On Being Bookish


It’s that time of year at Valley Classical School when we find ourselves in the delightful and exciting season of book parties. Decorations, costumes, crafts, games, and snacks consume one whole class period for each grade while the students live out the book they’ve been listening to for weeks. Stepping into the world of a book sounds like a dream for most, but the parents of VCS make it a reality. Their own love for books shines through their efforts along with the wonder and enthusiasm their children bring to the party.

Indeed, I don’t know many families that love the classical model of education and yet don’t have an enthusiastic love for books. Erasmus famously said, “When I get a little money, I buy books; and if any is left, I buy food and clothes.” This certainly rings true for my own family along with many other homeschooling families I know. Book tables, bookstores, Amazon, thrift stores, and libraries have consumed more of our family income than I care to admit. (Yes, technically libraries are free, but only if you are the kind of person that actually brings the books back on time. Our family’s New Year’s resolution every year is, “No Library Fines.” We sometimes make it to February.) Stacks of books are always filling the corners of our little house. And honestly, I like it that way.

In his blog post, Why Christians Love Books, Tony Reinke writes, “Christianity is bookish. Books, letters, and literacy form an ancient bond between the publishing in digital media, and the co-opted social media in the earliest days of Christianity (letters). We are still a people of the Book. We are readers. We are writers. We are forward-looking people, bookish people, and we will not stop writing and publishing until the earth is submerged under a second global flood — a tsunami of truth (Habakkuk 2:14; Isaiah 11:9).” Yes, we are truly bookish people.

With book party season in full swing, I’ve been thinking a lot about the books that God has used to encourage me as I falteringly attempt to remember, believe, and live out the gospel. I’ve compiled them here into a top 10 list with short descriptions and favorite quotes from each. Much like our VCS parents make stories come alive with beautiful book parties, these authors have brought Scripture to life with their words, showing me what it looks like to live out God’s one true story.

1. My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers - This devotional was given to me when I was 16 after I first believed in Christ. For 25 years, Oswald Chambers has relentlessly pointed me to the goodness and holiness of God.

“If we are ever going to be made into wine, we will have to be crushed - you cannot drink grapes. Grapes become wine only when they have been squeezed.”

2. Attitudes of a Transformed Heart by Martha Peace - This book opened my eyes to all the ways that I excuse sin in my life. When I asked the author which of her books she recommended, she said that she believes this is her most important work. I agree.

“We are here to serve and glorify God, not ourselves.”

3. Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp - There have been many great parenting books published since this one came out, but this was a like a breath of fresh air when my oldest was tiny. It showed me the difference between behavior modification and reaching the heart.

“You must teach your children that for them, as for all of mankind, life is found in knowing and serving the true and living God.”

4. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis - I admit, I didn’t read these as a child. As an adult, I fell in love with them and the artful way that Lewis could tell a beautiful adventure story and “steal past watchful dragons” with truth.

“‘Child,’ said the Voice, ‘I am telling you your story, not hers. I tell no one any story but his own.’” - from The Horse and His Boy

5. Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist by John Piper - I heard about how life-changing this book was from other students while my husband was in seminary. I reluctantly picked it up just to see what all the fuss was about. That’s when I experienced an entire paradigm shift. Piper was the first person to explain to me what man’s chief end is.

“God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”

6. The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs - Originally published in 1648, this book is still amazingly applicable today. His definition of contentment is worth the price of the whole book.

“Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God's wise and fatherly disposal in every condition."

7. Because He Loves Me by Elyse Fitzpatrick - “Preaching the gospel to yourself” became a sort of catchphrase at my church several years ago. This book helped me understand that the gospel is not just for unbelievers, but for believers too. When we forget the gospel, “spiritual amnesia” is crouching at the door.

“Every sin we commit, either by omission or commission, is a failure to love as we’ve been loved. Every transgression of the law finds its genesis in a stinginess of soul, a belief that we’ve got to protect our interests, fight for our rights, build our kingdom.”

8. A Praying Life by Paul Miller - This author, along with Charles Spurgeon, changed the way I pray. They both have helped me see myself as a child coming to a good Father within the context of His story.

“Often when you think everything has gone wrong, it’s just that you’re in the middle of a story. If you watch the stories God is weaving in your life, you, like Joseph, will begin to see the patterns. You’ll become a poet, sensitive to your Father’s voice.”

9. Valley of Vision by Arthur Bennett - Part prayer book and part poetry, this book is a constant companion to my Bible, devotional, and journal. It’s beautiful, rich, and deep.

“May his shed blood make me more thankful for thy mercies, more humble under thy correction, more zealous in thy service, more watchful against temptation, more contented in my circumstances, more useful to others.”

10. Show Them Jesus: Teaching the Gospel to Kids by Jack Klumpenhower - After reading this book, I couldn’t sleep. His emphasis on showing kids what grace looks like and teaching them why the gospel really is “good news” rocked my whole world. It changed how I teach and relate to children.

“The cross is where Jesus frees us from the crushing, impossible pressure of having to serve God well enough.”

Of course, this list is not exhaustive. I wish I could have included more fiction and more impressive scholarly works, but in truth, these are the books that always rise to the top. It’s an enormous privilege to have God’s Word (even multiple copies!) in our own language at home, let alone stacks of good books to help us along. May I never forget, in my love for books, to recognize and be thankful for such bookish abundance.

Tonia Strange