I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: in many ways, I am what I read. As I celebrate nine years on my Christian journey, I wanted to share nine books that have fed my spirit, in some cases before my formal journey of faith even began!
Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott
First read: circa 2000
I discovered Anne Lamott more or less by divine intervention, plucking a copy of her first novel Hard Laughter randomly off a library shelf. Like so many, I became obsessed with her black-humored, self-deprecating style, as intimate as your best friend spilling her guts to you. As an agnostic teenager, I read this memoir of faith bit by bit as it was posted on the Salon website. Whatever your beliefs, Lamott’s life story is a great read: her recovery from a lifetime of substance abuse and eating disorders and approval addiction, her decision to become a single mother in her mid-thirties, her unlikely adoption into a church she found while looking for hangover food at a flea market across the street. Her story continues to be pretty amazing, but this is the chapter I read over and over again until it almost became a chapter of my own.
2. Mister God, This Is Anna by Fynn
First read: circa 2002
Yeah, I know the title makes it sound like a Lifetime movie, and a simple plot synopsis wouldn’t do much to dispel that illusion. So to quote Levar Burton, don’t take my word for it, because it’s well worth your attention. The eponymous Anna, at five, runs away from her abusive parents and befriends the author, then about eighteen, late one night back in 1930’s London. She is taken in by his family and immediately becomes the toast of their East End neighborhood. A lot of the book consists of reconstructions of her conversations with Fynn on topics in mathematics, physics, electronics, languages, philosophy, and of course theology, and the connections she sees between all these things. Despite all these high concepts, there’s a lot of humor too, and a lot of anecdotes about Anna just being the unique kid she is. It’s a book that yields new insights with every reread, and that’s exactly what makes it hard to categorize.
3. The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis
First read: 2004
Read start-to-finish on a single airplane trip. I know C.S. Lewis is not fashionable among many these days, and I won’t deny there are significant blind spots in his moral imagination, but his books, and this one in particular I think, have a lot of wisdom that’s still relevant today. Lewis’s Dante-esque dream journey through the afterlife is his way of working out the question of why Hell would exist. His answer has to do with the preciousness of human choice; his argument, basically, is that we human beings so often choose to live with our familiar, comforting issues rather than embrace the risky, painful process of growth and healing while we’re still alive, so why should it be any different when we die? Again, not a perfect work, but I read it again and again because it continually inspires me and challenges me, reminding me that the biggest risk of all is not taking any.
4. Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories that Heal by Rachel Naomi Remen
First read: circa 2007
This book was passed from person to person in my immediate family, and of course I ended up with my own copy. Given the title, you might be surprised to learn that this book is actually about… modern medicine. Rachel Naomi Remen became a doctor before such a thing was common for women, and she spent a lot of her life denying the existence of intuition, connections between mind and body, and other things that might seem “too feminine” for a doctor to believe in. Then she decided to become a pioneer in the holistic health movement with a specialty in counseling patients who are fighting cancer or terminally ill. Despite the heavy subject matter, this is a very uplifting book, all about people realizing what’s truly important to them and how they can participate in their physical and spiritual healing.
Check back tomorrow for 2008 and beyond!