Six Influential Books

What books have shaped me the most? Taking IVP books out of consideration (to keep bias to a minimum), the books below have formed my thought life, my spiritual life, my sense of aesthetics, and how I view and interact with the world.

After making the list I noticed that I read most of them before I was twenty-five. And I suppose that’s to be expected. In midlife and beyond, most people have already been shaped, and it’s harder for any one book to have a significant impact. The last book in my list (presented here roughly in the order in which I read them) is the exception.
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Schaeffer’s Gift

My first exposure to InterVarsity Press came when a friend, George, handed me a copy of Escape from Reason by Francis Schaeffer over forty years ago. It was the original edition imported to the U.S. from Britain. I was in high school at the time and had heard of some of the philosophers and theologians and artists he mentioned. (Being raised Catholic, Aquinas was at least familiar.) Many were completely new, however. Even though I only had a vague sense of what he was writing about, I devoured the book.
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What I Read in 2010

Maybe you’ve noticed the “What I’m Reading” list on the right-hand column of the Andy Unedited homepage. Of those books I finished this year, by the numbers they represent fourteen novels, seventeen nonfiction books, eleven audio books, six books purchased, one given to me as a gift, seventeen from the library, one borrowed, five read for our neighborhood book club, four I blogged about and five published by InterVarsity Press (books I read off the clock after publication).

Here’s the full list for the year:
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It’s the Smell I Remember

It’s the smell I remember.

When my older sister was in high school she got a summer job at the local bookstore in the center of our town. It was only about a mile from home, so I would sometimes walk or ride my bike there to visit her. I tried not to interrupt her professional duties too much. It was there that I first learned to browse.
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The Shallows 8: The Future of the Book

The book, as Nicholas Carr notes in The Shallows, has so far proven extraordinarily resistant to computers and the Net. While book sales and book reading have plateaued, this “long sequence of printed pages assembled between a pair of stiff covers has proven to be a remarkably robust technology for more than half a millennium” (p. 99). But what about now?
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The Shallows 6: Try to Remember

Something’s gained: Everything is on the web. It’s an external hard drive for the brain, relieving us of the responsibility to remember mindless lists of facts or extended passages of literature. We free up our brain power so we can do other, more important things.

Something’s lost: Because of the way the brain works, when we cease exercising our memory, we don’t merely lose isolated bits of information. We actually lose the ability to gain insight and understanding.
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The Shallows 4: The Net Effect

The Net distracts. But not all distractions are bad. As I’ve written here before, taking a break from a problem and letting your brain do something totally different can provide an opportunity for fresh ideas to emerge. The problem is that the constantly distracting state of the Net, contends Nicholas Carr in The Shallows, changes the way we read and think. (You can find the first in my series on this book here.)
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I Get Mail

Recently, readers of Andy Unedited have let me know about a number of pieces of interest related to stuff I’ve posted. I’m happy to pass them along to you as well.

IVP Fan Mark Denning read “Will Digital Outstrip Print by 2015?” and suggested two articles to me. The first is a Smithsonian magazine piece, “Reading in a Whole New Way” by tech-guru Kevin Kelly, founding editor of Wired magazine. There he mirrors some ideas found in Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows (which I’ll be reviewing here shortly) and goes beyond, suggesting how the very meaning of reading is changing.

The second, “Quick Change in Strategy for a Bookseller,” is from the New York Times. This piece looks at how e-books are making huge changes not just for publishers but in the retail book business as well.

In a different vein, Dietrich Gruen alerted me to “Reading May Save Your Life” by Bill Ellis, following up my blog “Who Do Books Make Us?” There’s still a human side to reading, not just technology and fads. Here’s a good reminder of that.