On My Shelf helps you get to know various writers through a behind-the-scenes glimpse into their lives as readers.
I asked Ashley Hales, author of A Spacious Life: Trading Hustle and Hurry for the Goodness of Limits, about what’s on her nightstand, favorite fiction, edifying nonfiction, and more.
What’s on your nightstand right now?
Usually my nightstand is piled with books, but since we’ve just moved it’s a bit more manageable! I’m reading Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age for a book club. Glittering Images by Susan Howatch (a novel of spiritual formation among English parishes) is my current novel pick and I’m leafing through Six Seasons (a cookbook) and 60 Hikes within 60 Miles: Denver and Boulder to get to know our new place.
What are some books you regularly re-read and why?
The Chronicles of Narnia (C. S. Lewis), The Wingfeather Saga (Andrew Peterson) and The Wilderking Trilogy (Jonathan Rogers) are often on high rotation for our family of six. With great storytelling, they help all of us rekindle the wonder of grace. I return to The Jesus Storybook Bible, Dane Ortlund’s Gentle and Lowly, and Kathleen Norris’s The Quotidian Mysteries: Liturgy, Laundry, and “Women’s Work” as books to dip into to remember the heart of Christ and his work in the world.
What books have most profoundly shaped how you view gospel ministry?
When the pandemic began in 2020, lots of folks found solace in dystopian worlds, but I could only read gentle books. Zack Eswine’s The Imperfect Pastor reminds me that my primary call in the world is to live as a child of God, not to rush around anxiously trying to do the work of gospel ministry. The gospel must first work on me.
What are some of your favorite fiction books?
I read Housekeeping (Marilynne Robinson’s first novel) in college and loved it. My copy of Gilead, her story of the dying pastor John Ames, is underlined and well-loved. I’ve very much enjoyed Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache mysteries. I’m fascinated by transatlantic fiction works like Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Marble Faun, and the early American Gothic work of Charles Brockden Brown, as they all reckon with place and identity.
What books have most influenced your views on culture and cultural engagement?
Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age, James K. A. Smith’s You Are What You Love, and Tim Keller’s The Reason for God and The Prodigal God are the books I return to to understand the intersection between our cultural moment, how spiritual transformation happens, and the heart of God for the world. I also have really appreciated the podcast This Cultural Moment with Mark Sayers and John Mark Comer.
What books have most profoundly shaped how you serve others for the sake of the gospel?
Wanting my home and life to be hospitable, I’ve loved reading Henri Nouwen’s The Return of the Prodigal Son, The Art of Neighboring, Making Room, and Scott Russel Sanders’s Staying Put. Tim Keller’s The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness, Thomas Chalmers’s The Expulsive Power of a New Affection, and Pete Scazzero’s work on emotional and spiritual health (Emotionally Healthy Discipleship) have been instrumental in connecting what I know to how I love others.
What are you learning about life and following Jesus?
My husband has recently taken a new pastoral call after an unintended season of sabbatical rest, where we had six months to trust God in the waiting. I’m learning how we have a faithful God who watches out for us, knows what we need, and provides the resources often, without our hustle or hurry.
As I’ve pressed into the limits of my time and attention (we homeschooled this last year with the pandemic), I’ve found new ways to practice solitude and silence and have begun to see how God meets me in the chaos, too. As I’ve been reading the Gospels, I’m seeing how all of life is an invitation to bring our limits before God as a doorway into communion with him, and to see Jesus as the one who limits himself for the sake of love.