As I hurtle towards my thirtieth birthday, I decided to put aside by 1/3 life crisis (it’s not a thing – but I’m feeling it!) and think about the 30 books* which I have loved the most and which have been the most influential in my own writing. I haven’t ranked them because that would be utterly impossible, and they are a mixture of children’s books, memoirs, theology and fiction. I hope it may give you some inspiration for your next read.
The Bible: Okay, this is probably obvious, but the Bible has been the backbone of my reading for my whole life – whether it’s been read to me, I’ve read it devotionally or studied it for an essay it has more than influenced me, but been part of the trellis of my life.
The Butterfly Lion, Michael Morpurgo. When I first read this, I was yet to develop my love of butterflies, but something about the ache for home expressed by Morpurgo stuck with me and it was one of the first books I chose to re-read multiple times.
Journey to the River Sea, Eva Ibbotson. Simply a lovely story, beautifully written and one I carried around in my school bag often so that I could read it in every spare moment.
I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith. It’s possible that this was the book which crystallised my wish to become a writer – and it certainly inspired me to start writing a diary – although never from a kitchen sink like this protagonist did – I definitely tried, though!
Soul Sista, Beth Redman. This was the first christian book I read as a teenager and I devoured it! I haven’t read it in many years, but I remember how much it pointed me to reading the Bible myself and trying to sort through the muddle of my heart as I entered my teenage years.
July, Karen Roberts. I read this story after returning from a trip to Sri Lanka with my family aged twelve; I came away still not really understanding the country half of my family were from, but this book gave me a peek. It’s not an easy read, it’s violent at times but it taught me more about the Sri Lankan civil war and enabled me to find myself in the country my Dad grew up in.
Goodnight Mister Tom, Michelle Magorian. Oh how I loved this; and it was this book which began my love affair with books set in the 1930s and 1940s. It’s also has one of the few TV adaptations which I loved as much as I loved the book.
The Magician’s Nephew, CS Lewis. A world which is sung into being was always going to resonate with me! And in later years, I have loved discovering the rich theology that underlies not just this book, but the whole Narnia chronicles.
The Harry Potter Series, J.K. Rowling. I know it’s seven books – but I refuse to pick a favourite! I have read these more times than any other, and listened to Stephen Fry reading them as I fell asleep for many years on audio cassette, CD and mp3, but I don’t get bored, it simply feels like coming home.
Mocha with Max, Max Lucado. We used to visit my local christian bookshop at least once a month, and I chose this because I thought the idea of a mocha sounded interesting! It was one I returned again and again to, as I found so much comfort and hope in the way Max shared stories of Jesus.
Cafe Theology, Michael Lloyd. The book that began my love of theology. I bought this from the aforementioned bookshop and it made me want to be a theologian – I began to read the Bible differently from then on.
God on Mute, Pete Greig. I read this the Easter after I first developed depression, and the idea of Holy Saturday, the day heaven fell silent captivated and comforted me in equal parts.
Secret Scars, Abigail Robson. I was given this memoir about self-harm after I disclosed it to my boyfriend at the time, he gave me this, signed by Abbie and years later I attended a retreat she ran and we became friends. Abbie’s honesty and hope was a beacon to me and I continue to recommend this first for a christian struggling with self-harm.
Wasted, Marya Hornbacher. If Abbie’s book gave me hope; this told me I was not alone. The writing is breathtakingly brutal and brilliant, and Marya put into words feelings I’d never been able to articulate.
A Grief Observed, CS Lewis. I credit this book for getting me my place at the London School of Theology. When asked what I thought about Lewis’ “The Problem with Pain”, I replied that it was best read in conjunction with this slim volume written in the wake of his wife’s death to best understand the breadth and depth of the problem of evil. It’s a thought I stand by over a decade later!
The Island, Victoria Hislop. A holiday read that remained with me long past turning the last page, it made me want to learn more about leprosy, about Spinalonga and I’m very excited that a sequel has been announced for later this year.
The Other Hand, Chris Cleave. This is a masterclass in writing and Cleave’s writing on scars has had a profound impact on the way I understood my scars.
A Psychology of Hope, Kaplan and Schwartz. I saw this book in Foyles the summer before I began my degree and I decided there and then that I would write my dissertation on how christians can respond to those who are suicidal – I didn’t know how much of my work this project would spark.
Mud and Stars, Robert Twycross. I was given this book before I embarked on a summer placement working alongside mental health chaplains and it struck me for perhaps the first time how beauty and pain are so often intertwined.
Night Falls Fast, Kay Redfield Jamison. A exploration on suicide, this is not what I’d call an enjoyable read, but it’s hopeful and helpful.
Wounded Healer, Henri Nouwen. This classic has underlined much of my approach to my work and theology, that the pain we live through can be used a fuel for our fire.
Lament for a Son, Nicholas Wolterstorff. A heartbreaking book written in the aftermath of his son’s death, this was the book that began my journey looking at lament.
The Message of the Psalms, Walter Brueggemann. A theologically rich reflection on my favourite book in the Bible.
Resurrecting the Person, John Swinton. Another writer who has had a huge influence on my own theology, Swinton’s concept of coming alongside someone who is drowning in their mental health problems to see them become more like themselves again is wonderful.
Faith in the Fog, Jeff Lucas. I love a lot of Jeff’s books, but this one has a special place in my heart – I particularly love the way he expounds the reinstating of Peter after that BBQ on the beach with Jesus.
When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi. This began my love affair with memoirs, it’s a celebration of life and love in the midst of death.
Finding God in the Ruins, Matt Bays. A recommendation by Tanya Marlow, I love Bays’ writing but also how he casts a vision of God who, through Jesus delves into our deepest pain alongside us.
Those Who Wait, Tanya Marlow. This advent reflection came into my life as we were trying for a baby and then subsequently suffering a miscarriage and her pastoral and wise look at the waiting was a great comfort.
Rejoicing in Lament, J Todd Billings. A true ‘theology from the middle’, this book recounts the author’s journey with terminal illness and rich theological insight into lament.
The Girl Deconstruction Project, Rachel Gardner. Last but by no means least, this has a place not only because it’s the heart pouring of a very dear friend who writes of joy in the way she lives out joy, but also because it was the very first time my own words appeared in a real, hardback book!
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