I promise you that I’m not trying to un-subtly orchestrate a series of events and conversations that ends with (A) my defection from TTAF and the establishment of a site devoted solely to lists about books or (B) my conversion of the other administrators into mindless automatons who only write lists about books. Most of this is at least partly true. Probably.
Anyway, I came across – as I am wont to do, it should by now be clear – a list that had been compiled as the results of a poll done by, I think, The Telegraph, an English website and – again, I think – newspaper. (I’m obviously pouring hours into the research here.) The guiding question was simple enough: What books do you want your children to read? The results were a sort of communal list that testifies to the popularity of the books that finished at or near the top (Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia were all up there, unsurprisingly, to my mind.), but also to something less defined than simply that. The question (perhaps unintentionally) seems to indicate some greater, more noble value than simple favoritism, perhaps by focusing more on what those books do to us than simply how enjoyable they are (though that doubtlessly comes into it.
As you’ve no doubt predicted, I thought about all the books that might go onto a long-list for such distinction in my own experience, and then that list was loosely whittled down to the books not just that I have loved, but that I think might serve my son in some greater capacity. This is what I came up with, in no certain order:
The Bible: I’m nothing if not a wild card! There is too much to be said for why I selected this to fit into a dozen posts, let alone a bullet in one. Suffice it to say that if Benjamin only ever reads one book (and I hope that is NOT the case), may it be this one.
The Screwtape Letters – C.S. Lewis: We tell ourselves stories (and tell others stories about ourselves) so that we might better come to understand the world in which we live and the ways that it appears to us to work. This book is one of the more affecting examples of the ways in which we use narratives to explore vital elements of our humanity and the things that intrude upon it.
Why We Can’t Wait – Martin Luther King Jr.: This collection of MLK’s correspondence is not only a way to better understand the history of a time period, but also grasp the essence of humility and the vitality and passion of a great leader. Not bad as a how-to guide to rhetoric, either.
East of Eden – John Steinbeck: I talked about this one in the Long Novels List, but it makes this one too because of the psychologically complex picture Steinbeck paints of we flawed humans, scrabbling about for something meaningful that we might define ourselves by. I hope that Benjamin might be empathetic enough to recognize how hard it is for most of us to just live.
The Harry Potter Series – J.K. Rowling: There is much to be said for losing yourself in another world, for stories that teach us that some things are true and some are false, some right and some wrong, that people are not always what they seem, and that though fear stalks around us most of the time, it might be warded off and even overcome by kindness, humility, trust, hope, grace, and the workings of forces beyond our control our even our imaginations. Many stories teach these lessons, but this is my favorite, and for all the reasons I want my son to love The Beatles and Kentucky Basketball and hot tea and crackling fires in winter, I want him to love Harry Potter too.
(Exhaling). There. Just five. Too few by a fair sight, but I hope he reads them and that they are as mysterious and instructive and troubling as they have been to me.