Monday, 18 July 2011

5 books that changed who I am

Meredith tagged me with Ally's meme to list 5 books that have changed who I am. It's almost a month since Meredith tagged me, and I have been thinking about my list ever since. You might think since I am an avid reader, I would have lots of books vying for my top 5. But the truth is, I don't. I must not be reading as many Quality books as I thought... or is it just that I read so many books that whatever I grasp from one is soon lost to the new insights of the next book? I'm not sure. But after much deep thought, I have created a list. You'll have to forgive me, even still, because it isn't exactly a Book List. It includes two books that I actually experienced as courses that were presented to me, rather than reading the books the courses were based upon (although I have since read the books as well). In order, not of influence, but of the time I read them, starting from the earliest significant book:

1. 2001: The Alpha Course: Questions of Life by Nicky Gumbel
This book is a transcription of the lectures that Nicky Gumbel gives in the Alpha Course. I went to Alpha with Jeff back in 2001, after we'd been married for a few months. It changed my life, as I learnt that being a Christian is not something you do, because everything necessary has already been done for you. It changed Jeff's life, as he realised that being a Christian requires you to do something about it. That might seem like a conundrum, but both are true. We are Christians because Jesus Christ has done all that is necessary to save us - but we live our lives Christianly (more and more like Christ) in response to that free gift of salvation. Alpha changed our marriage, because all of a sudden we weren't a neo-pagan married to a nominal Christian, but two Christians united in marriage by God seeking to bring glory to God.

2. 2002: The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman
Without this book I'm pretty sure I would not have spoken to my mother-in-law for much of the last decade. It opened my eyes to the fact that Betty shows love in completely different ways to the ways I do. It helped me to understand that the things she was doing, she was doing to show love for me, not criticism. My reading this book and discussing it with Jeff made a huge difference in our relationship because all of a sudden I could choose to react to Betty according to her intentions, not my interpretations of her actions. And I could make an effort to show love to her in ways she would accept as well. Now most of our disagreements are usually precipitated by my suffering PMT-related insanity.
This book also made a difference in how I dealt with Jeffrey, as we learnt to appreciate each other's ways of expressing love. I learnt to spend time with him while he did stuff - even if it was just wandering around with him while he watered the chilli trees in the garden after work, and he learnt that he needed to talk to me and not just be with me.

3. 2003 onwards: The Bible, studied with BSF. For the last seven years I have read my Bible with the help of Bible Study Fellowship, aka BSF. I've read and studied Acts, Ruth, Genesis, Matthew, Exodus through Deuteronomy, Romans, John, and now I'm half way through Isaiah. I began reading my Bible shortly after the Alpha course with the help of Nicky Gumbel's Challenging Lifestyle and A Life Worth Living. I joined a Bible Study small group, and read the Bible with them. But it was BSF that helped me put the two together, providing questions to help me study the Bible on my own and getting me together with other women to discuss what we'd learnt, then listening to a lecture on the passage to bring home the Bible truths. BSF has kept me reading my Bible through thick and thin for the past seven years... and BSF has made me apply what I have learnt from all that reading to my life.

4. 2004: The Bible Overview Course by Matthew Brain, Matthew A. Malcolm, Matthew R. Malcolm and Greg Clarke
Matt Malcolm and his wife Bec presented this course to the incoming students at the beginning of Jeff's first year studying for his MDiv at Trinity. It was revolutionary for me because it changed the way I have read and understood the Bible ever since. This course provides a simple 15 stage summary of the significant events in the story of the whole Bible from Creation (Genesis 1-2) to New Creation (Revelation 21-22). Before attending this course (three sessions over two days) I knew that the Bible hung together as one story, but I couldn't really have told you what it was. And I definitely couldn't have said anything about what the story of the Bible as a whole meant for how we should understand each part of it. This course was indeed revolutionary for the way I now read the Bible - each verse, each chapter, each book in its context within the mega-story of the Bible.

5. 2009: The Twilight Saga, by Stephenie Meyer, and Spotlight by John Granger
This might seem like cheating, to list a saga of four books and then to go and add another book that provides a literary analysis of the series, but these books together have indeed changed who I am. Before reading these books, I read a lot of books. But it wasn't until I read Twilight and Breaking Dawn (and the other two books that fit in between them) that I realised that what I learnt about reading and understanding books in Year 12 English actually applied to anything other than the works of Geoffrey Chaucer and Robert Frost. Somehow, despite my A grade, and my voracious reading before, during and after Year 12, I managed to miss that nugget. (A bit like I managed to miss the nugget of the gospel message in years of Sunday School and Youth Group, I imagine.) Yes: Good Books have more than one meaning, and that meaning is often hidden under the surface. Lightbulb! Reading Spotlight - and posts on Granger's Forks High School Professor website - showed me that there was even more to understanding the meaning of literature than the smattering of such tropes as allegory and irony as I had absorbed from Mr Collins, my English teacher. I never would have read John's book if it wasn't for Stephenie's. Now, thanks to John, I can use "alchemical scaffolding", "ring composition" and "anagogical analysis" in sentences and know what I am talking about, even if you don't!

These two just missed the cut:

2002: The Well-Trained Mind by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise-Bauer
This book is the reason why I homeschooled Joshua, Anna, and (intermittently) Abigail for their kindergarten and pre-primary years. And through me recommending this book, it's the reason quite a few of my friends now homeschool as well. While I am not homeschooling this year, and I don't plan to go back to homeschooling long term, this book has made an impact on the way I teach kids in Children's Church and in the books Jeff and I choose to read aloud to our kids (the very term "read aloud" is only in my vocabulary because of TWTM).

2008: Redemption: Accomplished and Applied by John Murray
I read this book for one of the Trinity@Night courses I did. It helped me to understand my salvation on a much deeper level than I ever had before. It took a lot of effort to get through, but the effort has paid off in my having a very good understanding of what it means that I am saved, how I was saved, and how I am sure I am saved.

I'm supposed to tag 3-5 others to keep the meme going, but everyone I would tag (Meredith, Amy, Kellie) has already been tagged. Actually, I would be curious about John Granger's top five. Bet Harry Potter is there...

So I'll just leave you with Jeff's list, in order from most recent to earliest:
1. Total Church by Tim Chester
2. Mere Christianity by CS Lewis
3. The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman


Mrs. Edwards said...

I was very eager for this post and it does not disappoint! It is true that even really good books don't necessarily change who we are, so it was interesting meme to consider.

After reading this article ( which quotes your friend John Granger, I am actually reconsidering my decade long indifference toward Harry Potter. Perhaps I would like it after all. Maybe it comes off as close minded, but I was one who felt the witchcraft was glorified in a way that Tolkien/Lewis/Macdonald, et. al. didn't do. At any rate, I don't exactly have the time, but I think I'll plow through the series and then plow through the movies.

Now, I'm off to click on the Nicky Gumbel link and after that, play catch with Lane.

About that Alpha course---I'm just sick that my congregation doesn't know a thing about it and doesn't "do" it.

Sharon said...

But do they do something else that is similar? Such as Christianity Explored or Christianity Explained or Two Ways to Live? There are lots of options out there, and different ones appeal to different groups, or for use one-to-one.

Alpha is very Anglo, so it might not go over so well in the US, and it does have a significant focus on the Holy Spirit that some (not me) would consider too charismatic. But as an explanation of and apologetic for the gospel, it is fantastic. And the basic sessions on being part of the church body, praying and reading a Bible were foundational to helping me to build a Christian life that is strong, rather than faltering. I've helped others run a Youth Alpha course also and that was really good as well.

On the topic of Harry Potter, you might be interested in this article, which is more detailed than the one you quoted.

Meredith said...

That's a really interesting list Sharon. Thanks for giving it so much thought. Looking at your list of books you are reading and read, well, there seems to be plenty of quality there! And all books touch us in lots of ways if we read carefully. So I imagine it was very hard to keep your list down. Thanks for playing. Mx

Sharon said...

Meredith, thanks to you for tagging me! It was good to think about this. There are so many books I have read, some of them very good books, that haven't made that much of an impact. So it was good to reflect upon which books have made a big impact. I wonder if I should start a meme on the "Five sermons that changed who I am." That might be interesting!