In order to give a more well-rounded feel to my list, I've decided to list ten books that became symbolic of certain points in my life. These books did impact me but they are more than that. Like a song a couple hears on their first date, these books capture certain eras in my life and point to a change in direction in some way. There were contenders like My Antonia or reference works like Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview and Haley's Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible, but I think the ten I've chosen cover some of that kind of ground pretty well.
Other pieces of literature also evokes strong memories of the past. Short stories such as Jack London's "To Build a Fire" or J.D. Salinger's "A Perfect Day for Bannanafish." Poetry played a part in my life as well, with Robert Frost's "Birches" or "Stopping By the Woods on a Snowy Evening" or Shakespearean sonnets and the challenge of a good villanelle.
Lately I tend to mostly read non-fiction, which helps me in my profession, but may be to my detriment. Be that as it may, here are ten books that influenced me in unique ways from elementary school through today, in order of their appearance:
Encyclopedia Brown: Boy Detective – Donald J. Sobol
This was the first series I read from second to fourth grade where I absolutely had to have them all. I remember George the Shy Stegosaurus or The Borrowers which I also loved, but this series set me off to challenge my mind and solve problems. I wanted to be Encyclopedia Brown!
The Lord of the Rings – J.R.R. Tolkien
I got to read The Hobbit in eight grade, just before a trip to the Renaissance Faire, and that was all it took. I devoured The Lord of the Rings, and came back to them several times, once even conquering all three books in six days. Tolkien's attention to detail was genius and his ability to capture true moral struggle while showing why being good for the sake of goodness is a message that is crucial for today.
Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
Ah, AP English class. We read all kinds of things, like Othello and other works, but Heart of Darkness encapsulated the peak of high school. I was simply amazed at Conrad, who was a native Polish speaker, command of English. He seems to capture the antithesis of Tolkien: an unchecked drive to conquer and lift one's self above others leads to self-cannibalism.
New World – Aldous Huxley
I could say so much about this book, but I actually have done so in a more extended post here.
The Screwtape Letters – C.S. Lewis
One cannot approach a list like this without listing C.S. Lewis in some way. While Mere Christianity, The Great Divorce, and other titles are all huge in their impact, it was really The Screwtape Letters that got me thinking about my own spiritual walk and the reality of capitulating to the enemy when I give into sin. Good self-check here.
- Questions That Matter: An Invitation to Philosophy – Ed L. Miller
This is a text book (!) that is very popular across the country in college Intro to Philosophy courses and one of my Top Ten Neglected Books for Apologists. Miller captures the main concepts across the discipline of philosophy and includes significant portions of key texts. He doesn't resolve the problem for the student, but allows the reader to explore the ideas presented. This book cemented my love of philosophy and helped me being to think more clearly about those questions that really do matter.
- Love Your God with all Your Mind - J.P. Moreland
This was the book that really resonated with me as a young apologist; it said everything I wanted to say to the Christian church collectively, and so much better. Simply put, all believers need to read this book. J.P. has since become a friend and a mentor, and I still look to him today to help me with clearing the cobwebs out of my mental attic.
- God, Freedom, and Evil – Alvin Plantinga
How could an all-good, all-powerful God exist and still allow evil in the world. Alvin Plantinga here lays out the case to why evil and God are not contradictory. It also pointed me towards a more robust idea of God's middle knowledge, which balances the tension between freedom of choice and God's predestination.
Playing with Fire: How the Bible Ignites Change in Your Soul – Walt
When I first came in contact with Dr. Walt Russell, he literally changed the way I read the Bible. This book is the culmination of his teaching. It helped me take the proper context of scripture, lose the idea that verses can be applied outside of the larger work, and help refine how I understood biblical inerrancy.
How Christianity Changed the World – Alvin J. Schmidt
Another in my Top Ten Neglected Books list (really, you should just read them all), it is still my go-to book of choice for the real-world implications of Christianity. The value of every human being, the birth of hospitals, orphanages, and educational institutions as we know them today all have their roots in the Christian worldview. Schmidt doesn't simply give you dry facts and figures. Rather, he tells of how Christianity uniquely civilized our civilization in a very readable way. It's where the rubber meets the road in comparing worldviews.