THE MOST INFLUENTIAL BOOKS

What are your favorite books?

Many bloggers have a single blog where they list their top 10, top 25, top 100 or 1000 books.  I’ve found that I just can’t do that because there are so many wonderful books out there that I’ve read.  I also find that my predisposition toward a book, like a film, is to like it.  A book has to work hard to make me not like it because I have so much goodwill toward the writer.  I always want the writer to succeed.  So, instead of listing my top books ever, I am instead putting together a series of blogs that cover my top three books in certain categories.  Today I launch with the top three most significant books in the world.  In my opinion, at least.

The Bible

Without a doubt, it is the single greatest influential piece of literature, religion, philosophy and history in the whole world.  Yes, that includes the non-Western world too, for there are probably more Christ-followers in China than in the United States and Asia and Africa are now filled with Bible teaching churches.

For many of us the Bible is more than literature, it is a way of life and the guide to knowing God.  However, if we just think about it as a literary piece, it is the greatest literature ever.  Whether you believe it or not, the stories in the Bible are gripping, heartbreaking, inspiring, and usually very crisp.  Most of us forget how short Jonah is, or how brief the gospels are.  Besides, we could barely speak if we stripped our language of every metaphor that emerged from the Bible.

The Iliad, Homer

The Iliad Cover
War, Women, and Wandering

Okay, we’ll throw in The Odyssey as well.  For the ancient Mediterranean world, The Iliad and The Odyssey served an analogous function to the Bible today.  It was memorized, adored, quoted, and believed as a religious guide.  Most everyone rejects the religion of the stories today, but the narrative necessity of great heroes like Hector and Achilles, tragic kings, battles, and then the epic journey of discovery that is Odysseus’ destiny are the pillars of a great deal of storytelling.  One can scarcely wonder what world literature would be like if The Iliad and The Odyssey never were.

Confessions, St. Augustine

Thomas Cahill, in his classic work How the Irish Saved Civilization, points out that St. Augustine’s Confessions was the first time, really, that anyone ever picked up a pen and wrote the word “I” and meant it as the subject of a book.  Not many people today have read St. Augustine, and those that do usually gravitate toward his theology.  Certainly there is theology in Confessions, but it is the first true autobiography, so the next time you pick up that overpriced hardback at Costco where a celebrity spills his or her guts about all their trials, tribulations and debauchery before finally cleaning up their act you need to thank St. Augustine because he literally invented that genre.  He also gave us, in Confessions, one of the most interesting prayers ever uttered:  “Lord, make me sexually pure, but not yet.”

In the coming weeks I intend to blog about my favorite books from other genres–history, preaching, classical literature, sci-fi, fiction, and so forth.  But these are, in my opinion, the most important and influential books in the world.  I would be interested to know what you think are the three most influential books?

 

image from simania.co.il

THE THREE STORIES

Thursday afternoon I had the great privilege of participating in a writer’s workshop presented by Athanatos Christian Ministries.  The whole endeavor was very encouraging for me and I learned many things.  In the afternoon I made my presentation about the hooks which make the story interesting.  Part of what it addressed was the three basic stories.  One of the participants asked I could make those three available in written form:  so, here it is!

 

Story One:  The Warrior

The warrior story is so common that it needs little explanation.  Indeed, it might be the oldest form as it is exemplified in The Iliad.  In most of western culture the King Arthur story is classic backdrop—knights running off to do battle.  The warrior story has a subset of rescue drama—rescuing the damsel in distress.  In many stories today the rescue story has blended completely into the warrior story as a patriotic tale where the warrior, whether male or female, is fighting to save or protect the nation (female persona).

 

Story Two:  The Sacrifice

The sacrificial story is one which believers in Christ immediately identify with.  It is the story of the person who gives his or her life so that other people might live.  Because of this connection to Christ the sacrifice story often has religious or metaphysical aspects which propel reader interest.  The best example of this is Aslan in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  He gives himself up willingly so that others might benefit.  The sacrifice story, though, does not have to involve death explicitly for the sacrifice could be time, relational, or monetary.  Jane Austen books tend to emphasize this concept.

 

Story Three:  The Journey

In American culture this has turned into the “Road Trip” motif, but it is a highly effective story.  The classic example is, to go back to Homer, The Odyssey.  Movement from one place to another always captivates an audience.  There are subsets to the journey story as well.  These include the love story, the coming of age story, and personal growth story.  A good example of this is the Harry Potter character.  The story is a journey, but it is the journey of the boy Harry becoming the man Harry and realizing his destiny.  That is what makes it compelling.  Wizards, witches, good and bad have all been done before, but Rowling hit upon a compelling image of this boys coming of age story mixed up in all of that.

 

The best stories will find a way to maximize all three of these stories by weaving them through the narrative.  Consider Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.   In so many ways Frodo embodies all of these stories within his one character.  He is waging a war although he is not the primary combatant, he is making sacrifice, and the journey motif from one place to another is the basic plotline of the story.  The trick is combing these instinctive and well-known stories into tales with characters and situations that do not seem forced or artificial.