catapult magazine

catapult magazine


Necessary Reading


Jan 31 2005
07:13 pm

This question reminds me of a scene in some movie where a young guy asks an older writer what books he should read if he wants to become a writer. The older guy smirks and answers “The entire third floor of the New York Public Library.”

Other than laurencer’s very appropriate response, what you should read will largely be conditioned by who you are and who you feel you are being called to become as a Christian. I could list 100 books that have been influential in my journey, but that might have no relevance for you. I think “Lord of the Rings” is a fantastic book, but if fantasy literature is not something that connects with you you’ll probably think I’m off my nut.

The question of what to read is kind of a chicken-before-the-egg question, at least for me, because I find what I’m reading now is largely shaped by what I’ve read already, as I am myself. The short answer is that there is no “right” answer to that question. I would recommend reading as broadly as possible in a wide variety of Christian traditions to get a sense of how many ways there are of being a Christian beyond whatever your own background might happen to be, then read broadly in areas of general interest to yourself. I think every Christian should be as broadly educated as possible. My ultimate nightmare is that Christians would read only what happens to be on the shelf in their local “Christian” bookstore next to the “precious moments” kitsch (see Dan’s latest post for an excellent definition of kitsch by a great writer I think every Christian should read).

Anyway, for what it’s worth, here is my completely biased list off the top of my head of some books that I would love for every person, Christian or not, to read – in no particular order:

The Seven Storey Mountain – Thomas Merton
The Educated Imagination – Northrop Frye
The Man Who Planted Trees – Jean Giono
Walden – Henry David Thoreau
From Brokeness to Community – Jean Vanier
Life of the Beloved – Henri Nouwen
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek – Annie Dillard
Tree and Leaf – J.R.R. Tolkien (especially the essay “On Fairy Stories” and the story “Leaf by Niggle”)
The Unsettling of America – Wendell Berry
Silent Spring – Rachel Carson
Invisible Cities – Italo Calvino
Chaos – James Gleick
Waiting on God – Simone Weil
Celebration of Awareness – Ivan Illich
Tools for Conviviality – Ivan Illich
Small is Beautiful – E.F. Schumacher

and so on…

Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen by Larry McMurtry is an interesting exploration of a writer’s passion for reading and the joy of discovering what books will become uniquely your own for life.