You can tell it is my day off, and that I have relaxed a bit. I’m catching up on my blogroll, and Revd Dr Leander Harding has listed the ten books that have most influenced him. I thought I’d make a list – with the caveat that it may be revised in time. These are in date order of my reading them.
1. The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, by Stephen Donaldson. Read this when I was about 14, and have continued to return to it over the years. Some amazing set pieces, and the second sequence in particular has some marvellous theology in it. The way in which ‘poison’ is overcome means quite a lot to me, as does the understanding of the ‘unfettered’. I read quite a lot of fantasy/sf – honourable mentions should also be given to Dune and the Foundation sequence.
2. Relating, by Liz Greene. Actually a work of astrology, from when I was very interested in it, but written from the perspective of Jungian psychotherapy. I think I absorbed a lot of the therapeutic insights from her writing, even if I now see spiritual problems with the astrological side (it is antipathetic to prayer).
3. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig. Huge influence on the way that I think about the world, along with the sequel ‘Lila’. Read this shortly before travelling around the United States for three months in my ‘gap year’, which gave me a lot of time to move my thinking forward. Probably did more than any other single book to undermine my atheism (which is rather ironic, really). Another book I return to on a regular basis.
4. The Road to Serfdom, by Friedrick Hayek. Another book I read either at the end of school or in my gap year, which crystallised a lot of my beliefs about politics. I’ve become more pragmatic over time, but this still expresses my gut instincts.
5. Honest to God, by John Robinson. Read in my first year at Oxford, and probably did as much as anything else to shift my understanding of Christianity away from fundamentalism. I would disagree with much in it now, but it opened a lot of doors for me (in concert with the tuition that I was then receiving!). Should also metnion The Cost of Discipleship, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer which Robinson led me to.
6. Theology after Wittgenstein, by Fergus Kerr. Read this in my last year at University, following a tip from Professor Keith Ward. Opened up philosophy for me again, when I had pretty much given up on it – a seam which I have continued to mine ever since. Should also mention After Virtue, by Alasdair MacIntyre.
7. The Sandman sequence, by Neil Gaiman. Catalysed a lot of thinking about narrative, and the role that narrative plays in the construction of our world. I read this when I was working in London in the mid to late nineties. I still re-read it every so often with great pleasure.
8. Power, Gender and Christian Mysticism, by Grace Jantzen. Read this in the late nineties when I was doing my MA at Heythrop. This stands for all that I learnt there, particularly the way in which Christian Mysticism has been profoundly misinterpreted by post-Enlightenment thinking. Should also mention Denys Turner’s The Darkness of God.
9. Descartes’ Error, by Antonio Damasio. Read this when I began my abortive PhD at Cambridge, which was exploring the Philosophy of Mind, and it opened up a fertile link between reason and emotion. Again, this book has to stand for a particular period of time. Should also mention Martha Nussbaum’s The Fragility of Goodness.
10. Faith Beyond Resentment, James Alison. This has been the biggest influence of the last year or so, introducing me to Rene Girard and mimesis. I find his whole approach tremendously exciting and spiritually liberating, it challenges me to become a better Christian.
What’s interesting about making a list like this is what gets left out. But this will do for now.