Twirly’s Top Titles: College Edition

The post that I wrote earlier this week could easily have ended with a bibliography. The books (and short stories, and articles, and excerpts, and…) that I read in college forced me to stop and consider what I was taking in. Photocopies from professors were riddled with marginalia and underlinings, held jealously for further study.

Some of these were handed to me, but a few of them I stumbled upon during research and devotional study. They’ve made it onto this list because I experienced and loved them most fully during college.

1. The Quotidian Mysteries (Kathleen Norris): How do I even begin? Dr. Shirley Kilpatrick had us read this book in more than one of her classes. That’s part of why this delightful little volume fills me with new life every fall when I re-read it. It’s a beautiful read which encourages readers to reflect on the nobility of daily routines–of “laundry, liturgy, and women’s work.” Norris shatters ennui, teaching me to appreciate simple tasks like washing the dishes on a spiritual level.

2. With Christ in the School of Prayer (Andrew Murray): Republished under the title Teach Me to Pray, this devotional takes readers through the Lord’s Prayer as a template for the discipline itself. It’s heralded as one of the foremost volumes on the subject. The chapters are short, beginning with Scripture and ending with a pre-written prayer to guide the reader to reflection.

3. The Way of the Heart (Henri J.M. Nouwen): This book introduced me to monasticism and gave me a proper respect and appreciation for solitude, silence, prayer, and the other spiritual disciplines. Another annual read for me, Nouwen teaches me something new each time I read it.

4. The Brothers Bulger (Howie Carr): This book is hands-down the most brilliant biography I have ever read. Carr narrates the lives of brothers James “Whitey” and William “Billy” Bulger: the elder, a notorious mob boss; the younger, a crooked politician. A journalist and talk show host, Carr knows how to gain an audience and keep it riveted–although, in this case, it’s difficult to look away. Evil men do exist, but they don’t necessarily prevail forever. Bulger inspired an independent study during my senior year.

5. Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe): This one is a high school cliche, I admit. I read it for a Non-western World Literature class as a twenty-something, and I understood it much better as a young adult. As a teenager, I didn’t fully understand the societal implications of the story; I was hard-headed and didn’t know how to think properly. The second time through was illuminating.

6. The Sorrows of Young Werther (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe): So beautifully written, but such a frustrating main character. I loved Goethe, but I almost hated Werther by the end of it.

7. The Brothers Karamazov (Fyodor Dostoevsky): Long, complicated, and Russian, I would not have appreciated this one without Dr. Shirley Kilpatrick’s guiding hand. Iconography, prayer, and confession take center stage when she is your guide, and you come to understand the characters and their motivations more fully. Read this one alongside a biography of Dostoevsky in order to properly appreciate his genius.

8. The Divine Hours: Pocket Edition (Phyllis Tickle): I’m not Catholic or part of the “high church” tradition, but this book launched me through the tradition of repeated prayers–specifically the Puritans and Celtic Christians. A good one to study alongside Tickle’s is The Valley of Vision.

9. Real Sex (Lauren F. Winner): As a freshman in college, I thought I knew more than enough about sexuality and purity, thank you. I’d just gotten out of my first-ever relationship, and I wasn’t planning to date again for a very long time. After all, as the saying goes, “boys only want one thing.” But Winner rocked my world with her blunt, honest discussion of the way we ought to approach the idea of sex. A must-read for Christian young adults, and educators of the same.

10. The Elements of Style (Strunk and White): I know. You think I’m insane. A style guide for writers? Sentence composition and parts of speech? Kill us now. But hear me out: While the classes for which I read this book were borderline torturous, the book itself–in small doses–is actually quite witty. I never would have found it if Dr. Hanna hadn’t assigned it for homework… every night for an entire semester. Then again, maybe I’m just a nerd.

So, there it is! Ten books that became part of me during college. What books got to you during school?


Honorable Mentions:

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (Annie Dillard)

Bird by Bird (Anne Lamott)

Eva is Inside Her Cat (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)

Eyes of a Blue Dog (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)

On Keeping a Notebook (Joan Didion)

The Birthmark (Nathaniel Hawthorne)

The Sunflower (Simon Wiesenthal)

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