Saturday, April 19, 2008

600 Books

I am turning 23 next Saturday. I did the math, and realized that, if I read one good book per month, and live to be 73, I only have time to read 600 good books before I die, hopefully of liver cancer.

I'll probably read other books than the big 600. If I wanted to, I could read a book a week, on average. The book a month estimate is for good books. I've read a lot of books in my life, but I think I've only read about six good books in my life:

The Prince

The Art of War

Mere Christianity

The Everlasting Man

Fear and Trembling

The Sickness unto Death

I'm realizing there's a huge difference between plain old books and good books, the sort of books by dead people that are read more than a hundred years later. The Radical Reformission, or Blue Like Jazz, are a couple of books that I really like and have found to be quite helpful, but I don't think they'll be read in a hundred years. They aren't built to last. People are going to read The Republic or Critique of Pure Reason, until the end of the world, and maybe even after that, because they say something no one had said before in a timeless way. 

I want to read good books, because most of the things I say, have been said before me, more eloquently.

What are your suggestions for really good books, the ones that are going to be read a hundred years from now, that say new things that haven't been said before? (I've mostly mentioned non-fiction here, but fiction that's about something big is super, too.)


  1. alex- i have a book by a christian author, which has the aim of spurring christians to worship God with their mind. anyway, in the back it has a list of books (about 150) collected by a secular scholar known as the "Great Conversation." it has all those books you were talking about. i typed up the first part of that list, so i'll email that to you, but if you want the rest, i can lend the book to you.

  2. i recommend anything by fyodor dostoevsky.

  3. If you haven't read LotR and the Chronicles of Narnia as an adult, I'd recommend those because they're just super-meaningful about everything.

    In my own life, sermons by Tim Keller and John Piper have tended to shape how I think a lot. But you asked about books, and so I'll say these:

    -Anything by Wendell Berry is amazing, but if you just pick one, read Life is a Miracle. Especially because you are in academia. If you like that, then read Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community because it is also awesome.

    Bruchko should have died about 18 times already, but he didn't. Between his stubbornness and God's grace, a lot of awesome things happened. This book has really helped me to think about the surrender I want to have to God in missions work.

    Finally, Christianity Rediscovered is the story of a guy who got fed up with church structure preventing people from meeting Jesus, and so he decided to try it like the Apostle Paul did. The results were pretty astounding, and a lot of the thoughts he had along the way about what is really important and ubiquitous in the Christian life across every culture are going to endure.

  4. I second Kris' recommendation, but I'll go one better. Read The Idiot. It's my favorite book. I ought to read it again, though I fear that a second reading could never have quite the same, unbelievable impact that the first did.

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  6. I recommend reading Paradise Lost (with a good commentary on hand), and Mystery & Manners by Flannery O'Connor. The latter is about the importance of (good) fiction. It's a book that helps you read other good books and to avoid bad ones.

  7. Read "Life of Moses" by St. Gregory of Nyssa

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  9. "Candide" by Voltaire

  10. if you like the everlasting man, i also recommend orthodoxy.

    in addition, the stranger and/or the myth of sisyphus by camus, at least one work by nietzsche (to get the other side of the proto-existentialist coin), and um...yeah, what cobe said: catch-22. excellent.

  11. oh, and one more: meditations by marcus aurelius.

  12. "The Seven Lamps of Architecture" by John Ruskin. It's an amazing theological treatise on architecture. I don't agree with everything in it, but it's pretty interesting.

  13. I don't think Piper will be read in 100 years...but that's just my extremely biased opinion. I'm reading The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky, and loved Crime and Punishment. War and Peace is timeless. Sophocles' works on Oedipus...I agree with you about Blue Like Jazz...very good for today, but not lasting. Till We Have Faces and the Space Trilogy by Lewis are classics in my not-so-humble opinion.

    There's a book by JI Packer about knowing God, some Nietzsche...get the list off How to Read a Book or look at the curriculum for St. John's school of the Great Books...hope that is helpful (opinionated, but helpful) the Peace of Christ be with you...