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So Meghan posed a really interesting question for me to think and post about. She’s really been getting into literature lately, so we’ve been having some great conversations about John Steinbeck and cool stuff like that. She had written a post a while back about her five top life-changing books. Then she asked me to get off my butt and post once in awhile and gave me the same prompts to ease back into the habit of writing. I’ve always loved reading and I think there’s a couple books that deserve an honorable mention in this list 1984 (Signet Classics) by George Orwell and The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger, but when asked a narrow question like what are the top five books that changed your life these are the books that came to mind.
1. The Old Man and The Sea by Ernest Hemingway I read this book my junior year in high school. I put this on the list because I think it was my first real experience of God’s beauty. I had learned a lot about Him during my time in Catholic school, during my CCD classes and at Lutheran Bible School, but there was a moment when my English teacher was excitedly explaining how Santiago was a symbol for Christ in many ways that totally drew my in. I’d always loved reading, but hearing about how this story represented Christ to Mr. Basche really connected with me. I think I’ve seen some beautiful truth pointing to God in every book since that day in junior year English class. I’m indebted to Mr. Basche for helping me to see beauty that way.
2. Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl I read this one in an Honors College book club. Not only does the first half of the book (Frankl’s memoirs recounting his experience in the concentration camps during World War II) tug at anyone’s heart strings, but his reflection on the importance of meaning in life is really incredible. I don’t think I comprehended half of what I was reading at the time. In retrospect I learned a lot about what I had read years earlier. At the time I’m pretty sure I just felt good about myself that I was reading such an intelligent book in such an intelligent setting, but looking back that book club really got me thinking deeply. I remember having some of the best conversations with my roommate (who was also in the book club) I’d ever had in my life. He was a staunch atheist, but cared deeply for people and had an awesome capacity for philosophical discussion. He was the first person to really challenge me to defend and think through the faith that I pretended to be practicing. This book was the impetus of some our best conversation
3. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer I remember hearing a homily about Chris McCandless (the protagonist of this biography) after our senior service day in high school. His example has haunted me ever since. I saw the movie based on the book when it came out a few years and then promptly bought the album by Eddie Vedder that was written for the movie. I just kept reflecting on how radical Chris’s life was. He gave away all of his savings, burned his pocket cash and bummed his way around the United States looking for the meaning of life. I hadn’t read the book yet though. I was returning some textbooks at the end of my first semester of college and saw a used copy for sale in the SDSU bookstore. I picked it up and leafed through the first chapter, got hooked, bought it and devoured most of it. I didn’t even finish the book then, but made the decision that my life needed to be as radical as Chris’s. He may not have come to the right conclusions, but he was serious about looking for them at all. He was so serious that he got rid of all of his possessions wouldn’t cloud his outlook. He was romantic to a fault, but I guess that was what I needed at the time. I remember telling my friend that I wanted to be a missionary of some type and give back for awhile after reading that book over Christmas break. That was the beginning of me really questioning the type of life I was living. I recently reread this book and devoured it all over again. It helps that Krakauer is an absolutely awesome writer.
4. Diary: Divine Mercy in My Soul by well… St. Faustina of course This was the first real spiritual powerhouse I’d ever encountered. I drank the Koolaid on this whole living radically for Christ thing. I’d been toying with the idea of being a radical for a year or so and then God finally made it into the picture. I found my way to the Newman Center chapel, bible in hand, and just observed what was going on. I talked to God a bit and then when I got too distracted I looked around at what everyone else was doing that looked so darn interesting. St. Faustina’s diary was making its way through the Newman crowd, so I saw a bunch of copies of that. I had just started seeing Meghan and saw her worn copy in her backpack. I asked her about it and had to pick my jaw off the floor as she described St. Faustina’s story and showed me some highlighted passages. I rush ordered it that night and got it the next day. She accompanied me through all of the early months of my conversion. I never had anyone physically there to “teach” me how to pray or show me how to love God. St. Faustina showed me. A couple days after I ordered the book I went to Germany and Austria with the SDSU concert choir. I devoured her writings on the plane and meditated on them all throughout the week-long trip. She stirred my heart to prayer and ignited my thirst for souls in such a profound way that I’m still feeling the effects of those first few months. I’ve never really stopped reading this one. I’ve written so much in it it’s practically become another journal. I’m always picking it up and returning to it.
5. The Secret Of The Rosary by St. Louis DeMonfort This is the second blow in the one-two punch combo of saint writings that God dealt my that first summer of my conversion. The rosary was that mysterious prayer that I halfheartedly offered up that really drew me into a full conversion, so naturally I wanted to learn a bit more about the prayer. I truly devoured this book. This one lit my heart for evangelization. Because of this book I reached out to a bunch of strangers to pray the rosary and fast for all the souls on our campus and the whole world. I became a little Monfortian preacher after reading that book (ask Meghan). St. Faustina taught me how to retreat to a private place within to be with the Lord. St. Louis compelled me out to reach others.