So, early today I posted a review on EerdWord that got several of us chatting on Facebook about pastors and their recreational reading habits (or frequent lack thereof).
In the course of our conversation, Rev. Sam Schuldheisz (of E-nklings fame) asked me to recommend five or ten books that I thought might make good downtime literature for pastors. My reply got a little too long for a Facebook comment, so I thought I’d put it here instead, for everyone’s convenience.
If you’re new to this conversation, I recommend starting with “The Pastor and the English Major” over at EerdWord before reading further.
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Okay, Sam: here goes. This was very tricky to do, by the way — and the resulting list might change tomorrow if I happen to find myself in a different mood. For now, though, here’s my tentative list of recommended recreational reads for pastors.
1. Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.
Despite her reputation for lacy period romances, Jane Austen remains one of the world’s foremost social satirists. Her stuff is insightful, cutting, and frequently hilarious. If you want to learn (and laugh) about human nature in all its variety, Austen-land is the place to be. All of her work is good, but for the sake of you male pastors out there who cringe at romance, I’m recommending the one of her novels that feels the least “lovey-dovey” to me.
2. C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
No one can render complex theological concepts as plainly and winsomely as Lewis, and LWW is his magnum opus. Plantinga calls this quality “deep simplicity,” and every pastor would do well to study it.
3. Richard Peck’s Grandma Dowdel books (A Long Way from Chicago, A Year Down Yonder, and A Season of Gifts).
These books will teach you new appreciation for the old, the strong-willed, and the eccentric. Also, there’s almost nobody who can tell a story as well as Richard Peck. I wish I could, but I can’t. If you learn how, let me know, and I’ll drive down (no matter how far) to hear you do it.
4. A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh.
No one is ever too old for Winnie. It seems like we reread it at least once a year as a family, and when we do, no one laughs harder than Ken and I. Somehow, Milne manages to capture astutely the way very small people think and speak, and the result is equal parts wise and humorous. Reading this book is almost guaranteed to improve your children’s sermons.
5. John Milton’s Paradise Lost.
It’s an epic journey well worth taking at least once in your life. (Probably not more than once, though. It’s that epic.)
6. John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charlie.
I recommend this one especially for the younger guys. Whether you think of it as nonfiction (as Steinbeck claimed it was) or fiction (as some of his critics contend it almost certainly is) it does present a stunning portrait of America in the late 50s and early 60s. If you want to understand better the massive cultural changes your older parishioners have witnessed throughout their adult lives, this is a good place to start. Also, although I’m not a huge fan of Steinbeck’s novels, which I think are bleak and depressing (Plantinga would disagree with me here), I find this book both engaging and triumphant.
7. Jennifer Worth’s Call the Midwife (AKA The Midwife).
This riveting, funny, heart-wrenching memoir, which you may recognize from the PBS series of the same name, is outstanding. What’s more, it consistently affirms the sanctity of life even as it acknowledges candidly how difficult and complicated “life issues” can be.
8. Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games.
You might like it; you might hate it. (I really liked it.) Either way, it’s a quick, exciting read that will help you better make sense of the cynical, uncertain age in which today’s young people find themselves growing up. The book also sneaks in a wealth of ethical conversation starters on everything from the widening wealth gap to media violence to genetic manipulation.
There’s my list. Ten books, if you count the Peck titles separately. Plantinga has his own list, though you’ll have to find a copy of his book to get at it.
What’s on yours?