On My Shelf helps you get to know various writers through a behind-the-scenes glimpse into their lives as readers.
I asked Kathryn Butler—a trauma and critical-care surgeon who recently left clinical practice to homeschool her children and author of a book on end-of-life care through a Christian lens, Between Life and Death—about what’s on her nightstand, her favorite fiction, books that have most influenced her thinking about faith and medicine, and more.
What books are on your nightstand?
This will be fodder for my husband. The piles have gotten out of control.
I actively read about four books at a time: something to teach, something to write about, something to help my child with special needs, and something to indulge my love for words. Right now that amalgamation looks like this:
- Something to teach: Running from Mercy: Jonah and the Surprising Story of God’s Unstoppable Grace by Anthony J. Carter
- Something to write about: Hostility to Hospitality: Spirituality and Professional Socialization within Medicine by Michael J. and Tracy Balboni
- Something to help my child with special needs: Smart but Scattered: The Revolutionary ‘Executive Skills’Approach to Helping Kids Reach Their Potential by Peg Dawson and Richard Guare
- Something to refine my mind and heart: The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien
Other titles heaped on the nightstand in various phases of completion include:
- The Prodigal Prophet: Jonah and the Mystery of God’s Mercy by Tim Keller
- All That’s Good: Recovering the Lost Art of Discernment by Hannah Anderson
- Scientism and Secularism: Learning to Respond to a Dangerous Ideology by J. P. Moreland
- The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief by Francis S. Collins
- In the Crucible by Daniel L. Schlueter
- Closing the Chart: A Dying Physician Examines Family, Faith, and Medicine by Steven D. Hsi
- The Opposite of Worry: The Playful Parenting Approach to Childhood Anxieties and Fears by Lawrence Cohen
- The Way I See It: A Personal Look at Autism and Asperger’s by Temple Grandin
- The Secrets of Mental Math by Arthur Benjamin and Michael Shermer
- The Waves by Virginia Woolf
- To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
- The Aeneid by Virgil
- The Valley of Vision by Arthur Bennett
What are your favorite fiction books?
I gravitate toward the Lost Generation writers: William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, James Joyce. I love how they all pair an unflinching eye for detail with a deftness for capturing the moment, the essence of a thing. Their realism is unsettling, but it’s also their gift: I can’t read Dubliners or The Great Gatsby or even The Sound and the Fury without thinking, Yes, that’s why the gospel is such great news!
What books have most influenced your thinking about faith and medicine?
For years the problem of suffering was a stumbling block to my faith, even driving me for a time to agnosticism and existential depression. An in-depth study of the book of Job played a crucial role in deepening my faith, giving me a biblical framework that revealed God’s goodness even in our anguish. It also shaped my thoughts on end-of-life care.
Regarding medicine specifically, Dr. Robert Orr’s Medical Ethics and the Faith Factor has been an excellent resource, as have John Dunlop’s Finishing Well to the Glory of God and David VanDrunen’s Bioethics and the Christian.
What’s the last great book you read?
For classics, The Aeneid. For modern books, I loved Prairie Fires, Caroline Fraser’s biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder (which I reviewed for TGC). Her research was excellent, and her writing was stunning.
In the past year I’ve also read some pretty amazing children’s literature with my kids around the breakfast table that I know I didn’t appreciate decades ago. I expected to cry with Charlotte’s Web and the Narnia chronicles, but the poignancy of The Cricket in Times Square took me aback.
What’s one book you wish every pastor read?
Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. Gawande doesn’t write from a Christian perspective, but he does a spectacular job illustrating the skewed priorities of modern medicine and how the missions to fix and to keep safe often deprive people of what matters most in life. Our medical technology is a gift, but it comes with a steep price when wielded without discernment.
What are you learning about life and following Jesus?
For so long I didn’t understand grace. I knew my sin down to my bones, and daily dwelt on my inadequacy, but I really couldn’t comprehend that God would sacrifice anything of worth to save someone so corrupted.
The move from the hospital to homeschooling has compelled me to put aside any notion that I can redeem myself and has unveiled for me the sweetness and luminosity of grace in Christ. As I flunk daily at homemaking stuff, and as my son’s needs bring me to my knees, I’m amazed at how little we can do ourselves, how desperately we need the Lord, and how he works such wonders when we stop striving, start trusting, and come before him broken and humble. What he accomplishes far outshines anything we can do with our own awkward hands. And my heart bursts with gratitude that even when we’re so undeserving his love covers us and buoys us through.