There are a number of books that have been significant in my life, so to select two and call them the most significant would be near impossible. Yet, without doubt these two books here were among the most significant books for me, for they came at a critical juncture in my life.
I had been in Bible school for several years, immersed in the Christian scene, but somewhat divorced from the academic intellectual atmosphere of my college years at Ohio University. At O.U. I had become immersed in Camus, Kafka, Nietzsche, Vonnegut, Sartre and the whole modern art oeuvre.
Whereas it can be true that Christians can also have intellectual strength, it is easy to get surrounded by a lot of lightweight reading material as well. At a certain point in time a friend of mine had been reading a Hemingway book with amazement at its power. The seed sown, I soon found myself picking up a copy of Hemingway’s first book of short stories, In Our Time. It would be an understatement to say it felt like I had been hit in the face with a fist.
I read the book through two and a half times straight. In certain stories I found myself analyzing the sentences, the structure, the force with which he hurled words at the reader, yet the simplicity of it all. I was amazed at the amount of tension created in his story The Doctor and the Doctor’s Wife, with so few brush strokes. I wondered where the Christians were who could write like this.
The second book that influenced me at the time was Sherwood Wirt’s You Can Tell the World. Wirt had been editor of Billy Graham’s Decision magazine for many years. He, too, had a desire to see more power in Christian writing. More meat, more bite. He had undoubtedly seen plenty of insipid material flow across his desk over the years that was well intentioned but impotent. He says as much right up front. “The demand for Christian writing of quality far exceeds the supply.”
He goes on to say, “The simple expedient of seeking advice from the right people can make all the difference to an aspiring writer.” And such was I.
In the very first chapter he emphasizes the importance of being ourselves immersed in great literature before we can attempt to produce great literature. That is, if we do not know what great writing looks like how can we ourselves hope to produce it? He speaks of the influence of Darwin, Marx, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Hemingway, Camus and even Hitler. Their prose was powerful indeed, for it did not simply titillate the senses. It moved people to action.
If it is your desire to write, and to write with power, whether in business or the arts or for whatever purposes that drive you… follow the path that others have trod. Read the classics. Study the manner in which ideas are assembled, and how language really works. Hemingway, despite his personal faults, be sheer force of will re-oriented modern literature.
I do not know what the catalyst will be for you, but these two books really lit my fuse.