The favorite books on my shelves

After giving away a few thousands books–dealing with the ministry, history, cartooning, and a hundred other subjects–I’ve pared down my collection to a stark 500 or so.  And, painful though it is, I’m still trying to shrink that number.

Adrian Rogers stood in my pastor’s study once, perusing the titles on the shelves.  “I’m a book-aholic,” he said.  “I cannot throw a book away.”  He paused and said, “I even have ‘None Dare Call it Treason,'” perhaps the worst book of the 20th century. Well, it is if we rule out Mein Kampf, and I’m in favor of ruling that one out forever.

Some books are such keepers, they are practically enshrined on my shelves.  They had something–a chapter, a story, a paragraph, a line, a fact–that left an indelible imprint on my soul, and are as dear to me as it’s possible for an inanimate object to be.  I keep Jeff Christopherson’s “Kingdom Matrix” just because of the story he tells of his parents.

Two or three are books I read in elementary school and never forgot. So, when I stumbled across them in old, used bookstores, I had to have them.  A few are Bible commentaries, but most are not.  Some are history books, my major field of study in college and seminary.  Three of them tell the same story, basically, of the life of one of the 20th century’s most fascinating characters, Mitsuo Fuchida, who led the Japanese bombing raid on Pearl Harbor in 1941, triggering U.S. involvement in the Second World War.  Later, he was converted to Christ and spent the last quarter-century of his life spreading the Gospel across the globe. The most fascinating aspect of his never boring story is how the Lord reached him. Two of the books are biographies of Fuchida and one is his own account of his life.

An entire bookcase is devoted to books dealing with World War 2.  Two of them, sitting side by side, deal with incidents in 1940, arguably the most dramatic year of the century (due to the Nazi invasion of the low countries, the coming to power of Winston Churchill, the bombing of Britain, and all the hemming and hawing going on in this country as America tried to figure out what to do, what to do).  1940 was the year both my wife and I arrived on the planet, so that might figure into the choice, but I doubt.

One book, “Bagful of Marbles,” tells the story of Joseph Joffo, who fled Nazi-occupied Paris in 1940 as a 10-year-old, along with his brother Maurice, 2 years older.  The book beside is, “Paris Underground,” by Etta Shiber tells how this American lady was trapped in Paris when the Nazis invaded.  She and her French friend spent the next two years helping downed British fliers get back to their country.

I have four books on Edward R. Murrow, the “voice” that brought Europe’s war into America’s living rooms before this country got involved.  I own “This is London,” the 1941 compilation of his reports to America.  The book is rare.  I think I paid $100 for it a few years back.

I have several books by Warren Wiersbe, my favorite Bible teacher.  He’s the best ever at putting his personality (quiet, profound, funny) in his writing.  And several by Philip Yancey, including “Rumors.”  I have two by Philip and Dr. Paul Brand, “Fearfully and Wonderfully Made” and “Pain: The Gift No One Wants.”  And I have several by Corrie ten Boom, another of the originals of the 20th century, and by Ruth Bell Graham, the “real saint” of that household.

“Love is Something You Do” is a compilation of sermons by Frederick Speakman from the 1950s.  It touched me as a young minister, and even today, the thrust of that title sermon fuels my fascination with Luke 6:27-35, so I own two copies of the book.  Don’t ask me why; I just do.

I have a whole shelf of books by C. S. Lewis, which will not surprise you.  And similarly, some by Lee Strobel.  And James Dobson, including “Love Must Be Tough,” of which I have bought a dozen or more for counselees whose marriages were being ripped apart by some unseen threat.  Dobson’s tiny book “Romantic Love” was taught and then given to young marrieds in our last pastorate.  And speaking of that…

The one book which I’ve given most is “How Do You Say I Love You,” by Judson Swihart.  That is the forerunner of Gary Chapman’s “Five Love Languages.”  I gave away hundreds of Swihart’s book, one to every newlywed couple in premarital counsel, for many years.  It’s a better book than Chapman’s, although Gary simplified the concept and made it accessible to a few zillion people, so no one is faulting him for that.

Dr. Ross Campbell wrote “How to Really Love Your Child,” and changed my parenting technique forever.  So, we gave away a hundred or two of his book and flew him down from Chattanooga to speak for a weekend in the Columbus, MS church I pastored.

I used to read everything Tony Campolo wrote.  He once told me over breakfast in Black Mountain, NC, “My wife says I’ve never had an unpublished thought.”  My favorite of his books are ‘Ten Hot Potatoes Christians are Afraid to Touch’ and ‘The Kingdom of God is a Party.’ Tony could be caustic and brutal from the pulpit, so eventually a lot of denominations decided they could not risk bringing him in to speak.  But he’s so worth reading.

The Bible commentaries of Kent Hughes have long been a favorite of mine.  He writes well, but I found him hard to follow when he spoke at Beeson Divinity School one summer.  His books contain a few stories that I’ve told ever since discovering them.

Did I mention Elisabeth Elliot?  She is wonderful in everything.  The same for Mark Buchanan and John Ortberg.

Somewhere around here, maybe still in a box somewhere, is “Peace Child,” a book by missionary writer (name?) that felt like a gift from Heaven when I read it.  His subsequent book, “Eternity in Their Hearts,” picked up on the discovery from the first book.  I always wished his books had been widely read (and they may have been, but if so, I’ve not heard it).

I have a ton of books on Harry Truman, Abraham Lincoln, and Winston Churchill.  Just what a retired Baptist preacher needs, right?  Long story, which we’ll not go into here.  Before I began downsizing, I must have had 50 books on cartoons and cartooning, some by the great artists themselves.  I still have the first book of Jeff MacNelly’s editorial cartoons in which he caricatured the recipient in the front.  That man’s widow presented me with the book when I was her pastor in the 1980s.  MacNelly was the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist for the Richmond News-Leader who gave us the “Shoe” comic strip, and died much too young.

I dropped by Barnes and Noble one day last week.  It’s the closest one to my house, but believe this or don’t, after living here nine months, this was my first visit.  (There is a great used bookstore a lot closer!)  When I entered, I kept my defenses up.  “I do not need another book,” I kept saying.  A half-hour later, I had bought two.  And no, I did not tell my wife.  She is an English teacher and a voracious reader, but I’m not sure she would understand this. By my side of the bed, she finally placed a wire carrier for the various books I’m reading, thus ending the clutter.  We hope. Smiley-face goes here.

Oh, speaking of which.  I have read all the Jan Karon books in her Mitford series, and loved them very much.  I wish every young pastor would model themselves after Father Tim in a hundred ways.  I’ve read Mignon Ballard’s “Miss Dimple” novels on World War 2, and recommend them highly.

And what more shall I say. For the time would fail me to tell of David McCullough’s books on the Panama Canal, the Brooklyn Bridge, and other historical subjects.  I loved his commencement addresses recently published as “The American Spirit.”  On one occasion, drawing to the close of his speech to the graduating class at the University of Massachusetts, he said, “Read a wise and sparkling book called ‘While the Music Lasts’ by an author named William Bulger.  See especially page 19, where he describes his own discovery of books.”

So, I bought the book, and loved it.  What I was to discover on closer examination, however, is that Dr. Bulger, the author of said book, was the president of UMass and sitting squarely behind McCullough as he delivered his address.  Everyone there knew he was buttering up his host, but they all loved it.  And so do I.

A good book is like a new friend whom you want to keep forever.











3 thoughts on “The favorite books on my shelves

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