On My Shelf helps you get to know various writers through a behind-the-scenes glimpse into their lives as readers.
I asked Cherie Harder—president of The Trinity Forum—about what’s on her nightstand, her favorite biographies, the books that have shaped her understanding of leadership, and more.
What books are on your nightstand right now?
I have two large stacks of books next to my bed, as I’m a rather haphazard reader who dips in and out of several books at once. A sampling includes:
- 99 Poems by Dana Gioia
- My Bright Abyss by Christian Wiman
- The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
- Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
- Awaiting the King: Reforming Public Theology by James K. A. Smith
What are your favorite fiction books?
Persuasion by Jane Austen
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
What biographies or autobiographies have most influenced you and why?
- The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris—a portrait of a flawed but extraordinary leader.
- Simply Jesus by N. T. Wright. Wright puts on his historian’s hat to give context to the time in which Jesus was born and the implications for his ministry and message.
- God’s Politician: William Wilberforce’s Struggle by Garth Lean. Lean is not the most learned of Wilberforce’s many biographers, but this quick read is ultra-accessible and relentlessly interesting. I first read it when I was just a few years out of college, and it broadened my imagination for what politics could be (for both good and ill). Wilberforce was that most remarkable of creatures—a principled pol who rarely took himself too seriously, was dogged but not dogmatic, extended kindness to everyone around him, and was unfazed by threats and opposition, even from within his own constituencies.
- West with the Night by Beryl Markham. This is a memoir rather than an autobiography, and one I have read and re-read with relish. Markham writes so beautifully (Hemingway reportedly groused that “she writes circles around us all”) about a life of such unusual adventure. She’s an English girl transplanted to Africa who became the first pilot to fly solo from Africa to Europe. She is both a keen and gracious observer: she seems to look for, perceive, and transmit what is beautiful around her. First as a college student, then as a young (and now not-so-young) woman, her sense of strength, clarity, adventure, resolution, and remarkable graciousness was inspiring to me.
- Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard (another memoir of reflection, rather than autobiography per se). Dillard shows the value of attentiveness, and how much we can see, better know, and begin to properly value the amazing created order around us by paying attention.
- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Maya Angelou’s memoir of her first 17 years gives a glimpse of what strength of soul and mind it must have taken for her to envision a different future, pursue it so doggedly, and be undeterred by those who would try to scare and shame her. It’s a profile in courage.
What books have most shaped your understanding of leadership?
The Jesus Way by Eugene Peterson, which provides such a helpful, corrective reminder of the unique way of Jesus which we’re to follow. And I loved Andy Crouch’s book Playing God, which dealt with thinking Christianly about power and influence. David Brooks’s The Road to Character includes a number of character sketches that brilliantly illustrate how the character of various leaders was formed, reformed, or transformed, and what it meant for their work, life, and leadership
What is The Trinity Forum and what is the organization’s purpose?
The Trinity Forum is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing a space and resources for leaders to engage “the big questions of life” in the context of Christian faith. More practically speaking, we try to provide a platform for the best of Christian thought through hosting conversations, lectures, forums, and reading groups around “the big questions.”
We also publish quarterly Readings where we seek to acquaint busy professionals with the best of literature and letters (with all the questions, challenges, dilemmas, and possibilities they raise) in the conviction that great books and stories help cultivate one’s moral and spiritual imagination, lead us to form the right questions, drive us to more deeply love and long for the Author of the answers, and equip us to live more thoughtfully, charitably, and wisely.
What are you learning about life and following Jesus?
I’m learning the need for more spiritual discipline in what I pay attention to. Spiritual disciplines themselves are largely about turning our attention from our own grievances, slights, appetites, and irritations, upward and outward to the Author of Grace and Love. There’s this lovely stanza from the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning:
Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees takes off his shoes . . .
Also in the On My Shelf series: Zane Pratt • Russ Ramsey • Jason Allen • Jason Cook • Mack Stiles • Michael Kruger • Tony Merida • Robert Smith • Andy Crouch • Walter Strickland • Hannah Anderson • S. D. Smith • Curtis Woods • Mindy Belz • Steve Timmis • David Mathis • Michael Lindsay • Nathan Finn • Jennifer Marshall • Todd Billings • Greg Thornbury • Greg Forster • Jen Pollock Michel • Sam Storms • Barton Swaim • John Stonestreet • George Marsden • Andrew Wilson • Sally Lloyd-Jones • Darryl Williamson • D. A. Horton • Carl Ellis • Owen Strachan • Thomas Kidd • David Murray • Jarvis Williams • Gracy Olmstead • Matthew Hall • Drew Dyck • Louis Markos • Ray Ortlund • Brett McCracken • Mez McConnell • Erik Raymond • Sandra McCracken • Tim Challies • Sammy Rhodes • Karen Ellis • Alastair Roberts • Scott Sauls • Karen Swallow Prior • Jackie Hill Perry • Bruce Ashford • Jonathan Leeman • Megan Hill • Marvin Olasky • David Wells • John Frame • Rod Dreher • James K. A. Smith • Randy Alcorn • Tom Schreiner • Trillia Newbell • Jen Wilkin • Joe Carter • Timothy George • Tim Keller • Bryan Chapell • Lauren Chandler • Mike Cosper • Russell Moore • Jared Wilson • Kathy Keller • J. D. Greear • Kevin DeYoung • Kathleen Nielson • Thabiti Anyabwile • Elyse Fitzpatrick • Collin Hansen • Fred Sanders • Rosaria Butterfield • Nancy Guthrie • Matt Chandler