Books of Character

Over the years, there have been many books that have truly changed me and formed my interests and character into what they are today. As a writer, I thought it prudent to honor the most significant of these books here. I wholeheartedly recommend each and every one of them, and I hope they might inspire you as much as they’ve inspired me.

The Boxcar Children | Gertrude Chandler Warner (ca. 2009)

“One warm night four children stood in front of a bakery. No one knew them. No one knew where they had come from.”

The Boxcar Children

I’m not kidding, I bet I’ve read this book maybe fifteen times. (Is that a lot? I think so. It is for me, anyway.) I never, ever got tired of it. I loved it to death. The thought of four young siblings finding refuge in an old boxcar and thriving on their own in the woods absolutely thrilled me. What I wouldn’t have given to follow their example and go it alone in the forest, sneaking into grocery stores to buy bread, milk, and cheese, cooking soup over a campfire, and making (and hemming! I didn’t forget you, Violet!) all my own clothes.

What? It all sounded very cozy and picturesque. Still does. And yeah, sure, I guess my brother could come, too. After all, there were four of the Alden kids, plus a dog!

Yes, The Boxcar Children was easily my favorite book for a long, long time. And while I read a good portion of the rest of the series, I never fell in love with them in the same way. The first book was—and still is—obviously the best.

(And for the record, I would’ve been perfectly content if Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny had rejected their grandfather’s help and just stayed in that adorable old boxcar. Who says a bunch of kids can’t live in the forest forever?)

And so my reading life remained, until, one day, a little brown mouse with an oversized habit wandered into my heart.

Redwall | Brian Jacques (ca. 2011)

“Our Abbey is a place of friendship. Anyone, young or old, who has read or heard of Redwall may come and visit us. If you are honest and of good heart, no matter what the season our door is open to you.”

Abbot Saxtus, Martin the Warrior

While the first book in the Redwall series (titled, well, Redwall) is still my favorite out of all the books, it was the Redwall series as a whole that I really became enamored with. I was captivated by the mastery of Brian Jacques’ plucky, whiskery heroes, heartless villains, awe-inspiring ballads, and everything in between. It pulled me in and wouldn’t let me escape.

Not that I wanted to escape.

Fantasy abounded in my young brain. Oh, how I longed to visit Redwall Abbey, to swing from the ropes of the twin bells and take a dive in the Abbey pond. My brother and I would spent hours playing pretend in our front yard; I would be the evil Cluny the Scourge, and he was my faithful assassin, Shadow. Believe me when I say that our dastardly schemes were the terror of the neighborhood!

It was largely the Redwall series that encouraged me in my love for animals both natural and anthropomorphic, made me thirst for adventures of my own, and—dare I say it?—kickstarted my avid Anglophile side.

Pride and Prejudice | Jane Austen (ca. 2018)

“In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”

Mr Darcy, Pride and Prejudice

It all started with the 1996 BBC miniseries.

From the moment the camera panned out to show Mr Bingley and Mr Darcy looking upon Netherfield, and ending with (spoilers!) Lizzie and Darcy’s wedding, I knew I simply had to read the book. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t discovered it sooner. I was hooked.

And I didn’t even know why.

What was it about this two-hundred-year-old novel of manners, very much above my reading level at the time, that captivated me so? Was it the picturesque romance of the English countryside, or the hide-a-giggle hilarity of the Bennet family (including Mr Collins, naturally)? The bold, passionate way that Elizabeth held her own against everyone who dared confront her, or the dashing intrigue of the sly Mr Wickham? Or perhaps it was the witty and ever-snarky social commentary of Austen herself?

Well, yes.

But, looking back now, I think it was mostly Mr Darcy.

How Should We Then Live? | Francis Schaeffer (ca. 2019)

“Here is a simple but profound truth: If there are no absolutes by which to judge society, the society is absolute. Society is left with one man or an elite filling the vacuum left by the loss of the Christian consensus which originally gave us form and freedom.”

How Should We Then Live?

I’ll be honest, I was not expecting to enjoy this book in the slightest. I hadn’t read anything like it before, and at first glance, it seemed like I was going to be in for a very dull thirty-two weeks. But if there’s one thing I’m grateful to my homeschool curriculum, Classical Conversations, for, it’s for forcing me to read it anyway.

Because this book is something.

As part theology, part philosophy, and part world history, I’m willing to bet HSWTL is one of the most valuable books I’ve ever opened, let alone read. The book explains clearly the history of our world and society, how it gradually came to reject Christian teachings, and how, without God, it is ultimately doomed to fail. It opened my eyes to the finer and less noticeable—yet all too important—problems with the world of today, and awakened in me a quiet yet firm resolve to fight back against them.

I now know that I don’t want to just sit back and let Satan’s lies permeate my mind until there’s no turning back. No, I want to be ready for whatever the world throws at me.

And with this book, I think I’m off to a pretty good start.

The Bible

She is clothed with strength and dignity;

    she can laugh at the days to come.

She speaks with wisdom,

    and faithful instruction is on her tongue.

She watches over the affairs of her household

    and does not eat the bread of idleness.

Her children arise and call her blessed;

    her husband also, and he praises her:

“Many women do noble things,

    but you surpass them all.”

Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;

    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.

Honor her for all that her hands have done,

    and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

Proverbs 31:25-31

To a lot of people, this would probably seem like a boring old given. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past year or so, it’s that God’s Word is perhaps the thing that has changed me most.

It pains me to say that when I was younger, I didn’t spend nearly enough time dwelling in God as I should have. Oh, I went to Sunday School, memorized boatloads of verses, and made my fair share of Bible-inspired crafts, sure. But other than that, I really didn’t think a whole lot about God, His Word, or what I could do to glorify Him.

Luckily, as I grew older and matured, and especially over the past two years, I began to realize that the things I used to skimp on were the very things that my life greatly, greatly needed. Once I came to terms with this, I started trying harder to take time every day to think about God, read the Bible, and spend time in prayer. I began to actually enjoy attending church. I started a devotional, and even began prayer journaling. I reminded myself that my personality, talents, fears, and flaws are all heavenly gifts, and that anything I do should be not for myself, but always for God.

The concept minister Dan DeHaan introduced to me in his book The God You Can Know especially stuck with me. He asserted that God shouldn’t be “first” in our lives—he should be the center of it all. Thinking this way has greatly affected the way I think, talk, and act. I’ve found a new peace, a new sense of joy, a strength I know I can rely upon.

I’ve learned so much about, well, everything. And, of course, I’m still learning, too. Thank the Lord for that.