Tens of millions of Americans will be making New Year’s resolutions to lose weight, exercise more and better manage their finances. These are all very good things, but I might add one more to your list:
Read more books.
It was the late Charlie “Tremendous” Jones who famously observed, “You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.”
So, as we cross from one year into the next, what might you read that will positively change you for the better? Here are some suggestions. This list is hardly exhaustive.
- The Bible: Comprised of 66 separate books but telling one cohesive story, you cannot read anything better than God’s inspired and inerrant Word. Start with Genesis or Revelation or maybe Proverbs or the Gospels. It doesn’t matter. If this is the only book you read all year, it will be enough.
“Nobody ever outgrows Scripture,” said Charles Spurgeon. “The book widens and deepens with our years.”
- Mere Christianity: Written by C.S. Lewis in 1952, this classic is an elegant, intellectual and logical case for believing in Christianity. It’s not a light read – I sometimes have to read certain sentences a few times to fully grasp the depth of Lewis’ apologetic defense.
“Now is our chance to choose the right side,” writes Lewis. “God is holding back to give us that chance. It won’t last forever. We must take it or leave it.”
- How to Win Friends and Influence People: The signature work of Dale Carnegie, one of the founders of the modern-day self-improvement industry, this isn’t an inherently Christian book – but its main principles are compatible with our faith. Carnegie stresses selflessness – not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.
“You can make more friends in 2 months by becoming interested in other people,” wrote Carnegie, “than you can in 2 years by trying to get people interested in you.”
- A Touch of Wonder: Written by the late essayist and editor Arthur Gordon, this is a lovely series of essays written with the intent of “helping people stay in love with life.” As a resident of Savannah, Ga., many of the reflections contain references to the sea and surf.
“The world is not lacking in wonders,” noted G.K. Chesterton, “but in a sense of wonder.”
- The Good Life: One of Chuck Colson’s final books, this moving read tackles the search for purpose, meaning and truth – all from the perspective of a man who reached the world’s summit of power and discovered the climb wasn’t worth it.
“In the face of today’s skepticism, nihilism, and quiet or noisy despair,” wrote J.I. Packer, “Colson makes his point with the compelling and inspiring force that we have come to expect from him.”
- Hedges: A bestselling classic, author Jerry Jenkins lays out the importance of loving your marriage enough to protect it by establishing preventative hedges around it. He advises against men and women who are married but not to each other from going out to lunch or dinner alone. Old-fashioned? Maybe – but it’s wise counsel.
“Hedges is a unique book because it doesn’t just tell men how to solve their marital problems,” writes author and speaker Josh McDowell. “Instead it empowers them to build a defensive wall around their marriages, preventing serious problems before they begin.”
- Marriage Done Right: Written by Focus on the Family President Jim Daly, this book both makes a convincing case for the institution of holy matrimony and also includes practical advice on how to enjoy your spouse and make sure your union goes the distance.
“Culture cannot rewrite what God has laid in stone,” writes Daly. “We may tinker with it and smile at ourselves for being so enlightened. But in the long run, redefinitions will never prevail over God’s truth.”
- Love Must Be Tough: Penned by Focus on the Family founder Dr. James Dobson, this decades-old classic has helped countless couples and individuals recognize the critical ingredient that’s often overlooked in a relationship: respect.
“It may be surprising to learn that human conflict, if properly managed, can be the vehicle for transforming an unstable relationship into a vibrant, healthy marriage,” Dr. Dobson writes in the introduction. “On the other hand, the wrong response in moments of crisis can quickly smother the dying embers of love.”
- Boundaries: Ever feel like someone is taking advantage of you? In this practical and immediately applicable book, Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend discuss how clear boundaries are essential to a healthy, balanced lifestyle.
“Boundaries define us,” they write. “They define what is me and what is not me. A boundary shows me where I end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership.”
- The Book of Man: A collection of essays and writings assembled by William Bennett, this is a great resource for anyone, but especially teen boys as they travel the path to manhood.
“The purpose of this book is to explore and explain what it means to be a man,” writes Bennett in the introduction. Over 541 pages later, one has received countless tools and counsel for the journey.
- When Character was King: A terrific biography of Ronald Reagan written by one of his most famous and beloved speechwriters, Peggy Noonan, a few hours with this book will leave you longing for the 1980s. Noonan writes:
“In a time of malice he was not malicious; in a time of lies he did not falsify; in a time of great pressure he didn’t bend or break; in a time of disingenuousness, he was clear and candid about where he stood and why. And in a time when people just gave up after awhile and changed the subject, he remained on the field for the long haul.”
- The World According to Mister Rogers: A small little book, this gem is full of gentle musings and reflections from the world’s most popular children’s television host.
“Who you are inside is what helps you make and do everything in life.”
- Wait Till Next Year: A memoir written by the historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, this delightfully nostalgic read centers on her loves of family and baseball. Doris grew up one town over from me on Long Island in New York, so many of her references from trains to churches and butcher shops struck close to home. But it’s also a book about navigating the realities of loss and disappointment.
A deep, thoughtful writer, Goodwin writes, “Excitement about things became a habit, a part of my personality, and the expectation that I should enjoy new experiences often engendered the enjoyment itself.”
- Cure for the Common Life: One of many wonderful books by the popular pastor and author Max Lucado, this is a practical read designed to help you find your life’s calling.
“Sweet spot. You have one, you know,” Lucado writes. “Your life has a plot; your years have a theme. You can do something in a manner that no one else can.”
- Remember These Things: Written by ABC Radio’s Paul Harvey in the thick of the Cold War, you’ll find many of his observations and warnings eerily timeless.
“No government in history ever gave its citizens what hard-working Americans with their sleeves rolled up, have earned for themselves,” Harvey writes.
- The Great Bridge: Pulitzer Prize-winning author David McCullough’s epic story of the building of the Brooklyn Bridge is fascinating on a mere engineering level. But what’s especially inspiring is his telling of man’s quest to do what had never been done before.
“The newspapers proclaimed the bridge the engineering triumph of the age – the eighth wonder of the world.”
- Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child: A sobering, tongue-in-cheek, tough look at what contemporary culture has done to negatively impact children, Anthony Esolen is a professor of English at Providence College.
Esolen writes, “G.K. Chesterton once wrote that the trouble with people who do not believe in God is not that they then believe in nothing. It is that they will believe in anything. And the biggest anything around for people to believe in, in our day, is the state.”
- Every Good Endeavor: Since work is a major part of every person’s life, Presbyterian pastor Dr. Tim Keller’s study on the spiritual dimensions of our professional pursuits is worth everyone’s time.
“Without meaningful work we sense significant inner loss and emptiness. People who are cut off from work because of physical or other reasons quickly discover how much they need work to thrive emotionally, physically, and spiritually.”
- Common Sense: Published as a 47-page pamphlet in 1776, Thomas Paine’s clarion call for American independence from Great Britain still remains one of the most influential works ever written in North America. To know where we want to go, it’s good to know where we have been.
“Society is produced by our wants, and government by wickedness; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices,” wrote Paine. “The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first is a patron, the last a punisher.”
- Reagan: A Life in Letters: History revisionists like to paint our 40th president as something of a washed-up Hollywood actor who somehow managed to find his way to the White House. In reality, Ronald Reagan was a deep thinker who communicated and expressed his hopes and dreams through thousands of letters and personal correspondence.
“Anyone who writes knows what an effort it is to assemble your thoughts and commit them to a piece of paper,” noted Reagan’s friend, George Schultz. “A good writer is almost by necessity a good thinker.”
- Working: Fans of the biographer Robert Caro, best known for his studies of Robert Moses and President Lyndon Johnson, will enjoy this short autobiographical memoir detailing the author’s researching, interviewing and writing habits.
Writes Caro’s publishers at Alfred A. Knopf, “These reminisces bring into focus the passion, the wry self-deprecation, and the integrity with which this brilliant historian has always approached his work.”
What would you add to the list?
Wherever you are and whatever your plans might be for 2021, I hope and pray it will include the company of good books.
Follow Paul Batura @PaulBatura or contact him via email at [email protected]
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