What I’m Thankful For: Good Books

This “15 Literary Influences” game is making the rounds on Facebook, and I thought it would make an excellent gratitude post!  After all, I’m super thankful for books!

The rules: Don’t take too long to think about it. Fifteen authors (poets included) who’ve influenced you and who will always stick with you. List the first fifteen you can recall in no more than fifteen minutes. If you want, make your own blog post and give us a link in the comments.  Alternatively, you could write it as a note on Facebook and tag me (if we’re not already FB friends and you’re a regular reader, add me!).

Okay, here are my 15:

1. C.S. Lewis.  I love everything I’ve read by this man.  He has such an accessible way of expressing profound truth.  My favorites so far are Mere Christianity, Till We Have Faces, and The Screwtape Letters. I am in the middle of The Problem of Pain and The Four Loves now.  I’ve also read most of the Chronicles of Narnia.

2. Ayn Rand. I’ve read Anthem, Atlas Shrugged, and The Fountainhead and found them to be both challenging and entertaining.  There was a time I took her philosophy a bit more seriously than I do now (staunch atheism is central to her approach, and that just doesn’t jive with me), but I like how epic and ambitious her work is.  Still, even though I take her with a grain of salt, I’ll admit she’s had a hand in cementing my libertarian political views.

3. Brian McLaren. Known to some as the father of the “emerging church,” which takes a post-modern approach to Christianity, I’ve read several titles by McLaren, including his A New Kind of Christian series, A Generous Orthodoxy, and The Secret Message of Jesus. His perspective helped me A LOT when I was struggling to understand why I was so afflicted by doubt, and gave me some great tools to reconcile it.

4. Joseph Smith, Jr. Between The Book of Mormon*, The Doctrine and Covenants, The Pearl of Great Price*, The Lectures on Faith, and The King Follet Discourse, his prolific work as a prophet and religious writer/thinker has been absolutely formative in my life.  I would not be who I am without him.

5. Richard Bushman. Bushman gets a nod for Rough Stone Rolling, which was a courageous, yet faithful, look at a dynamic and enigmatic person (Joseph Smith).

6. Linda King Newell, Valeen Tippetts Avery. Like Bushman’s, Newell’s & Avery’s book, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, moved me deeply and had a profound influence on my faith journey and perspective.  It helped me better understand my Mormon roots and taught me to develop empathy for people who take a different path.

7. Shakespeare. In my former life as an actress, Shakespeare played a central role.  Between my experiences playing Nick Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, and meeting my hot husband in the advanced Shakespeare class at Utah State University, I owe a lot to the Bard.  Not only that, in high school I was the 3-time monologue champion at the Utah Shakespearean Festival Shakespeare competition — which sounds totally nerdy, but when I won as a freshman it was the first time I ever realized I might be good at something…and that meant a lot to a painfully awkward, insecure 14-year-old.

8. Eugene O’Neill. The only O’Neill play I’ve ever acted in was Ah! Wilderness, with a somewhat incongruous “concept” the director imposed on it (she was irritated that some people in Logan, UT had complained about the blasphemy in her production of The Lion in Winter a couple of months earlier, and decided to make Ah! Wilderness about censorship instead of coming of age) — but I still love this playwright.  I chose him as my “author” in AP English and wrote a 15-page report on him — which was the first class that ever taught me to think and write critically. Some of my favorite plays include Long Day’s Journey into Night, The Hairy Ape, and A Moon for the Misbegotten.

9. Dean Hughes. Is it embarrassing that I have a Mormon young adult fiction writer on my list?  Maybe.  But I loved Dean Hughes’ books growing up, and once I even wrote him a letter — which he replied to, personally. That always stuck with me.

10. Harper Lee. So what if she only ever wrote one book, To Kill a Mockingbird? If you don’t come away from that book changed, you haven’t paid attention.  My husband and I love To Kill a Mockingbird so much that the inspiration for our daughter’s name came because we thought if she was a boy we’d name him Atticus.  If we ever have another girl, we’re naming her Harper.

11. L.M. Montgomery. There are only a handful of books I’ve ever re-read (I figure there are too many books to go back to the same ones over and over).  Still, several of the Anne of Green Gables series are on that very small list.  Growing up, I loved Anne.  I wanted to be her.  Her spunk, her intellect, her talent, her ability to be herself despite her insecurities, the fact that she found kindred spirits and bosom friends wherever she went and changed people for the better…I found it inspiring.  In fact, I still aspire to be like her in many ways.  :)

12. J.K. Rowling. Speaking of books which I’ve re-read, let’s talk about  the Harry Potter series!  Such an engaging, fun, enchanting story.  Love, love, love.

13. John the Apostle. Perhaps my favorite book in the Bible is the Gospel of John.  While the other gospel writers give us a narrative recounting of various events in Jesus’ life, John is carefully crafting his case for Jesus as Savior.  He writes to the unbeliever.  As one who has often cried out to God to “help thou my unbelief,” it has a special place in my heart.

14. Robert Millet / Stephen Robinson. I’m putting these two guys together because they were influential in the same way and at the same time.  I grew up with a very works-oriented version Mormonism, and these two BYU religion professors were the first ones to help me realize that grace was a real thing that I could access in my life.  They also introduced me to evangelical / LDS dialogue, which is something that has greatly enriched my life, and has led me to develop several wonderful friendships.  Titles that I would recommend include Believing Christ (Robinson), How Wide the Divide (Robinson), and Grace Works (Millet).

15. Khalil Gibran. One of my dearest friends used to carry a copy of The Prophet around with her in her scriptures.  I finally picked it up one day — and boy was I glad.   It is a stunningly gorgeous book that covers simple topics such as “Love,” “Marriage,” “Freedom,” “Time,” and “Death.”  You can read it online here. If you haven’t treated yourself to this wonderful book, take some time to do it soon.  It’s short, but breathtaking.

I’d love to hear about your favorite books and authors!  Feel free to comment on any of mine or write your own list here, on your own blog, or on Facebook.  Just let me know about it when you do, ‘cuz I LOVE talking books!

*This is an author list, and though I listed JS as the “author” of the Book of Mormon and Pearl of Great Price, please note that I am not making a statement that I believe Smith to have authored those books in the conventional sense of the word.

This post is one in a series.  Get the rest of the posts here.

About Katie L

Thirtysomething wife, mother, writer, runner, believer, and lover of good food and bad movies.

Posted on November 10, 2010, in Gratitude, Personal and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. Have you read C. S. Lewis’s Surprised By Joy? It is my second-favorite of his, after Till We have Faces, which is one of my favorite books of all time.

  2. I haven’t read Surprised By Joy! But I totally want to. It’s on my list.

  3. Great list, Katie! I’m going to add some of these to my To Read pile!

  4. By the way, I’m definitely going to check out McLaren, Newell & Avery, O’Neill, and Hughes. I figure if I am already familiar with 11 of your 15, I can safely trust your opinion on authors.

  5. Oooh, I’m excited to check out your list, Alex! I think you’ll like McLaren’s stuff and Mormon Enigma. Not sure how into reading plays you are, but if so, you’ll probably like O’Neill. He’s definitely one of the greats.

    As for Dean Hughes…I dunno that I’d “recommend” him so much anymore — I mean, the books were entertaining when I was a kid and certainly influenced me — but it’s been years since I picked up a book by him. It might’ve been one of those things that meant a lot to me as a kid, but that was before I developed any sort of “taste” in literature. If that makes sense.

    Having said that, I believe he wrote the Children of the Promise series, which I’ve heard some good things about. (I don’t read much Mormon fiction these days, so I couldn’t tell you for sure.)

  6. Katie L — I’d have to think too much to list my top 15 from scratch, but several of yours would certainly be in my top 25 or so. And I do like the contemporary LDS thinkers you list; each in his own way has caused me to stretch my thinking, and that’s good.

    Of the Protestant authors that are still writing today, my favorite is Philip Yancey. I think he does a great job of describing how to live a Christian life in contemporary society — and what he writes is always fresh and filled with grace (but not cheap grace).

    I don’t read much fiction, but among fiction writers I’d have to put Isaac Asimov on my list. He has (had) a sense of humor I find particularly appealing (even if a bit nerdy).

  7. My 15 were just the first 15 off the top of my head. The rationale being that if I could think of them, they were probably important enough to make the list. I should have cut some of the sci-fi authors to make room for Roald Dahl and some others, though.

    Incidentally, as an elementary school teacher, I read a TON of juvenile fiction, but almost no LDS fiction. I read the original “Tennis Shoes Among the Nephites” and just about everything by Rachel Ann Nunes. (My baby sister is named Ariana and oneof her series was about a character with the same name. Got us started.)

  8. Thanks for the recommendation re: Phillip Yancey, Eric! I’ll give him a look.

    I haven’t read any Asimov as I’m not much of a sci-fi buff — though I’ll admit I LOVE to watch Star Trek — but my mom always loved him, so I have warm feelings toward him anyway. :)

    Alex, I read the first two or three in the Tennis Shoes series and found them exciting and accessible…even faith-building. Granted, I was a kid, but I won’t knock ‘em.

    Rachel Ann Nunes, on the other hand, scares me. :-)

  9. We discovered after the second series that every single one of her series follow the exact same pattern. It became kind of annoying. I still like her “Ariana” series, though. :)

  10. Who would abridge Mere Christianity? Its not exactly an unweildly tome.

  11. Someone abridged it? Oh, I get it — the image in the post says “Unabridged.” I think maybe because this is an image from an audio book (I just noticed this) and lots of times, people abridge audio books. So they’re making sure people understand this is the full thing.

  12. Oh, fair enough. I’m just saying.

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