of the oldest sets of them, with the original art work. What can I say about these books? I love, love, love Narnia. Loved it so much I used to read them all over the course of a weekend once a year. Just say I was going to Narnia, hole up and not come out until I waved across the great divide at the parents at the end of The Last Battle and heard Aslan say, "Don't you know where you are?" Sigh. I named my first dog Caspian, used to play trivia with the other Narnians among my college friends. Loved lions (but would NEVER name a pet Aslan--that would be like naming one God!). Bought and read every book by CSL written at the time, knew all the important facts about his life too, and plenty that weren't important as well. And--I made sure my children knew and loved Narnia. Of course I did. I fed Aslan to them with their baby food. Told them of Reepicheep, Puddleglum (I adore them both for distinctly different reasons!), and made JESK good little Narnians. It was part of my job. I couldn't fail them in this.

Finally--The Book I must have to breathe:
The Bible--Of course it kind of goes without saying, but I can't go without saying it. J laughed because I actually named it first that afternoon and reminded me that actually the Bible is composed of 66 books so it's sort of cheating, so he asked which of 66 would be most essential. All of them, I told him first. But then I said Genesis and John, but today I'd add the Psalms and Romans. These aren't necessarily my favorite books, but they would provide everything needed, if locked in a dungeon. Think about it--creation, the calling and covenant with Abraham. The gospel, the theology of Paul, and the Psalms.

There you have it...but really, I want it all. Just like, I don't really want my bookcase to be limited to these few books. I want more and more and more. I'm hungry that way. Read, people, read.

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