Will make you think twice about asking me anything. Ever.

Cassandra asked some interesting questions in her comment a couple of weeks ago.

I fell into the trap that only Christian Psychological Self Help stuff warranted my time and attention…
So, what I think would make wonderful posts…is what classic authors/books should I, in my still recovering phase, read to expand my scope and comfort level? And why do many adults do what I did? Why do we feel guilty for reading fiction, and even guiltier (is that a word??LOL) for trying to philosophize the fiction we might talk ourselves into reading??

From my experience, I think we are often drawn to Christian self-help books because they have all the answers. They tell you how to fix your life. There is not necessarily a lot of nuance. But that is also the problem with them, that they tell you how to fix your life. And, actually, our lives are not really about being fixed. They are about being broken, about finding God in those broken things, about allowing him to use our brokenness. That’s not to say the entire genre is worthless, just that, for me personally, reading a non-fiction book about what the Bible says is never as compelling as seeing someone live out what they believe, whether that is a biography or in fiction. The world is gray. Jesus came and lived in the gray. For me, fiction is about making sense of the gray. I see the truths of what the Bible is saying much more easily in fiction. Jesus was telling parables for people like me.

So, to answer Cassandra’s question, here is Kari’s Completely Unscientific Non-Comprehensive List of Books That Say Important Things And Should Be Read, Not Necessarily By You, Specifically, But People Should Read Them. Notice That I Did Not Say Everybody Should Read Them Because I Don’t Like To Make Sweeping Judgments Like That. From here on out, we’ll call this list, uh, Kari’s List. For short. There is a lot more gray on this list than black-and-white. Not all of these deal explicitly with faith, but these are books that have nudged (or pushed) me in my thinking. It is not a comprehensive list, but it is what I have to share. With all the disclaimers over, I now present the list. I am doing it in one list because I think that people would get bored if I did four or five lists in a row, and I am not good at occasional lists.

Girl Meets God by Lauren Winner (This is in my top ten – her conversion story made me believe in my own story a little bit more.)
Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott (Also in my top ten – I needed this combination of sincerity and irreverence.)
Cloister Walk and Acedia and Me by Kathleen Norris (The first one really helped me through a bad time, and all of her books have been meaningful to me in different ways.)
Almost anything by Philip Yancey (Cannot sing his praises enough.)
The Crosswicks Journals by Madeleine L’Engle (My favorite author)
The Genesis Trilogy by Madeleine L’Engle (Still my favorite author)
Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle (This one is specifically about faith and art and helped me a lot when I wanted more out of Christian books/music than what I was getting.)
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (Important thoughts on death and dying.)
My Life with the Saints by James Martin (Good thoughts on the people who came before us in the faith.)
When Jesus Came to Harvard by Harvey Cox (I don’t remember why, I just remember liking it a lot.)
Wishful Thinking and Telling the Truth by Frederick Buechner (everyone needs more Buechner)
Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi (About the power of literature.)
A Long Obedience by Eugene Peterson (Who doesn’t love Eugene Peterson?)
Night by Elie Wiesel

Young Adult Books
The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling (My obsession is well documented, I think, but it was some of the most fun I have ever had.)
The Vicky Austin series by Madeleine L’Engle (Specifically The Moon by Night and A Ring of Endless Light – these are books that I still turn to when I am needing comfort reading.)
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (This is a book that will change your life.)
Looking for Alaska by John Green (This is a book that changed my life. I am not sure if it will change yours but it just might.)
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series by Ann Brashares (Some of the most honest and sincere books about friendship that I know.)
Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr (About what it means to be good and to be forgiven.)
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
The Hunger Games and Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Oldies but goodies: Dicey’s Song by Cynthia Voigt, Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Patterson, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier, and, oh, I don’t know, so many others.

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving (Oh God, please give him back, I shall keep asking you.)
The Mitford Series by Jan Karon (Yes, they are a little simple and cheesy, but they are so pleasant. Sometimes pleasant is very nice.)
The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith (Are about the goodness in the world. It doesn’t hurt that they are also incredibly hilariously dry.)
The Lord Peter mysteries by Dorothy Sayers (My favorite gentleman detective. Gaudy Night in particular is about love and relationships and intelligence in ways that move me every time, but you should not read that one first.)
The Patron Saint of Liars and Bel Canto by Ann Patchett (I haven’t read The Patron Saint of Liars, but Andrea has convinced me to put it on hold. Bel Canto is wonderful, though.)
Circle of Friends by Maeve Binchy (This book taught me about working at relationships and friendship when I thought that love, by itself, was enough.)
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (Just . . . read it.)
Father Melancholy’s Daughter and Evensong by Gail Godwin (Mature takes on faith and relationships.)
A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest Gaines (What does it mean to be a man?)
Possession by A.S. Byatt (Love and academia and poetry and sin.)
Life of Pi by Yann Martel (What is truth? And what is faith?)
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd (This was actually not a favorite of mine, but it’s definitely worth reading.)
Some others, briefly: Digging to America by Anne Tyler, On Agate Hill by Lee Smith, The History of Love by Nicole Krauss, The Maytrees by Annie Dillard, Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven by Fannie Flagg. And I am particularly partial to The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie King.

Classic Fiction (without commentary, because they are classics and don’t need my endorsements)
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Howard’s End by E.M. Forster
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exuprey
The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Briefly: a little Dickens, a lot of Shakespeare, some Twain, some epic poetry, Virginia Woolf, Orwell, and, of course, Flannery O’Connor.

Okay, I thought about this for a couple of weeks, but what did I forget? What else do you recommend for Cassandra, and what do I sing the praises of that I have somehow left off this incredibly extensive list? (I feel so exposed.)

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