Several of the more serious/theological bloggers at Evangel picked up a meme in the past few days. It started with economist Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution, and then spread to Evangel. The meme was “the list of the 10 books that have influenced me in my worldview and outlook on life.” (You can’t list the Bible, either.)
I thought it was kind of a cool idea, until I read their lists.
I was totally intimidated. I mean, these guys – Adam Omelianchuk, Joe Carter and others – read some weighty stuff, mostly theological and mostly of the seminary-type of theological.
I felt like a pagan.
Then I wandered through my bookshelves, and put together my list. It was a good thing. When I looked at my list, I didn’t feel like a pagan any more. Just eight tenths of a pagan.
Anyway, here’s my list. No surprise, it’s heavy on fiction.
The 10 Books That Have Most Influenced Me, and Because I Get Carried Away, It's More Like 15
The First Circle by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. I read this early in high school, then I read everything he had written that was available. And then came volume 1 of the Gulag Archipelago in 1973, and you can trace a direct line from its publication to the collapse of the Soviet Union less than 20 years later.
The Habit of Being: The Letters of Flannery O’Connor, edited by Sally Fitzgerald. When she was asked why Southern authors always seemed to write about freaks, she said it was because Southern authors were still able to recognize one. That comment alone endeared her writing to me. These letters are gems.
The War of the End of the World, by Mario Vargas Llosa. If there is any writer who deserves the Nobel Prize for literature, it’s Peruvian-born Mario Varga Llosa. But he’ll never get it, because he long ago turned his back on radical leftist politics, very uncool by Nobel Prize committee standards. (I’d also place The Death of Artemio Cruz by Carlos Fuentes of Mexico in the same category of “unbelievably talented Spanish-speaking writers who probably won’t get the Nobel Prize because their politics is wrong.”)
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner. You can’t grow up in the South without being influenced by Faulkner. You just can’t. You can’t grow up anywhere in the United States and not be influenced by him, even if you don’t know it. And he’s been dead for almost 50 years.
Dickens by Peter Ackroyd. It’s the biography to end all biographies, and it’s 1,083 pages, not including notes and index. It’s heavy enough to be a weapon. (Amazon says it is currently unavailable, even through Amazon's used bookstore network.)
Augustine of Hippo by Peter Brown. My first entry in the “I’m not a total pagan contest.” Brown recreates the life and world of St. Augustine, and I felt like I was there in the room in Hippo when he was dying, the town under seige by barbarians invading from Europe. An extraordinary work.
They Stand Together: The Letters of C.S. Lewis to Arthur Greeves (1914-1963), edited by Walter Hooper. Greeves was C.S. Lewis’s friend from childhood, and Lewis could say things to Greeves that he couldn’t say to anyone else.
The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. III: Tertullian. My second entry in the “I’m not a total pagan contest.” Tertullian was a lawyer (I forgive him for that) who is generally considered the father of Latin Christianity. He wrote a lot of apologetics at a time when it wasn’t exactly cool to be a Christian (roughly 200 A.D.). He also ended up with some air of disrepute for deviating from standard orthodoxy, although it’s not clear exactly what that deviation was. But his passion comes pouring though, even in translation.
The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. I read this not long after I became a believer. Lewis is a great favorite of Christians, partially (at least) because he adds intellectual weight (see, we’re not all blathering yahoos). I first read it because people told me I should. But then I learned that Screwtape started out as radio addresses during World War II, and so this little volume actually straddles two media forms – broadcast and print. It was right up my communications alley.
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. Someone once said you should read Don Quixote three times in your life – when you’re young, middle-aged and old. I first read it my senior year in high school, and I read the unabridged version. I loved it. I next read it in my early 40s, during a vacation week we spent at Orange Beach in Alabama. I haven’t read it a third time, because I’m waiting to get old.
The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien. I read the pirated versions in college, and then my first year after graduation bought the authorized versions and read them as well. I reread all four right before the first movie came out in 2001. Quite simply, they are likely the greatest works of imagination of the 20th century.
So those are my 10, er, 15. What are yours?