It started with Dr. Seuss…Green Eggs and Ham. My dad read it to me over and over and I still have the book. It was my favorite, until my next favorite, probably by Judy Blume, and then all the other Judy Blume books I could get my hands on. And Flowers in the Attic. My first series. Because the only thing better than a good book is a good series, especially a series about children hidden away in an attic from a grandmother who hates them, referring to them as the “devil’s spawn.” The story is enough to fill 5 books and a prequel. All the teenagers were reading it in 1980.
Not all the teenagers read Child of Satan, Child of God, but I convinced my 9th grade teacher at the conservative Christian school to make an exception for me. I don’t recall how I responded to the initial “no” to persuade her that I needed to know more about the Charles Manson murders, especially in 9th grade. From what I remember, the book was fascinating and disturbing and many of the details were omitted from my book report because I certainly did not want to cause Mrs. Johnson any regret in accommodating my book request. The author, Susan Atkins, served a life sentence in prison until her life ended in 2009.
The conservative me had specific tastes, so when everyone else read the Harry Potter series, I read Left Behind, all 16 of them, often finishing the newest book in 24 hours. I might have been a little obsessed with the end of the world back then, which feels like a lifetime ago now. Although, Nicolae Carpathia, the antichrist in the series, comes to mind from time to time when I read the news these days.
Sometimes I need help, so I pick up a health book, or a marriage book, or a book about finances. If you’re really curious you can read 10 of each for contradicting expert advice and confusion, and then choose your favorite ideas to see if you really can learn how to communicate with your spouse, or lose 10 pounds. If only we read the right book, we can find the answers.
Eventually you may approach your 50th birthday and you want peace and serenity more than you want defined abs, so you choose Anne Lamott over the latest diet book. You learn about humility and spirituality in a way your younger, conservative self who was reading Left Behind would have judged harshly. Now it is refreshing and nurturing. Perhaps the road to heaven is wider than you previously imagined, at least you hope it is. You may not necessarily know all of those theological answers like you used to, so you try to practice the things you do know, like forgiveness, mercy, serving others, embracing nature and adopting a rescue dog. When life is overwhelming, you say simple Anne Lamott prayers: “Help, Thanks, Wow.” Sometimes keeping things simple is the very best idea.
Another author who feeds my soul: Jen Hatmaker. I’ve been obsessed with her for awhile, even before I won her latest book on Twitter: Of Mess and Moxie. I think it’s the first time I have won anything since the 3 cakes I won at the elementary school carnival cake walk, which was also very exciting. Like Anne Lamott, Jen’s books offer spiritual guidance, but with some extra laughter. Like this text with her son:
Jen: Where are you?
Son: Doing drugs with gangs.
Jen: Don’t share needles.
And possibly my favorite sentences on parenting, “We promised our kids early and often: You can tell us anything. We won’t freak out. You can’t shock us. Nothing is a deal breaker, and everything is up for discussion.” Amen to this. I don’t think you can go wrong by following this example. I’ve read 4 books by Jen Hatmaker and I give them all 5 stars.
My current 5 star fiction books are written by John Grisham. What a perfect escape. I have read 26 of them, starting with A Time to Kill. I used to read his books as soon as they were released, but I got behind. I will work on this.
My favorite books today are the ones that raise my awareness. I have so much to learn, so I’m grateful when I find a book like Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. I had never heard of Bryan Stevenson before I read the book, and now he is one of my heroes. He graduated from Harvard Law School and presumably could have gone to work for a fancy law firm earning a big paycheck. But instead he chose God’s humble work–taking care of prisoners–people like Walter McMillian who he first met on death row. Although Walter had a solid alibi, it was ignored, and he was held on death row even before a trial. His story unfolds throughout the book.
Bryan Stevenson shares his own encounters with racism, once when he was harassed by police officers after arriving home late after a long day of work. Evidently he looked suspicious driving a beat up 1975 Honda Civic, late at night, while being black. When he exited his car, police officers approached him, one with his weapon drawn. The officer shouted at Bryan to put his hands up, then continued to yell at him, and unlawfully searched his car. Ultimately the police officers couldn’t find a reason to arrest him so they let him go home to his apartment. Bryan explained what bothered him most was his instinct to run when the officer pointed his gun at him even though he hadn’t done anything wrong. How different the story could’ve turned out had Bryan acted on instinct.
Bryan is the president of a nonprofit organization, Equal Justice Initiative. According to its website, “The Equal Justice Initiative is committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, to challenging racial and economic injustice, and to protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society.”
You can read more about Bryan Stevenson and his work here. You can also borrow my book!
My newest book has arrived from Amazon–a memoir. I can tell by the cover that I’m going to like it. The author and I probably read the Left Behind books at the same time, but we have both changed. We keep searching for truth. We keep our minds open. And we keep reading more books.
I have 37 books on my Goodreads “to-read” shelf, but I wonder what’s missing. What are your favorites?