“Books are a uniquely portable magic,” wrote Stephen King. Part of their magic is their ability to comfort us, challenge us, make us laugh, help us see new possibilities for our lives, and perhaps, sometimes, even transform us.
In the spirit of a new year and all the books you are buying/renting/borrowing to get you through this semester, I wanted to share a few books that have helped shape me over the last several years. These are the books to which I continually return when I feel stuck or when my life feels “off track.” Their characters or their message keep me pointed in the direction I want to go.
1. Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen
Read this book when you are stressed and sense perfectionism ruling over you like a tyrant. Nouwen’s spiritual gift is compassion and mercy. His kind voice cuts through the tyrant inside of you telling you to “produce more,” “you aren’t good enough,” “mistakes, even small ones, are unacceptable.” He will guide you through the chaos of the semester (and life) with a steady and clarifying hand.
2. Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
Read this book when you feel distracted and pulled in a thousand directions. Don’t let the fact that this is a children’s book fool you. Its simple and profound message will give you something to meditate on for the rest of your life. Take 20 minutes to read this book and you will instantly feel more connected to what is truly real in life. (Extra credit: read this book aloud with your roommates and/or friends. Follow up with discussion on what it means to be real and to be loved.)
3. Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Read this book when you are feeling the urge to travel and go on an adventure, but you’re stuck in the library instead. Zafon’s writing takes you to Barcelona, Spain in the 1950’s to a magical place called The Cemetery of Forgotten Books. Feel the cobblestone beneath your feet, see the sun come up over La Rambla, and get lost in the city’s labyrinth. Best read at your favorite coffee shop patio or in a secret corner of a library buried among stacks of books.
4. My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok
Read this book when your faith is being challenged in new ways and you aren’t sure how your faith fits with your life anymore. Potok doesn’t offer easy answers, but you will feel an urge to embrace the unique ways God is at work in your life. A must read for artists who feel the tension between creativity and faith, freedom and tradition.
5. Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis
Read this book when you find yourself wondering if God is lovingly present or if God is coldly distant. This was the last novel Lewis wrote, and he considered it his favorite work. When the minor and major tragedies of life are weighing you down, you’ll find this book's hopeful and realistic message inspiring.
There you have it, friends. Which books or stories keep you pointed in the direction you want to go? May you return to them often. Keep reading.