As discussed in a previous post, I do not think our reading should be defined by a ‘list of greatness.’ However, I do believe there are certain books which make us greater. The greatness they bestow on us may be in opening our mind to new ideas, introducing us to an unknown universe, or providing a base of comfort in a time of challenge.
With this in mind, today I sharing a list of five non-religious books which have made me a greater person
1. Winnie The Pooh by A.A. Milne
Winnie The Pooh and its sequel are sweet and gentle books. They are full of warmth, humor, and the bonds of friendship. If there are any group of friends to emulate, it would be Pooh and his friends.
However, I did not read Winnie The Pooh until last summer. It was on our first night in Yellowstone National Park. After traveling hundreds of miles across five states, our trailer tire blew out 40 miles from our destination. My brother Michael and brother-in-law Joseph were able to put the spare on, and we went about five miles before that blew. We put a note on the trailer and left it on the side of the road with all of our gear on it.
Once in West Yellowstone, the town right outside of the the actual National Park, we found one auto shop still open. They tried to fix one of our tires, and then found something that would work to at least get it to the camp site. My sister Julia then drove my two youngest sisters to the camp site, so we could check in and make sure our reservation was kept.
While Julia, Joseph, and Michael traveled back to rescue the trailer, I sat with my 12 and 17 year old sisters. We set up the tarp and awning we happened to have in the back of the car, two thin fleece blankets, and a pillow, and made a shelter around the fire. It was around seven when we arrived. When the sunlight was gone, and darkness spread, we lit the fire, huddled in our shelter together, and I read them Winnie the Pooh until around 11, when they dozed off. At midnight, the other half arrived with the trailer, and we were able to set up our tent and pass out.
In those hours of uncertainty, when we could have let fear and worry take over, we were able to jaunt off to the Hundred Acre Woods and be warmed by the adventures of Pooh and his friends. Over the course of the rest of our trip, each night we would tuck each other in with a chapter of the book.
The book has merits of its own, but in these circumstances it was able to be more than a book. It was like a nice, warm blanket, protecting us and comforting us. In that moment, it was truly great.
2. The Prydain Series by Lloyd Alexander
To me, this is the Lord of the Rings of children’s fantasy. I read the High King when I was in fifth grade. I did not understand what was going on, because it is the last book in a five book series, but I really enjoyed it. This was the beginning of my love of epic fantasy and the worlds of magic, sword fighting, kings and queens, and adventure. This was the source of my first written stories, which were more of a fan fiction than independent work.
In short, this series was a major point of my writing journey.
3. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas
I have enjoyed every book I have read by Dumas, but this is my favorite. While not the happiest of books, it is fun. The intricate layers of conspiracy and betrayal, the pain, the games of politics and society all weave together into a grand narrative.
This remains one of my favorite books, even though I have only read it twice (it is 1,000 pages, so it takes a while to read). While it takes place in a real 1800’s Europe, there is an air of fantasy and the spectacular in this book.
I think what has made it stand the test of time are the following:
- Sympathy for the main character is firmly established in the beginning.
- The main character goes on an incredible character arc, from a naive, sweet young man with good fortune, to an embittered Count seeking only revenge and destruction.
- It has a colorful world of Marquis and thieves, political ministers and sailors, all building into a sweeping adventure.
I also think the political upheaval in 19th Century France is fascinating. I would not want to live there, but it is remarkable how many kings, emperors, and prime ministers the country had before settling into the steady democracy it is today.
In brief, this book is as influential in my writing as The Prydain Series.
And as further proof of my love for this book, see this post: The Count of Monte Koopa
4. Gandhi The Man by Eknath Easwaran
Few non-religious books have had as profound an impact on my perspective as this book. Written by Easwaran, who worked with Gandhi, it is a simple biography of Gandhi and how he went from an impatient and ambitious young lawyer to the symbol of non-violence and Indian independence. It has been a great influence in reminding me to have patience, charity, and to appreciate the things I do have. It has pushed me to try to do something to make the world a better place to live in.
5. Star Wars books written between 1991-2000
While I grew up watching the original trilogy, it is the fifty or so Star Wars I books read between 3rd grade and the middle of High School that established my love of starfighters and space battles, of lightsaber fights, and the ways of the Force.
From the mines of Kessel where we meet Kyp Durron, to the intricate layers of Coruscant, the city planet at the center territories, the edges of the rim worlds where Grand Admiral Thrawn laid in wait to restore the Empire, to the hidden dark side spirits on Yavin IV, these were the realms of my imagination as a child.
My dad traveled a lot for work, and my brother and I hoped he would bring home another Star Wars book. Much of my spare money was spent on the next paperback in a trilogy. While I also read the works of Robin McKinley, John Christopher, Dick King Smith, and later classics by Dickens and Dumas, the core of my library were my Star Wars books, especially the Rogue Squadron series.
In brief, they had cool spaceships. And tie in games like Rogue Squadron for Nintendo 64. And Boba Fett.
It was my love of writing, and the full exploration of the fifteen years after Return of the Jedi, which led my passion for Star Wars books to cool. Now and then I’ll still pick up a book, but I also have discovered a Time Lord, a Vulcan, a boy wizard, and a Hobbit I like to hang out with too.
These things happen when you age: you may have been best friends in grade school, then you go on and grow up and meet new people. Your new friends take your time, and you drift from old friends a little, and keep tabs. Then, one day, you receive a wedding invitation or an announcement of a new trilogy, and you remember your wonderful days together.
There are many more books which have influenced me, including a book titled Influencer. However, I believe these books have broadened my world and become part of the fabric of who I am.
- What books have made you greater?
- What books do you still cherish, but rarely read?
- If you could only pick one non religious book to read for the rest of your life, what would it be?
- If the dragon Smaug was between you and that book, what would you do?
- If Smaug and a giant robot were fighting in between you and that book, how awesome would the fight scene be?
Side Note 1: Thoughts on the latest casting news from Star Wars coming Monday.
Side Note 2: I try to keep this blog mostly separate from my religious life. If you would like to read about the religious book which has most influenced me, click here.