INDELIBLE INK: 22 Prominent Christian Leaders Discuss the Books that Shape Their Faith
edited by Scott Larsen
People who read books about reading share an obsession so compelling that they can't help but judge another person's "favorite books" list against their own. Or in this case, "faith-shaping books," which I assume also qualifies them for favorite status. In any event, INDELIBLE INK provides enough fodder to keep compulsive readers engaged in arguments in their heads for some time to come.
The 22 featured essayists range from the venerable J.I. Packer (whose name appears as an author of influence in more than one essay) to relative newcomer Liz Curtis Higgs. Supplementing the main essays is an appendix listing the two or three favorite books of some 130 other Christian leaders.
Both sections are filled with surprises, not the least of which is essayist Gary R. Collins's choice of a book about a caterpillar named Stripe titled HOPE FOR THE FLOWERS by Trina Paulus. (I can relate; a children's book titled LITTLE THINGS by Anne Laurin describes my marriage better than any psychologist ever could.) Another surprise is the frequency with which the names of novelists, poets and dramatists appear. The likes of Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Dumas, Shakespeare, T.S. Eliot, Dante and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (whose GULAG ARCHIPELAGO and ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH, I'm convinced, paved the way for my own conversion to Christ in the 1970s) share ink with some of the greatest theologians ever --- St. Augustine, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, Søren Kierkegaard and others.
My favorite essay is "My Three Best Friends … Maybe" by Calvin Miller --- a fellow "narcolibric," a term Miller coined to describe the "print-addicted" among us. Except for his fondness for Emily Dickinson, whose poems I once deemed worthy of Good Housekeeping (seriously offending my high school literature teacher), Miller's essay, especially his observations on what I call bookaholism, mirrors my own approach to reading and integrating into my life the things I've read.
In the appendix, Elisabeth Elliot cited Amy Carmichael as her single choice --- which seems unusual, except that Carmichael wrote 40-plus books. Who knew? I doubt that even those Christians who are familiar with her and her work are aware that she was such a prolific writer. Another surprise: Fernando Ortega's choice of THE HABIT OF BEING: Letters of Flannery O'Connor. O'Connor as an author is not such a curious choice --- it's the collection of her letters that is surprising. His description forced me to add yet another title to my ever-growing list of must-reads. (An aside: A current bestselling book on heaven suggests that we'll be able to customize our afterlife experience. If so, I'm putting in a bid for a library of all the books I wanted to read before my untimely demise. I'm guessing it won't include a copy of Hubert P. Yockey's INFORMATION THEORY AND MOLECULAR BIOLOGY, one of Hugh Ross's favorites.)
About three chapters into the book, I decided it would be a great idea to start keeping track of the authors to see how many times my favorites showed up in the results. I came to my senses soon enough and settled on a less formal method of accounting, something between a guess and a hunch. By the end of the book, I had decided that the front-running authors were C.S. Lewis, which was pretty much a no-brainer, and, much to my surprise and delight, Dostoyevsky. That's when I found the link to the INDELIBLE INK web site, www.indelink.com, and the page of "Top Tens": authors, titles, authors with the most titles, and contemporary authors.
My beloved Mr. Lewis topped three of the lists: number one book, with 20 mentions for MERE CHRISTIANITY; number one author, with 39 mentions; and author with the most titles, 12. What was even more telling were the runners-up in those categories. Second-place book was Oswald Chambers's MY UTMOST FOR HIS HIGHEST, cited 12 times; second place in the author category was a three-way tie between Dostoyevsky (yes!), Packer and Chambers, with 12 mentions each; and runner-up for author with the most titles was Francis Schaeffer with seven titles mentioned. Lewis's substantial lead over the runners-up lent further support to my oft-vocalized opinion that Lewis was far and away the best Christian writer of the 20th century.
What all of this has done for me, and likely will do for other hopelessly narcolibric readers, is add yet more names and titles to an ever-expanding "To Read" list. But I'm fine with that; the high quality of INDELIBLE INK's essays assures me that the books I've added to my list are well worth reading.
--- Reviewed by Marcia Ford (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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