Autobiography in Books

In the movie High Fidelity, John Cusack’s character makes the point that “what really matters is what you like, not what you are like”. Ironically I don’t recall if that was in the book, a quick google search seems to indicate that his parallel on the written page came to the opposite conclusion. Either way, the things that we like and invest ourselves in can speak volumes about us. The things that we like, in many ways, shape what we are like.

These are twelve books that have shaped what I am like.

1. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams – I have had a couple people remind me recently that the last couple books were pretty uneven, but this inaccurately described trilogy (there are five of them), along with the Dirk Gently books, are stories that I have continuously come back to for nearly 25 years now.

2. Harry Potter series by J.K Rowling – Being fairly burned out by my formal education, I had pretty much given up on reading until a friend lent me the first book in the series. I read about twenty pages, hopped in my car, drove to Wal-Mart, bought the first four books and got to work. No apologies for putting Harry Potter on this list, it jump-started my passion for reading again.

3. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway – After a brief stop over in vampire genre fiction, I jumped back into more serious literature. This was the first and Hemingway remains a favorite.

4. Dermaphoria by Craig Clevenger – This wasn’t the first, but is probably my favorite, in my phase of more subversive fiction which also includes, among other, a long list of Chuck Palahniuk books and J.G. Ballard’s Crash which is still among my least favorite books ever. Dermaphoria is like a worst case scenario Walter White (though this came out before Breaking Bad) as we are guided through the story by an unreliable narrator who is trying to piece his life back together after a lab accident doses him with his own drug, and he is no longer able discern fantasy from reality.

5. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon – It’s hard not to fall for someone who is considered to be one of the better writers of our time, who has also allowed your hometown to be his muse on multiple occasions. This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, though based largely in New York, has the advantage of truly setting itself against the backdrop of the developing history of the comic book industry.

6. Religious Literacy by Stephen Prothero – I was just beginning to consider the things of God at this time, and I still sometimes wonder if this book wasn’t recommended to show me how dumb religious people are. The end result though was a conviction that if I was going to believe any of this, I was going to be well versed in what I actually believed. Which led to…

7. Holy Bible – The most influential book in my life, and one that there will be no end of reading and studying. The major turning point.

8. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis – This falls into the “some things are cliches for a reason” category. I remember my wife once saying that she had at one point tried to memorize this book. With good reason. This is, as I have mentioned in the past, one of the books that I will give away rather than let people borrow. I’ve probably bought at least a half-dozen copies of this book, and gladly so.

9. The Reason for God by Timothy Keller – This represents a stack of books on apologetics that I mowed through a few years ago. This one, in particular, has the benefit of being accessible, honest and intellectually satisfying. It can be hard to find that balance in this type of book, but Keller does it well.

10. Jewish New Testament Commentary by David Stern – One of my former pastors gave me his copy when he went digital, and the worst thing I can say about it is that the binding in it is horrible. His copy fell apart on me and I don’t see its replacement having a particularly long shelf life either, but it is otherwise excellent. This was the first Bible commentary that I ever got my hands on and it served to give me a fresh perspective on the Scriptures. You can’t swallow it whole, there are definitely some biases, but it brings to life the context of the New Testament in a way that I haven’t seen many other places.

11. Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton – God once came to Solomon and invited him to “ask what I shall give you”. Solomon asked for wisdom. I’m pretty sure God had a similar conversation with Chesterton, but he settled on wisdom’s cousin… wit.


12. Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky – This was not my first Russian novel, that honor falls to The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. Not even my first by Dostoyevsky, that would be The Idiot. This book would make the list even if I were just considering it for the Grand Inquisitor chapter, but this is just a marvelous read. Probably the best book I have ever read, and extremely thoughtful from a Christian perspective.

This could obviously be a much longer list, actually it already is, I had planned on stopping at 10, but it is what currently represents the books that have shaped who I am and the way I think. 

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4 thoughts on “Autobiography in Books

    • Thanks for sharing, and sorry for delay in a response, WordPress apparently thought you were a robot. Before my daughter was old enough (she’s 17 months now) to make reading time difficult to find, I was on a pretty decent Russian fiction kick with Brothers Karamazov, Crime and Punishment, another pass of The Master and Margarita, and A Day in the life of Ivan Denisovich. Have yet to make the jump to Tolstoy.

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