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Someone once said that you will be the same person you are today 20 years from now, except for the people you meet and the books you read. That may be a bit of an overstatement, but there is a lot of truth to it. As a life-long reader, I can attest to the power of books, opening doors for me that I didn’t even know were there. So in that spirit, I want to offer five books that have forever changed me. They come in no particular order except that this is how the list came to me.
Book #1: The Confessions, Augustine. Don’t let the 1600-year difference frighten you, nor the fact that he is an intellectual giant. The Confessions are very readable today with a little effort, and it is so worth it. I cannot even begin to list the countless ways in which this book has formed me over the years. It is the story of Augustine’s journey as a prodigal son coming home to find the God and Father of his heart. The whole work is written as a prayer, filled with moments of such power and radiance that his words still burn today (Note: I suggest getting the John Ryan translation).
Book #2: The Anatomy of the Soul, Kurt Thompson. Moving from the ancient to the modern, this book was a watershed experience for me. It details modern advances in neuroscience and their fascinating interplay with Christianity. As such it gives credence to the reality of the human soul as well as the power of Christ to change us. It also gave me new language for my longings as well as fresh understanding of the lost places in my heart.
Book #3: Undaunted Courage, Stephen Ambrose. Moving to biography, this is one of the best. It is the story of the Lewis and Clark expedition across America in the early 1800’s, taken from their own journals. The original hope was to find a waterway across the continent. Although they failed in that part of the venture, what they succeeded in doing is so improbable that it constantly evoked awe in me. I still think about their epic journey today even those it's been years since I read it.
Book #4: The Boys in the Boat, Daniel James Brown. And how about another biography? This one details the story of the 1936 USA Olympic rowing team and their quest for the gold medal. They had every obstacle imaginable and yet overcame them all in Hitler’s Nazi-controlled Germany. The story focuses on one particular man, Joe Rantz, and the powerful bond he forged with the young men on his team. This one deeply marked me with the power of a band of brothers.
Book #5: Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens. And moving from biography to fiction, this is one of the great novels I have read. If you have seen the musical version, it’s a very sanitized version of Dickens’ masterpiece. This is the story of the orphan Oliver Twist and the terrible sufferings he endured as a boy, finally rising above them to find a new life. There are passages so heart-wrenching I will never forget them, yet at the resolution of the story, I wept for joy. It shocked English readers when it was first published and was a part of changing the child labor laws in that country.
If you looking to read more in 2019, try one of these. Enjoy the experience of entering a world you do not know and seeing how it may change you. One last point: God will sometimes get our attention or even speak to us through a book. And it’s always a surprise. I know that has been my story over the years.
Happy reading! Bill