I spent a lot of time reading in high school.
Not everything was worth reading.
It wasn’t reading books with problematic content. But I read many forgettable books that didn’t impact my spiritual or intellectual life.
It isn’t bad to read books just because they’re enjoyable—in moderation there’s a value in stories that offer simple entertainment. But the best books not only delight us, but also teach us valuable insights about the nature of God’s reality.
Here are three types of books I don’t regret reading during my high school years.
1. Stories that Showed Me What the Virtuous Life Looks Like
While it’s great to read solid non-fiction books that explain what a faithful walk with Christ looks like, it’s just as valuable to see what a faithful, virtuous walk looks like in fiction. This is one of the reasons I believe the Bible was written as a literature collection rather than as a systematic theology textbook—we need examples to know what to do.
The Odyssey impacted me as a teenager. Even though Homer was a pagan and the hero of the story, Odysseus, has numerous flaws, the story shows us by example what it looks like to value home and family over fame and fortune. Odysseus undergoes a long journey to return home, and during the journey he realizes the folly of the fame-driven life many of his fellow warriors sought. There’s a particularly haunting moment when he meets the spirit of one of his dead allies who warns him that, for all the fame he accumulated, nothing mattered after death.
As someone who is tempted to prize human greatness, this story reminds me of the importance of family. More than that, it shows me by Odysseus’ example how much it’s worth it to fight for your family. Read stories that show you what virtuous living looks like in difficult situations.
2. Books that Deepened My Understanding of Scripture
Unfortunately, much of the Christian non-fiction market for teens today is shallow and underdeveloped. Few of the “teen non-fiction books” I read as a teenager were really worth reading.
What I don’t regret reading are the works that challenged me and offered me good meaty content on what Scripture teaches. Books like Knowing God by J.I. Packer, Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther, Delighting in the Trinity by Michael Reeves, or The City of God by St. Augustine all deeply shaped my Christian worldview while in high school.
Don’t settle for books that will pat you on the back and only recommend a few tweaks for your Christian walk. Aim for the books that are going to deeply challenge you and knock you down—but then pick you back up with the Gospel and re-align your thoughts with Scripture.
3. Novels that Forced Me to Wrestle with What I Believe
There is a famous scene in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s magnum opus, The Brothers Karamazov, where Ivan, an atheist, challenges his brother Alyosha, a Christian, concerning his faith. Dostoevsky was a Christian, but he doesn’t give Ivan weak arguments. Instead, Ivan challenges Alyosha by arguing that God couldn’t allow children to suffer and still be good. The way he delivered his argument was so powerful that it not only shook Alyosha in the story, but also shook me as a reader.
Reading Brothers Karamazov forced me to wrestle with the problem of suffering in a way I hadn’t before. It’s one thing to have a theoretical answer to the presence of suffering. It’s another thing to know how to use this when confronted with an actual situation.
What I found, though, was that this struggle made me stronger. When I thought through Ivan’s argument and came up with my response, my faith was made stronger and I became better prepared to handle similar objections in real life. Don’t settle for books that will reinforce your beliefs. Find books that will challenge you and force you to solidify why you believe what you believe.
Don’t Waste Your High School Reading List
You have limited time as a reader—so how will you use it?
While most of my examples come from the great literary classics (I can’t help it as an English teacher), that doesn’t mean modern books are bad. To be honest, I have a big soft spot in my heart for the modern fantasy genre. But you want to find books—whether classic or modern—that are well-written and will impact your view of life. Reading books just for fun is fine. Reading books that are enjoyable and meaningful is far better.
Read the sorts of books you won’t regret reading ten years from now.
We’re reading the Odyssey this year in English, but I’ll be sure to check out the others too!
That’s awesome. Hope you enjoy it when you get to it in class!
Thank you! I eat books and I love to read on Wattpad and places like that (though I must watch the content since there’s some really bad stuff on there) and these are some good books that I’ll surely add to my “to read” list. Are they available from the library or do you have to buy them?
Most of the books mentioned are old enough that you should be able to find them at the library or free on Kindle. 🙂
Yeah, I have a Kindle and it helps a lot since I don’t have room in my bedroom for a bookshelf. *whimpers* An online library is often more helpful than a physical one!
I go back and forth on that! Very convenient, but there’s also nothing like a physical book in your hands!
Thank you so much for this!
You’re welcome. 🙂
Insightful article! Thanks, Josiah. You aren’t the first to recommend “Knowing God” by J.I. Packer lately – another friend mentioned just mentioned it about a week ago. I added it to my list!
Ah–fantastic! To be honest, it’s due for a re-read on my end.
Though I’m not a big fan of reading, I should definitely read the kinds of books you mentioned. They might grow me as a person and as a Christian!
Ahh–that’s my favorite kind of comment. ^_^ Glad to hear it!
Haha Grace! I’m just the opposite! I love to read so much. Sadly, a lot of books either are inappropriate (especially online which is where I read about 30-40% of my books) or are just super shallow. However, I’ve read a lot of great books recently. Currently I’m reading Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis and finished the Screwtape Letters not too long ago. He’s one of my favorite Christian authors.
Mere Christianity and Screwtape Letters are great. Have you read Abolition of Man or A Grief Observed? Those are probably my favorites.
I haven’t, actually. What are they about?
Sorry for the late reply. Abolition of Man is primarily about the modern education system, but more generally about the ways that the modern worldview tends to reject the essence of our humanity. A Grief Observed is a very journal-like look at Lewis’ struggles after the death of his wife. Difficult to get through at times, but very real, honest, and thought-provoking.
If you could list your top 10 – 20 books that fall within these categories, what would be your suggestions? My kids are coming into their high school years. I wasn’t brought up on great literature, sadly, but have been reading and discovering great literature right alongside them as I teach them. My older 2 have read Radical and Follow Me by Platt and will be reading Mere Christianity later this year. Having an arsenal of great books to put before them is something I strive for, but don’t feel fully equipped. I would greatly appreciate you sharing some other favourites!
I’m just going to read all of the books mentioned on my own time (except for the Odyssey which I’m reading this year in English). xD I read SO much.
Certainly! Here’s what I’ve got off the top of my head.
1. Stories That Show Me What the Virtuous Life Looks (and doesn’t look) Like
The Divine Comedy
Pride and Prejudice
Song of Roland
Ender’s Game & Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card (for some modern sci-fi flair)
To Kill a Mockingbird
The Picture of Dorian Gray
2. Books That Deepened My Understanding of Scripture
Words of Delight by Leland Ryken
Delighting in The Trinity by Michael Reeves
Knowing God by J.I. Packer
The Beauty and Glory of Christian Living by Joel Beeke, ed.
City of God by Augustine
When People are Big and God is Small by Ed Welch
Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges
3. Novels that Forced Me to Wrestle With What I Believe
Silence by Shushako Endo
The Scarlet Letter
Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
Thank-you so much! I’ve heard of some of these and others I would have never considered and a few I had never heard about. I greatly appreciate this list and will put these books before my children as they grow.
Absolutely! Hope they enjoy and benefit from them. 🙂
I’m reading The Odyssey, Pride and Prejudice, To Kill a Mockingbird, and the Scarlet Letter this year, either at school or on my own time.
Awesome selection there. A bunch of my favorites.