Monday, December 16, 2013

The Contents of Your Bookcase a Part of Your History

"The contents of someone's bookcase are part of his [sic] history, like an ancestral portrait." -Anatole Broyard

On Facebook, there is this suggestion going around: "List 10 books that have impacted your life, but don't think about it too hard." Of course, I always think too hard, and there are way more than ten books that have influenced me, especially if I include all I have read recently. But I still wanted to participate because books have made me into who I am today, helped me to better understand that I learned from the saints and prophets in my life. I am thankful for those people who have shared books with me, and hope that you pick up one of these books and enjoy it as well!

1. Books about Who God Is and Who We Are
Old Turtle by Douglas Wood and Cheng-Khee Chee, Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, The Color Purple by Alice Waker, The Sparrow and Children of God by Mary Doria Russell
The first three of these were read before I graduated from high school, and I was fortunate to have encountered both Old Turtle and The Color Purple in church. God in all these books is far more fluid and complex and vulnerable than one typically learns in Sunday school.
2. Books that Showed Me What Strong Women Can Look Like
The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch and Michael Martchenko, Philip Pullman's The Sally Lockheart Mysteries, Books by Tamora Pierce, A Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler
Unfortunately, all of these books were also very white and middle class; yet they still gave me an image of the women and girls as heroes.  
3. Books that Taught Me to Be Critical of Religion from a Young Age
Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, The Poinsonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Philip Pullman's are beautiful books that treat the children they are written for as intelligent and capable of knowing the truth, even when it is ugly and painful. The Poisonwood Bible showed me the dangers of mission and evangelism while at the same time showing me the beauty of cross-cultural relationships. The Mists of Avalon taught me that we have a lot more in common across faiths than we care to admit...
4. Books about the Church, Our Pitfalls, and Our Possibilities
A Generous Orthodoxy by Brian McLaren, The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne, and Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw, and Acts of Faith by Eboo Patel
These books I read in college and am now at a much different place in my faith journey, and I could probably include Donald Miller as well. Now I am far more critical of Shane Claiborne, even though I still admire the work he does so much. But these books gave me a taste of the revolution that is inherent in faith-communities while critiquing their current state.
5a. Probably The Most Beautiful Book I've Ever Read
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison 
Really anything by Toni Morrison. I think she is one of the most brilliant, most powerful authors of all time. 
5b. Also This One is Amazing
Borderlands/La Frontera by Gloria AnzaldĂșa
6. Books that Helped Me Place Myself in the Biblical Story
The Magdalene Gospel by Mary Ellen Ashcroft, Lamb by Christopher Moore
When I preach, I am constantly trying to discover how we can claim this biblical story without whitewashing it and ignoring its own sin--- and without taking it too seriously. These two books helped me see how to do that.
7. That Book I Can't Get Out of My Head
Love the Sin: Sexual Regulation and the Limits of Tolerance by Janet Jakobsen and Ann Pellegrini
The problem with tolerance. Read it.
8. Books that Reveal the Reality of this World We Live In
The Revolution will Not Be Funded by INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence, The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, The No-Nonsense Guide to Globalization by Wayne Ellwood
Tired of being lied to? Wondering about the failure of liberalism to change the world for good? Read these books, be sad, and then do something about what you've read.
9. More Books I've Read since Graduating from Seminary about Who God is and Who We Are
The Cross and the Lynching Tree by Jame H. Cone, On the Mystery by Catherine Keller, Children of Israel by Danna Nolan Fewell, Saving Paradise by Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker
These books have changed my life as a pastor, constantly keeping me critical, and reminding me why I felt God could use me as a pastor to do justice work.
10. And of Course, My Favorite Books
Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer, Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood, The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, The Question of Bruno by Aleksandar Hemon, and The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

There are many missing--- Laura Ingalls Wilder, L. M. Montgomery, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and  Lloyd Alexander being the most glaring omissions--- and I am still thinking about The Hunger Games and The Book Thief. But that's the thing about books. They stick with you and give you a hunger for more books.

Please share your own lists below in the comments section!


  1. Shannon, I love the way you organize this collection of books, making it much more than the list of 10 titles I was expecting. : ) But here's my ten that have stuck with me/are my favorites:
    (11.) The King's Grey Mare
    10. Jane Eyre
    9. Mists of Avalon
    8. Green Grass Running Water- King
    7. The Handmaid's Tale- Margaret Atwood
    6. Dancing With God- Karen Baker-Fletcher
    5. Holy Stuff of Life- Heather Murray Elkins
    4. Here If You Need Me- Kate Braestrup
    3. Watership Down- Richard Adams
    2. Guess How Much I Love You
    1. The Sparrow- Mary Doria Russell

  2. Great blog post! One major problem ... Where's Harry Potter!?!? There are many of these on your list I haven't read...looks like I have some to add to my wish list. Thanks for sharing Shannon! I think when I have the time I may also do a similar blog post. I've seen the game on Facebook and thought the same thing. When books are such a big part of who you are how could you possibly quickly jot down 10 titles like they dont mean anything?

  3. Shannon and Amanda, isn't it amazing how many Drew books make it on our lists?

    1. Yay I'm so glad you commented Julia! You and Amanda were two of my top choices for books you better post one soon! And link to it in a comment here if you do it on your own blog.

      As for the Harry Potter books, I should have included them not because of how they influenced me directly, but because they made my dad start reading again. He's always reading something now, even if he's reading slowly, and he just gets so into the story I love talking to him about it! Before Harry Potter, he had only read two books not for work or for story time with us. Now he's always reading! He is dyslexic, and public school in the 70s really made him hate reading. But Harry Potter made him love it! See, it is never too late for anyone to love reading!