On My Shelf helps you get to know various writers through a behind-the-scenes glimpse into their lives as readers.
I asked Hannah Anderson—author of Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes Your Soul and Made for More: An Invitation to Live in God’s Image—about what’s on her nightstand, her favorite fiction books, books that have shaped her thinking on home and place, and more.
What books are on your nightstand right now?
First, we need to clarify: there are the books that are actually on my nightstand, and then there are the books piled around my nightstand. There are also the books strewn about my kitchen and the books stacked on my desk. And finally, there are the books in my library bag:
- Madame President: The Extraordinary Journey of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf by Helene Cooper
- Love Big, Do Well: Letters to a Small Town Church by Winn Collier
- A Parent’s Guide to High-Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder by Sally Ozonoff, Geraldine Dawson, and James McPartland
- On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. I feel like I’m always reading this book. As a Christian writer, it’s easy to believe that the content of my work is enough to justify it, that what I’m writing about somehow automatically validates how I write about it. Nothing could be further from the truth.
What’s one book you wish every American evangelical would read and why?
I should probably suggest a book that will deepen your experience of faith, but I think American evangelicals generally need to read more about our shared faith in order to make sense of their personal faith. One book that helped me understand the largeness of Christianity is (and this is a bit predictable) Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis. Still, when I think about the folks I share a pew with on Sunday morning, even this book would be a bit of a stretch, so I’d definitely settle for a modern or abridged version of John Bunyan’s A Pilgrim’s Progress.
What are your favorite fiction books?
I love Alexander McCall Smith, whose novels remind me of my other favorite writers: P. G. Wodehouse, James Herriot, and Jane Austen. McCall Smith’s writing is deceptively gentle, but he has a way of capturing both the glory and ridiculousness of human nature.
As a pastor’s wife, I’ve learned how important it is be able to laugh at the sheer silliness of human beings. If you don’t, ministry will make you a cynic because—if you’re doing it right—you’re going to encounter a whole lot of brokenness. In this space, it’s easy to forget that as terrible as we are, people are wonderful too, that we all have our own set of God-given quirks, gifts, and potential, and that he loves us both because of and in spite of ourselves.
What’s the last great book you read?
I’m in a phase of life where I read a lot of young-adult classics with my children. One we recently finished was the Newberry Medal winner From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg. I wouldn’t call it life-changing, but it’s one of those books that cultivates your imagination in many different directions—a life skill particularly necessary for people whose hope rests on the unseen.
What books on home and place ground you the most and how?
Not surprisingly, I appreciate Wendell Berry’s writing. When I read Berry, it doesn’t feel like I’m learning new things so much as finding words for a life I already instinctively know. I grew up in a former coal-mining area in Pennsylvania, just north of West Virginia; it was exactly what you think of when you hear “former coal-mining area,” but to hear my dad speak of it when I was growing up, it was heaven. His family had been there for more than 200 years, and he had built our home on family land.
Berry captures this sense of privilege and responsibility to land and family. One of the saddest paragraphs in his writing is in the novel Hannah Coulter where he describes the tension of raising children to reach beyond their local community—maybe for education, a job, or travel—but then dealing with the negative effect on the community when the young people all leave.
A book that embodies these same themes from a ministry perspective is a quirky little biography called The Man Who Moved a Mountain; it’s the story of Presbyterian church planter Bob Childress, who ministered in his native Blue Ridge Mountains during Prohibition. At the time, the region had little infrastructure, and many people survived on subsistence farming and moonshine. After his conversion, Childress took spiritual responsibility for his community, even returning to high school in his 30s so he could eventually go to seminary. He understood the gospel has a social dimension, and his evangelistic efforts led directly to better infrastructure, employment, and educational opportunities. (My favorite part of Childress’s story is that he became a Presbyterian because he found the theology of his native Particular Baptist church too fatalistic.)
What are you learning about life and following Jesus?
I’m learning that following means that you don’t get to pick the path. You just get to choose whether you’re going to put one foot in front of the other, taking daily steps of obedience. There are days that I wake up and wonder, “How in the world did I get here?” It’s a mix of gratefulness, awe, and, quite honestly, helplessness. But as I look back on how God’s led over the years, I see a kind providence and wisdom that helps me trust him with the future.
Also in the On My Shelf series: 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