Altogether, I think we ought to read only books that bite and sting us. If the book we are reading doesn’t shake us awake like a blow to the skull, why bother reading it in the first place? So that it can make us happy, as you put it? We’d be just as happy if we had no books at all; books that make us happy we could, in a pinch, also write ourselves.

What we need are books that hit us like a most painful misfortune, like the death of someone we loved more than we love ourselves, that make use feel as though we had been banished to the woods, far from any human presence. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. Franz Kafka

I read this Franz Kafka quote below recently and it got me thinking. While I don’t fully agree with what he is saying, I think there is an element of truth in that it is important that we read books that truly challenge and inspire us at the core of our beings. Too many books (or movies or television) being released today are most likely not worth our time and effort. In some cases, it would probably be better if we would look in the section of the bookstore where they keep all the classics. To paraphrase a Greek proverb, there are many good books, but very few great ones. Kafka seems to suggest that we should only take time to read the great ones–the ones that sting us.

What books have bitten and stung you? As I read that description that Kafka wrote, few books have stung me and genuinely captured my imagination and changed me. Below I have listed a handful of books which have deeply impacted my life.

  • The Bible (especially these books: Genesis, I and II Kings, Proverbs, Song of Songs, Isaiah, Ezekiel, John, Ephesians, Colossians, and Revelation)
  • The Book of the Dun Cow, Ragman and Other Cries of Faith and The Miniature Cathedral, Walter Wangerin
  • I Loved a Girl and I Married You, Walter Trobisch
  • Bodies in Motion and at Rest: On Metaphor and Mortality, Thomas Lynch
  • Franny and Zooey, J.D. Salinger
  • The Sunday of Life, Raymond Queneau
  • If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller, Italo Calvino
  • People of the Lie, F. Scott Peck
  • On Being Blue, William H. Gass
  • God at War and Satan and the Problem of Evil, Greg Boyd
  • The poetry of W.S. Merwin, Anne Sexton, T.S. Eliot, Pablo Neruda and E.E. Cummings
  • Life: a User’s Manual, Georg Perec
  • The Pursuit of God: The Human Thirst for the Divine, A.W. Tozer
  • This Side of Paradise, F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Mere Christianity, The Great Divorce, The Screwtape Letters and A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis

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In: Spiritual Formation
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