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If you’ve spent any length of time with me or have ever been to my house, you probably already know that I’m an insatiable reader (and I don’t have nearly enough self space). I LOVE books– I love reading them, writing in them, referencing them, discussing them, listening to other people talk about them, reading them aloud to my kids and sharing them with anyone who will listen.
I can’t say for certain, but if I had to guess, I was born with a love of books. I clearly remember begging my mom to teach me to read when I was little and, thankfully, she obliged. I read my first book independently at the age of four and never looked back. Throughout every season of my life, books have been a constant source of joy, adventure and comfort. They were my closest friends in the awkward teenage years of my life. They were the highlighted and coffee-stained resource as a new wife and career woman. They were late night stacks of information as a new momma. They’ve helped forge bonds of love, laughter and trust with my kids. And they’ve also been a comfort in times of grief; the most recent season of my life being no exception.
Earlier this year, my dad went on hospice and spent his final weeks alternating between sleep, excruciating pain and delirium. It was difficult (to say the least), but we also shared some of the most treasured moments of my life as I sat next to him and read page after page from his Bible aloud. The grief of the moment lost its sting when I read all the Psalms he had highlighted over the past four decades. The heartache dissipated under the balm of hope that seeped from Second Corinthians. The sadness was silenced as we entered the magical wardrobe with Lucy just one more time together. The books we shared throughout my life became a place of solace when few other words could be spoken.
At this point, it seems fitting to share the most influential books of my life. Now, just to be clear–this is not necessarily a list of my “favorite books” (although several of them certainly would fall into that category). These are the books that have impacted me the most; the books that have actually helped to shape me into the human that I am today. In other words: if books left actual fingerprints on peoples’ souls, my soul would be covered with the prints of these books.
So (in no particular order) here are the Four Books That Have Shaped Me:
Book #1: The Bible
Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.Lamentations 3:21-23
I know that I just said these books were listed in no particular order, but that’s really not true when it comes to this book. This book is the filter that I see all other books (and all of life) through. It has gripped my heart, changed my soul and altered my destiny. It is the most beautiful love story ever written. It’s overflowing with wisdom and history and hope. All other stories of redemption and love owe themselves to this Story. The Bible is simple and yet profound. It’s jarring and yet dripping with peace. Any reader who lends themselves to this text will never be the same again.
If you’ve never had your own Bible, here is one that I recommend: NLT Life Application Study Bible, Third Edition (Red Letter, Hardcover Cloth, Coral, Indexed)
Book #2: The Narnia Series (and basically everything written by C.S. Lewis)
What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are.C.S. Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew
I couldn’t possibly pick just one of the Narnia books, so I’m just listing them all! My grandfather read these books to my dad when he was young, then my dad read these books to me aloud over and over again throughout my childhood, and now I’m reading them over and over to my own children (with the exception of The Last Battle, which we’ve only read once or twice on account of it being so sad). These books helped me learn to wonder and introduced me to allegorical fiction (which has become a favorite of mine as an adult). There is just something so pure and timeless about Narnia. Though these books might technically be written for children, they are worth reading at any age. One disclaimer about reading Narnia–They really should be read in publication order, NOT chronological order. The Magician’s Nephew doesn’t hold the same meaning when you read it first and C.S. Lewis never meant for it to be any readers’ first look at the world of Narnia, so do yourself a favor and read them in the publication order, which can be found here https://www.narniaweb.com/books/readingorder/.
If you don’t already own this book set, here is where you can find one of my favorite boxed sets: The Chronicles of Narnia (Box Set)
Book #3: Through Gates of Splendor by Elisabeth Eliot
He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.Elisabeth Elliot, Through Gates of Splendor
Have you ever had one of those moments when it felt like the world stopped spinning and everything around you–the music, your surroundings, what you were wearing–was frozen in time and left a permanent mark on your heart? That was my experience when I read Through Gates of Splendor (the true story of 5 young missionary families in Ecuador during the 1950’s). I was 13 and I can remember every single detail of the morning when I finished this book. I was listening to Relient K’s “Anatomy of the Tongue and Cheek” album on my walkman and the song “Failure to Excommunicate” came on just as I finished the last chapter of the book. I was lying on my teal bedspread with the spring air coming in through my window and tears were just streaming down my face. This book, while it isn’t literary perfection, seared my young soul. It altered the way that would forever view suffering. It ignited fires of purpose and conviction that still burn in my soul to this day.
Here is a link to buy this book: Through Gates of Splendor
Book #4: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Why, then, should we ever sink overwhelmed with distress, when life is so soon over and death so soon an entrance to happiness–to glory?Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
No matter what I say about this book, I know I won’t do it justice. When I was assigned to read this novel in one of my college literature classes, I did my best to get through it and decided that I hated it. I just didn’t get it. Thankfully a good friend convinced me to re-read it 15 years later and it legitimately touched my soul. Jane Eyre is typically considered to be a gothic romance novel and, while this may be true to some extent, this book is ultimately an incredible story of redemption. Bronte infused this story with page after page of brilliance. So many lines from this book have been balm for my soul in seasons of grief and change. I don’t want to say too much about this book because there are so many things that could easily be spoiled, but it is absolutely worth the read–especially if you’re willing to take a deep dive into all of the richness it contains.
Of course, you can grab any old edition of Jane Eyre and it’s going to be worth the read, BUT (if you’re looking for a new copy) I highly recommend the annoted version by Karen Swallow Prior! Its’s beautiful and you can find it here: Jane Eyre: A Guide to Reading and Reflecting
There you have it–four of the books that have most shaped my soul (so far). Please excuse me while I go binge read them all over again.