Who Are Your Influences?

“I’m jealous,” said John. “I want your library.” “It’s my favorite room in our house. I spend more time in there than anywhere else.”

I had cleaned it up for the party, but in truth, I like the fact that our library is always full of projects and mail and stacks of books and movies and computers. It may look like clutter, but if you squint your eyes it looks like a vibrant life.

I have been in the process of arranging and rearranging my books for the past year, one of my 2014 goals, but all I’ve done so far is make a mess. Since I keep adding to my collection, organizing is a dynamic target. I can’t decide which shelves should hold which topics, so I end up restacking my piles over and over. Maybe I should break down and use the Dewey Decimal System, or the Library of Congress system? Seems too structured, even for me.

Library booksAnd to be honest, this round of organizing is for my downstairs books only. Our house is full of books. The upstairs books have to fend for themselves. They should be happy they are still in the house and not given to Friends of the Library. At least two bookcases of children’s books in our hallway belong to Cyndi, not me. She has her own organizing project to look forward to.

My conversation with John took place last Friday at our annual Deacon’s Soup Night. I was standing in the front yard greeting guests and reminding them that we’d moved the party from the neighborhood clubhouse to our house across the street. John and his wife arrived before most of the other guests, meaning they had time to explore our house, although I’m not sure he made it past the library.

I could tell right away he was a fellow reader since he didn’t ask, “Have you read all those books?” but rather started immediately into common authors and topics, zooming in to Shaara, McCullough, and Ambrose.

We didn’t get to finish our conversation before Cyndi called me inside to get the party started – apparently the Deacons were getting restless – but I’m sure John and I will pick up where we left off now that we know we have books in common.

I used to worry that I’d read so many books but couldn’t remember specific details from very many. As British author Penelope Lively wrote, “I have emptied each of these into that insatiable vessel, the mind, and they are now lost somewhere within.” I thought I should have a better working memory of what I’d read. What happened to all that information?

But then I decided not to worry about that any more. I realized I don’t read as much for new information as to be influenced by other voices. I would guess the reading for information vs. reading for influence ratio is about 20/80. Again, from Ms. Lively, “A fair amount (of what we read), the significant amount, becomes that essential part of us – what we know and understand and think about above and beyond our own immediate concerns.”

So I pick authors and read all they’ve written, hoping their insights and skills will seep into my subconscious, and maybe someday when I am teaching or writing they will trickle back out.

I read Erwin McManus, Donald Miller, Leonard Sweet, Phillip Yancey, Charles Swindoll, John Ortberg, and C. S. Lewis, to influence how I think about God and shape the way I talk about spiritual things.

I read Sara Miles and Anne Lamott to understand what Christianity looks like through the eyes of someone who lived most of their lives on the opposite side from me.

I read Steven Pressfield, Austin Kleon, Seth Godin, and Jon Acuff to open my eyes and my thoughts, to dream big about writing, and to finish what I start.

I read Calvin Trillin, Roy Blount, David Rakoff, and Mary Roach to remind myself a writer can be funny and entertaining no matter the topic as long as he tells the story well.

I read history and biography to put life in context. I read adventure books to enlarge my vision of what’s possible. I read cycling books to confirm my growing love for the sport and to learn how to write about it better. I read books about running and ultramarathons because I’m not yet ready to give up on those dream.

I’d love to hear who you read. I am always searching for my next influences, and I like reading new voices and young writers. Send me your list.

And feel free to come over and visit my library any time. Maybe you can influence how I go about arranging all these books.


“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32


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