TWO BIG LISTS of favorite novels and memoirs. (But first 12 books about reading.) ALL ON SALE

I know last week’s BookNotes included some thick heavy volumes. What with the important and fascinating new Charles Taylor and the big new one by James Davison Hunter and Life After Doom by Brian McLaren, you might now enjoy some suggestions about fiction and well-written memoirs, most as good as fiction. Read on, friends read on.

Last week I had the great opportunity to lead a retreat with a handful of Western Pennsylvania Presbyterian clergy. I gave four big presentations (some almost 2 hours long) and preached (in one of the most beautiful contemporary Catholic chapels I’ve seen.) It was about what Jennifer Holberg calls “nourishing narratives” in her great book by that title and I rambled on and on about why the reading life is essential for pastors and how creative memoir and novels and poetry can enhance the pastor’s imagination and make her a better preacher.

I read out loud from some very good books and told some stories and shared some dumb jokes. I trust it was as interesting for them as I had hoped and I pray it was as inspiring for them as it was for me. Thanks much to the Shenango and Beaver-Butler Presbyteries for hosting this refreshing time for your clergy and thanks for trusting me to offer something of use. I am humbled and grateful.

We only talked a little about the very real evils of Amazon and the detriment they have been in the publishing industry, to local economies, and to me and my family; Bezo’s promise to shut down family bookstores is still ringing in my ears, a haunting dark cloud over everything we do, every single day. Their theft and bullying and selfish lobbying is disgustingly immoral and so I invited clergy to consider that as merely a quick case study of why we need Christian folks in every zone of life, thinking Christianly about economics and work, business and politics, and all the other sorts of callings and careers, from engineering to education, health care to lawn care. While my theme was the role of stories and reading in the life of the pastor, one thing good books and serious reading can do is remind clergy of their vocation among God’s people who are necessarily sent and scattered into the ordinary world,  marketplaces and schools and homes and hospitals and offices and factories. Helping parishioners want to read about their own callings is itself an uphill battle since most clergy are ill-equipped with a theology of the marketplace and a Christian view of work (and some laity hardly know their Bibles or theology 101 so find it complicated to live out their Sunday faith in their Monday worlds.)

One way into this conversation, by the way, that is enjoyable and accesible, is by taking up the collection of short essays in the eloquent little book The Seamless Life: A Tapestry of Love and Learning, Worship and Work by Steve Garber (IVP; $20.00 –  OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00.) While he does have a few entries on business ethics, Garber writes beautifully about  all sorts of good work and callings and worship and spirituality, and, actually, often cites novels and films and artists. Reading one of two of his pieces for them was lovely. Do you know it?

Still, stories can help. Widening the imagination can help. We can all take great pleasure and solace as we find we are not alone, allowing authors to give voice to our own crazy lives and to our deepest and finally most ultimate concerns.


I have offered, below, links to two very big handouts I shared with these clergy which list (with brief annotations) some of our favorite novels and some of our favorite memoirs.  Some have been asking for this…

Please click through to open each one. Maybe print ’em out.  We’ll do 20% off any of these,

This is a bit scary for us. After forty years of bookselling you might think we are used to recommending ending titles. It’s what we do, after all, on our podcast and here at BookNotes, not to mention every single day via email and during in-person shopping conversations.

But this is something else.

My favorite novels? Like asking for my favorite albums (or my favorite children, for that matter) it’s hard to say. And it may depend on what day you ask. And who you are, since I rarely like to suggest one book for everybody, since reading is such a uniquely personal matter (and, as they say, there is little accounting for taste.) One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor and all that.

To be clear, Beth’s great reading choices are reflected here, too.

We’ve been asked a thousand times, and I almost always wiggle out of answering.

Here, then — coming up in just a moment —  are two big lists of excellent titles created for these mainline denominational pastor friends last week.


These are shared as Google docs and I hope the formatting works. This is sort of a new experiment for us here at BookNotes. Let us know if you experience difficulties opening these.

FIRST, though: a dozen books that formed the foundation of the retreat I lead and books I very, very highly recommend to one and all. Even the ones for pastors are so very good, I think any Hearts & Minds friend or fan would adore them. These are all very highly recommended. All are 20% off.

Nourishing Narratives: The Power of Story to Shape Our Faith Jennifer L. Holberg (IVP) $25.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.00

I’ve highlighted this often, lately, as it is such a fun and inviting study of stories, literature, good writing and the call to read and, more, to live robustly inspired by the stories (and Story) of which we are a part. Fantastic! Jennifer is the esteemed director of the Calvin University Festival of Faith and Writing.

Threading her own stories with rich reflection on biblical narratives and on the novels and poems she has taught and loved, Jennifer Holberg offers here a beautiful way of understanding what it means to live by stories. Nourishing Narratives is a rich celebration of cookbooks, dog walking, Dante, college life, embracing solitude, and living in communities bound together by shared stories that equip them to see one another through whatever life brings. Every page offers food for thought and thanksgiving. — Marilyn McEntyre, Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies and When Poets Pray

On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life Through Great Books Karen Swallow Prior (Brazos) $21.00

I love this for a host of reasons, and I applaud her thoughtful study of virtues and how various virtues can be discerned and taken on by reading classic literature. Each chapter is essentially an extended reflection on a virtue gained from a novel or short story. Some are older, a few are quite contemporary. By the way, I don’t always say this, but I love the feel of the recent paperback edition.

There’s a very cool linocut for each chapter, too, done by none other than the great Ned Bustard of Square Halo Books and World’s End Images. Huzzah.

Reading for the Love of God: How to Read as a Spiritual Practice Jessica Hooten Wilson (Brazos Press) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

This. This. This. It explores how we read and why, exploring a few key strategies from past Christian thinkers.  She asks (and offers a quiz to explore your style): “What kind of reader are you?” She asks, with Karen Swallow Prior (of course you know her On Reading Well) “Do Good Books Make You a Good Person?” She’s creative and interesting and, importantly, has a chapter called “What Does the Trinity Have to Do with the Art of Reading?” What a great book.

The Scandal of Holiness: Renewing Your Imagination in the Company of Literary Saints (Brazos Press) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

I think I cited a little section she has on C.S. Lewis’s own narration of his conversion and how it focuses more on his life-long love of books and how reading shaped (“baptized”) his imagination. Shout out to George MacDonald. Only then could Lewis come to Christian conviction. In any case, this is a fabulous book. You should have a few and share them in your church or school.


The Pastor’s Bookshelf: Why Reading Matters for Ministry Austin Carty (Eerdmans) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

I have said here at BookNotes and I said it to these pastors in Western Pennsylvania, that this is, truly, one of my favorite books, a book about the importance of reading, how all that works and why, and ways to become a better and more efficient reader. (That is, there is a chapter on taking notes, another on filing stuff so you, as preacher or teacher, can find good quotes or notions, even years later.) I had copied the fun Foreword by Tom Long which led to a bit of good discussion about how it is hard to find time for extensive reading. I get it. We all do. Still, this book will helper-inspire you to do this sort of formational reading which will pay off in the long run.

The Pastor’s Bookshelf is fun and fabulous — you should buy one for your pastor but read it yourself first. You won’t regret it, I promise. Very, very highly recommended.

Reading for Preaching: The Preacher in Conversation with Storytellers, Biographers, Poets, and Journalists Cornelius Plantinga (Eerdmans) $14.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99

It is a hard call to say which I like better, the aforementioned The Pastor’s Bookshelf by the wonderful Austin Carty or this genius of a book by the fabulous thinker and great, great writer, Neal Plantinga. I call him Neal as if he’s a pal because he feels like a friend, so intimate and clear-headed is this lovely book to inspire preachers and teachers. I told my clergy friend that, even apart from his book-ish program of general reading that he extols here, it is, truly, one of the best books on preaching I’ve ever read. (Oddly, I’ve read a bunch; it’s a strange hobby, reading homiletics books, I know.) Anybody who is a pastor, public speaker, teacher or communicator (podcaster, or blogster or Substacker) should take up Reading for Preaching. Yes, yes, yes.

Your Minds Mission Greg Jao (IVP) $8.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $6.40

I so enjoy quoting a long paragraph where Greg mentions a “worship experience” in a high school science class and how his science textbooks became for him almost like prayer books; later, his humanities studies became like a vespers service. This is the most succinct and yet quite powerful introduction to the topic of the Christian mind that is short enough to be read by anyone, with implications for everything. Greg is a long-time Hearts & Minds friend and we value his gracious, book-loving leadership. This booklet offers so much, nicely put.

I really enjoyed reading a bit from this out loud to our Presbyterian friends.

The Life We’re Looking For: Reclaiming Relationships in a Technological World Andy Crouch (Convergent) $25.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.00

I try to weave books by Andy Crouch into talks I give and so esteem his work from the seminal Culture Making (now out in a new, expanded edition) to his latest on the questions which arise from the ubiquitous nature of screens and digital culture. He obviously is not against modern devices and he spends his fair share of time on screens and computers. This, though, is his beautifully-written manifesto about what it is we really are seeking as we spend time online. We cited older classics like Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death and the essential works of Maryanne Wolf (Proust and the Squid and Reader, Come Home) not to mention The Shallows by Nicholas Carr. The Life We’re Looking For, though, is wise and beautiful and a must-read for us all.

Deep Reading: Practices to Subvert the Vices of Our Distracted, Hostile, and Consumeristic Age Rachel B. Griffis, Julie Ooms, and Rachel M. De Smith Roberts (Baker Academic) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

If the workshops I was leading were geared to a slightly more academic setting — in higher education, say — I’d have drawn much more on this amazing new book. It is a great read and wonderfully researched and has been an extraordinary resource for me. I cannot imagine anyone who cares about the lack of a good and generous reading in our society (even in our churches or even among our college educated adults) who would not be greatly blessed by spending time with this. It is, as they say, “for all readers who desire to read deeply and live deeply.”

While exploring certain contemporary sins and foibles — they call them vices — like distraction and hostility and consumerism, this shows how significant and careful immersion in the world of books can help us be better people; books can help us live into a better story as they pull us away from the current foibles of our age. It is a treasure, and gift, with rave reviews from sharp, lovely folks like Mary McCampbell, David I. Smith, and Jeffrey Bilbro. Susan VanZanten calls it “a jewel of a book.”

Reading Black Books: How African American Literature Can Make Our Faith More Whole and Just Claude Atcho (Brazos) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

As I weave together stories of my own life-long engagement with the works of MKL and my own passions for cross-cultural and anti-racism work — I didn’t even mention the threats we got under our door from the KKK — I’ve discovered that this recent book says so much of what we’ve longed to say well, for decades. We are thrilled that this amazing work is available and we take it everywhere we go. Please consider it. It will do you good.

Steeped in Stories: Timeless Children’s Novels to Refresh Our Tired Souls Mitali Perkins (Broadleaf Books) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

People sighed out loud when I read a passage from Mitali’s wonderful book. We talked a bit about how children and youth have a certain innocence and idealism and hope which can be crushed (or which might just slowly seep away) and revisiting as adults the books that so inspired children could be a very wise practice. This is a fabulous book making the case — allusively and indirectly — that books matter, that stories matter, that novels are formative. Each chapter explores a different children’s classic, plumbing its depth for insight, wisdom, faith, courage, hope, love…

Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies Marilyn McEntyre (Eerdmans) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

I wanted to end my lectures at the retreat by highlighting the good work of author (and poet) Marilyn McEntyre. I had already cited a paragraph from her amazing book When Poets Pray so I hoped they recalled that gracious, elegant writing. But time ran out and we ended on another good note.

To wit, here’s what I would have shared:

The Princeton lectures once given by Abraham Kuyper (who I would be quoting in my sermon during the closing communion service), were called “The Stone Lectures” and they still are offered most years at Princeton Theological Seminary. A good number of years ago Marilyn McEntyre got to give those lectures and they, naturally, became a book. Her thesis and format were both radical and sensible: we are made by God to steward things in God’s world and, like with natural resources, failing to do so conscientiously can be disastrous, as water and air are fouled and life is endangered. Similarly, she notes, we can suppose that language is a gift of God that we are called upon to steward well. If we don’t, things can get toxic, quickly.

It was going to be somewhat of a big ending. I hoped to have read to them out loud her table of contents — stewardship strategies, she calls them — as somewhat of a benediction. I leave them with you here, now: Love Words, Tell the Truth, Don’t Tolerate Lies, Read Well, Stay in Conversation, Share Stories, Love the Long Sentence, Practice Poetry, Attend to Translation, Play, Pray, and Cherish Silence.


Here are our (big) lists of some of our beloved NOVELS and MEMOIRS by some favorite wordsmiths, writers, and reporters. My, my, there is something here for everyone — from artsy stuff from Slant books to bestsellers from Random House; Noble Prize and Pultizer winners, self-published titles, overtly Christian work, and, well, some that are not quite so wholesome. Reading widely, friends. Enjoy.

LIST ONE: Some favorite NOVELS available from Hearts & Minds.

LIST TWO: Some favorite MEMOIRS and CREATIVE NONFICTION available from Hearts & Minds 




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The weight and destination of your package varies but you can use this as a quick, general guide:

There are generally two kinds of US Mail options and, of course, UPS.  If necessary, we can do overnight and other expedited methods, too. Just ask.

  • United States Postal Service has the option called “Media Mail” which is cheapest but can be a little slower. For one typical book, usually, it’s $4.33; 2 lbs would be $5.07. This is the cheapest method available and seems not to be too delayed.
  • United States Postal Service has another, quicker option called “Priority Mail” which is $8.70, if it fits in a flat-rate envelope. Many children’s books and some Bibles are oversized so that might take the next size up which is $9.50. “Priority Mail” gets much more attention than does “Media Mail” and is often just a few days to anywhere in the US.
  • UPS Ground is reliable but varies by weight and distance and may take longer than USPS. Sometimes they are cheaper than Priority. We’re happy to figure out your options for you once we know what you want.

If you just want to say “cheapest” that is fine. If you are eager and don’t want the slowest method, do say so. It really helps us serve you well so let us know. Thanks.


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Sadly, as of May 2024 we are still closed for in-store browsing. COVID is not fully over. Since few are reporting their illnesses anymore, it is tricky to know the reality but the best measurement is to check the waste water tables to see the amount of virus in the eco-system. It isn’t good. It is complicated, but we are still closed for in-store browsing.

Our store is a bit cramped without top-notch ventilation, so we are trying to be wise. Thanks very much for understanding.

We will keep you posted about our future plans… we are eager to reopen. Pray for us.

We are doing our curb-side and back yard customer service and can show any number of items to you if you call us from our back parking lot. We’ve got tables set up out back. It’s sort of fun, actually. We are eager to serve and grateful for your patience. We are very happy to help, so if you are in the area, do stop by. We love to see friends and customers.

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