Top Ten Tuesday: Books That Make Me Think

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish.  This week’s topic is books that make me think.  In some cases, it’s easier to come up with an author that makes me think as opposed to one book, but here goes in no particular order other than when they popped into my head:

1.  The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

2.  Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis

3.  Fear and Trembling by Soren Kierkegaard

4.  The Stranger by Albert Camus

5.  Armageddon in Retrospect by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

6.  Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

7.  The Chosen by Chaim Potok

8.  We Make A Life By What We Give by Richard B. Gunderman

9.  When I Was A Child I Read Books by Marilynne Robinson

10.  The Sea Wolf by Jack London

“Relevance was precisely not an issue…”

In 2011, I read Marilynne Robinson’s three novels, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Gilead, Home, and Housekeeping.  Since reading Richard B. Gunderman’s collection of essays on philanthropy, We Make A Life By What We Give, I’ve been fascinated by essays.  I guess essays are to non-fiction what short stories are to fiction.  As much as I enjoyed Robinson’s fiction, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that she has several collections of essays.  I picked up When I Was A Child I Read Books and read the title essay “When I Was A Child”.

Her essay starts out with “When I was a child, I read books…Surprising as it may seem, I had friends, some of whom read more than I did.”  She goes on to talk about her childhood out west in Idaho.  I love the way she states that “[r]elevance was precisely not an issue for me” in choosing what to read.  In other words, she didn’t care about the perception by the world around her of what she chose to read.  It seemed she found relevance for her in whatever she as an individual happened to read regardless of what others thought.

She continues to expound on this idea of “individualism” in discussing the culture of the West (meaning the western United States).  She relays an incident when a man from Alabama asked her what the difference was between the West, the East and the South.  Her response was “that in the West ‘lonesome’ is a word with strongly positive connotations”.  From reading her works, my guess is that Robinson isn’t promoting reclusiveness or hermitage, but simply pointing out the thought that “lonesomeness” is a part of any new frontier.  Being alone isn’t a sign that something is wrong.  “Alone”can have strengthening benefits.

Myself being a voracious reader of things that are not always perceived as “relevant” by the world around me, I found Robinson’s essay both insightful and comforting.  I thoroughly enjoyed her statement about people in saying “when I see a man or a woman alone, he or she looks mysterious to me, which is only to say that for a moment I see another human being clearly.”

Another essay in this collection is called “Imagination and Community”.  After reading about being “lonesome”, I’m curious what she might have to say about community.  That will probably be the next essay on my list to read.

Do any other voracious readers out there feel “lonesome” – in a positive way?

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Favorite Quotations from Books

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish.  It’s a fun way to share thoughts about books and get to know other bloggers.  This week’s topic is favorite quotations from books.  It was easier than I thought to come up with these.

The first two are fairly well-known as famous final lines (1) and first lines (2) from novels, maybe even a little cliché, but I like them so I included them:

1.        “So we beat on, boats against the current borne back ceaselessly into the past.”  From The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

2.        “It was the best of times.  It was the worst of times.”  From A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

I’m still amazed at how much mileage Hemingway could get out of this line:

3.       “Brett was damned good looking.”  From The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

On a personal note, I was going through somewhat of a “down” time in 2009 when I read this and thought “Someone actually knows how I feel!”:

4.       “Often I have not known where I was going until I was already there. I have had my share of desires and goals, but my life has come to me or I have gone to it mainly by way of mistakes and surprises. Often I have received better than I have deserved. Often my fairest hopes have rested on bad mistakes. I am an ignorant pilgrim, crossing a dark valley. And yet for a long time, looking back, I have been unable to shake off the feeling that I have been led – make of that what you will.”  From Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry

One of the more powerful lines from one of the more powerful novels I read in 2011:

5.        “I pray you will grow to be a strong man in a strong country.”   From Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

You have to read the whole short story to fully appreciate this line – one of the funniest lines I’ve read in a long time:

6.       “My days are peaceful now, and my nights sleep deep.”   From “Moon-Face” by Jack London

Since I’ve never sat down and talked to Stephen King, I don’t know for sure, but it seems like this line from one of his more recent novels sums up his view on life:

7.        “…where mortals dance in defiance of the dark.”  From 11/22/63 by Stephen King

I loved this variation on Lao Tse’s proverb from this brilliant book of essays on philanthropy:

8.       “Give a person a fish, and we feed him for a day. Teach a person to fish, and we feed him for a lifetime. Share with a person the joy of helping others learn to fish, and we enable him to participate in a goodness that transcends any particular lifetime.”   From We Make A Life By What We Give by Richard B. Gunderman

A great quote I’ve been carrying around with me for years from one of my favorite authors:

9.        “…it is as important to learn the important questions as it is the important answers.  It is especially important to learn the questions to which there may not be good answers.  We have to learn to live with questions…”  From In The Beginning by Chaim Potok

And the last one is from The Bible:

10.  For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.  From New American Standard Verision, 1 Corinthians 13:12

HONORABLE MENTIONS

I read this novel in both high school and college and this line always stuck with me, as well as everyone else in the classes:

11.  “Mother died today. Or, maybe yesterday; I can’t be sure.”  From The Stranger by Albert Camus

And since my wife and daughter are huge Jane Austen fans, I’ll include this one:

12.   It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.  From Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

We Make A Life By What We Give by Richard B. Gunderman

It’s always interesting as I read books throughout the year how one will stand out as being the one to beat as my favorite.  Because I mostly read fiction, it’s even more interesting that the one that’s having the biggest impact on me this year is a non-fiction book.

I always thought of a philanthropist as someone who got a college dorm or hospital wing named after them.  We Make A Life By What We Give by Richard B. Gunderman  provides an amazing  look into the role of philanthropy in our lives.   While the act of fundraising and the need for money in philanthropic activities is never discounted by Gunderman, he makes a brilliant case for the fact that we are all philanthropists.  I love the term he uses, “amateur philanthropist”.  The term is not used with any sort of condescension; in fact, he encourages philanthropic activities to be born out of ordinary people’s imagination as they move step-by-step into lives characterized by an ever increasing generosity – regardless of how much money they may have.

Small Cover Image

As listed in the book, Gunderman’s credentials include Vice Chairman, Radiology; Director Pediatric Radiology; and Associate Professor of Radiology, Pediatrics, Medical Education, Philosophy, Liberal Arts, and Philanthropy at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.  The book consists of 22 essays in which he pulls information and insight from this vast background in Medicine and Education.

The theme of a community of people of all backgrounds coming together in generosity to make the world a better place recurs throughout many of the essays.  Gunderman’s idea of philanthropy takes Lao-Tse’s well-known proverb a step further:

Give a person a fish, and we feed him for a day.  Teach a person to fish, and we feed him for a lifetime.  Share with a person the joy of helping others learn to fish, and we enable him to participate in a goodness that transcends any particular lifetime.

How we go about sharing the experience of “helping others learn to fish” takes more than just money according to Gunderman:

Our most important philanthropic resource is our imagination, our dreams.  What do we think is possible?  What purposes larger than ourselves are we capable of discerning and working on behalf of?

Recently, I experienced a little bit of this “community” when my wife and kids raised money for the charitable organization, Kids Against Hunger.  Within walking distance from where we live, there are several fast food restaurants, gas stations, beauty salons, grocery stores and medical offices.  When the owners and managers of these businesses were asked by my wife and kids if they would like to donate anything – whether money directly to the cause or gift cards for drawings at the fundraising event- the overwhelmingly positive response made me think that they understood this was more than just about getting a little bit of advertising.  It seemed that they understood, even in a small way, that this was what a community was all about and they were very eager to work together to feed children half-way across the world.

While I could go essay by essay and reveal all of the nuggets of truth in this book, it would be better for me to simply say “read the book”!  A couple of the essays stood out to me.  “The Good Samaritan” takes Jesus’ well-known story from Luke 10 and beautifully applies it to the potential we have for generosity in today’s philanthropic climate.  I’ve always been fascinated with Jesus’ ability as a storyteller – but that’s probably something for a different post.  “Lessons from the Least “gives examples of human worth from a friend of Gunderman’s who works with mentally-disabled people.

Frequently, he touches on a topic that is near and dear to me:  reading.  Specifically, he points to the reading of fiction resulting in a better understanding of the aspirations we all have as human beings.  Much of the world (or my world, anyway) views fiction as unimportant entertainment.  I found it refreshing for someone with Richard Gunderman’s educational pedigree to grasp the fact that, as an example, “some gain invaluable insight into the human significance of poverty” from reading Charles Dickens’ Hard Times and John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.  He uses numerous examples from the Bible, Homer and other literary works to support and illustrate his points.

It’s difficult to do justice to such a wonderful book in a blog post; however, I thought I would be more remiss in not trying.