2. The Lutheran Hymnal -- various
There’s simply no denying that these were the two most influential and formative books of my early life. Having Luther’s theology hammered into me (and memorizing all those Bible verses) made me realize that the way I think about God and the world were things to be taken seriously; the Hymnal introduced me to both the majesty of the English language and the power of music, as well as shaping my perception of the eternal. (This, of course, was the OLD version of The Lutheran Hymnal, characterized by phrases like “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest,” "lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace," and "wherefore we flee for refuge to Thine infinite mercy, seeking and imploring Thy grace," and containing real, honest-to-God HYMNS, not the Pepsi jingles and pop psychology that pass for liturgical language and music today.)
3. Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life) – St. John Paul II
Years later, I left my Lutheran upbringing in search of something more. Casting about for another home, I was considering Catholicism, but was uncertain. Then this encyclical was released, and gave me the final convincing push I needed to swim the Tiber. John Paul the Great’s words showed me it was possible to firmly hold traditional moral values and still be an intellectual. In a world where the media teaches that traditional morality = ignorant bigotry and depravity = “sophistication” and intelligence, this was a revelation to me. Through the force of its logic, it also single-handedly changed my convictions about the death penalty.
4. All the Pope’s Men: the Inside Story of How the Vatican Really Thinks – John Allen
Years after I made my leap of faith and converted to Catholicism, I was still baffled about many things Catholic. Not doctrine; but there is a culture specific to Catholicism, and I didn’t grasp it. This book largely closed those gaps for me, by explaining the cultural assumptions made by Rome and the historical causes and reasoning behind them.
5. Christianity and the Constitution – John Eidsmoe
A gift from my father, this book was the first to make me think seriously about conservative political values and the historical basis for their legitimacy. It also provides definitive proof that, contrary to the lies my teachers taught me, the Founding Fathers weren’t “mostly deists,” but were largely conventional – and devout – Christians.
A gift from my mother, this fan publication about science-fiction, mystery, and fantasy TV programming was the first book to feed my fascination with media, and made me a voracious enthusiast and student of entertainment and popular culture.
7. Hollywood vs. America: Popular Culture and the War on Traditional Values – Michael Medved
This book combined my interest in entertainment media and conservative moral values. By showing the way media influences all of us – and the way those influences are harmful to society – Medved’s book provided me with a blueprint for the career I’ve followed for the last eight years, and hope to continue in the future.
8. Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide – Leonard Maltin and others
Phrases from Maltin’s reviews still dance through my mind and influence my style when I do my own writing about popular culture. Lines like “a must-see for morons” are funny, pithy, and accurate, and I strive shamelessly to imitate them.
9. The Screwtape Letters – C.S. Lewis
And speaking of pithy writing...This book, a series of lessons from a senior demon to a junior in how to tempt humans, combines fantasy with sharp and practical lessons in life, theology, and sin and its consequences. Many is the time I’ve looked in the mirror and thought of words from this work. The section about “the safest road to Hell” alone is worth the price of admission.
10. For Whom the Bell Tolls – Ernest Hemingway