Ten Books That Have Shaped My Life
Some time ago I was given the challenge of choosing ten books that have shaped my life. Most of the people who had taken up this challenge simply listed a series of books, and I suppose that would have sufficed for the person giving me a challenge. Nevertheless, I am the sort of person who does not like posting a list of things without some kind of explanation of how the books have shaped my thinking and behavior, sometimes in very dramatic ways. As may not be too surprising, many of these books have been discussed in my blog.
First, the list:
1. The Bible
2. Castle, by David Macaulay
3. A Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett
4. My Teacher Flunked The Planet, by Bruce Coville
5. Across Five Aprils, by Irene Hunt
6. Crisis Of The House Divided & A New Birth Of Freedom, by Harry Jaffa
7. Pride & Prejudice and Persuasion, by Jane Austen
8. Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis
9. #thaistory, by Andrew MacGregor Marshall
10. The Autobiography of Herbert W. Armstrong, by Herbert W. Armstrong
Having given this list, I feel it necessary to give at least some commentary as to why and how these particular books have shaped my life. No doubt many others could have been chosen, but each of these books has had a very curious effect on my life. It should be noted that a vastly higher proportion of these books are fictional than my normal reading contains, which either means that I need to read more novels or that when I do read fiction I have tended to choose well in the fiction I read. Let us now discuss these books in order, to see how my life has been profoundly shaped by what I have read.
It ought not to be a surprise that the Bible has shaped my life from the earliest ages, both directly and indirectly. Directly, I have read it since childhood , been shaped by its layered approach to multiple levels of truth and applicability in a given text, besides the role it has played as a model for behavior as well as for reflection and consolation in my frequent times of trouble and difficulty. Indirectly, the influence of the Bible and its interpretation on my life has been immensely profound in every single aspect of my life. Many hundreds of posts here on this blog  are testament to the incalculable influence of God’s word on my life.
Castle, by David Macaulay
This particular book is somewhat obscure, although it won the Caldecott Honor in 1978. This book shaped my life in far more subtle ways than most. It was a present to me from a family member when I was about six or seven, and it set a pattern not only for my own reflections on the use of castles as emblems of social control (an early political influence on my freedom), but it encouraged a certain chivalrous frame of mind, an attention to fortification , and it let my family know that I was a good person to give books to as a gift.
A Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Although I have already written about the influence this book has had on me , I would like to comment a little bit about the very important lesson this book taught me. When I was originally assigned this book, I did not want to read it because of its pink and girly cover, but upon reading it I found a deeply kindred spirit in bookish and imaginative young Sara Crewe. What this book taught me more than anything, as clichéd as it may sound, is not to judge a book by its cover, but to spend the time and get to know it well and appreciate it for what it is. This is a lesson, of course, that applies to people as well, even me.
My Teacher Flunked The Planet, by Bruce Coville
I wrote about this particular book in my admissions essay to the University of Southern California (and they accepted me, so it must have been a pretty good piece of writing). I do not know of the religious beliefs of Coville, but I was struck by the similarities of this book to the situation in Revelation, where the destruction of mankind for its many and horrible sins (which this book details in sometimes shocking ways for a work of juvenile fiction) is averted because of a quirk in mankind’s design that shows the unity of mankind in a way that points to the ultimate purpose of mankind as being at one with each other and with God as God and Jesus Christ are with each other. Indeed, this subtly and unexpected Christian theme allowed me to recognize the fact that even children’s literature could, at its best, speak deeply about matters of theology with considerable insight.
Across Five Aprils, by Irene Hunt
As a lifelong student of the Civil War, this book provided a look at the influence of war upon society, namely a fictional family in southern Illinois that was deeply divided between the Union and Confederacy. It showed Abraham Lincoln in a humane light, and captured the way that families can become easily divided by the circumstances that they deal with, which echoed my own deeply divided family (more on this later). It was not the content, but rather the deep melancholy mood  of this work that has influenced my life, showing me that the result of division is generally not a triumphant march of independent glory, but rather the sorrow of a broken heart and grief over what has been lost by the divorce of people or societies.
Crisis Of The House Divided & A New Birth Of Freedom, by Harry Jaffa
The only work of political philosophy among the books that has shaped my life, this book owes its influence to the immense skill of its author in showing a balanced view between liberty and equality. Avoiding the pitfalls of both libertarian excess and socialism, these two books show Abraham Lincoln as a moral and political philosopher of the highest order, seeking the best society possible while also seeking to avoid causing offense to those who are in disagreement with him, despite the massive moral corruption of his time that ultimately led to death and destruction on a grand scale. It is a deeply intellectual and passionate work written by a great man about a great man , and I would hope that my studies of these books has helped me to be a better man as well.
Pride & Prejudice and Persuasion, by Jane Austen
No list of influential books in my life would be complete without these two novels written by a witty Regency-era spinster who died too young but whose choice to write optimistically about love has given encouragement to a deeply romantic but somewhat naturally pessimistic person who sees life through the lens of her work  and whose appreciation of Jane Austen has been deep and profound. Perhaps, in time, I too will have a happy ending out of a Jane Austen novel. It could happen; perhaps my Catherine Moreland or Elizabeth Bennet or Anne Eliot is out there somewhere.
Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis
C.S. Lewis has affected me predominately with the relationship between faith and logic. It is as a logical thinker about Christianity, someone whose disciplined mind  allowed him to see the harmony between faith and reason, that accounts for his appeal. He, like me, was someone who perhaps wrote a bit too quickly for his own good, but he had a solid mind that wished as much as possible to grasp what could be grasped about God. Mere Christianity is a classic work about the purpose of Christianity in creating new life, and what that entails. Other works of C.S. Lewis (like the Problem of Pain) have been an influence on me, but not to the level of this work.
#thaistory, by Andrew MacGregor Marshall
This work  had a powerful and very painful influence on my life that is worthy of some explanation. When I read this work in Thailand, I wrote a very short blurb about it that explained why this book was illegal to read and write about and was stupid enough to put it online. Doing so led me to become very briefly a very minor character in the wikileaks scandal, and also led me to draw the intense and hostile notice of agents of the Royal Thai police establishment. This work may not have had a good influence on my life, but it was influential nonetheless in getting me tossed out of a country.
The Autobiography of Herbert W. Armstrong
This is not the time or the place to discuss my complicated thoughts and feelings about Herbert W. Armstrong, the man who led the Radio Church of God and then the Worldwide Church of God for decades, and who can be said to be the patriarch of my own ancestral and present religious belief system. Despite my somewhat critical attitudes towards his life and behavior, his life and the organization that he led so well for so long had a massive influence on my life, both as an inspiration, as a source of melancholy reflection about what happened after his death, and as the source of a great many of my efforts at reform . So much of my life has been shaped by my membership in the Church of God that it would be immensely ungracious of me not to recognize that, even if few people within my own community of faith would consider me particularly fond of him.
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