List Your Favorite Books

(Scott Garrison) #1

I’ve often felt that one of the best ways to learn about someone is to see what’s on his or her bookshelves. So…I thought I’d throw this question out there and see if I get any nibbles.

If the mods — and the rest of you — don’t mind, I’d like to propose that we largely exclude overtly theological books. That way nobody has to feel guilty if they don’t mention the bible first, and besides, pretty much everyone is also gonna list C.S. Lewis’ _Mere Christianity (and maybe a couple others of his, as well). But if you just have to go theological, we’ll call it a suggestion, rather than a rule.

My own list (and I may add a couple later that I didn’t think of on the first pass):

Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff

Probably my favorite book, and I’ve read most of Mr. Wolfe’s others, as well. Several years ago, my wife found an autographed first edition of it on Ebay and gave it to me for my birthday.

Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb

Honestly one of the best books I’ve ever read, regardless of subject. In addition to cataloging a who’s-who of early/mid twentieth century physicists, Rhodes captures just how pivotal in history it was that the Americans develop this weapon first. I can’t help but also feel a bit melancholy about it all, as well, as one has to wonder if our nation could pull off a project of this magnitude today.

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

Admittedly, I have not kept up on fiction much in my adult life. But Mrs Shelley’s dark vision of a novel is one that I re-read every few years. My older copy of it has post-it’s & highlighting on a number of pages. As a physician, I think perhaps there’s always been something about this tale that has particularly resonated with me… What are we as humans, besides a collection of functional biological parts? What are the over-arching moral ramifications of the things that we pursue in medicine, or for that matter, any of the sciences? How does Frankenstein’s warped relationship with his creation stand in contrast to our Creator’s relationship with us?

Victor Davis Hanson, A War Like No Other

Big fan of Dr. Hanson, and this is his history of the Peloponnesian War. I recall just not being able to put it down. More recently, he’s written a history of World War II, but I haven’t worked up the nerve to start it yet, knowing that I’ll likely get sucked down the hole again until I finish it.

A few things from the last several years that I’ve enjoyed:

Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers

Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs & Steel

Anne Fadiman, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

Dava Sobel, Longitude

Jordan Peterson, Twelve Rules for Life

I know, I know…Dr. Peterson is quite the hot potato nowadays. But I, for one, find him a terribly interesting cat.

Feel free to play along yourself.

(Christy Hemphill) #2

I just got this one yesterday! It’s part of my kid’s homeschool curriculum for next year.

(Mitchell W McKain) #3

For me the “favorite book” question is a difficult one. We read books for so many different reasons. And our experience with them is so different. We might read one book only once with a rather profound effect on our thinking. Another book we might read hundreds of times just because we enjoy reading it.

But as for what we have on our bookshelf… here is the top shelf of the bookshelves right next to me…

The Hobbit
The Chronicles of Thomas covenant (4 books of the series by Stephen Donaldson)
The Man who knew Infinity (life of Ramanujan by Robert Kanigel)
The Neverending Story (by Michael Ende)
Spaceling (an old sci-fi by Piserchia)
Quantum Field Theory (textbook by Itzykson and Zuber)
Knotted Doughnuts and other mathematical entertainments
Hunter of Worlds (sci fi by C. J. Cherryh)
Quantum Theology (O’ Murchu)
Nicholae (Lahaye & Jenkins… Left Behind series)
Ender in Exile (by Orson Scott Card)
The Year of Confusion (SPQR series by John Maddox Roberts)
The Forever Hero (sci fi by Modesitt)

Does this really represent my favorite books? Hardly. A couple have been put in lists of favorite books at different times, while others I don’t really like all that much, and one I simply thought about reading. The main interest was the variety of different books that just happened to be there. LOL

How about most frequently read books (cover to cover)? Top of that List would be…
Crystal Singer by Anne McCaffrey
The Santaroga Barrier by Frank Herbert.
Player of Games by Ian Banks

Books which have had the greatest impact? Top of that List would be…
The Bible
The Self-Organizing Universe by Erich Jantsch
The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

(Mervin Bitikofer) #4

That takes me down memory lane! I don’t believe I’d ever heard that set mentioned for decades now! Quite the vocabulary builders as I recall.

I’m tearing through George MacDonald’s novels (some of them are romances) and finding that everyone I read sort of becomes my new favorite. The Vicar’s Daughter can be read for free online here. Any young men wanting to delve deeper into what “true manhood” can be will not go wrong by reading these. [or true “humanhood” to be less genderist about it - though Macdonald is not one to deny gender roles by any stretch]. In the one I linked above, the narrator is a woman, and the Christ figure of the story a woman also - very progressive for his day I’m guessing.] It is becoming crystal clear to me why Lewis referred to MacDonald as his master.

(Randy) #5

George Macdonald, The Baronet’s Song and Malcolm series (and all his other novels and fairy tales)
JRR Tolkien, The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings
Lewis, Chronicles of Narnia
Percy Jackson series…for fun! My wife and I started reading them together at night to see what our 11 year old son enjoyed…they do have good commentary on integrity even when the world and its leaders are not good role models.
Mark Twain’s books and short stories.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #6

I’m just now reading (not quite yet finished with) “The Shepherd’s Castle” which follows the Donal character from “The Baronet’s Song”. It’s looking to be another good one. Traditional organized Christianity typically falls painfully short in all of MacDonald’s stories. And yet one feels spiritually rejuvenated just from hanging out with his protagonists.

Philip Gulley is another author I’ve really enjoyed. Try some of his story-telling books: “Front Porch Tales” or “For Everything a Season”. His Harmony Series (think Lake Wobegon but from a pastor’s perspective) had me laughing so hard at points that it brought tears.

(Randy) #7

Thank you for the suggestion! My wife and I enjoy reading that sort of book together.

We also enjoyed a country physician’s stories in Bryson City (Walt Larimore) and the James Herriot veterinarian series should be on my list, now I think of it.


Hard to narrow it down… Narnia is right up there, as well as Lord of the Rings. I’m a Bronte fan too – Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights.

I’ve been reading a lot of children’s literature lately – some of my favorites are The Little Prince, The Phantom Tollbooth (so much word geekery!), and The Bronze Bow.

Last year I read several of Chaim Potok’s novels and enjoyed them, especially My Name Is Asher Lev.

I also like Annie Dillard – I think Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is my favorite.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #9

Ditto on this one. I learned a lot from Diamond too. Also interesting is his book: “Collapse”.

More trips down memory lane (though a very short lane in this case)! This was required reading at college for me - and I remember it being poignant and interesting, though I guess it couldn’t qualify as a favorite of mine - given that I don’t even remember what it was about!

It’s hard to argue with Narnia. Or Lord of the Rings. Those must be pretty much givens for about all of us. Maybe a lot of Yancey too.

Speaking of great children’s (or juvenile) books: Will Hobbs makes great family or bedtime reading. Try his “Far North” and you’ll be hooked. It’s reminiscent of Jack London’s work. Very well-researched and educational, and on top of that: gripping adventure. I read it unabashadly as a young adult and enjoyed it thoroughly. Definitely worth any strange looks I might have gotten in my foray into the junior section of the library.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #10

Sorry that this just now registered with me! You may need to scratch a good majority of what I’ve been prattling on about (given how theological MacDonald gets everywhere - including in his novels.) Oh well. Glad you allowed for it as a suggestion. I probably need to shut up for a while now anyway.

(Randy) #11

I hope it was ok; I saw that, too, but I thought that Macdonald’s novels were more secular, sort of like Narnia was–at least, more so than “Unspoken Sermons.”

Taking lit in undergrad amazed me with the number of messianic and Christian symbols in non religious literature–there is so much in our Western psyche that integrates religion, it’s quite interesting to try to guess where secular and religious themes mix.

(Phil) #12

So many books, so little time…
Giliad, Home, Lila trilogy by Marilynne Robinson is one (three?) that I reflect on quite a bit. Seeing Lila through Ames eyes, then seeing her as the world saw her in Lila was neat to reflect on what on what God’s love for us is like, if not to theological. They are what Christian fiction should aspire to being, even though technically not in the Christian fiction category.
Life of Pi was another I enjoyed.
Dune, and first few sequels, though thought the latter books in the series lost something.
Guns, Germs, and Steel also was enlightening.
Old Yellar going way back as a 5th grader. Learned that a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do, though it left me in tears.
The Road (Mc Carthy) still haunts me at times with the harsh imagery.

(Scott Garrison) #13

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, Christy. Ms. Sobel is a fantastic writer, and of particular interest to some in the BioLogos community would be her book’s Galileo’s Daughter and A More Perfect Heaven. The former is just beautiful writing, telling Galileo’s story largely from the perspective of his elder daughter’s letters to him. The latter concerns Copernicus and his publicizing of his model of the solar system.

(Scott Garrison) #14

No harm, no foul.

Good stuff there, Mervin.

(Mitchell W McKain) #15

Yeah that is another thing that makes a list of favorites difficult, for that is another category and reason for liking books – those you read as a child and want to read again to your children.

The Phantom Tollbooth was also a favorite of mine when I was young, and so of course I got a copy to read to my children. And then to this and Narnia I can add Heinlein’s Have Space Suit will Travel and Citizen of the Galaxy, Andre Norton’s magic books, The Hobbit, L’Engles Wrinkle in Time books, Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising books, John Christopher’s science fiction books and the Oz books. All these had me buying them to read to my children.

Another category might be those children’s books you found as an adult and read to your children. The top of my list of those might be a big surprise because it was written by Clive Barker, “The Thief of Always.” And on this list is also “The Neverending Story” which I mentioned was on my shelf. And the Harry Potter books would be on that list as well.

(RiderOnTheClouds) #16


  • The Hobbit
  • The Silmarillion (in particular the Akallabeth)
  • Beowulf
  • Dune
  • A Natural History of Dragons
  • Discworld novels
  • The Ice Dragon (an early novel from George RR Martin)

I left out LOTR because as a Noachide (working on conversion to Judaism, since I am Jewish), the idea of a ‘Dark Lord’ is an anathema to my worldview. The Hobbit contains no spiritual warfare, and the Akallabeth contains enough biblical themes to keep me interested.

I have somewhat limited tastes in fiction these days, since modern fiction has lost it’s way. I hope my upcoming novel Decree of The Watchers, may subvert some of these tropes.


Feral - George Monbiot.
Babylon - Paul Kriwaczek.
Heirs to forgotten kingdoms.
The case for God - Karen Armstrong.
A Guide For The Perplexed - Maimonides.
The Exodus - Richard E. Friedman.

(RiderOnTheClouds) #17

I used to be a fan of George RR Martin’s ASOIAF, but I now realise the books have had a negative effect on me. (though I enjoy it’s focus on political intrigue). I tried reading his short story collection ‘Nightflyers’, only to find that all the characters are heavily promiscuous.

(Randy) #18

Reading books to my kids, lately we have enjoyed The Mysterious Benedict Society (my 11 year old), The Penderwicks Series (8 year old), and How to Babysit Your Grandma (5 year old). As a child, I read and re-read the Sugar Creek Gang series and the Hardy Boys mystery series. My kids have also just read the comic book form of the Pilgrims Progress, Squirrel Girl (the suggestion for this came from this duscourse at Christmas), and they go back frequently to Tintin and Asterix series, occasionally with Manga Bible thrown in. Sometimes the Pilgrims Progress can be excessively apocalyptic and fuel what Wesley called “over meticulousness,” especially if your children are already OCD and tend to excessive anxiety…but overall ok, I think.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #19

Okay - fair enough. But Silmarillion then?! That’s where Morgoth and his evil lieutenants got their very introduction. And as I recall, most of that book and all the later books (including the hobbit) were the fallout from the ensuing power struggle.

Yes!!! Terry Pratchett’s “Discworld” series is hilarious and perceptive. He is the answer to all the funny / silly / (and serious) questions that books like Tolkien’s tend to leave untouched in favor of higher themes. Pratchett grubs around perceptively in the dirt picking up all the “smaller” loose ends of human interest. He is also very irreverent - in a very equal opportunity sort of way. If it is important to you to protect all sacred turf from any mockery, then his books are not for you. But Middle-earth and Narnia lovers probably won’t stop laughing.

Another children’s book I heartily recommend: “High Rise Glorious Skittle Skat Roarious Sky Pie Angel Food Cake” by Nancy Willard. You can read the entire book as a single bed-time story. It’s great fun, and with illustrations that don’t disappoint.

(RiderOnTheClouds) #20

Yes, but the Akallabeth balances it out with some epic biblical themes about mortality and loyalty to God. Though Tolkien was mostly influenced by the tale of Atlantis, I would be (very) surprised if the stories from the Hebrew Bible, in particular the story of Babel and the rise and fall of Israel didn’t influence him. The ‘pillar of heaven’ mountain is practically mount zion.