Book recommendations for a new Christian!
November 22, 2009 12:37 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for book recommendations for a young woman who has recently become interested in religion. Ideas please!

I would like to buy my younger sister a book as one of her Christmas gifts. She is 19, and about four or five months ago was introduced to religion when she joined some college friends on a trip to Africa to do the normal Christian aid type work. She's since become more and more involved with the church and interested in religion - to the point that she was baptised a couple of weeks ago. The church is the most relaxed I've ever been to - it's in a purpose-built barn/hall, and they have a live band playing covers of modern songs. It's all very youth-orientated and all about friendship, community and fun. (I'm giving this information to try and give an idea of the kind of church/religion she's into. I'm not religious at all so apologies if I sound a little clueless.)

I would like to buy her a book for Christmas with some kind of spiritual/religious/Christian theme, to show her that while I'm not religious (and have probably been quite scathing about religion in the past) I respect her and am pleased that she's found this and that it makes her happy. However, I don't want to get herself anything with too strong a message - as I said she's only starting to be involved in the church, she's young, and I think she'd only be embarrassed by any too overtly religious gift as she knows how unreligious I am.

When I was younger I flicked through one of the Chicken Soup books at a friend's - I seem to remember that these had a vaguely religious theme to them, am I right? Something like this is what I'm looking for.

So - please give me your recommendations!

To sum up- I'm looking for

- nothing too strong in its religious message
- probably fiction, but non-fiction ideas welcome
- something appropriate for a 19 year old girl who loves going out, seeing friends, parties - all the normal teenage stuff!
- something well written, with an inspirational or thoughtful message.

posted by schmoo to Writing & Language (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis.
posted by jeffamaphone at 12:43 PM on November 22, 2009

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant is fiction based in Christian tradition, very well written. I read it when I was around the age of your sister.
posted by something something at 12:50 PM on November 22, 2009

The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible is a very thought provoking look at religion.
posted by geekyguy at 1:03 PM on November 22, 2009

I would specifically caution against any sort of apologetic work, and more specifically Lewis' apologetic work (Mere Christianity), which I'm sure will put me in the minority camp. If she's already a convert, I see no reason to put her in the defensive mode that kind of writing engenders.

I recommend Tolstoy's Confession or Gospel in Brief.
posted by phrontist at 1:06 PM on November 22, 2009

(I'm 20 and not a christian, if it's relevant)
posted by phrontist at 1:08 PM on November 22, 2009

I'll be honest and say that I started The Red Tent, and I thought it was about the most poorly written thing I'd picked up in awhile, imo.

I would suggest that, if she is serious about going the Christian route, the very best thing she can do is to actually read the Bible.

Those things said, I cannot recommend Anne Lammot's Traveling Mercies: Thoughts on Faith highly enough. I think it would be perfect for her at this stage in her life.
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:11 PM on November 22, 2009

Joshua by Joseph Girzone
The Golden String by Bede Griffiths
That Man is You by Louis Evely
posted by jgirl at 1:21 PM on November 22, 2009

It seems to me you should read whatever you are going to give her first, and only give it to her if you enjoyed it or were left with an impression she'd enjoy it. That would make it more meaningful I think.

I'd pick one of the following:
C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters (Fantastic book filled with insight into people, my recommendation)

Lammot's Traveling Mercies (I've never read it, but heard universally good things)

Miller's Blue like Jazz (I suspect it's a popular book in the church she attends)

also Geekyguy's suggestion is terrible.
posted by pseudonick at 1:39 PM on November 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

I would suggest buying her a Bible; that will be very meaningful to a new believer, and you can get a translation that appeals more to you. My mom got my husband and me The Inclusive Bible for our wedding--perhaps something like that?

As far as fiction, I might recommend Marcelo in the Real World, which isn't just about religion, but deals with questions of religion, ethics, and morality in a very real and moving way.
posted by epj at 2:13 PM on November 22, 2009

It's nonfiction, but Rev. Peter Gomes at Harvard's Memorial Church has published a collection of his sermons called "Strength for the Journey." As they're all aimed at college-aged students, she may find them to have more meaning than general religious commentary. I'm not religious, but I really enjoyed reading it.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 2:21 PM on November 22, 2009

Came here specifically to nth the Anne Lamott recommendation; Traveling Mercies in particular is a great starting point.
posted by sarahsynonymous at 6:11 PM on November 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Came to suggest C. S. Lewis, but it's pretty heavy duty and doesn't sound like what you're looking for. I think Anne Lamott fits your criteria perfectly - her writing consists of first person stories about her life and faith. She is very candid about her struggles, life, and her relationship with God.
posted by shopefowler at 6:47 PM on November 22, 2009

After the Bible, Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis is the best book on Christianity. After that, something less dry and more fun is A Severe Mercy, by Sheldon Vanauken. It reads like a novel and is a GREAT introduction to Christianity as well as C.S. Lewis. I should also recommend Peter Kreeft. He is a philosopher and a Christian whose books are at once profound yet very accessible. (His book, Prayer for Beginners, is the best modern book on prayer.)
posted by keith0718 at 6:53 PM on November 22, 2009

Seconding psuedonick, I'm a big fan of Donald Miller and Blue Like Jazz. His work is very good and shows that Christianity does not just reside inside a church or is limited to the old folks.
posted by seandq at 9:26 PM on November 22, 2009

I'd recommend Donald Miller's "Through Painted Deserts." It's a story about a roadtrip he and a friend went on; I think it's more fun and less pointed than Blue Like Jazz. Still spiritual and meaningful and whatever - and Miller is a talented writer - and hey, what 19 year old doesn't like road trips?

I personally think CS Lewis is a bit heavy-handed for what you're wanting. Maybe his sci-fi "Out of the Silent Planet" would be okay, if she's into Tolkienesque scifi. Actually, if she's into scifi at all, go with "Flatland." Classic, that.
posted by hishtafel at 9:41 PM on November 22, 2009

Possibly "The Prophet" by the Christian Lebanese writer/poet Khalil Gibran? It's not religious so much as "inspirational" and I read it first when I was 16 and found it enormously moving and beautiful. It might not be exactly what you're looking for but thought I'd throw that in the mix anyway.
posted by Ziggy500 at 6:39 AM on November 23, 2009

The Perennial Philosophy by Aldous Huxley if she's a heady type.
One Minute Wisdom by Anthony DeMello for an easy intro to general spritiual mysticism.
Just about any recent title by Kathleen Norris.
Poetry by Mary Oliver, Wendell Berry, or Doanld Miller.
And, despite the fact that he reads like the Faith Popcorn of Christianity, I have a guilty fondness for Leonard Sweet's non-denominational hipster postmodern titles like SoulSalsa and Gospel According to Starbucks. He skates about on the surface without much depth, but he does pretty amazing double-axels while he's doing it.
And of course The Shack is a popular choice at the moment with an engaging story and some downright deep theological reflection.
posted by cross_impact at 8:01 AM on November 23, 2009

Thanks all for your suggestions - I'm busy searching them on Amazon!

For those suggesting a Bible - I'm pretty sure she has one already that the church gave her.

Pseudonick - good point about reading it first, I might try to do that. I guess then it will seem more like a book given with a recommendation rather than OMG you're a Christian now you should read this!

Thanks again - and other suggestions are welcome if there are any more to come!
posted by schmoo at 9:25 AM on November 23, 2009

I love CS Lewis, but depending on her reading preferences he might be a bit old-fashioned and British for her taste. If you do go with him, I'd suggest The Screwtape Letters as a first one (not counting Narnia, of course. She does have Narnia, right?) It's short, and it has a fun concept (older, more experienced demon writes advice to a junior one about how to lead humans astray) and I remember it as being kind of satirically funny while still getting its point across.

Anne Lamott is a good choice.

The Year of Living Biblically is not really religious, per se, but it is a thoughtful and funny book about religion and how it affects people that I think both religious and non-religious people could appreciate. It's a very finding-common-ground type of book.

From a fictional point of view, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett's book Good Omens , despite its religious theme, is not really what I'd consider a religious book, but under the (very funny, very good) plot there is a lot of serious thinkiness about things like the nature of evil and the role of free will.

I've always thought that Les Miserables was one of the best fictional explorations of the concepts of grace and redemption out there. Again, depending on her taste the book might be a bit much for her, but there have been several movie adaptations plus the musical, so you might find something that works.
posted by oblique red at 2:33 PM on November 24, 2009

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