Okay, here we go…
Imagine that a local philanthropist is hosting an event for local high school students and has asked you to pick out five to ten books to hand out as door prizes. At least one book should be funny and at least one book should provide some history of Western Civilization and at least one book should have some regional connection. The philanthropist doesn’t like foul language (but will allow some four-letter words in context, such as expressed during battle by soldiers). Otherwise things are pretty wide open. What do you pick?
1. Funny: A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving. The last book at which I laughed out loud.
2. Regional (doesn’t every book have some sort of regional connection?): Complete Stories (“A Good Man is Hard to Find” is at the top of the list), Flannery O’Connor (the American South). She always gets to the heart of sin and salvation through the disturbing and the shocking.
3. Western Civ.: I suppose this is kind of cheating, since I haven’t finished it yet, but I’m going with Written on the Heart: The Case for Natural Law, J. Budziszewski. I think any arguments in the Public Square for legislation or public policy have to be based on Natural Law. Here’s a good one I have finished: The Domestication of Transcendence, William Placher. Among other things, a good argument against using theodicies.
4. While others probably already have included this one, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis. Helpful for general arguments on behalf of Christianity. Otherwise, The Weight of Glory, or Miracles.
5. More literature: The End of the Affair, Graham Greene. One of the most powerful literary arguments on the power of baptism that I’ve read (the movie with Julianne Moore screwed it up).
6. Lutheranism: Here We Stand, Hermann Sasse. As clear and straightforward as it gets.
7. Sanctification: The Quest for Holiness, Adolf Koeberle. If everyone would read this book, we could be free of the Purpose-Driven Life/Church for good.
8. The Ninety-Five Theses and The Bondage of the Will, Martin Luther. What ignited (set Ablaze?) the Reformation; and the book Luther considered his best work. This is a major piece of the history of Western Civilization.
9. Just another favorite of mine: Selected Stories, Andre Dubus (“A Father’s Story” is how I was introduced to him, after a review of his work in First Things, following his death.)