The summer I was fourteen, my parents bought me a new bicycle. A pale yellow beachcomber bicycle, with one important feature--a front basket. My parents were both working and as the youngest child, I was the only one left at home, but too old to need supervision. The bicycle was their way of giving me the freedom to take care of myself for the summer. So I would start the day watering my grandmother’s flowers and then had summer days wide open and fairly unstructured.

For better or for worse, I quickly fell into a routine and became nearly obsessed with reading. Twice a week I would ride the three miles to our local library, and each time I would reach my checkout limit of fifteen books. Piled and strapped into my bicycle basket, I would make the uphill trek back home. Most days I would read five books a day, depending on the length and difficulty. This voracious reading kept me out of trouble, if nothing more productive than that.

Most of the several hundred books I read that summer have faded from my memory, but there is one that stands out as having changed my life. That was the summer I first read Jane Eyre. I remember pondering deeply, for the first time in my selfish teenage mind, the ideas of morality, conviction, injustice, romantic love, and selfishness. I can remember vividly, sitting in my window sill, as I read about Jane choosing her moral convictions over her romantic notions. I was stunned by her desire and reasoning. Her words have come back to me on multiple occasions throughout the years as I have contemplated decisions in my life: 

“I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself. I will keep the law given by God; sanctioned by man. I will hold to the principles received by me when I was sane, and not made--as I am now. Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour; stringent are they; inviolate they may be. If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth? They have a worth--so I have always believed; and if I cannot believe it now, it is because I am insane--quite insane: with my veins running fire, and my heart beating faster than I can count its throbs. Preconceived opinions, forgone determinations, are all I have at this hour to stand by: there I plant my foot.”

-Jane Eyre
by Charlotte Bronte

Now I don’t think I am unique, because Jane’s story has probably changed many lives, but it was the first time that I realized that a book, mere words on a page, could have a profound impact on who I am, and that that impact would last more than a decade. 

Jane Eyre also fundamentally shifted my reasons for reading. I continue to be an avid reader, often reading for light-hearted entertainment. However, I find that every few years I stumble upon the right book at the right time, and as a result I am changed by a book. Clarity, hope, vision settle profoundly into my heart. I adjust my life accordingly, and move forward. 

These books are often easier to identify in hindsight--they are the ones that we remember with fondness or contemplation. For me, I remember where I was when I read them, and the person I was at that time. They carry a distinctness in memory, perhaps even to the point of you being able to recall certain passages from the book with shocking accuracy. 

Carolyn, Brad, and I have created our own lists of these books along with what we learned from them. We don't yet carry all of these favorites in our store, but those we do carry, we have linked to. We wish you all the best reading this summer!

(And please do comment below with the books that have changed you! We'd love to broaden our own book paths.)

Chelsey’s Books: 

  • The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More by Roald Dahl: a collection of stories by Roald Dahl that captures poignant life lessons. Henry Sugar is a seeker and motivated by goodness to change his life. (Carolyn here! I second this. A great set or stories for inquisitive, curious minds.)
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte: an absolute must read for all the reasons I noted above. 
  • The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis: I read this during a rough patch in life and it helped me to understand why we need to feel pain, and how a loving God allows it happen. 
  • Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn: a book about a fictional town that requires a bit of finesse for reading, but is an enjoyable tale, but with a hefty societal meaning. Are you brave enough? 

Carolyn’s Books: 

  • The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis: every time I read this book, I become acutely aware of all my faults--not in a destructive way, but in the most compassionate, motivating way possible. A book I think everyone should read yearly.
  • The Mansion by Henry Van Dyke: short and sweet, this book drives home the most important mission any of us can go after in this life.
  • A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens: Dickens for days! This book taught me that the way a person thinks, speaks, and acts creates real beauty (or ugliness) in demeanor. It taught me about sacrifice, forgiveness, and redemption.
  • Deep Work by Cal Newport: a great read on separating ourselves from distraction, in order to tap into our mind and our creative's best work.
  • The Robe by Lloyd C. Douglas: this book opened my imagination to what it might have been like to encounter Jesus Christ in the early days of the Christian faith, but from the perspective of a "pagan" Roman soldier. It illustrates in vivid story what being a Christian in kindness and courage looks like.
  • Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer: heartbreaking and heart-opening. This book is itself play, with all sorts of designs and layout and photographs used to tell the story. Some of the most memorable characters I've ever encountered in literature.

Brad’s Books: 

  • Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc by Mark Twain: A must. I have said a lot about this book. Read my whole journal post here
  • And There Was Light by Jacques Lusseyran: An enlightening view into the mind and heart of a blind child and a thrilling view into the occupation and resistance efforts of France during WWII. 
  • David Copperfield by Charles Dickens: Characters so fully developed you feel like you have an entirely new set of friends and a community from the past that feels so present. Leave it to Dickens to gently entangle your soul and then rock it hard with both tragedy and redemption. First a moral compass and second a love story. 
  • Architecture of Happiness by Alain De Botton: De Botton puts into words the feelings I have felt about the subtle yet powerful instruction we gain from the spaces we occupy. An important book about how to match your values and your surroundings. 
  • The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom: My mom asked me to read this when I was quite young and it shaped my understanding of compassion and has continued to inspire my threshold (if that can even exist) for forgiveness. I have yet to come close to reaching anywhere near it and have been blessed by a forgiving heart. 
July 19, 2019 — Chelsey Newbould
Tags: Books

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