Sarah Mackenzie is the author of The Read-Aloud Family, a wonderful book aimed to help families appreciate the joy and purpose of reading aloud. The book is a beautiful result of years hosting the Read-Aloud Revival podcast. Sarah joins us to answer questions about books that might change the world.
One book that shaped my imagination as a kid was Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White. As a fifth grader, I found it on the shelf at the house where I went to for after-school care. I started reading it out of sheer boredom and immediately felt like I had walked through a portal into a more visceral, truer world. That’s probably my first memory of words having a transformative power over me. I wouldn’t have been able to explain it at the time; I just knew I was changed after I read that book. I still can’t read anything by E.B. White without marveling at his abilities as a writer.
One book that helped me return to reading, or helped sustain me as a reader, was The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve re-read it. If the sign of a really good book is its ability to show you something new every time you read, then I consider The Screwtape Letters one of the best books I’ve ever read. One thing I love about it is that it’s accessible and easy to read but doesn’t lack for depth of thought or ideas. I think it’s possibly among Lewis’s best works (and he has a lot of wonderful works, so that’s saying something!).
One book that was pivotal in my faith journey was Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton. Oh my, where do I begin with Chesterton? I was introduced to his work in my early thirties, and he met me where no other spiritual writer had before. I cannot read anything by Chesterton without a pencil in hand, because so much of what he writes is quotable. I underline and mark up his books mercilessly, making notes in the margins and smattering exclamation points all throughout.
One book I’ve read lately that introduced a powerful new idea was Finish by Jon Acuff. Ideas like “cut your goals in half” (say what?), “choose what you’re going to bomb,” and “stop giving in to noble excuses” made me scratch out notes in my journal and read aloud sections to my husband. Also, it’s very, very funny. Another one I want to mention that introduced a powerful new idea was Shakespeare Saved My Life by Laura Bates. I was so moved by this true story of a female professor who taught Shakespeare inside a maximum security prison. This book impacted what I believe about empathy, reform versus punishment, and what it really means to love our enemies.
If I could make any book magically become a bestseller it would be Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt. I want everyone to read it. It’s a book that makes me want to stare at Audubon paintings, read Jane Eyre, thank a veteran, get an orchid, and hug a mean kid. What Schmidt does better than any other author I have read is help me understand people who are different from myself, and get a glimpse of what motivates those I am tempted to despise. This book changed the way I see the world and the people who are hurting all around me. It’s a middle grade novel, and it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read.