Below are my favorite works of fiction and non-fiction (alphabetical by author, title), along with some discussion of why I like them. Although I've read more non-fiction than fiction, you'll notice from this list that I have more favorite fiction than non-fiction works.
Not all translations are created equal; a poor one can make a miserable experience of reading a great work. Because my own preferred translations are not always online, the links I've provided are for your convenience and do not reflect an endorsement of the version given.
Though somewhat unpopular with many modern readers, who particularly find the heroine Fanny Price to be somewhat "insipid," in this novel Austen gives us one of her most theological works whose critique of the rootless and ultimately empty and destructive individualism of our day should lead us to repentence rather than ridicule. Indeed, such negative reactions to the modest, disciplined, and moral Fanny should recommend the novel to us rather than the opposite.
Since I have problems with both pride and prejudice, reading this book also affords an opportunity to also read my own heart. And in Elizabeth and Darcy I see hope: that growth and change are possible, and that a courageous life is something I can chose.
Within a plot of fascinating twists and turns, intrigue and passion, Austen paints this picture of an admirable heroine (Elinor Dashwood) who feels deeply and yet is able to temper her heart with her soul and mind.
Many people are familiar with the "Grand Inquisitor" passage, where the problem of the coexistence of evil and a good God is described in gruesome detail. Fewer are aware that Dostoevsky's answer to this problem is the entire rest of this novel. The result is a novel of rich, full-bodied characters, and a presentation of a vision of living a holy life in the midst of an evil world.
Dostoevsky creates a story where through the collision of good and evil personified, we are given fascinating look of the fallenness of this world. In this novel he asks what would it look like for a truly good man to live in our midst.
A "pastoral romance," Hardy's story about the humble Farmer Oak and the beautiful Bathsheba Everdene describes a love that continuously seeks the other's blessing, even at great personal cost.
Set in the context of a bus ride from hell to heaven, Lewis does a masterful exposition of the nature of joy.
Although this is a children's novel, the last few chapters present what I personally consider the single most brilliant metaphor describing what heaven is like.
This book single-handedly rewrote how I think of time and humility.
Sure this is the first true fantasy novel, with swordfights, the glory of battle, and true love. But even more so, Tolkien reveals how there is good and there is evil, that the two are not the same, and that which we choose truly matters.
Wonderfully interesting characters, grandiose in scope, Tolstoy uses the scenes and characters to discuss subjects ranging from predestination in history to marriage and the married life.
What can I say? In the Bible is found truth, wisdom, challenge, encouragement, glory, and grace deeper than any other work. It reveals what it truly means to be human and alive. It reveals the heart of God.
In "The Weight of Glory" Lewis presents such a compelling vision of the majesty of being human that he makes it difficult for anyone to look on another human being in any way less than devastatingly special. In "The Inner Ring" Lewis describes and warns against a type of ambition that is truly life-threatening.
The writings from this book are from Nouwen's journal during one of the darkest periods of his life, when his sense of worth and value, even his relationship with God, seemed stripped away. The wrestling his journal records, and the story of hope it tells, of God's loving rebuilding of his heart, soul, and mind from this despair, is an encouragement to me and a brilliant light illuminating the areas of darkness in my own heart.
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