I read voraciously—much like I eat and drink; a good book sates the hungry mind. A great book satiates a thirsty soul.
If read thoughtfully at fateful times, great books can shape one’s destiny.
I offer ten tomes for your consideration and in no particular order that have nutured my soul. As any bookworm knows, I could offer myriad lists, but these actually grace the most hallowed space in my library (see photo).
1.) The Complete Essays of Montaigne (translated by Donald Frame) — “Of Idleness,” “Of The Education of Children,” “Of Cannibals,” “Of the Inconsistency of Our Actions,” “Of Giving the Lie,” “Of Repentance,” “Of Vanity,” “Of Experience” are just a few of the delights found within.
The closing words are Montaigne’s gift to all of us.
It is an absolute perfection and virtually divine to know how to enjoy our being lawfully. We seek other conditions because we do not understand the use of our own, and go outside of ourselves because we do not know what it is like inside. Yet there is no use our mounting on stilts, for on stilts we must still walk on our own legs. And on the loftiest throne in the world we are still sitting on our own behind.
2.) Depths of Glory by Irving Stone — A fictional biography of Camille Pissarro, a central figure of the Impressionist movement. It portrays the essence of salon, and illustrates the power of gathering artists for refreshment, encouragement and diffusion of ideas.
3.) Lust for Life by Irving Stone — The most famous of all of Stone’s novels, it is the story of Vincent Van Gogh—brilliant painter, passionate lover, and alleged madman. Within is his tempestuous story: his dramatic life, his fevered loves for both the highest-born women and the lowest of prostitutes, and his paintings—for which he was damned before being proclaimed a genius. The novel takes us from his desperate days in a northern coal mine to his dazzling years in the south of France, where he knew the most brilliant artists (and the most depraved whores).
4.) The Dictionary of Imaginary Places — From Atlantis to Xanadu and beyond, this journey of make-believe takes readers on a tour of more than 1,200 realms invented by storytellers from Homer’s day to our own. Here you will find Shangri-La and El Dorado; Utopia and Middle Earth; Wonderland and Freedonia. Here too are Jurassic Park, Salman Rushdie’s Sea of Stories, and the fabulous world of Harry Potter. The history and behavior of the inhabitants of these lands are described in loving detail, and are supplemented by more than 200 maps and illustrations that depict the lay of the land in a host of elsewheres. It is a journey into the landscape of the imagination.
5.) Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand — I first read this as a boy of seventeen and when I came to the end, I read the book through again. Recently, I devoured it once more. Galt’s gulch foreshadowed a dream which became reality as my non-profit business, Creative Community, Inc; and the context created a lifelong quest of soul for meaning in life.
6.) Reality and the Vision edited by Philip Yancey — In this collection, 17 Christian writers write about their personal literary and spiritual mentors, from John Milton to Ray Bradbury, from John Donne to Flannery O’Connor. The individual essays are as diverse as their authors and subjects, but the ultimate focus lies in the reality of the human condition and the transcendence of both art and faith. It is a personal survey of some of the world’s great literature.
7.) A Portrait of the Artist as Young Man by James Joyce — Poignant prose. Sensual imagery. Universal truths. These are but a few of the ideals the words of Joyce bring to my life.
8.) The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain — I was Tom. I paddled the raft, tingled when I kissed Becky, delegated the fence job, and tortured the cat. No other book captures the panorama and imagination of my Appalachian childhood like this one. Oh yeah, I haven’t attended my own funeral…yet.
9.) In But Not Of by Hugh Hewitt — You will not agree with all the ideas in this book. That is not the point. The point is most Christians don’t think. The reading challenge, if accepted, will change your life (and thinking) forever.
10.) Boy’s Life by Robert McCammon — The introduction alone is worth the price of admission. McCammon had me at “I believe in magic…” What follows is the single most important and formative paragraph of my life.
Question: What book has changed YOUR life?