There is nothing better than a good book and a good cup of java. I am a bibliophile. Though, my wife might suggest I am a book hoarder. She’s wrong of course! The great early modern scholar Desiderius Erasmus had the right priorities in life. He is often quoted as saying, “When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.” (Letter to Jacob Batt (12 April 1500); Collected Works of Erasmus Vol 1, (1974))
Why do I love books? I love books because I see them as life changing. Great books can be transforming texts. Transforming texts have changed my life. I have adopted the phrase “transforming texts,” from my favourite from one of my favourite writers, Anthony Thiselton.
Thistelton explains in New Horizons in Hermeneutics: The Theory and Practice of Transforming Biblical Reading (Amazon; .ca; .co.uk) that “Texts can actively shape and transform the perceptions, understanding, and actions of readers and of reading communities.” (p. 31). In other words, we are changed when we read. This happens when we read the Bible. It also happens when we read a medical text, or in legal reading. Our way of viewing our health, or our behaviour may be modified.
But, the transformation can go the other way too. Readers transform texts, either (1) negatively “texts can also suffer transformation at the hands of readers and reading communities” or (2) positively, “Readers and interpreters may also endow texts with new life in the context of new situations” (Thiselton, p. 31).
Transforming Texts as Conversation Partners
A 19th century literary critic put this into a simple and pithy statement, “What is reading, but silent conversation” (Charles Lamb). One of the finest minds in history, mathematician and philosopher Rene Descartes adds, “The reading of all good books is like a conversation with the finest minds of past centuries” (Source).
I have been impacted by many books. But I really wanted to think about which books changed my life the most. I set myself a couple of sorting rules. First, these books had to be classics, or great books. Second, they had to be readily available today. Third, they had to be conversation partners, which I have read more than once, and which had shaped me, as I shaped my understanding of them. I think that they will impact anyone else who reads them seriously.
I do not necessarily agree with everything in these books, or even their main perspective. We grow most by being regularly challenged. This reminds me of the gym. When you first start out, you don’t want to go try for a four-pie squat.
Transforming Texts as Conversation Partners in My Life
The three books below I read (at least for the first time) before I finished University. They were part of my most transformative years. Each book listed below has a post describing my experience with it as a transforming text. I plan to expand the list as occasions arise to review other books that have impacted me.
- God, The Bible (Transforming Texts # 1)
- JI Packer, Knowing God
- Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy