The books that shaped you?

Tuesday, Helen Lee at Gifted for Leadership asked her readers (mostly women in positions of leadership in the Church) which books have most shaped their lives.

Her question was in response to a similar one asked of the Twitter followers of two marketing consultants and well as some influential business leaders. The result was over two hundred responses which were compiled in the list “Top Books Every Young Influencer/Leader Should Read.” According to Lee, “of the top 33 books that made the list, none were written by women.”

So, she posed this similar question to her readers, recognizing that most are female, Christian, and leaders in ministry: “Which books have had the most impact and influence in my own life as a female Christian leader?”

I’ve been curious to see the answers in her comments section. But I’m more curious to ask the same of you, friends. Knowing that you’re not all women or Christians, I will pose my question this more generic way: Which books have had the most impact and influence in your life? Don’t be afraid to list fiction, poetry or (shocker!) non fiction.

Leave a comment. And, if you’re up to it, follow this link over to Helen Lee’s post and leave a comment there as well.


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21 Responses to The books that shaped you?

  1. CAQ

    Every Judy Blume book written.
    Kurt Vonnegut. Where the Red Fern Grows (I am not ashamed to say that I sobbed in my shower after finishing that…I actually got in the shower because I did not want anyone to hear me sobbing and think anything was really wrong with me). I re-read Catcher in the Rye at least once a year.
    More recently: Louise Gluck and Anne Carson and Elizabeth Bishop. They do incredibly different things, excellently. Marilynne Robinson writes exquisite sentences. So does Hillary Mandel. That’s a lot of ladies….

    Richard Price (I am trying to learn how to write dialogue-also, he makes even the most low-life characters sympathetic. Or I have empathy for them even as they are doing terrible things. I did not sleep much last night so I am not differentiating well.)

    Brooks Haxton: love love love his work, and always will. I like Bruce Smith’s new Devotion poems and The Other Lover (I love the logic of the sonnet). Mary Karr’s Liars Club, which I received as a gift long before we met.

    Okay I am having a bloody nose so I have to go. But I mean it when I say everything Judy Blume ever wrote. Who else wrote about periods and hormonal urges and other things when I was growing up? No one else I knew about.

    Micha I read all of your posts! Even when I do not respond. Love you xocaq

  2. I’d have to say The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges. It really opened my eyes and changed my perspective on my own Christianity. I’ve read it several times. Actually I really need a refresher and ought to pick it up again.

  3. 1) To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. This one didn’t inspire me to write, it showed me just how good fiction can really be. And, it gave a model of a true southern gentleman and father: Atticus Finch.

    2) Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore. Without a doubt, the funniest book I’ve ever read. And, Moore nails Jesus’ message better than most scholars I’ve read.

    3)Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith by Rob Bell. In Bell’s words, Velvet Elvis is for people who are “fascinated with Jesus, but can’t do the standard Christian package”. That’s me in a nutshell.

    4) A Scandalous Freedom by Steve Brown. I’m constantly amazed that I even read this book, much less liked it. Brown is a Presbyterian minister and a Calvinist and, being a staunch Methodist, I generally don’t agree with much those folks have to say. But, Brown is different. Here’s a quote from the book: “The only people who get better are people that know that, if they never get better, GOD WILL LOVE THEM ANYWAY… God will not only love you if you don’t get better, He’ll teach you that getting better isn’t the issue; His love is the issue.”

  4. Oh! Madeline L’Engle. Her book Walking on Water stretches our definition of “secular” and encourages us to see all that is good, is from the hand of God, especially in the arts. She is an incredible example of speaking the language of God to all walks of life, without using religious language. Reading her made my view of God expand and inspired me to speak in terms and language the was not limiting to a particular audience. The word “leadership” does not need to be explicitly spoken in a book to gain wisdom on how to lead. One of my favorite quotes from, Two-Part Invention, in talking about her roommate practicing the piano , ” She grew as she played, not only in technique but in maturity. The great masters pushed her as she tried faithfully to go where they led. We do learn and develop when we are exposed to those who are greater than we are. Perhaps this is the chief way we mature.”

  5. Melanie

    Boundaries by Cloud & Townsend. Desiring God by John Piper.

    Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem - LOVE this book! All the teachings of the Bible laid out in logical fashion. The perfect way for my brain to digest them.

  6. Cecelia

    Brennan Manning’s The Rabbis’s Heartbeat is my favorite book of all time. I could read it over and over again.

  7. I know I asked the question, but this is hard!

    Okay, in childhood: Reading Little Women was really important. I read it in 4th grade and it was the first book I really worked at to understand. I remember feeling like it was worth it. Also, I was totally affected by A Wrinkle in Time (Madeline L’Engle).

    In high school: The Lord of the Flies (William Golding) — is that weird?, and Paradise Lost (John Milton) — the first time poetry ever moved me.

    College: The Ragamuffin Gospel (Brennan Manning) totally changed how I viewed the grace of Jesus. Celebration of Discipline (Richard Foster) and An Invitation to Christian Spirituality (ed. by John R. Tyson) both opened me up to a possibility of prayer and contemplative life I’d never known existed before.

    Also, Jane Kenyon’s Collected Poems helped me fall in love with contemporary poetry. I also read A Prayer for Owen Meany (John Irving) in college, which left me crying for days. Same with The River Why (David James Duncan).

    Ahhhh. I should stop there…

  8. I’d submit my own list, only it looks pretty much exactly like my sister’s list from the college years and beyond. Although I’d add The Genesee Diaries and The Road to Daybreak by Henri Nouwen. And, from my childhood, I’d add Skinnybones, by Barbara Park, which was the first book I ever read that made my laugh out loud. That it was a group LOL, with my dad on the living room floor, means I’ll never forget it.

    Micha, I’d forgotten about The River Why. I just got chills thinking of “The Line of Light” chapter. I need to read it again.

    Also, it occurs to me that, if I asked this same “What books shaped you?” question on my blog, we wouldn’t get beyond five comments before someone answered, in all seriousness (and ALL CAPS):


  9. Sam

    It looks like Jodi and I could have a mutual admiration society meeting for the one, the only, the magical Madeleine L’Engle. Blessed be her name!

    As a child: Anne Shirley and the world of Avonlea (and then Glen Harbor) was my solace. I loved my Anne books and they provided so much comfort as a lonely tween! Not to mention, they have great morals imbedded in the story and I truly think L.M. Montgomery helped shape my character. I went on to read everything L.M. Montgomery wrote in high school. I still pull out the Anne books when I need some comfort. I also loved Roald Dahl (as a kid) and enjoyed all of his stuff. Even the scary ghost stories.

    Madeleine L’Engle, in college - she spoke grace to me and made me feel like I could be a Christian, after all (even if I was a red blooded female with hormones). She inspired me as an artist (a voice major) and convicted me that all art is of God. that doing art well was part of worshipping God. She was my life line in so many ways. Then I picked up Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies and that was also so affirming and real.

    Also, Kathleen Norris. I reread Amazing Grace and The Cloister Walk whenever I feel the need. There is always something new that knocks me over.

    Post college: Karen Armstrong’s A Spiral Staircase, Barbara Kingsolver (especially The Bean Trees & Pigs In Heaven but I love all of her work, The Poisonwood Bible makes me so angry, her characters are THAT good), Mary Karr’s memoir trilogy, Frederich Buechner. Also, Lauren Winner’s Girl Meets God. Dang, I love that book.

  10. Sam

    Oops, I meant, “Glen St. Mary” in reference to the world of Anne Shirley.

  11. Hey Micha! Thanks for the link back to my post / survey results on the Top Books for Young Leaders / Influencers.

    Also glad to see your readers chime in and add to the conversation with additional books that have shaped their lives.

    Good stuff!

  12. So many books … so little time.

    Love seeing what books have influenced others, but I have a hard time compiling a list for myself, because there’s been so many … so this is random.

    “Christy” by Catherine Marshall - At age 15, made me want to become a writer.
    “A Pilgrim in Tinker Creek” by Annie Dillard - helped me see God in everyday and nature.
    “Disappointment with God” and “Where is God When it Hurts?” by Philip Yancey - helped me process life after receiving nasty injuries in an accident.
    “The Shack” by P. W. Young - helped me see God’s love again after injuries.
    “Velvet Elvis” by Rob Bell - helped me breathe again after I was frustrated, bored, stifled, etc with the church (both locally and the Church at large)
    “Year of Magical Thinking” by Joan Didion - I realized that I wasn’t alone in how I processed loss.
    “Girl Meets God” by Lauren Winner - love this memoir.

  13. Lauren

    o, this is the way to get me to post, ask about favorite books. and this is definitely a gathering of kindred spirits!! Madeleine L’Engle! L.M. Montgomery! Annie Dillard! Lauren Winner! Kathleen Norris! Even ‘Year of Magical Thinking.’ Which means: I’ll definitely have to lengthen my ‘to read’ list with the mentioned books which are unfamiliar to me.

    And for the Girl Meets God/Lauren Winner lovers out there, ‘Mudhouse Sabbath’ is simply lovely, reflecting on the translation of Jewish practices and beliefs to Christian life. and i just finished ‘Real Sex’ a couple of weeks ago, very interesting, challenging, unique-voice-refreshing-etc reflection on the virtue of chastity.

    Oh, and I have to give a shout-out to Elizabeth Johnson, amazing Catholic feminist theologian. ‘Dangerous Memories’ is a stunning reflection on Mary.

    Thanks for being one of the most important writers in my current daily life, Micha!

  14. Chris Hoho

    Tolkien for story and the power of myth.

    Narnia for fantasy. Weight of Glory for Sehnsucht.

    War and Peace for love of family and friends and life in general. And for that scene with Pierre on the sleigh with his coat open.

    Tender is the Night (Fitzgerald) for the promise of manhood and the tragedy of squandering it. And for my 34th birthday.

    The Lamb’s Supper (Capon) for the carnal spirituality of food and drink and how to spend an hour with an onion.

    Brothers Karamazov for philosophy and truth.

    Prodigal God for the last chapter.

    Updike’s early stories for growing up and sentences and October evenings.

  15. So many of my favourites have already been listed — I will repeat a few and add some more.

    Madeline L’Engle, definitely, both for her fiction and for Walking on Water.

    C.S. Lewis, of course — Narnia as a child, and then Mere Christianity as a teen which had a huge impact on my thinking.

    Dorothy Sayers’ Gaudy Night — one of my favourite novels of all time and one that affected a lot of my thinking about men, women and relationships.

    The Diviners, by Canadian writer Margaret Laurence — another great novel.

    In recent years, as I’ve tried to work through my own doubts and questions, N.T. Wright has been really important to me — not one specific book, just the whole body of his work.

    Shaine Claiborne’s “The Irresistible Revolution” made a big impact on me and keeps raising the bar for how I think I should live as a Christian.

    Finally, unless I missed it, I don’t think anyone has mentioned Anne Lamott. Traveling Mercies cracked something open for me, as did all her subsequent memoirs about faith (and of course Bird by Bird for writing, and Operating Instructions for parenting - but plenty of thoughts on faith and life sprinkled into those two as well). In the last few years no writer has been more influential for me than Lamott in suggesting that it’s possible to be honest, funny, tolerant, and absolutely Christian — as a writer and as a human being.

  16. “Called to Question” by Joan Chittister. I can pick it up and open to any chapter and it will always have something to say to me. She seems to understand my thoughts, the ones down deep that no one ever talks about. I keep it on my night-stand always.

  17. I love getting to know you all through books! I’m really grateful you’re taking the time to comment here. Keep it up. I’m not posting anything new today because I’d love to keep this discussion going.

    And because it’s Friday and I’m lazy.

  18. Lily Jensen

    Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen. OMG, so good. Knowing more intimately what the Father thinks and feels for me caused a sweet life shift.

    The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning. Understanding a little bit more about God’s grace changed the amount of grace I gave to myself.

    The delight of reading a book and having it change my life is so fun, thanks for starting the conversation!

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