On My Shelf helps you get to know various writers through a behind-the-scenes glimpse into their lives as readers.
I asked Claude Atcho—author of Reading Black Books: How African American Literature Can Make Our Faith More Whole and Just—about what’s on his bedside table, favorite fiction, favorite rereads, and much more.
What’s on your nightstand right now?
I keep too many books on and around my nightstand. This book clutter is a physical representation of how I often like to read: by whatever mood and interest strikes me, though I usually read fiction at night and other works in the morning. A few of these I turn to each day and others I dip into when I feel like it.
- The 1662 Book of Common Prayer: International Edition
- The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead
- Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust (trans. Lydia Davis)
- Greek for Life: Strategies for Learning, Retaining, and Reviving New Testament Greek by Benjamin L. Merkle and Robert L. Plummer
- Keep Up Your Biblical Hebrew in Two Minutes a Day, Vol. 1 by Jonathan Kline
- Perspectives on Paul: Five Views ed. Scot McKnight and B. J. Oropeza
- Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang
What are your favorite fiction books?
You’d think this question would be easier to answer over time, but I struggle each time it’s asked. Here are some of my favorite works of literature:
- The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
- Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
- Juneteenth by Ralph Ellison
- Uncle Tom’s Children by Richard Wright
- The City & the City by China Miéville
- Silence by Shusaku Endo
- Benito Cereno by Herman Melville
- The Joys of Motherhood by Buchi Emecheta
- Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
What biographies or autobiographies have most influenced you and why?
I’d like to read more biographies. I first encountered Augustine’s Confessions as a sophomore in a Western Civilization course and was mostly stirred by the story of his conversion. In more recent years, Confessions has helped me better understand the human heart, especially my own, and the God who is infinite, beautiful, and good. There are so many poignant quotes but, for me, this one is near the top: “For what am I to myself without You, but a guide to my own downfall?”
The Autobiography of Malcolm X helped me learn more about our nation’s history and the legacy of an often-misunderstood figure. The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. showed me the power and strength of love and non-violence as the way to overcome evil.
What are some books you regularly reread and why?
I rarely reread books cover to cover aside from novels, but I reread sections of books quite often. I return to Fleming Rutledge’s The Crucifixion and John Stott’s The Cross of Christ to wonder and marvel about the Christ crucified and what it means for myself and the world. N. T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope helps me keep the invading power and hope of the resurrection before my eyes. I return to J. Deotis Roberts’s Liberation and Reconciliation: A Black Theology for concise and rich theological reflections directly applied to African American experience. Karl Barth’s Evangelical Theology is one I revisit as it’s quite fun and reminds me that wonder and joy are at the heart of theology because God is astonishing and incomprehensible.
When it comes to novels, I like to revisit Invisible Man every few years as well as Endo’s Silence and Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory. The latter two, for me at least, paint a clear picture of ministerial need and the necessity and power of grace.
What books have most profoundly shaped how you serve and lead others for the sake of the gospel?
I’ve mentioned a few already, including all the novels above. I’d say Fleming Rutledge’s The Crucifixion and John Stott’s The Cross of Christ for what it means to know Christ and him crucified and then to declare that world-changing and world-healing reality to others. Tim Keller’s Center Church and Preaching have been tremendously influential in my thinking and teaching. Ruth Haley Barton’s Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership has helped me grow as a non-anxious leader, doing ministry from a place of rest. Robert Webber’s Ancient-Future Time helps me think about time as a means of discipleship under Christ for myself, my family, and my church. Howard Thurman’s Jesus and the Disinherited enlarged my sense of how the gospel is good news for the meek and downtrodden. Alexander Schmemann’s For the Life of the World has been a life-giving paradigm shift in my thinking about secularism, worship, and mission. Robert Louis Wilken’s The Spirit of Early Christian Thought continues to teach me to think and serve from the deep well of our forebears in the faith. Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers has deepened and expanded my love for and approach to Scripture.
What’s one book you wish every pastor would read?
I’d suggest The Mosaic of Atonement: An Integrated Approach to Christ’s Work by Joshua M. McNall. Rather than reducing the atonement to one image or flattening it into something indiscernible, McNall shows how the atonement is wonderfully multifaceted. It makes for a stimulating and stirring read alongside Stott and Rutledge, and it will help pastors more powerfully preach Christ crucified with the full harmony of the scriptural witness rather than doing so in the same single note.
What are you learning about life and following Jesus?
The gift and importance of being present with Christ and those before me moment by moment. That’s what matters most.