What books have had the greatest impact in making you the person you are today?
I get asked this from time to time, and I always love to talk about the books that have influenced me enough to make me, well... me.
The Books that Make the Believer:
Making Real What I Already Believe by John Fischer helped me sort through what I thought I believed about life and faith because I'd grown up being taught it and what I actually believed about life and faith because I had lived it and experienced it.
The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis was the first book to help me see that most often the biggest obstacle to personal faith is all the "good" things we treasure more than the "best" thing, and how perhaps the greatest obstruction in the path of belief is religion itself.
A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis showed me how a man could endure great pain and come out the other side somehow both weaker and stronger and more real than before.
The Jesus I Never Knew and What's So Amazing About Grace by Philip Yancey took me back past all the cultural and church and historical baggage about Jesus and church (and Church) and helped me find out just how radical a human being he was, and an example for me to be in regards to emptying my life out in the sake and service of others.
Tangled Up in the Bible: Bob Dylan and Scripture by Michael Gilmour helped me realized that "St. Bob" and I are more alike that I thought in our ongoing love/hate relationship with the church and the very beliefs we espouse.
Messy Spirituality by Mike Yaconelli taught me that God made some of us to be bricks for the stain-glassed windows and speedbumps for the journey of faith to make the Church question itself and learn to laugh at itself far more than it questions others and judges them -- and it taught me that I'm okay with being made that way.
And most recently, God Is Disappointed in You by Mark Russell (with awesome cartoons by Shannon Wheeler) has continued to inspire me to live my seemingly heathenic life of religious faith that causes more problems than it solves and keep enjoying God's sense of humor both at me and at the world He/She/It (being beyond our mere pronouns) created.
The Books that Make the Writer:
The Adventures of Monkey by Arthur Waley taught me the thrill of reading when I was young and longed for adventures guided by words.
The Childcraft Encyclopedia: Stories and Fables introduced me to the stories of the world beyond just the legends of the Greeks and Romans.
Fox in Socks by Dr. Seuss showed me how much fun words could be, both alone and in a group.
Welcome to the Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., and in particular "Harrison Bergeron," inspired me to never let myself get shackled creatively, damn the consequences, and to try to inspire others to lose their shackles too.
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway taught me how to write and taught me that bittersweet, not completely happy endings are the best endings for stories because we human beings learn best through them instead of happy endings that don't challenge us.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver taught me how to be inspired by Hemingway without trying to be a clone of him when I write.
The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler taught me how to bring the literary inspiration I got from Hemingway and marry it up to pulp-based, adventure storytelling.