I have many books.
Fiction, nonfiction, poetry, drama. Mysteries, self-help, confessional, and Victorian. Sci-fi, essays, lyrical, and absurdist. I have lots of books.
So the idea of finding five truly inspirational ones was not difficult. The trouble was narrowing it down to five and measuring their impact on my life. I finally decided on five books that introduced me to the work of my favorite authors. So there are many books in my collection represented by these five.
Here’s the list:
- Living a Beautiful Life: 500 Ways to Add Elegance, Order, Beauty, and Joy to Every Day of Your Life by Alexandra Stoddard
I first read ths book in college thirty years ago when it was lent to me by a close friend, Deidre. Stoddard, an interior designer by trade, began writing about how people could introduce beauty into their lives by concentrating on creating rituals of beauty around eating, bathing, and sleeping—representative for Stoddard of activities that everyone does every day. The book represented a new way of thinking for me; I like many others thought of rituals as reserved for special occasions. Stoddard points out that ninety percent of our lives were lived in the everyday, which could be made more special with attention and care given to details of our otherwise mundane lives.
The book seems to deal with surface ideas about living your life, suggesting such things as fresh flowers in vases, simple ingredients used to their best advantage in cooking, and lavender sachets in drawers. But Stoddard notes that beauty, simplicity, and order can help elevate your surface experiences to where they can be spiritually and mentally uplifting.
Stoddard has written many other books on living out these principles as well—I have quite a large collection of her wisdom on decorating, home organization, relationships, parenting, and the divine. Approaching her eighties has given Stoddard a long life in which to reflect and gain wisdom on these many topics, but Living a Beautiful Life is a great introduction to her work, philosophy, and aesthetic.
- Creating a Charmed Life: Sensible, Spiritual Secrets Every Woman Should Know by Victoria Moran.
I came to this author during my self-help kick in the early 2000’s. I was searching for meaning and help in juggling all the plates I kept spinning in the air—I was living my best life as a wife, mother, and freelance writer with a husband, three daughters under the age of ten, and a burgeoning career. Moran’s book let me know that “having it all” didn’t necessarily mean “doing it all” myself and certainly not having to live life anticipating the worst that could happen. Much of Moran’s writing in this book is grounded in Christian principles without directly naming them so, preferring to call them “spiritual”. The power of positive thinking does have a lot going for it, according to Moran, and her book is structured as a series of small essays on each “charmed life” principle.
I collected more of Moran’s inspirational works much as I did Stoddard’s, all of which encouraged me to think deeper about why I made the daily choices I made and encouraged me to go deeper into the reasons for my behavior and how I could maximize my own natural gifts to help others and myself live my best life.
- God Never Blinks: 50 Lessons for Life’s Little Detours by Regina Brett
My life hit the skids in 2005 with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder following an extended episode of postpartum depression. Among the reading I turned to for solace was Brett’s first book, written after her fiftieth birthday after she survived breast cancer and chemotherapy in her thirties. Her list of fifty life lessons went viral after being published in her hometown newspaper, resulting in the book. Brett was one of the few explicitly Christian authors whose words made sense to me after my diagnosis; her emphasis on how God never forsakes or leaves us, even in the tough times, was something I needed to hear to understand the Christian life and how we are really called to live it and what exactly that entails.
Brett has two other books, one on service to others and another on finding fulfilling work, both of which I picked up after discovering this first work. But it’s still God Never Blinks that reaches out to me the most.
- Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
C.S. Lewis’ influence on my life predates any other of these books—like many children of my generation, I came to Lewis through his Narnia Chronicles. Mere Christianity is the first work I read by him that came out of his search for God and his journey to Christianity. A lay theologian, Lewis wrote this book to explain the basics behind the Christian life to people who did not understand it or how it best explained how we got where we are as a species. Lewis discusses the Trinity, Jesus’ sacrificial role, and how a Christian is supposed to operate out of the Spirit rather than the flesh, among other theological truths.
Lewis wrote many, many other theological works and memoirs throughout his long life, many of which I have picked up over the years. I love Lewis in that he takes a very systematic and rational approach to the Christian life, which runs counter to the emotionalism and reliance on experience that characterizes much modern lay thinking on Christianity. This book serves as an introduction to his style of thinking about spiritual matters and as a guide to how we can argue for Christ in a world that does not understand Him.
Lastly, number one is:
The One-Year Bible: New Living Translation from Tyndale House
The One-Year Bible has proved to be the most instrumental book in my Christian life as I live it today. The One-Year Bible is created with readings out of the Old Testament, the New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs organized in a day-by-day fashion. Starting with January 1 and ending on December 31, completing the book means you read the Bible through in a calendar year. No more getting lost in the “begats” or the other areas of the Bible that often trip people up—the New Living Translation uses the most modern language in telling the story of God’s love to his people in a vivid, compelling way. You can still tell you’re reading Scripture (unlike some modern translations that seem more like paraphrases of the Word) but you get all the excitement and storytelling that God intended to capture your attention and your heart.
Surely you can take my list and find constant inspiration in these authors, or you can make your own list and share it in the comments. This list is simply where I like to go to read inspiring and uplifting words that make my world go around.