Bookshelves line the walls of our home—I’ll never be a Kindle guy, because I love the physical presence of printed books looming over my everyday spaces. Books have never been a commodity to consume; they’re more like the building blocks of my soul… And I like to be surrounded by them. Because of that, it’s near-impossible to accurately narrow down the “book wallpaper” of my life into a list of nine that have made a lasting impact in my life, so I chose the first ones to poke their way into my consciousness today…
1. The Fisherman’s Lady/The Marquis’ Secret- by George MacDonald—These two books are the contemporary, split-apart version of a long novel that was originally titled Malcom, written by the man C.S. Lewis called “my master.” The story line is an ancient narrative—a nondescript, overlooked guy is actually of royal descent, and destined to bring life and freedom to those who are desperate for a hero. In the story of Malcolm I found the embedded character and surprising personality of Jesus—a young man who creates a subtle and inexorable orbit around his redemptive strength. As a young man, these books were like a feast in the Kingdom of God for me, and I’ve never forgotten their taste.
2. Who Is This Man?- by John Ortberg—Bluntly, this is the best book about Jesus I’ve ever read. Ortberg does something here that has the power of a steamroller—with the skill of an investigative journalist and the insight of a savvy theologian, he explores the impact Jesus has made on our cultural architecture in arenas as diverse as art, commerce, women’s rights, and the treatment of children. This book’s subversive intent is to draw you into worship and ruin you for the conventional (and diminished) version of Jesus that has permeated our cultural consciousness.
3. Born Standing Up- by Steve Martin—I love memoirs, and this one—written by the Saturday Night Live alum and multi-talented comic, writer, and musician—is the best thing I’ve ever read on the risky, “operating without a net” mentality of an artist. It’s funny, sure, but it’s also a visceral reminder of how most people who are truly funny have endured lives rooted in pain. Creativity builds bridges over empty spaces, and Martin’s raw and observant memoir pulls back the curtain on his “success story” to reveal the long years of trial-and-failure that preceded his fame.
4. A Failure of Nerve/Friedman’s Fables- by Edwin Friedman—I list these two books together because they feel like two sides of the same mountain to me. Friedman is the chief apologist of what has popularly been called “differentiation”—it’s the determination to maintain your distinct self while staying closely connected to others. I’ve never read a book more slowly than I’ve read A Failure of Nerve, because every page has something prophetically upending and true on it. And his companion book of short fables take his message and embeds it in unforgettable narrative. These books have the force to change you, permanently.
5. The Wind From the Stars- George MacDonald—For the last 30 years I’ve used this little book of excerpts from the vast breadth of MacDonald’s work as my primary companion to Scripture in my devotional times. These little nuggets of propositional and narrative truth literally feel, as the title suggests, like a gust of wind from the stars. MacDonald breathes Jesus like no other writer, and his counter-intuitive way of translating Kingdom of God truths into everyday life will infect you like a redemptive virus.
6. The Great Divorce- C.S. Lewis—I’ve read everything Lewis ever wrote, some of them multiple times. There was a season in my life when all I wanted to read was Lewis—I couldn’t get enough of him. As I look back over the impact Lewis has left on my heart and soul, this little fable about a bus-load of people from hell who are given a chance to visit heaven and (perhaps) to stay there, is shot-through with truth about the real forces arrayed against our redemption. There are many narrative scenes in this book that inform and challenge my everyday life, and its impact on my interior dialogue has grown, not diminished, over the years.
7. Waking the Dead- John Eldredge—The three Eldredge books that have made the biggest impact on my life are Wild at Heart, The Journey of Desire, and the narrative grenade he titled Waking the Dead. At the beginning of the book he quotes St. Iranaeus: “The glory of God is man fully alive.” And that’s the tip of his iceberg—the book is a fleshing-out of what a life “fully alive” looks and tastes and feels like, written with the momentum of a master storyteller. The life he paints in these pages will make you ache with longing.
8. Pride and Prejudice- Jane Austen—I’d always heard that this most-popular of Austen’s books was considered the greatest novel of all time. That intimidated me, because I expected an overwrought slog through an epic story. When I finally broke down and decided to read it, I was stunned by how genuinely funny, and incredibly savvy, this story of the epic unveiling of a great man and a great woman is. It’s one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve ever had reading a book, and the story has the force of a parable.
9. Undaunted Courage- Stephen Ambrose—I read this expertly written account of the epic adventures of Lewis and Clark a decade ago, and the great historian’s relentless and incisive picture of what courage and heartbreak and perseverance really look like has profoundly infected my imagination. There is so much to revel-in here, and so much that feels like a punch to the gut. And that means it’s one of those books that both inspires the soul to greatness and reminds it that we’re all sheep in need of a Shepherd.
Finally, a little shout-out to my novelist friend Ned Erickson. For several years I invited Ned to help me lead my “Jesus-Centered Youth Ministry” track at our Simply Youth Ministry Conference (I’d love to see you there), expressly because Ned so embodied the ethic of a Jesus-centered approach to everything in life. And Ned’s most recent novel is Clay, a fable-like story of what it feels like to be re-made by Jesus into something beautiful. Please do pick up Ned’s book, right here.
Rick / @RickSkip