Short & Sweet Must-Read Booklist (with short & sweet must-read books)


Books in the special collections of the Z. Smith Reynolds Library rest on a shelf in the rare books room on Monday, April 22, 2013.

These are books I wish I had read years ago. If I had, it would’ve saved a lot of time and frustration instead of me reading thicker, less engaging and less brilliant answers to my questions. Here they are, in no particular order:

If you want to learn about salvation

without the same tired cliches…


the prodigal god

The parable of the prodigal son is my favorite part of the Bible, but Timothy Keller doesn’t approach it in the traditional “God loves you even if you’re a sinner” way. Instead Keller highlights how anti-religion Jesus was, and how the parable was originally intended as a slap in the face to the Pharisees (the religious big-wigs of the day). As he’s stripping away the religious fluff the Pharisees represented, Keller gets to the heart of Jesus’s message. And he does so without sermonizing like the Pharisees he’s criticizing. The Prodigal God is a genuine mini-book, too (I read it in about an hour). Here’s an excerpt:

“The kind of outsiders Jesus attracted are not attracted to contemporary churches, even our most avant-garde ones. We tend to draw conservative, buttoned-down, moralistic people. The licentious and liberated or the broken and marginal avoid church. That can only mean one thing. If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishioners do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did.”

If you want to know what it means

to be a sinner and a saint…



Nadia Bolz-Weber, a female Lutheran pastor, tells her story of unlikely faith with humor, wisdom, and brutal honesty. Each chapter centers around a part of Bolz-Weber’s life, such as her alcoholic past or her arguments with Christian leaders. Instead of the age old “sinner gets saved” tale, though, Bolz-Weber confronts spiritual roadblock after spiritual roadblock, even (or especially) as a pastor. You’ll definitely see echoes of your own faith and doubt through her journey.

“Getting sober never felt like I had pulled myself up by my own spiritual bootstraps. It felt instead like I was on one path toward destruction and God pulled me off of it by the scruff of my collar, me hopelessly kicking and flailing and saying, ‘Screw you. I’ll take the destruction please.’ God looked at tiny, little red-faced me and said, ‘that’s adorable,’ and then plunked me down on an entirely different path.”

If you want to know how to live life

with more love and intention…


Love Does

From sneaking on to a movie set, to rescuing imprisoned children in Uganda, to making a giant Valentine’s Day card for Sweet Maria, Bob Goff tells of the small acts of love that make life extraordinary. Even if its message is a little simplistic, it’s the stories that will inspire you to seek out the “whimsy” every single day.

Also, Bob leaves his phone number at the back of the book and he really does pick up his phone every time, so you can ask him yourself if the stories really happened.

I couldn’t pick just one excerpt, so here are a few quotes:

“I used to want to fix people, but now I just want to be with them.”

“I used to be afraid of failing at something that really mattered to me, but now I’m more afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.”

“Most people need love and acceptance a lot more than they need advice.”

If you’ve ever been confused by

the ideas of “heaven” and “hell”…



In The Great Divorce Lewis paints a beautiful allegory of heaven and its corollary, hell. Like he does in his other books, Lewis describes larger-than-life truths in a unique and refreshingly understandable way. You follow the narrator onto a bus and through the allegory of what beauty and emptiness feel like. I especially love how Lewis presents these concepts in a nonthreatening way so it’s accessible to all.

“‘All Hell is smaller than one pebble of your earthly world: but it is smaller than one atom of this world, the Real World. Look at yon butterfly. If it swallowed all Hell, Hell would not be big enough to do it any harm or to have any taste’
‘It seems big enough when you’re in it, Sir.’
‘And yet all loneliness, angers, hatreds, envies, and itchings that it contains, if rolled into one single experience and put into the scale against the least moment of the joy that is felt by the least in Heaven, would have no weight that could be registered at all. Bad cannot succeed even in being bad as truly as good is good.'”

If you are frustrated with churches,

and you want to know what went

wrong and what church should be…


searching for sunday

Evans addresses frustrations, doubts and hopes with a sincere desire to find Jesus in the mess, and without sinking into an unproductive pity party (as I often do). The excerpt below is a perfect example of how she hits the nail of our discontent on the head while inspiring us to better Christianity. This book is a bit more normal-sized, but it still won’t take long to read. If the excerpt below is what you’ve been looking for, I have a feeling the book will fly by.

“We don’t want to choose between science and religion or between our intellectual integrity and our faith. Instead, we long for our churches to be safe places to doubt, to ask questions, and to tell the truth, even when it’s uncomfortable. We want to talk about the tough stuff—biblical interpretation, religious pluralism, sexuality, racial reconciliation, and social justice—but without predetermined conclusions or simplistic answers. We want to bring our whole selves through the church doors, without leaving our hearts and minds behind, without wearing a mask.”


If you’re wondering how God can

possibly exist in a world as broken

as this one…



Have you noticed that I love C.S. Lewis? This time he addresses the age-old question of why a supposedly all-loving, all-knowing God would let evil wreak havoc on earth. The Problem of Pain walks us through the differences between kindness and love, for example, written in an accessible and interesting style. This book is thought by many (including myself obviously) to be one of the most comprehensive and satisfying answers to the above question. Here’s a quote:

“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

Trust me, though, the book doesn’t stop at the cliché answer of “pain is important.” It just gets better and better.


How can I find these books?

Each of these should be available at your local library. If you want to buy them, I highly recommend, a website that sells used books at dramatically discounted prices. I buy all my books from Abebooks because it’s much cheaper than Amazon and most other online booksellers. Make sure you’re buying “Good” or “Fair” condition books and not “Poor” though. As my dad always says, cheap crap is still crap. You want the cheap good stuff. 🙂

Some of my friends pick out one or two bathroom books that they only read when they’re on the throne because it’s hard to find time to read otherwise. I read myself to sleep every night for about half an hour and that works too. Whatever it takes, I really hope you get to read at least one of the books listed above.

Fun fact: the reason I’ve read these books already is because I wanted to flirt with my now-husband, then-crush. We were in college together and before going our separate ways for the summer he casually suggested we start a book club. We got about a dozen other people involved, and the group of us read a contemporary Christian book every week. It gave me and Chris an excuse to call each other all summer to talk about God and other things for hours. *eye roll* Christian flirting. The “book club” also got me reading incredible literature that really did change my life, too. 🙂 God works in funny ways.

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