Last year, we rolled out a list of our favorite reads to get you through the long, lean days of Lent. For a couple of book nerds like us, the task was easy – choose five books from among dozens of titles that have made their way onto our list of favorites. This year, however, is a bit tougher. Do we stick to the same formula as last year, or change it up? Continue to push our holy trinity of wordsmiths on our loyal listeners and readers, or change up the cast of characters? Make it fun? Make it serious? Make it more spiritual? Is there even a way to make it less spiritual? Aren’t all good books, by their very nature, a celebration of the human spirit? It’s enough to drive a bookworm bonkers.
In the end, we decided to stick with our tried and true Big Three: Robbins, Gaiman, & Moore. These guys know how to write. They’ll make you laugh and cry and think all at once until you go cross-eyed and pee your pants a little. The second annual Lenten Reading List tasks you with reading new books from each of them, but honestly we’re a bit disappointed if you haven’t already blasted through the entire catalogue of at least one of these fantastic authors. Joining the big three this year are Christopher Buckley (a master of satire), and Henri Nouwen (a master of…like, life and everything else). We hope you pick up one or more of these great reads and enjoy the hell out of it!
Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins – Just your average book about perfume and paganism and New Orleans and immortality. You know, pretty much par for the course when it comes to the talented Mr. Robbins. This book grabs you by the cerebral cortex and leads you on a wild ride of discovery, and throughout most (or perhaps all) of the book, you honestly have no idea where it will lead. It is absurd and beautiful and it makes the spirit soar. Read it!
Fool by Christopher Moore – Chris Moore makes us laugh until joyful little tears break free from the pressure and tension that we hold inside, popping right out of our eyes and onto the pages of his books. Pocket, the main character of this book (and also the court jester of King Lear), is meant to make us laugh. And he does. But we also get the feeling that Pocket carries within himself the same tension and angst that makes us want to escape into the madcap world of Chris Moore’s marvelous imagination in the first place. That is why we love him, and that is why Fool is actually quite a lovely book for Lent.
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman – A book about a boy who grows up in a graveyard surrounded by benevolent ghosts simply has resurrection and redemption written all over it. So perhaps this is a book that is more appropriate for Easter. But it is also delightfully dark and disturbing, and therefore a perfect fit for Lent. Regardless of when you read it, be sure to take a moment to appreciate how Gaiman has mastered the art of writing children’s literature for grown ups.
The Relic Master by Christopher Buckley – A hilarious romp through a medieval church rife with corruption and in the throes of reformation. Yes, you read that right. Buckley is best known for his works of political satire, but for The Relic Master he decided to jump the fence that separates church and state, and you’ll be better off for it if you read the result. Again, a thick layer of humor is smeared across a nutritious core that can (and should) lead to a healthy dose of self-examination for anyone who claims to be a person of faith. A book that makes you laugh and question what you truly believe in? No wonder it is an instant favorite!
The Way of the Heart by Henri Nouwen – For those times when novels and cheap chuckles and abstract spiritual lessons need to be set aside for something with a bit more theological heft, we offer this brilliant work by a true master of spiritual direction. In this short-yet-brilliant book, Nouwen turns to the desert fathers and their fuga mundi for guidance, and turns up a whole host of ways that we can welcome peace, silence, and healthy asceticism into our own spiritual lives. It is, in short, a perfect book for spiritual seekers of all stripes during the season of Lent. Read, reflect, repeat.