Here are ten of my favorite books (possibly my top ten) in alphabetical order. I also included secondary recommendations of books that are similar to each favorite. These secondary recommendations are clearly not exhaustive and only include books that I have read. A quick google search will no doubt reveal much more. Enjoy!
Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
This book has been a favorite since childhood. Who can’t relate to the story of a girl who always finds herself in a predicament – whether from her vanity, her words, her temper, or her imagination? Additionally, I love a good story that is beautifully told. For example, in chapter 33, in response to Jane’s question, “Wouldn’t you just love to be rich?” Anne responds,
“We are rich….Look at that sea, girls—all silver and shadow and vision of things not seen. We couldn’t enjoy it’s loveliness anymore if we had millions of dollars and ropes of diamonds.”
If you have already read this, read the rest of the series. If you have already read those, L.M. Montgomery has a host of other books including novels and collections of short stories. Another similar series is Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink.
The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown
This book developed a love for a genre I had previously had no interest in. In simplest terms, it tells the story of the rowing crew that went to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, but it is so much more than that. Like other authors in this genre, Brown has the ability to take history and tell it in a way that it reads like a story. In chapter 13, Brown tells the crew’s story of preparation and competition before the Olympic trials. When the crew set a new school record in a trial for the Pacific Coast Regatta, Brown writes,
“…in the winnowing a kind of common character issued forth: they were all skilled, they were all tough, they were all fiercely determined, but they were also all good-hearted. Every one of them had come from humble origins or been humbled by the ravages of the hard times in which they had grown up. Each in his own way, they had all learned that nothing could be taken for granted in life, that for all their strength and good looks and youth, forces were at work in the world that were greater than they. The challenges they had faced together had taught them humility—the need to subsume their individual egos for the sake of the boat as a whole—and humility was the common gateway through which they were able now to come together and begin to do what they had not been able to do before.”
If you have already read this, consider other books by Daniel James Brown. Other great books in similar style include Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, Dead Wake by Erik Larson, and The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester.
Gods and Kings by Lynn Austen
This book is simply an enjoyable read; however, it also provoked me to see portions of the Bible in a different light. Maybe it’s just me, but before I read this book (and a chronological Bible), I never integrated the stories of the kings with the words of the prophets. I knew the Bible was broken into sections. I could tell you those sections, but I never considered how those sections corresponded. This first book in a series of five entitled, Chronicles of the Kings, fictionalizes the stories of Ahaz and Hezekiah, as well as of Micah and Isaiah. While it is fiction, it adheres to the unchanging truths of God’s Word. I can’t help but think of 1 Corinthians 10, when I read this passage:
Hezekiah sighed. “ I wish it could be true. I wish I could renew this covenant with Yahweh and see my kingdom miraculously restored, but—” He shook his head. His mind refused to believe it. He felt torn between his seeds of faith in Yahweh and his sense of reason. He turned to his grandfather, pleading wordlessly for help.
“Belief in Yahweh doesn’t come with your mind, Hezekiah. It comes with your heart. When you only believe in the things you can see with your eyes and touch with your hands, it is idolatry.”
Obviously, I suggest reading the whole series as well as Austin’s Restoration Chronicles.
If by Amy Carmichael
This short but powerful book moves me every time I read it. It essentially answers the question, “What would our lives look like if we lived out Calvary’s love?” Here is just one of several statements that cause me to examine my own life:
“If I hold on to choices of any kind, just because they are my choice; if I give any room to my private likes and dislikes, then I know nothing of Calvary love. Then Jesus said unto his disciples, If anyone will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me (Matthew 16:24). Please take all of me, Lord, that I may be wholly yours. Help me to hold loosely those things, even those blessings, that I have here, that I may be available for service to you at any time.”
If you have read If, you may also enjoy Candles in the Dark by Amy Carmichael. Also, I highly recommend the biography of Amy Carmichael’s life, A Chance to Die by another great author, Elisabeth Elliot.
Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan
You may have been forced to read this book in school. Or if you are like me, you were required to read it multiple times throughout your educational career. (Why do books seem less enjoyable when you are forced to read them?) I would like to suggest that you read it again with fresh eyes. I’m amazed at how much Scripture Bunyan was using as he tells Christian’s journey. I don’t think I realized this until I read it during my master’s class. Here is just one example that gives the reader a narrative demonstrating the use of Scripture in battling our enemy, Satan:
“But, as God would have it, while Apollyon was fetching his last blow, thereby to make a full end of this good man, Christian nimbly reached out his hand for his sword, and caught it, saying, Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy: when I fall, I shall arise, Mic. 7:8; and with that gave him a deadly thrust, which made him give back, as one that had received his mortal wound. Christian perceiving that, made at him again, saying, Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors, through Him that loved us. Rom. 8:37. And with that Apollyon spread forth his dragon wings, and sped him away, that Christian saw him no more. James 4:7.”
If you appreciate spiritual allegory, I would suggest The Burden-Bearer by Paul Chappell or Hinds’ Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard. John Bunyan also wrote Journey to Hell which tells the tragic journey of Mr. Badman. For those with intellectual or philosophical inclinations, I also suggest The Pilgrim’s Regress by C.S. Lewis.
The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
When asked what my favorite book is, this book is often my answer, possibly because no other book (besides the Bible, of course) has had such a profound impact on my spiritual walk. It compels the reader to consider how Satan works to keep people from trusting in Christ or to render those who have already trusted in Christ, useless. It is written in a series of letters from Screwtape, a servant to his “Father Below,” to his nephew Wormwood. Wormwood’s patient is a British man who ultimately triumphs over temptations. The last letter implies that the “patient” died during an air raid in World War II and went to heaven, and Wormwood is doomed to be consumed by the other demons. As you read, you have to remember that the story is being told by demons. For example, the Enemy, according to the demons, is God. With that in mind, consider this passage:
“Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause has never been in more danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks around upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsake, and still obeys.”
I would recommend reading many other books by C.S. Lewis. While I do not necessarily agree with everything he writes, his writing makes you think. And of course, his fiction, particularly The Chronicles of Narnia and The Space Trilogy, is most enjoyable!
Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Prentiss
This book tells the story and spiritual journey of a woman through her journal entries. It begins when Katherine receives the journal on her sixteenth birthday and ends with her final journal entry in which she states: “I no longer need to relieve my heart with seeking sympathy in its unconscious pages….What I have to say now, let me say to Jesus. What time and strength I used to spend in writing here, let me now spend in prayer for all men, for all sufferers, for all who are out of the way, for all who I love.” I love the relatability of this book. The journal entries are inconsistent, most often including the significant events of life. They are also written with emotions that are completely relatable to every Christian woman. Here is an example:
“I see that if I would be happy in God, I must give Him all. And there is a wicked reluctance to do that. I want Him–but I want to have my own way, too. I want to walk humbly and softly before Him and I want to go where I shall be admired and applauded. To whom shall I yield? To God? Or to myself?”
The struggle is real.
I don’t really know of any other book quite like Stepping Heavenward. However, I will use this time to suggest The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom, God’s Smuggler by Brother Andrew, and Through Gates of Splendor by Elisabeth Elliot.
T.S. Eliot: The Complete Poems and Plays (1909-1950)
This book intrigues me. There is something so fascinating and enjoyable in Eliot’s poetry. I particularly enjoy his poetry on cats. Here’s a sample from the end of “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.”
You’ve read of several kinds of Cat,
And my opinion now is that
You should need no interpreter
To understand their character.
You now have learned enough to see
That Cats are much like you and me
And other people whom we find
Possessed of various types of mind.
For some are sane and some are mad
And some are good and some are bad
And some are better, some are worse—
But all may be described in verse.
You’ve seen them both at work and games
And learnt about their proper names,
Their habits and their habitat”
How would you ad-dress a Cat?
To find out how, you’ll have to read the rest of “The Ad-Dressing of Cats” for yourself. And if you don’t like cats, I’m sorry… for you. 🙂
If you enjoy Eliot’s poetry, you may also enjoy the poetry of Sylvia Plath, E.E. Cummings or Emily Dickinson, to name a few.
The Velveteen Rabbit by Margerie Williams Bianco
Before Toy Story, there was the beautiful children’s story The Velveteen Rabbit. It is the story of a toy that aspires to become real.
“It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
Other great children’s books include Charlotte’s Web and The Trumpet Swan by E.B. White, Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne, and Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson.
A Voice in the Wind by Francine Rivers
It has been a long time since I have read this book, but its impact, particularly on my prayer life, remains. Before this book, I was always put off by the genre of Christian fiction. Most of what I had read before was shallow and insipid. This book showed me an area within the genre in which the plots are profound and the truths are stimulating. A Voice in the Wind is the first book in the Mark of the Lion series, which begins with the destruction of Jerusalem and follows one Jewish girl, Hadassah, as she becomes a slave in Rome, during Rome’s decline. Hadassah subtly tries to show the light of Christ to those around her while also struggling to survive. Once character sees the difference in her:
“Rather than remain a sealed jar, she sought only to pour herself out to others. Everything she did mirrored her faith. It was as though every waking hour of the day she was devoted to pleasing her God by serving others. This God that she worshiped consumed her. It didn’t ask for a brief visit to a temple, or a small votive offering of food or coin, or a few prayers every now and then. This God wanted all of her…. She was a slave and yet she seemed to possess a sense of freedom he had never felt.”
If you enjoy this book, you will enjoy other books by Francine Rivers and Lynn Austin, as already mentioned. I believe Tessa Afshar, Mesu Andrews, and Angela Hunt all write books that are similar in style. I have them on my shelf, but I have not yet read them; so I’ll have to get back to you.