Monday, August 13, 2012

Ten Books I Go Back to Over and Over

 Welcome to my study, my den, my own, personal sacred space.
Leave your shoes at the door and come on in.

1. Eat Pray Love -

The famous book and movie by and about Elizabeth Gilbert. Some people hated it, found it self-indulgent and trite. I loved it, found it challenging, funny, inspiring, self-indulgent, and trite - all of which are good things in moderation. I find that when I am overly-altruistic, I get angry, resentful, and complain too much about the people I think I'm sacrificing myself for. At those times, I need to eat, love, and pray myself back into a place of peace. This book helps me do just that.

2. When God is Silent -

Barbara Brown Taylor is one of my favorite authors. My copies of the memoirs of her faith journey, Leaving Church and An Altar in the World, are scribbled in, underlined, dog-eared, and dearly beloved. When God is Silent consists of three talks she gave at Yale Divinity School during the fall of 1997 and focuses on the problem and challenge of preaching and teaching the Word of God.

The author summarizes the book this way: "The problem, for a preacher, is how to call people to the table with the language at hand, especially when so many of them have become suspicious if not downright disdainful of the spoken word. It is a problem that is compounded by God's own silence. If God spoke directly to people, then preachers could retire. As it is, God's reticence is the problem that clergy are hired to address." Deep book. Deep truths.

3. Spilling Open
4. Brave on the Rocks

Both of these books were written by Sabrina Ward Harrison. What is it like to be a young white American woman growing into adult womanhood as an artist, a student, a traveler, and an optimist? What happens when you write a book that becomes a bestseller? How do you recover? These books tell how one woman answered these questions - and many more.

5. The Decorated Page

I journal. I love to journal. I am learning to make journals. I love making journals. (I love using the word "love.") This book provides instructions and examples of how to make journals and also how to fill them.

The top shelf of both bookcases on the left are journals
I have filled between January 2009 and the present.
As of today, those shelves contain journal volumes 84 through 129,
plus a few separate travel journals.

6. Higher Ground

Sometimes when faith falters and questions arise, the only answer offered is "there must be something wrong with you if you have this many questions."The author of this book comes to a different conclusion after asking questions and pondering the answers she receives. Don't read this book if you are looking for answers to your questions or doubts. There aren't any easy answers here.

7. The Way of the Traveler

I discovered this book in March of 2001, seven months before my first trip to Italy and six months before the tragedy of September 11th. My experience of travel, especially overseas travel, has been forever changed because of this book. There are suggestions made in this book that I follow with every trip I take, even if I am only going to tennis tournaments with my son. I underlined and wrote so much in that first copy, that I had to buy another one.

8. One Question that Can Save Your Marriage

I found this book in that amazing bookstore in Manchester, Vermont, during the summer of 1991, the summer Steve and I were married. Anyone who has ever been to Manchester knows which bookstore I'm talking about.

Like every marriage, ours has had rough spots. It continues to pass through valleys more frequently than either of us would like. This book is the thorn in my flesh that reminds me that I can't blame our marital problems exclusively on Steve. I may want to do that, but I cannot. It takes two people to be married, and the question that this book poses is a stinging reminder that I am a big part of whatever is ailing us as a couple.

9. Show Me The Way

Every spring since 2002, I have pulled out this book in the days leading up to Ash Wednesday. There is a reading and prayer for every day of Lent, and even though I have read through it many, many times, I still laugh and cry at its stories, its wisdom, and its prayers. I take it with me whenever I travel during the 40 days leading up to Easter. I cherish the Lenten wisdom of Henri Nouwen.

10. On Retreat with Thomas Merton

In preparation for the closing weeks of the year, I dust off this book just after Thanksgiving and get it ready for a week of meditation based on the writings and prayers of Thomas Merton. The book was compiled by one of his biographers, Basil Pennington, and was penned while Pennington spent time in Merton's hermitage during the writing of the biography.

The back cover of the book includes the following description: "Father Basil provides us with a day to day living with Merton, and opens us to Merton's unique experience of God. He reveals the intimate details of Merton's last days and offers spiritual guidance to knowing him. This is a book for each of us to have a retreat with Thomas Merton as our companion, and to share something of his spirit as we, too, seek the kingdom of God within."

My eclectic collection of bookshelves reflects my eclectic collection of books.
Atop the bookshelves and in front of the books, you will discover
the photographs, matchbooks, prayer beads, candles (paid for and) taken from cathedrals,
coins from various countries, elephant statues, seashells, Haitian artwork,
and other mementos that make up my travel altar.
If my travel altar could speak... actually, my travel altar does speak.
It tells many stories of this wayfaring stranger.

Several caveats -

1. These books are not "my ten favorite books." They are simply ten books that I find myself pulling off the shelves in my study at certain times of the year and during certain moments of specific need.

2. I could easily have made this a blog entitled, "20 books I go back to over and over."Or 50 books... I have many books. I review them often. Ten books seemed like a reasonable number to highlight tonight.

3. I spent more time than I am willing to admit thinking about specific people and coming up with conclusions like: "I bet he would expect to see different books on this list." "Oh, man. I should include her book. I mean, I know her. And she will be sad that her book isn't on this list." "This book is too religious. This book isn't religious enough." "Whose standards am I trying to satisfy with this list? Who is most likely to respond if I add this book to the list?" "Why am I thinking about any of this crap? Just make the list, Gail. Choose the books, write about them, and find a link on Amazon. Get it done already." Most of all was this this recurring thought: "If I were a real Christian/homeschooler/writer/traveler/mother/friend/daughter/lover/fighter_________, I would have _______________ on my list. This is really a bad and unrepresentative list." Crazy thinking, I know.

4. I have no affiliate status with and will earn no money if you buy any of the books listed here. Nor will I lose any money if you don't buy them. I will, of course, be deeply hurt if you don't buy all ten of these books. I love them and you should want them. I'm only kidding, of course! I just wanted to see if you are paying attention all the way to the end.

The top two shelves in both bookcases are filled with books I have written. 
Those are the journals I wrote between January 2000 and the end of 2008.
Eighty-three volumes of various sizes, plus separate travel journals.

5. Thank you for reading all the way to the end.

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