What I’m Reading: A List for Sam

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.

* * *

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?

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8 thoughts on “What I’m Reading: A List for Sam

  1. As a pastor and someone who has recently enjoyed reading a lot (perhaps too much) of fiction, I would also throw in a couple of Christian fiction books as well. They may not be as epic or timeless as some of the books you mentioned, but still very good reads with very powerful messages. A lot of the Christian fiction I have read has only been so-so, but I really like many of the books by Francine Rivers. I particularly recommend for pastors “And the Shofar Blew” since it is about a pastor and then the Mark of the Lion trilogy (at least the first two books in the trilogy).

    • Thanks for the recommendation. I, too, have found a lot of recent “Christian” fiction to be “only so-so” (or even downright insipid) — but I keep desperately hoping to be proven wrong.

      In the meantime, I’m learning to appreciate books by good Christian authors writing in the mainstream (Gary Schmidt, Marilynne Robinson, etc.).

  2. *Austen. (Sorry. Can’t turn off my proofreading.)

    I went through a brief but very intense Austen-phase with all my friends in high school. Since then I’ve been fairly anti-Austen . . . but maybe it’s time to give it another go.

    I’m surprised you liked Hunger Games so well. I read them because the action made them hard to put down, but I was annoyed the whole time with the mediocre writing and increasingly annoyingly contrived plot line.

    And I’m very, very glad to see Winnie-the-Pooh on your list. I still read some Milne when I’m having a spectacularly bad day and need some cheering.

    • *How could I have missed that? Post in haste, repent at leisure, I guess. I’m rereading P&P now for the first time since college, and — wow — it looks very different now that I’ve seen a little more of the world.

      I was wondering when someone was going to call me on the Hunger Games pick. Yes, the writing is mediocre (so is J. K. Rowling’s, in my opinion, but that hasn’t kept HP off tons of these sorts of lists). To my eye, Collins writes like a screenwriter — something that made it easy on the Hollywood people but hard on all the English majors trying to get into her books.

      I should probably admit, moreover, that I read it while convalescing from a broken ankle (that is: Vicodan-addled and desperately bored). It was the perfect book for me in that time and place.

      I felt I had to include it here, even in spite of all this, because it really has helped me articulate and think critically about many of the fears and obsessions endemic to our society. Also, for pastors hoping to get their fingers on the pulse of the YA crowd, it’d be a much less painful experience than reading, say, Twilight. 🙂

  3. I don’t know if I can limit it to ten! heeheehee!
    I am a self admitting fan of kid lit, so that will figure greatly in my list!
    1. The Secret Garden. They children learn about the greatness of God as they heal from traumatic experiences.
    2, The Railway Children. The family grows closer together and finds strength in that while doing good in their world. They are richly rewarded, they never stop believing in each other.
    3. The Space Trilogy. Who says Christians can’t read/enjoy good Sci Fi?
    4. Ivanho, Sigh!
    5. Sense and Sensibility. Nothing is new under the sun.
    6. The Jungle Books. And just about anything Kipling wrote. Good lit is good lit and a great story is worth your time!
    7. Some of the Black Stallion books. I’m a girl. I like Horses. Some are just very entertaining stories.
    8. Harriet The Spy. Growing up is hard, this book is a good lesson on how you might NOT want to handle it!
    9. Banner In The Sky, One of my absolute favorites. Everything to God’s glory!
    10. Undaunted Courage. Good history and an interesting subject. Should be required reading to all!

  4. Pingback: What I’m Reading | Laura the Magnificent

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