Ross Douthat tries his hand at Tyler Cowen’s blogosphere exercise (naming 10 books that most influenced your worldview). Ross mentions the works of G.K. Chesterton on his list, which reminded me that Chesterton is one of those writers I really, really want to like, but just … don’t. I love his aphorisms, but his prose is too rich and overstuffed for my tastes. And I feel a little bit guilty about that.
1. “The Seven Storey Mountain” by Thomas Merton. I had no idea that Catholicism, and indeed Christianity, could be like this, until I read the Trappist monk’s well-known autobiography. It introduced me to the romance of the faith, and made me want to be a Catholic.
2. “A Confederacy of Dunces” by John Kennedy Toole. The funniest book I ever read also helped me understand the human condition — and to appreciate how amusing people can be in our follies.
3. “Ideas Have Consequences” by Richard Weaver. The book that first shocked me out of my political illusions, and made me think hard about first principles.
4. “Kierkegaard’s Philosophy: Self-Deception and Cowardice in the Modern Age” by John Douglas Mullen. This slim introduction to Kierkegaard’s thought made a Christian out of me, first by helping me to understand my own existential predicament, and how I was fooling myself with strategies of denial and avoidance.
5. “How to Cook Everything” by Mark Bittman. I have lots of cookbooks, and most of them are more fun to read than Bittman’s warhorse. But none have taught me as much about cooking as this basic volume. And we’ve used this one more than all the others in the house combined.
6. “The Lord of the Rings” by J.R.R. Tolkien. Myths to live by.
7. “Dominion” by Matthew Scully. Scully’s brilliant apologia for animal welfare made me reconsider the way humankind relates to the natural world.
8. Works of Flannery O’Connor. Her short stories and her letters. Because the Southern world she wrote about so strongly resembled the world I grew up in, she made me see the terrible hidden grace in everyday life.
9. Nonfiction works of Wendell Berry. Wendell Berry is always writing more or less the same book, which is fine by me. I learned to see the world more poetically, and to appreciate how we fail to live with an understanding of holiness and moral responsibility toward the land and each other.
10. “The Mountain of Silence” by Kyriacos Markides. Markides’ dialogues with an Athonite monk turned Orthodox bishop opened up the world of Orthodox Christian spirituality for me, and saved me at a time when I was in very serious spiritual trouble.
I look forward to reading your own lists in the combox thread.