Wednesday, October 26, 2011

25 Books Everyone Should Read

I'm a reader. I love to read. But I'll admit that I'm an undisciplined reader. I read what I feel like reading a lot. 

I heard or read a CEO of a major publisher say once that the "dirty little secret of publishing" is that not every good book is worth reading. His rationale sheds wisdom on selecting what we should read. There are just too many good and better books out there. Perhaps we should focus on reading the best and get better value out of our time spent reading.

I've heard others talk about the importance of reading both contemporaries as well as dead authors. Dead authors usually aren't read unless what they wrote continues to be valued. But living authors often haven't lived enough of life yet for us to conclude whether or not they are worth reading or their works will stand the test of time.

In addition, always reading fiction (or non-fiction) isn't wise either. There is great value in reading a great work of fiction as it can illustrate great truths and move us emotionally in a way that a theological treatise struggles to do.

All that to say, read but read purposefully. Here are some suggestions:

* Consider reading more biographies. Someone said that 25% of what we read should be biographies.

* Consider reading at least a fourth of your books by dead authors. 

* Consider reading at least 2 novels a year. Choose fiction that has a reputation for being well-written perhaps with historic accuracy (ex. Francine Rivers, A Voice in the Wind). Stay away from more sensual for the sake of sensual type books. Consider classics such as Pilgrim's Progress as well.

* Consider reading the paper and blogs less. I like to keep up, but our time is precious. How much of what we read to keep up is really helpful? I'd argue at times it's unhelpful. When reading news perhaps you should steer toward more thoughtful articles on current events (such as is found in World Magazine) versus USA Today.

* Don't skip the classics. This is easy to do. They are often harder to read and not as cool. But they are often free or very cheap on ebook websites like Amazon and Google books. Start downloading today!

My purpose in posting this today was to include this good article below by James Emery White. However, I apparently had the above in me screaming to get out. At  the end of the day, I hope you will read and think more and with more discernment and purpose than you have been. Why? Here's one more reason:

"Guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life." -King Solomon, Proverbs 4:23

What you read and take into your mind matters. (Phil 4:8)

25 Books Every Christian Should Read  (by James Emery White)

HarperOne has recently published 25 Books Every Christian Should Read: A Guide to the Essential Spiritual Classics, selected by...
...Having compiled a few reading lists myself, most notably in A Mind for God(InterVarsity Press), I found the list interesting:
On the Incarnation - St. Athanasius
Confessions - St. Augustine
The Sayings of the Desert Fathers - Various
The Rule of St. Benedict - St. Benedict
The Divine Comedy - Dante Alighieri
The Cloud of Unknowing - Anonymous
Revelations of Divine Love (Showings) - Julian of Norwich
The Imitation of Christ - Thomas a Kempis
The Philokalia - Various
Institutes of the Christian Religion - John Calvin
The Interior Castle - St. Teresa of Avila
Dark Night of the Soul - St. John of the Cross
Pensees - Blaise Pascal
The Pilgrim’s Progress - John Bunyan
The Practice of the Presence of God - Brother Lawrence
A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life - William Law
The Way of a Pilgrim - Unknown Author
The Brothers Karamazov - Fyodor Dostoevsky
Orthodoxy - G.K. Chesterton
The Poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins
The Cost of Discipleship - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
A Testament of Devotion - Thomas R. Kelly
The Seven Storey Mountain - Thomas Merton
Mere Christianity - C.S. Lewis
The Return of the Prodigal Son - Henri J.M. Nouwen
The list is obviously tilted toward devotional and spiritual classics, as opposed to theological works, and is a weakness...

...But I welcome any and all such listings, if for no other reason than the ensuing conversation about which books deserve to be on the list.
For a sampling, would any of the following deserve inclusion?
Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica
Martin Luther, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church; The Small Catechism
John Milton, Paradise Lost
William Blake, Songs of Innocence and of Experience
John Henry Newman, Apologia pro vita sua
Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling
T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets; Murder in the Cathedral
Simone Weil, Waiting for God
Dorothy Sayers, The Mind of the Maker
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
Flannery O’Connor, A Good Man is Hard to Find
Martin Luther King, Jr., Why We Can’t Wait
Solzhenitsyn, A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich; The Gulag Archipelago
Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
Of course they would.  And more.  But then again, it wouldn’t be a list of 25.
And perhaps that’s the problem.
Twenty-five books could never begin to reflect what every Christian should read.
But giving credit where credit is due, you could have worse starts.
James Emery White
25 Books Every Christian Should Read: A Guide to the Essential Spiritual Classics, edited by Julia L. Roller (HarperOne).
James Emery White, A Mind for God (InterVarsity Press).

Editor’s Note
To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log-on to www.churchandculture.org, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world.  Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.