On My Shelf: Life and Books with Kathy Keller
On My Shelf is a new feature designed to help you get to know various people through providing a behind-the-scences glimpse into their lives as readers.
I corresponded with Kathy Keller, assistant director of communications for Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, about what's currently on her (prone-to-spontaneously-combust) nightstand, books she re-reads, her favorite fiction, and more.
What's on your nightstand right now?
There's always a mystery novel; right now there are short stories from the greats. (Roger Nicole, my systematic theology professor at Gordon-Conwell, had a mystery collection that rivaled his theology collection. He said they were the most Christian of all forms of fiction—at least in the classic form; right always triumphs, as in Joan Hickson's interpretation of Miss Marple.)
I'm again reading through Dorothy Dunnett's magnificent historical fiction series, The Lymond Chronicles. (Just be ready to ignore the minor nod to astrological influence, as everyone believed it in the 16th century.) Also, Lois McMasters Bujold's Young Miles, the first in her series about a disabled sci-fi hero. Usually there's something by Jim Butcher (e.g., Dresden or Codex Alera), sometimes by Lee Child (e.g., Jack Reacher). And my Bible. Why my nightstand doesn't blow up is anyone's guess.
What are you learning about life and following Jesus?
That there are dark, dark places that have to be faced and excavated in my heart. I can never dust off my hands and say, "There! Nearly done." Not even close. Grace becomes more precious by the day.
What are some books you regularly re-read and why?
I've read Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings every year, sometimes twice a year, for more than 40 years. I regularly re-read Lewis's Perelandra and Narnia as well. Those are for the joy that pierces my heart. I'm not particularly given to joy; my highest aspiration is usually to contentment. But those books, as well as classical music, give me a taste of worshipful joy that I can both take into worship and also read through worship.
Also, Patrick O'Brian's 20-book series that features the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars, but features even more the friendship and relationships of Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin. O'Brian was such a master of his period that he even wrote in the style of the 19th century.
What books have most profoundly shaped how you serve and lead others for the sake of the gospel?
The letters of John Newton, mostly the collection published under the name Utterance of the Heart. Nothing is more insightful about dealing with people and pastoral issues. Tim and I take people through them whenever we're able. In fact, we're both doing so now, with different groups.
What are your favorite fiction books?
Maybe you can tell I gravitate toward fiction rather than the newest Christian titles? I was formed (since second grade) by C. S. Lewis, who taught that it's story rising to the level of myth that puts us in touch with our deepest longings. I see can see Jesus everywhere, hiding in plain sight: The Lone Ranger (who fights for justice while always being taken for a criminal), Superman (a deliberate Christ figure if ever there was one), Hiccup in How to Train Your Dragon (who wins through weakness), The Iron Giant (who wins through self-sacrifice), Balto (who was despised and rejected but is the savior), Miles Vorkosigan in the Vorkosigan Saga (whose disability enables him to triumph), Tavi in the Codex Alera series (who, well, that would be a spoiler), Gandalf, Frodo, and Aragorn (prophet, priest, and king), and so on.