To quote Old Blues Eyes,

Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention.

A common regret is that every now and again I come across a book I love and kick myself over and over again for having not read it earlier in my life.  I never feel that way about a movie, a television show, a magazine story or any other kind of literature, not even poetry.  It does, though, happen with those magical things called books and those enchanted delights that surprise you and make you wish you’d read it twenty or so years ago.

I Heard the Owl Call My Name, Margaret Craven

Written four years before I was born, I should have read it in High School.  At least someone should have shoved it in my face at seminary, you’d think.  But no.  It wasn’t until last summer as I was leaving the Northwest to come back to Texas that a dear friend gave me this book as a parting gift to remember him by.  He told he he’d read it as an adolescent.  I wish I had.

I Heard the Owl Call My Name
The owl eventually calls everyone

It is a spectacularly well told story about faith, ministry, life and death all set against the backdrop of the Pacific Northwest and the relationships between white settlers and Native Americans.  I think if I’d read this book before I started ministry I’d been a been a better pastor.

Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott

Every writer should read this book.  Scratch that, every human should read this book.

More than anything else, Bird by Bird is about the creative process and enduring life’s wiggles and jiggles while still maintaining sanity and the creative spark.

It was written in 1994, the year I graduated from college.  I wish I’d read it then when the ink was still drying on the pages.  I would have probably been a more likeable person and definitely would have cultivated my work as a writer earlier in life.  I wasted nearly twenty years when I should have been writing all along.

Casino Royale, Ian Fleming

I love a good spy story.  I always have.  I’ve always loved the Bond movies, but until three years ago had never read a single Fleming book.  I picked up Casino Royale (1953) and read it and was overcome by how markedly different the literary Bond was from the one on the silver screen.   Since then I’ve read all of Fleming’s James Bond stories and can honestly say that as much as I love the movies, I love the books more.  Bond is more believable, less likeable, and more vulnerable than anything in the movies.  And yes, for what its worth, Daniel Craig plays James Bond closer to the way Fleming wrote him than any other actor.

If you want to test the movies verses the book, just read Moonraker and then watch the outlandish (fun, but outlandish) movie that is supposedly based on that novel.  They are not even in the same universe.

I wonder, what books have you read later in life that you wish you’d read when you were younger?  I’d love to hear, and I will likely add some of them on my reading list, before its too late.


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  1. I couldn’t agree more with two of your three. I wished I would have read “Bird” when it first came out. That might have changed everything for me. Of course I love “Owl.” The Bond book I’ve never read. Might though.

    For me I’ll throw two authors in the mix as authors I wish I had read sooner. One, is Richard Foster. I have owned his books and not read them seriously. Now, I do. Second, is Wendell Berry. His collection of essays “What Matters?: Economics for a Renewed Commonwealth” Third, is Barbara Brown Taylor. I don’t even know what to say about her, except I wrote her a letter after reading her book “An Altar in the Word: A Geography of Faith” and apologized for not reading her until this year. I had heard of her for years, but my prejudice against women preachers kept me from her. I am devouring her works now.

    I really loved this series, Jamie. I’m considering doing something similar. Thanks.

    • i was blessed to discover foster fairly early. yeah, taylor is something special.
      i’ve never read wendell berry. i may have to invest in that one.
      glad you enjoy the series. you so should do this too because you are a bookworm like me. the problem you will have is keeping the list down. that is why i picked three. if i made the list any longer i’d never get finished.

  2. Berry’s Port William series is wonderful, especially Jayber Crow. They instill peace and portray a pace of life and appreciation for creation that I desire.

    East of Eden would be high on my list. It was so compelling that I am sad they are making it into a movie.

    • i was unaware of an east of eden remake. it is tricky to mess with james dean. a quick google showed me that jennifer lawrence is in it, so that will not be bad. still, like you, i think it is better to leave it to print. thanks for commenting and adding to this ever growing list of essential books.

  3. I loved Bird by Bird, and I entirely agree with Joe Chambers on Wendell Berry. I would add Dallas Willard in with the Richard Foster books. Willard and Foster made a set of videos together, lectures and a panel discussion, based on a Willard book “Hearing God” which I cannot recommend highly enough. I wish I had read Robert Farrer Capon earlier. He’s kind of a loose cannon of sorts, more fun to agree with as well as disagree with than any other author.

  4. And I agree with Carroll about Capon and while we are at it let’s throw in Frederick Buechner in there for fun.

  5. This is a very long list for me. Off the top of my head, there are several books I read as an adult that I wish I had read in high school: 1984, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings, Mere Christianity, Pilgrim’s Progress, Frankenstein. I also wish I had started reading Stephen King earlier in my life. I’ve only just really started reading his work. I don’t like everything he writes, but I am enjoying The Dark Tower series, and Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption will always be one of my favorite stories ever.

    And I still have miles to go on my TBR list. I made a list of over 400 books that I decided I need to read before I can consider myself a legitimate writer. Then I quit writing fiction and decided I just need to read them to be well-read. Now I just want to read them before I die, LOL. Doesn’t help that I keep adding to the list . . .

    • yeah, there are about a half dozen i had to cull through. it was tough to keep the fleming on there for me because it is purely for pleasure, but i decided to because all books can’t be serious.
      as i wrote in the acknowledgement to one of my monster short stories, i started reading stephen king when i was very little boy because i found my mom’s stash of his books in the bathroom. pennywise still shows up in my dreams ever now and again and cujo–don’t even get me started.

      you will never get them all read before you die, amy, because the list will forever grow. so many books, so little time. i’m pretty sure there will be a library in heaven.

      • Oh man . . . what if the heavenly library includes all the things that we never got to see here on earth? Tolkien and Lewis’ unpublished manuscripts? Letters that Paul never got around to sending? I’m giddy with anticipation . . . 🙂

        And you’re right. I doubt the list will ever be less than 500. *sigh*

      • heaven’s library would probably also have no due dates on book returns either.
        what if there was some kind of ‘special collection’ in the heavenly library where all the great books that should have been read/published but weren’t because the writer was trapped in a job as a stock broker or no publisher would give it a shot?

  6. I wish I had finished reading the first Lord of the Rings book when I started it in 8th grade. Maybe it was beyond me at that point but after finishing that trilogy and The Hobbit I don’t see how I didn’t enjoy that first book at the time! I think it would’ve helped me get into reading a lot faster.

    Also, I’ve been meaning to get to Bird By Bird! I’ve only heard good things and it’s been sitting on my shelf for 2 years. Guess I should start reading!

    • yes anne, get started on bird by bird, you’ll be glad you did. or at least, i was glad i did.
      the thing with the lord of the rings, is you probably just weren’t in that mojo yet at 8th grade. you probably got to the first long bit of elfin poetry and said, ‘forget this,’ and then went tried something else.
      thanks for reading anne!

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