Monday, November 10, 2014

10 Books That Changed the Way I See

“The words you can't find, you borrow.
We read to know we're not alone. We read because we are alone. We read and we are not alone. We are not alone.
My life is in these books, he wants to tell her. Read these and know my heart.
We are not quite novels.
The analogy he is looking for is almost there.
We are not quite short stories. At this point, his life is seeming closest to that.
In the end, we are collected works.” 
–Gabrielle Zevin

   When asked for my personal list of favorite books I realized that, while I have many ‘favorites’, the books that affected measurable change in me are quite few. And so, upon reflection, I made the following list… but I must begin with two books that supersede the list:

1.    Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss
2.    The Gospel of John
The former was the first book I read ‘by myself’; the latter revealed that I am not ‘by myself’, a combination which forever changed my perspective on how to be Christ-like and human simultaneously.
The following books are in no particular order. Rather than comment on the books, I have selected an excerpt from each. The authors say it best.


The Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton
“Those who have fallen may remember the fall, even when they forget the height. Some such tantalizing blank or break in memory is at the back of all pagan sentiment. There is such a thing as the momentary power to remember that we forget. And the most ignorant of humanity know by the very look of earth that they have forgotten heaven.”

Rainbows For the Fallen World by Calvin Seerveld
“Artists, like inventors, seem to need the elbowroom of tense leisure to produce a drama, a novel, a concerto or a poem. And people seem to need an almost museum-like, focused relaxation before they will look at Rembrandt’s colors differently than those of a plastic tablecloth. It is this aura of taking time, of needing peace and quiet, that has bluffed the pragmatic run of activists, notably many Christian believers, into thinking art is fake, not honest work and a fruitful knowing of the world, but really a waste of time. But then they forget that not everybody should be paid by the hour and that having babies takes nine months. And they do not see the priestly service art affords, when it is right, of deepening our grasp of the richness to creation.”

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
“Pascal uses a nice term to describe the notion of the creator’s, once having called forth the universe, turning his back to it: Deus Absconditus. Is this what we think happened? Was the sense of it there, and God absconded with it, ate it, like a wolf who disappears round the edge of the house with the Thanksgiving turkey?  “God is subtle,” Einstein said, “but not malicious.” Again, Einstein said that “nature conceals her mystery by means of her essential grandeur, not by her cunning.” It could be that God has not absconded but spread, as our vision and understanding of the universe have spread, to a fabric of spirit and sense so grand and subtle, so powerful in a new way, that we can only feel blindly of its hem. In making the thick darkness a swaddling band for the sea, God “set bars and doors” and said, “Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further.” But have we come even that far? Have we rowed out to the thick darkness, or are we all playing pinochle in the bottom of the boat?”

The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers
“When the writer's Idea is revealed or incarnate by his Energy, then, and only then, can his Power work on the world. More briefly and obviously, a book has no influence till somebody can read it.”

Walden or Life in the Woods by Henry David Thoreau
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”


Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry
“You have been given questions to which you cannot be given answers. You will have to live them out- perhaps a little at a time.”
“And how long is it going to take?”
“I don’t know. As long as you live, perhaps.”
“That could be a long time.”
“I will tell you a further mystery,” he said. “It may take longer.”

My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok
“I looked at my right hand, the hand with which I painted. There was power in that hand. Power to create and destroy. Power to bring pleasure and pain. Power to amuse and horrify. There was in that hand the demonic and the divine at one and the same time.”

East of Eden by John Steinbeck
“I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one…humans are caught- in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too- in a net of good and evil… There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well- or ill?”

“Sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whisky bottle in the hand of… there are just some men who- who’re so busy worrying about the next world they’ve never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results.”

Babette’s Feast by Isak Dinesen
(Though technically a short story, Babette’s Feast had a profound impact on my concept of ‘artist’)
“'It is terrible and unbearable to an artist,' he said, 'to be encouraged to do, to be applauded for doing, his second best.' He said: 'Through all the world there goes one long cry from the heart of the artist: Give me leave to do my utmost!’", what are your 'favorites'?

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