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.