I’m going through my master reading list depressingly slow, but I still continue to add to it. I do love when people make book lists though, so I thought it would be fun to do my own posting series of themed book lists.
Melinda Selmys recently wrote a list of the books that have changed her life. Not her favorite books, but ones that were pivotal in forming her mind and soul and thoughts and actions. I think tracing your intellectual and spiritual formation through the books that you’ve read is a good exercise, so that’s where I’m going to start with this series.
1.The Wonderful Wizard of Oz series by L. Frank Baum: This series was so formative for my imagination. Apparently some people don’t like them? I was obsessed as a kid. With wildly fantastic characters, plots, and details, these books opened my tender little mind to new vistas of imagination.
2. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame: the whole book is the loveliest and my favorite of all time. When I think of eternity in my limited way, Kenneth Grahame’s prose always springs to mind. The Wind in the Willows was life-changing for the chapter, “The Piper of the Gates of Dawn”. The intersection of spiritual ideas in fantasty literature (even in the domesticated fantasy of the Willows) was groundbreaking for me. My earliest literary memories are of being read to from The Chronicles of Narnia but I never thought critically about Lewis’s writing as a child, and I felt like most of the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was simple allegory which as a budding young wannabe writer felt inhibiting. So this chapter describing the ache and mystery of beauty with a capital ‘B’ was a revelation to me of the transcendental power literature can possess.
3. Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech: When I read this in the sixth grade, immersed as I was in Harry Potter and the like, I found it amazing and liberating that a girl could be a heroine in a genuinely good book. So to sixth grade me, that meant it was okay to write about spunky, imaginative girls like me.
4. A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken: As a teenager I was hesitant of the idea of marriage because I feared that it might turn out to be quite boring. A little excerpt from my diary at the time reads, “If I’m called to marriage, I hope it’s to a man that has the humor and charm of George Bailey and the holiness of Blessed Louis Martin” #aimhigh. Lucky for me, I got Inigo Montoya meets Alyosha Karamazov 😉 I just wasn’t sure that marriages overflowing with creativity and beauty and adventure, marriages present in the immanent plane but always looking to the transcendental plane, actually existed. Now I’ve come to realize that even marriages that are seemingly uninteresting from a worldly perspective might invisibly be teeming with divine love and grace. As a college freshman, however, I needed A Severe Mercy, the loveliest primer in the possibilities of enduring, romantic love to make me more receptive to considering the vocation of marriage.
5. On Fairy Stories by J.R.R. Tolkien: Not a book but an incredibly significant essay for me. It built off my intuitive experience with The Wind in the Willows: that fantasy literature (particularly written for children) can be a channel of transcendence.
6. The Dream of Gerontius by John Henry Newman: I don’t know when my preoccupied fear of death started but as a mother it haunts me frequently. I read this poem in a college course completely devoted to studying literature as an opening to transcendence (I know–get over this theme already…can’t…won’t). It details the process of a soul leaving this earth and experiencing purgatory. It’s an oddly comforting poem and it has reminded me since the day I first encountered it to try to live out the small acts that compose my day with dutiful love, to pray for the dying and the holy souls in purgatory daily, to pray for a good death for myself and for those whom I love, and to take comfort that our God is a merciful one.
7. Great with Child by Beth Ann Fennelly: I still get babycenter email updates from something I naively signed up for when I was pregnant. I have tried to unsubscribe and I think the unsubscription process was designed by Daedalus himself. Anyway, I could really do without their overflow of information on all the practical, medical, and joyless aspects of pregnancy and parenthood. Fennelly’s luminous words on pregnancy and new motherhood were exactly what I needed one morning last summer at 5am when I couldn’t sleep because of my irrational anxieties about the impending onslaught of frighteningly bright plastic baby crap. Apparently this trend of literature (both non-fiction and fiction) about pregnancy and new motherhood is growing, and I am glad for that. Something so profoundly transfiguring as motherhood demands to be written about with the same seriousness of other great literary subjects.
Honorary mentions: The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis; A Prayer Journal, Flannery O’Connor; The Golden Key, George MacDonald; various poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins
What’s on your list?