O Me of Little Faith

O Me of Little Faith

Which Books Have Shaped You?

Several times in my life, I’ve been in social, get-to-know-you situations where a group of us were supposed to tell, as individuals, which person or persons in our lives had influenced us the most. We were supposed to talk about elementary-school teachers or grandparents or pastors, but I always thought of…writers.

This is because 1) I am an introverted book nerd who generally prefers a good book to, you know, real-life social interaction and deep, influential relationships; and 2) Because much of who I am has evolved due to books I’ve read that have changed me, challenged me, and inspired me.

Last week, my sister Micha (inspired by Helen Lee) asked her blog readers “What books have shaped you?
The conversation that ensued was fun, revealing, and became a great
little thread for talking about books and discovering new authors. I love talking about this kind of stuff.

So I thought I’d steal her excellent question and pose it here, to you:

Which books have had the most impact and influence in your life…and why?

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Travis Mamone

posted September 9, 2010 at 7:45 am

1. Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. After reading it, I realized I wasn’t crazy after all.
2. The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Another book that made me realize I wasn’t crazy after all.
3. On the Road by Jack Kerouac. Made me want to go out and experience life.
4. A New Kind of Christianity by Brian McLaren. Not sure if I agree with everything the book suggests, but definitely got me to think critically about my faith.

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David N.

posted September 9, 2010 at 8:36 am

In no particular order…
1. Franny and Zooey – J.D. Salinger. Actually, anything by Salinger, but this was one of the first books I had that falling-in-love feeling from. One of my first major crushes as a book lover.
2. Gilead – Marilynne Robinson.
3. Blue Like Jazz – Donald Miller. I feel sheepish about this one, because something tells me we’re all going to include it.
4. The Crosswicks Journals – Madeleine L’engle. I have never read anyone who seemed to live more like Christians – humans – are supposed to live than this woman.
5. Lord of the Rings/The Silmarillion – J.R.R. Tolkien.
6. Evolving in Monkey Town – Rachel Held Evans. Seriously. I needed to hear it was okay to claim and accept all the things I had been stewing about for years.
7. Till We Have Faces – C.S. Lewis. If you’ve read it, you understand, but you probably can’t say why.

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shawn smucker

posted September 9, 2010 at 9:03 am

bird by bird – anne lamotte … changed my life as a writer completely
a prayer for owen meany – john irving … incredible story about a purposeful life
what’s so amazing about grace – yancey … for about three weeks i became the kindest person on the planet. seriously, kinder than mother theresa. but it didn’t last. maybe i should read it again.

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Jason Boyett

posted September 9, 2010 at 9:17 am

I started reading Tolkien’s Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogy in 7th grade, then re-read them probably every year for the next decade. This was the first time I realized the power of a novel to completely invent a world, and how far an imagination could really go — made-up languages, history, mythology. Still inspiring.
The Ragamuffin Gospel, by Brennan Manning, kick-started the expansion of my faith beyond my Southern Baptist upbringing. Upon reading it when I was 19, I then was introduced to Capon, Buechner, Nouwen, Merton, and many other significant spiritual voices.
Shawn, I echo your love for A Prayer for Owen Meany. One of my favorite books of all time. Taught me to keep the larger story in mind even when the smaller pieces didn’t seem to make sense. (My wife and I love this book so much, we named our son after its protagonist.)
I can’t read a bad writer these days and not think of On Writing, by Stephen King. From him I learned to (try) to write with more simplicity and less ornamentation, and that adverbs are often unnecessary. (I still cringe when reading all the “…Hermione asked inquisitively” constructions in the Harry Potter series.)

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Charlie's Church of Christ

posted September 9, 2010 at 10:04 am

For a Christian book I’d say Searching For God Knows What wins out over all else, yes even Blue Like Jazz.
Then I’d go out Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer that inspired me to both live my life as an adventure and not forget to have deep, meaningful relationships – and it inspired the couple of years I spent traveling.

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posted September 9, 2010 at 10:17 am

Walking on Water by Madeline L’Engle. Taught me that if I had faith I could do the impossible.
The Chronicles of Narnia. There, I am reminded of the way life should be. Fairies, talking lions, and great beauty.
Anything by Thomas Merton, Anne Lamott, and Kathleen Norris.

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David Moulton

posted September 9, 2010 at 10:21 am

God Emperor of Dune – Frank Herbert…Changed the way I view society as a whole and the roles of government and religion as leadership tools.
Planet X – Michael Jan Friedman…Because this book showed me that no matter how ridiculous my ideas are, like a Star Trek: The Next Generation and X-Men crossover novel, people might like them.

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Jim F.

posted September 9, 2010 at 10:29 am

I asked the same question last week on my blog funny enough.
The most influential Christian book that I have read would be Chasing Daylight by Erwin McManus. It challenged me to take God risks and look at my Christian Life differently.
The most influential non- Christian book would be Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz. It showed me the power of the positive outlook and the power of the mind as well as the positive self esteem.

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posted September 9, 2010 at 10:31 am

Read The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings when I was 12 for the first time. Five times since, and once out loud to my son… That was a long era of life!
A Severe Mercy, by Sheldon Van Auken.
Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson. Wow. That’s a good word for her writing. (And to a slightly lesser extent, Home, by her also.)
Peace Like a River, by Leif Enger. Again, wow. His writing is amazing.
By far the most shaping book, not just to be Mr. Sunday School, but because it’s true, is the Bible, which I’ve read something like 70something times so far… There is no way to value the effect it’s had on my life, and my family.
Life is Mostly Edges, Calvin Miller’s memoir. Tears, many times, as I read.
That’s enough. From someone who reads 60-70 books a year, it gets kind of hard to limit this!

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Cindy Navarro

posted September 9, 2010 at 10:37 am

1. Bible~inspired word of God. It is the book I read the most often and has the most influence on my life.
2. Roaring Lambs~Bob Briner. This book taught me the importance of my faith being a part of me at all times.
3. Read With Dick & Jane: We Look~William S. Gray. The first book I ever read!! It started me on a love of reading for myself and not just being read to. Plus, great advice from the very first page! “LOOK” It taught me to observe what is around me. :)

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posted September 9, 2010 at 10:38 am

Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller — reading this my senior year of high school helped me realize how strongly my Christianity and patriotism/conservatism were tied, and it made me more than a little uncomfortable. It also expanded my view of who was “in” and who was “out” of this whole Christianity thing.
The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis — helped me better understand ways that I was being deceived into “independence” from God.
Soul Cravings by Erwin McMannus — Until reading Soul Cravings, I thought these desires in my life were illegitimate. I thought they indicated weakness and an inability to rely on Christ. Reading this book was extremely freeing, especially as a freshman in college.
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde — This was probably the first piece of classic literature that I loved. It reminded me exactly how much I enjoy literature, and it probably has a lot to do with why I’m an English major

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Ken Grant

posted September 9, 2010 at 10:44 am

Sham Pearls for Real Swine by Frank Schaeffer helped develop both an appreciation for good art and a more critical eye towards those things in “churchianity” that would normally get a pass.
Just about anything written by P.J. O’Rourke helps me appreciate the ability some have to take complex subjects and make them both understandable (and even fun) for the rest of us.
John Fischer’s writings continue to have a profound impact on me.
Sex God by Rob Bell seriously changed the way I look at everyone – in a good way.
And yes, Jason, you continue to impress me with your willingness to intelligently and respectfully question everything – and your ability to make something as divisive as end-times beliefs or as arcane as ancient civilization’s theological position on the afterlife.

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David N.

posted September 9, 2010 at 11:33 am

Prayer for Owen Meany – Yes! I forgot that one. Before we had any kids my wife and I evaluated literary names for our children and loved Owen for a boy because of that book. When our friends named their son Owen we gave them a copy – and they didn’t quite get the book, which was HIGHLY disappointing. We are not terribly close any more.
And in a weird twist, their daughter’s name is Ellie and the dad’s name is Jason. I SWEAR I am not making this up.

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posted September 9, 2010 at 11:48 am

Well – it looks like you were too pessimistic in your estimate, as the Bible didn’t turn up before the 7th post.
My life has been most profoundly shaped by a bunch of Finnish language books by Finnish satire/comedy authors no-one here has heard of. Other than those, my list would contain:
– Lord of the Rings trilogy (and The Hobbit) by JRR Tolkien
– Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
– Small Gods by Terry Pratchett (the first ever Discworld book I’ve read)
As a satirist, I owe a lot to Arto Paasilinna, Veikko Huovinen, Adams and Pratchett.
In a small way, I suppose, the Bible would make my list too. I read it from cover to cover as a kid. It was a painful experience, as a large portion of the book is just boring filler. I was appalled by the God depicted in it, and in a way reading the whole thing laid foundation for my atheism and cemented the idea that even if I ever turned out to have faith, Christianity would be the last thing I’d go for.

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posted September 9, 2010 at 12:08 pm

Oh, many many have.
Probably the first for me, however, was “Mister God, This is Anna” by Fynn. She has such a natural, powerful way of seeing God in the ordinary things of life. However, i always have to warn Evangelicals that she didn’t have a good concept of Jesus. I had a few fundamentalist-types hand me the book back after a couple of chapters because they couldn’t get around that & enjoy the book.
The other is “Joshua” (& the rest of the series) by Joseph F. Girzone. He was able to place Jesus in our world today & encourage readers to see the difference that Christ in our world could make.
Both of these have been invaluable to me when i just couldn’t read the Bible, but wanted to keep focused on God in the world.

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robert r. cargill

posted September 9, 2010 at 12:37 pm

shane claiborne’s ‘irrestible revolution’
darwin’s ‘on the origin of species’

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Kenny Johnson

posted September 9, 2010 at 1:24 pm

I don’t know that I have any “changed my life” books. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy had an impact on me — because it made me, as a teenager, a recreational reader again (I loved reading as a younger kid).

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posted September 9, 2010 at 5:48 pm

The Great Divorce by CS Lewis. Maybe it’s because I can’t help but anthropomorphize everything…animals, cars, my kids’ toys, etc…that Lewis’ depiction of lust, pride, self-pity, was so powerful. When I find myself leaning toward any of these sins, I picture how hideous they looked on their owners and how silly the looked to the man.

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Sarah@From Tolstoy to Tinkerbell

posted September 9, 2010 at 5:53 pm

I can so relate being a semi-introverted book nerd, literary geek myself. I can trace various periods in my life based upon what I was reading so here is a few:
1. Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales caused me to fall in love with Medieval Literature and find my field of study.
2. C.S. Lewis’s The Four Loves and Til We Have Faces…I love his writing style, his words, everything about him.
3. Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice…cliche but so wonderfully cliche.
4. Christine de Pizan’s Treasure of the City of Ladies…a woman working within patriarchy and subverting it during the Middle Ages, heck yeah that’s on my list!

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Carole Turner

posted September 9, 2010 at 5:54 pm

These are my top 20 favorite books, the books that effected me the most throughout my life so far. I could go to top 40 easy. I have several more that I really love. Anyway, here is my top 20…
#20 The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
#19 Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell
#18 There is no me Without You by Melissa Fay Greene
#17 The Divine Commodity By Skye Jathani
#16 Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by Ron Sider
#15 Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton
#14 Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller
#13 Scared by Tom Davis
#12 The Children of Hurin by J.R.R. Tolkien
#11 What’s so Amazing About Grace by Philip Yancy
#10 The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne
#9 Red Letters by Tom Davis
#8 A Tale of Three Kings by Gene Edwards
#7 Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
#6 To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
#5 The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
#4 Barbarian Way by Erwin McManus
3# The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
#2 The Lord of The Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
#1 The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis

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posted September 9, 2010 at 5:57 pm

A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton Porter. This book was my favorite escape as a child (considered one of the first among “young adult novels”. Porter was a very early teacher/voice for me on issues of environmentalism, social justice, and the value of higher education for women–it’s pretty wholesome without being trite, too. The world she painted was full of sadnesses and harsh realities, but also equipped with the wonderful tools we have been given as people to fight these harships together. Amazing!

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posted September 9, 2010 at 5:59 pm

Messy Spirituality by Mike Yaconelli

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posted September 9, 2010 at 6:03 pm

Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis – One of my first real digging into faith beyond church.
Messy Spirituality by Mike Yaconelli – When I got this I couldn’t stop reading it. It touched a chord with me and made me feel like I wasn’t alone in the way I felt.
How (Not) to Speak of God by Peter Rollins – Rollins gets me to look at things from a different perspective and makes me think.
Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner – changed the way I look at the world.

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posted September 9, 2010 at 6:05 pm

1. The Irresistible Revolution by Claiborne (like so many people posting here, apparently)
2. Confessions by St. Augustine
3. The Universe Next Door by James W. Sire (catapulted me into studying philosophy and religion)
4. Getting to Know the Church Fathers by Brian Litfin
5. The Essentials of Christian Mysticism by Bernard McGinn (started my interest in mysticism)
6. New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton
7. Sex God by Rob Bell
8. The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
9. The Kingdom of God is Within You by Leo Tolstoy
10. High Fidelity by Nick Hornby (never have I learned to love music more)
There are many, many more…but I’m too lazy to put them in here.

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Dan s smith

posted September 9, 2010 at 6:13 pm

1. Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard: helped me under the real gospel without all the dogma
2. Abolition of Man cs Lewis : evidences of God
3. City of God ,Augustine : community
4. Great divorce CS Lewis: what hell might be like

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posted September 9, 2010 at 6:49 pm

Velvet Elvis – Rob Bell
Irresistible Revolution – Shane Claiborne
A New Kind of Christianity – Brian McClaren
Crazy Love – Francis Chan

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posted September 9, 2010 at 7:40 pm

“Les Miserables” by Victor Hugo for its radical depictions of grace.
“The Brothers Karamozov” by Fyodor Dostoevsky for its defence of the divine spark and Moral Law within everyone.
“Fear and Trembling” by Soren Kierkegaard for its unique take on what it means to be a “knight of faith.”
“The Divine Conspiracy” by Dallas Willard for its call the discipleship

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Jason Jones

posted September 9, 2010 at 7:53 pm

1.) The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The last few pages still get to me, even after a dozen readings.
2.) The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. I was all about this book back in my college days, but now not as much.
3.) Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison. My life and stomach are fuller because of this wonderful book.
4.) The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck. I’m not usually into self-help books, but everything he says about discipline and suffering is a wake-up call every time it’s read.
5.) The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen. This beautiful mediation on Jesus’ story and Rembrandt’s painting changes me for the better every time I read it.
6.) Whatever I’m reading right now (Changes week to week)

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posted September 9, 2010 at 9:42 pm

The Giving Tree by Shell Silverstein
Anything by:
Kahlil Gilbran
John Shelby Spong
Bart Ehrman
Jim Palmer
Sue Monk Kidd

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Jeff Black

posted September 10, 2010 at 8:00 am

Jason, great question! I am still in pursuit of finding those books that will have the greatest impact on my life.
The book that has so far had the greatest impact on my life has been Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. When I bought this book for a vacation several years ago, I also bought the unabridged audio CD collection along with it. I am so glad I did because Stephen Covey’s voice really brings life to the words he wrote for this book.
Anyway, when I first bought the book, I thought I would be reading a list of 7 things that highly effective people do like (e.g. get up early, be persistent, make a new friend every week, etc…).
Boy was I wrong in what this book was also about! I am still changing as a person 5 years later ever since I decided to make the principles of this book part of my life.
One of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits that he talks about is called “Sharpening the Saw” where he recommends continual emotional/social, intellectual, physical, and spiritual “self-renewal”. One example that Covey gives of how to do this is by reading books that can help you achieve this.
This is why I am also interested in hearing what books others have read that have had a positive influence in their lives.
Thanks for the great blog!
Jeff Black

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posted September 10, 2010 at 8:56 am

Many books have and continue to open new avenues of perspective for me. However, there are two that automatically come to mind:
“Alcoholics Anonymous” because it teaches me how to live in peace with all that I am and all that surrounds me and it also showed me how to forgive those “religious types” on whom I had blamed my loathing for God and anything connected to God…
which after many years led to…
The Rule of Benedict: Insights for the Ages by Joan Chittister because it calls me to live deeper and more authentically as I sometimes gingerly, sometimes boldly, sometimes hesitantly, sometimes joyfully walk the path of the Way.
And all 5 of the “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” trilogy. Which means, of course, that I’ve named more than two as I previously stated but perhaps that’s just a nod to the brilliant and sorely-missed Douglas Adams.

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Cale D. Hawley

posted September 10, 2010 at 9:41 am

Tribes by Seth Godin
Step out and take a chance. Do it for something bigger than yourself.
To Kill a Mockingbird
I’m not sure why really. Its the first book I remember being required to read and actually reading it. I just know that it made me see people differently.

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Melanie E

posted September 10, 2010 at 1:24 pm

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Don Miller
It challenged me to look at life differently – like I’m writing a story with my life

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posted September 10, 2010 at 1:39 pm

The book “Evolution of Consciousness” by John Kuykendall has shaped my life because it describes the spiritual journey through the mind in Christian terms making Christianity inclusive and not exclusive. The site for the book is about contemporary Christian Mysticism at

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posted September 10, 2010 at 10:46 pm

The Secret Message of Jesus, by Brian McLaren – the book that started me down the path I’ve been following for the past 3 years.

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posted September 12, 2010 at 11:20 am

The book “Evolution of Consciousness

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Edward T. Babinski

posted September 19, 2010 at 5:40 am

I think that for every Christian NOT experiencing some kind of doubt there are eight recently published books that they ought to read:

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