Wakey Wakey.
reveille precedes revelation


One of the dangers of embarking on a worldview discussion, whether around a table or in the great public halls of cyberspace, is that you are tempted to pretend you know a lot more about what you are talking about than you actually do. I now officially live in paranoid fear that people expect that I am well aware of the nuances of *their* religion, philosophy, or favorite theological or philosophical problem. But there are too many philosophies for a philosophy undergrad to grasp (even on a very introductory level), too many knotty theological problems out there for a divinity grad student to have a well-developed opinion on, and too many people in the world for a cyberspace discussion facilitator to have a grasp on their dearly opinions (I’ll try, though). Most people know of human limitations, are generous, and happy to fill me in on what I don’t know, and what they know. This is why I should not be paranoid. Regrettably, paranoia is rarely rational.

My friend Aaron linked an interesting post in the Britannica Blog which gives me some comfort–it’s a discussion, in part, of the quantity of books that are published, and human dishonesty regarding their consumption. You just can’t read every book. Not reading every book does not mean that you are ill-informed, or lax in the search for truth. Deciding what not to read is an important task, along with deciding what to read.

The really interesting thing about this article, though, is the point that some books, very rare ones, are worth reading again and again. The Britannica blogger provocatively asks, “Confronted, as we are, with endless choice and ritual novelty, what does it mean to revisit a book repeatedly over the course of a lifetime?” Perhaps the point isn’t impressing my friends with the quantity of books I read, but the quality of books that can shape who I become.

Last week we talked about how our worldviews shape (or fail to shape) our lives. I ended with a series of questions that, broadly understood, ask either “Is my worldview consistent with reality as people experience it? Can it be verified?” and “Is my worldview rich enough to guide my life in healthy ways?” Books worth re-reading are the kinds of books that can contribute to a robust worldview that can guide one’s life.

So this month’s discussion can start with this question: What books have you read that have changed your life? What did the book make you think/do/feel/imagine in a new way? Are there any books that you re-read over and over again? What brings you back to those books?

It doesn’t have to be profound. Certainly someone can break the ice with an homage to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a confession about the Janette Oke Christian romance novels they read and re-read when they were 11 (and are now ashamed to speak of), or an account of how their collection of Bloom County cartoons that sparked the beginnings of a lifetime of radical politics. Or something like that.


15 Responses to “Sources”

  1. What if I read a life-transforming Janette Oke Christian romance novel at an age older than 11 and am not ashamed to mention it?

  2. I’m, um, scared.

  3. Just checking to see how open-minded you are . . .

    (Don’t worry. I’m not that open-minded either. I did read a Janette Oke book at age 16 or something, but it did not change my life. As for books that did, that’ll be for another comment, when I next get around to writing one.

  4. You may not be open minded, but you’re open parentheses’d!

    Now you actually have to write a real comment, so you can close your first one.

    Yes, I’m a legalist. Not open minded at all.

  5. )


    The obvious life-changing book for me to cite would be Lewis’ ‘Til We Have Faces. The first time I read it (in high school), I went, “Huh?” It wasn’t allegorical enough for my thinking at the time or something. The second time I read it, though, was like a smack in the face. Since then, I hope I’m not as bitter as Orual, but it’s comforting to have a story about someone who railed against God (or the gods) as much as that.

  6. I re-read books all the time, and not just because they’re life-changing, but because some books just are amazingly well-written. Life-changing books–hmmm. Recently I’ve re-read Cost of Discipleship and was conscience-pricked again, and I found Yancey’s book of Prayer particularly insightful and helpful with some of the issues I’ve had with prayer. Actually, I’d say that book has revolutionized my prayer life, so that’s pretty life-changing.

  7. I should probably tell you some of my many-read books: Middlemarch, Rutherford’s London and his Irish series (just to get all the details sorted), most of Thomas Hardy’s books. I think it’s because I just read too fast, so I need to read them several times to get all the beauty of the language. I have, unfortunately, never learned to read line for line (as opposed to paragraph by paragraph) which is great if you’re studying for a test, but a real bother if you’re just reading for the joy of reading!

  8. Fast reading does, however, mean that you CAN reread uberlong books like those multiples times. If I tried to do that, I’d probably only read one book a life. (Which pretty much means, one book.)

  9. The amount read, the number of books or number of times, is one thing. But what of the manner in which books are read? I’ve met too many who are exceedingly well-read and informed. They have read books of the highest quality, richness and beauty, books good enough to guide worldviews and transform lives, but those books have been consumed for the possession of knowledge, for pride, or for other reasons that have left the books unable to transform or grow the reader. Perhaps it isn’t the amount we read or re-read that is important, but the presence or absence of a hermeneutic of love. I speak from a rich history of reading to win arguments and gain intellectual power over others.
    For me the most important books are the most recent (not really, I just have a bad memory and would have to puruse the book cases otherwise). Within the past year or so I have been very impacted by Wendell Berry. His collection of essays in Citizenship Papers and his novel Jayber Crow have done more to actually change the way I live than any other books I’ve recently read (from planting a garden and trying to buy locally produced goods to trying to develop an overall character of meekness and gentleness).
    Every so often I pass by the book case and can’t resist cracking open Wind in the Willows, though most often I don’t end up reading the whole thing. There’s something about little furry (and warty) animals having adventures and drinking pints in the British countryside that is irresistable to me.

  10. […] life at Gray’s a few weeks back too. I kicked things off with the musings from the original Sources post and asked the same […]

  11. Yay, kamonroe, good stuff. I’m so glad you brought that up; I tend to read stuff to make myself smarter, and then get overwhelmed with how much I haven’t read (and thus how unsmart I must be…). It’s better to love a lot than read a lot.
    Sounds like you’ve been reading some good books, too.

  12. Why is EVERYBODY reading Wendell Berry all of a sudden? (Well, okay, KAMonroe, LLBarkat, and Naked Pastor, anyway. See my blogroll for the more obscure references.)

  13. Maybe, in a world seemingly narrated by Bushes, Clintons, Gores, Rumsfelds, Imuses, Wakey Wakeys (whoa, only joking) and the rest, Wendell Berry is one of the people who actually makes sense when he says, or rather, writes something. So we read his stuff. And we read this blog. Because it makes sense. And a whole lot of other stuff, too. But mostly because he’s more articulate than this reply.

  14. Nice. I still haven’t read Berry–just what other people are saying about him in their blogs. But apparently I should . . .

  15. …somehow I missed this post…hope I’m not too late…

    Excluding technical books, which comprise 90+% of my multiple reading, the books I read over and over are:

    The Dilbert Principle – Scott Adams (getting a bit dated though)

    Leadership – Rudolph Giuliani (great principles whether your running a country or a family)

    Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman – Richard Feynman (combine a great mind with a willingness to take risks and see what happens)

    When Character was King – Peggy Noonan (biography of Ronald Reagan)

    None of these books has shaped my worldview, and really none are particularly consistent with it, but all have inspired me to be better.

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