There are so few places where we are lifted up, infused with Joy or encouraged. One way we can find these things is completely under our control We can choose what we want to read this summer. I have made it a point to find books that inspire joy in me and lead me to become more encouraged.
Thinking about that goal, I remembered many of the books that brought me incredible joy in the past. Not surprisingly, many of them are oriented around God and faith. But not every one of them fits that description. There are just some amazingly encouraging people who have not found the path of faith but have learned aspects of it regardless.
So, to help you find joy and encouragement, here is a list of books that I have read in past years that gave me so much joy and inspired me to believe in God and life again.
1. “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand. This is one of the more recent encouraging books I will mention, but it certainly deserves its place at the head of this list. This book tells the story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic athlete who goes through horrible, mind-destroying events and comes out the other side triumphant. But that’s just the first part of the book. The second half of the book tells about his faith walk and how it changed his life and many others. The most encouraging biography I have ever read.
2. “The Song of Albion” trilogy by Stephen Lawhead. This is a gem. Many people have never heard of Lawhead, but he may be one of the 20th Century’s greatest fantasy writers. I have met people all over the world who have read this story and who believe it should be mentioned in the same breath with the Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings for its beauty and expertise. I agree. I won’t give away the plot, but it involves all of the great themes of an epic.
3. “The Black Swan” by Nassim Taleb. This is the last book on Economics you will ever need to read. What’s that? You haven’t read books on economics? No matter: this is the one to read. It will give you a sense of joy about this financial world we live in. He focuses on one truth: How you prepare for coming crises is the most important part about your financial life.
4. Any book by Patrick McManus. It is hard to pick out just one because every volume by this master humorist is amazing. He started out his writing career by writing the last page essays in Outdoor Life magazine and his books are mostly collections of those essays. You will laugh out loud and want to tell others about the amazing stories you’re reading McManus grew up in rural Northern Idaho in deep poverty. But what he found was a love of fishing, hunting and outdoor living and he passes this along with his wealth of humor. You will be lifted up as you read any of his books. Probably best to start at the beginning with “A Fine and Pleasant Misery” and “They Shoot Canoes, Don’t They?”, his first two books.
5. “Mountains Beyond Mountains” by Tracy Kidder. I consider Kidder to be the most gifted nonfiction writer in America. His three Pulitzer prizes are great proof of this. Mountains Beyond Mountains is his most joyful and thought-provoking work. It tells the story of Paul Farmer, the world renowned doctor who changed the way that medicine is conducted in developing countries. Farmer single-handedly wiped out TB in Haiti and is the great advocate for many of the world’s poor. It is not all bad news out there.
6. “Zorba the Greek” by Nikos Kazantzakis. Even if you’ve seen the movie, you cannot believe the pure joy that can come out of a book. This book is all about living life new every day. Authors as diverse as Annie Dillard and Ken Gire have both lauded this as one of the greatest books ever written. And I guarantee you, food will take on an almost ethereal quality after you read this.
7. “Seeing What is Sacred” by Ken Gire. Though this is not Gire’s finest book, it always inspires joy in me. As does another book of his “Windows of the Soul.” Ken gets God; he understands that joy is one of the great gifts of God. This book will leave you almost breathless as he describes what most people don’t see.
8. “Loving Each Other” by Leo Buscaglia. Just as the title says, there is an art to loving others. Buscaglia devoted his life to learning how to love, and he gives us this incredible volume to tell his story. You will be amazed at how love is transforming lives, even through children.
9. “Taming of the Shrew” by William Shakespeare. I told you this was an eclectic list. My favorite play by Willy boy, this always makes we want to enjoy people more than ever. This is a celebration of women and a celebration of marital friendship. You didn’t know that? Read it again.
10. “Anne of Green Gables” by Lucy M. Montgomery. If you thought this was a book for girls, I am here to say that I know several manly men who love this book (the entire series as well). We all know that joyous experience of finding a group of people you belong to. Anne’s journey is just that: It is a quest to connect to friends all over this world. It is Zorba the Greek in a different setting.
11. “The Name of the Wind”/”The Wise Man’s Fear” by Patrick Rothfuss. These two gems are also fantasy, but they feel so real you’ll get swept up in them. Rothfuss is the only rival in this world for George Martin in terms of how long and careful he is at his writing. Whereas Martin has dark, violent and ugly themes, Rothfuss’ themes are joy, light and love. But here is my warning. If you read these and love them as much as I do, you will be angry at me. These are the first two books in a trilogy, and Rothfuss has already taken five years working on the third one. You will love the books and then hate that the third one isn’t finished.
12. “Marley and Me” by John Grogan. The love of a dog and his owners. Even if you’ve seen the movie, the book will inspire and delight you. I dare you not to get a rescue dog from the pound after reading this.
13. “Hind’s Feet on High Places” by Hannah Hurnard. Finally, an allegory that hits any heart that has struggled with personal loss and grief. The main character, Much Afraid, wants to be part of the life of the Shepherd. How she gets to where the Shepherd lives is the most intriguing aspect of this tale. You will see yourself on many of the pages and you will cheer when she makes it where she’s going.
Of course, there are many others I could have mentioned.
What books have brought you joy? Which ones have encouraged you?