Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Books That Made a Difference To... Me

In every issue of O: The Oprah Magazine, the "Books That Made a Difference To..." column features a celebrity and the books that have impacted his or her life greatly. I love to read this column for several reasons. One, I love books myself. And since the day I learned to read, I now have a personal history of almost four decades of amazing books in my own repertoire. Two, you can tell so much about a person by the books he or she reads, and even more by the books a person loves. Third, I often run out and find books that those celebs have loved. I'm especially likely to read the ones that people I really admire have loved.

The first book I remember falling in love with was The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. My second grade teacher, having discovered my ravenous appetite for literature, suggested I read the C.S. Lewis classic. I loved the intrigue, the mystery and the adventure of this novel, and I think my love for good books was ignited the moment I began that book.

Well, I've read a lot of classics and not-so-classics since then. For me to list every one that impacted me greatly, I wouldn't have enough space in my blog. I've forced myself to narrow my list down to books I've read in the last ten years. I didn't have enough space to list Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, Richard Wright's Manchild In the Promised Land, Margaret Walker's Jubilee or Alice Walker's The Color Purple that I read at least two decades ago. And I haven't included the countless nonfiction books that have strengthened my walk with Christ over the years. I will restrain myself to a short list of works of fiction that have enchanted, inspired and challenged me.

In the near future, I will be starting a Facebook book club. Please join us if you feel moved. The more the merrier! We'll read fiction and nonfiction alike. Some books will be Christian, but many will be mainstream. All will be spiritually, mentally and emotionally stimulating. I promise you, this won't be your regular Harlequin romance kind of book club!

So on to the novels that have made a difference to me...

Cane River

This moving story traces four generations of women from U.S. slavery to early twentieth century. This work of historical fiction contains a treasure of true facts from the family tree of author Lalita Tademy. A former vice president of a Fortune 500 high-tech company in Silicon Valley, Tademy took a two-year sabbatical from her job to research her genealogy. Her research and this book inspired me to begin the journey into my own family's colorful (pun intended) and complex ancestry. I am still on that journey today and hope to create a work similar to Cane River some day.

The Poisonwood Bible 

This powerful story follows the missionary travels of a Georgia Baptist preacher, his wife and three young daughters to Belgium Congo in the 1960's. A fire-and-brimstone kind of preacher, he ministers from an egocentric North American perspective. Clueless to the real souls of the Congolese people, he views them as savage, primitive and spiritually devoid. Over time, his wife and daughters learn to accept and appreciate the native people and their culture. Through cultural and political unrest, the missionary family experiences immense hardship and heartache, largely caused by the stubbornness of their husband and father. The Poisonwood Bible, though not a Christian novel, taught me the importance of cultural sensitivity when ministering to people of different cultures. Everyone loses when the pastor/evangelist/missionary views people only as pitiful souls needing to be saved, rather than the creative, beautiful, precious beings that God created them to be.


Night follows the real-life story of the author as an orthodox Jewish teenager during the Holocaust. His harrowing tale takes us from his home of Romania to the Nazi concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald from 1944 to 1945. At a mere 16, he is forced to become his own father's caretaker, while daily fighting for his own life. Though quite saddening at times, this memoir opened my eyes to the Holocaust like no other book of its kind. I was furious at the cruelty of the Nazi soldiers employed by Hitler's regime while more compassionate than ever towards the Jewish people that suffered under this heinous world power. Night drove me to my knees, praying for "liberty and justice for all."

The Kite Runner

This riveting novel chronicles the life of a young boy growing up in Afghanistan during the Russian invasion of the 1980's. The story's protagonist struggles through fear and cowardice to stand up against forces of evil -- from evils perpetrated by other teenagers in the city streets to evils committed by corrupt Afghan political leaders. Prior to reading this book, I knew very little about Afghanistan or the Taliban. While our U.S. troops fought daily in this country, I was relatively ignorant to the culture and history of Afghanistan. The Kite Runner opened my eyes to the disparity of the Afghan people, and opened my heart to a people group desperately in need of God's love and grace.

Redeeming Love

Last, but certainly not least, Redeeming Love brings the biblical book of Hosea to life in author Francine Rivers' vivid style of storytelling. Set in California's gold country in mid-nineteenth century, the story follows a godly man bent on following God's plan for his life, no matter what. To his surprise, God's plan includes marrying a prostitute who resists his kindness and unconditional love at every turn. With a hardened heart and warped mind, she rejects her new husband time and time again, returning to the abusive and dehumanizing life of prostitution. Yet each time her husband seeks her, forgives her and brings her back into his home and his heart. A master storyteller, Rivers sets a high standard for Christian novelists. This is a story of forgiveness, redemption and grace that the Lord used to show me the real meaning of agape love.


  1. Carla, that's it, I know for sure we were meant to be in a book club together. Every single one of those on your list, EXCEPT Cane River, I have read. HA! Don't think for a second God didn't do more than rescue a little boy that day in Fryazino, He cemented two souls together that He knew would delight in one another! :)

    I cannot wait to start reading with you. I can't wait to see what books we read and what changes us. How about we make a deal that every so many books is a classic? I want to read more classics this year. I read 4 in one year a few years ago, it took alot of will-power on some of them, but it was so worth it.

  2. PS - I know a book has moved me when I write a quote from the book and it sticks with me. From Poisonwood, I wrote this in my journal cover, "Hunger of the body is altogether different from the shallow, daily hunger of the belly. Those who have known this kind of hunger cannot enitrely love, ever again, those who have not."

  3. Fantastic! Like "Over-Caffeinated X 4", I've read every book but Cane River (which I have now added to my TBR list). Thanks for sharing...I'm only sad that you chose to keep the list "short"! I love hearing what others are reading...especially from those folks of which I am fond of. Miss you, Carla! Hope you and the family are doing well and happy! Keep writing!

  4. I thought I was a lover of literature, but I have not read some of these books. I think that I will choose a book from your list and read it. I hope that I will make such a difference in the lives of my second graders as your second grade teacher did in your life. Blessings.

  5. Thanks Ladies for your comments! Can't wait to see how God knits our hearts together even more through literature. Ondrea, God definitely had more in mind... And I write quotes from books in my journals too! Robin, I'm fond of you too, Sister. Thanks for your encouragement. Cindy, I know you're making a huge difference in your students' lives. Blessings to you too.

  6. Whoo, girl, I love to read and I am happy to report that I have read all of the novels except Night. My TBR list is soo long. I would love to join the FB book club. I have posted books that I like on my blog as well. Would love to hear of some of your other favs. Blessings to you! Miss ya much!