The Top Shelf: Books I’ve Read More Than Once

When it came time to sell our home in Louisiana and move to a condo less than half its size in Oklahoma, we had to do some dramatic downsizing! One of the most difficult items to tackle was our book collection. Both Cheryl & I love books, but they were NOT all going to fit in that 1100-square-foot condo, so we had to do some soul-searching over which ones we could dispose of and those we just had to keep. (Don’t worry; we got to keep plenty!)

Books fall into a number of categories. There are many books that a person reads once, and for one reason or another, will never read again. Many of mine are commentaries or other reference books which I do not “read through” per se, but refer to as needed. But others are what I am calling here, “Top Shelf” books: those which I have not only read through, but have read in their entirety more than once. Following are my “Top Shelf” books, and why:

The Bible
Perhaps it should go without saying, but I think it is important to say it! Someone has said that if all the books of the world were organized into a library, the Bible would belong on the top shelf by itself, and I would “amen” that. For that reason it is the book I have read the most, though I do not know how many times exactly.
When my wife Cheryl was in college, she was witnessing to a guy, and talking about the Bible. He asked her if she had read the whole Bible, and how many times. Without thinking it through, she said, “Oh I don’t know, probably 20 times.” When she got home, she began figuring that would have meant that she had read it almost every year she had been alive — and she didn’t start till she was in high school!
SO … I am not going to say that I have read the Bible through 20-30 times ;-), but I have read it through far more times than any other book, and it is my habit to read from multiple books in it every day. There is no other like it! It sits alone on the highest shelf.

Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis
This classic by Lewis contains some of my favorite prose paragraphs in print, including his famous “Lord, Liar, Lunatic” illustration. Upon my last reading, I found that several of Lewis’ phrases had subconsciously entered my vocabulary, such as that Jesus “was and is God.” May more of it find its way into my life!

The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis
Another Lewis classic, it reminds me of how deceptive and insidious the enemy’s attacks on us can be. The scene in which the demon suggests to the reader in the library whose thoughts were taking a turn towards God, “Isn’t it about time you had some lunch?” is one of the most poignant: “He is now safe in our father’s house.” Though entertaining, it is also very sobering.

Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan
Every year or two I read Bunyan’s tale of Christian’s journey to the Celestial Country again. It always warms my heart to read of his burden rolling away at the cross, reminding me of the hymn I sang so heartily as a child: “At the cross, at the cross, where I first saw the light — and the burden of my heart rolled away.” And Bunyan’s constant use of scripture, applied to life situations, is very challenging.

Bruce Catton’s Civil War
This volume, actually three of Catton’s works in one, is one of my very favorites because it features so many entertaining and picturesque stories from the Civil War. Among the most memorable to me is the one about the Union commander who would not place his flag in a less prominent position, in order to lessen the heavy enemy fire they were receiving. “Let it wave high; it is our glory!” was his sublime response!

The Innocents Abroad, by Mark Twain
Twain pillories all the sights in Europe and the Holy Land in this hilarious book which chronicles his journeys thence on a steamboat just after the Civil War. I say “all” the sights; he actually shows reverence towards a select few, including the Cathedral of Milan in Italy, and some in the Holy Land. But the people he travels with, and observes on the trip, are all open game!

I may have read more books twice than these, but these are the ones I can remember! Another story would be those I have STARTED to read more than once — but that post might be too long!

So what are YOUR “top shelf” books? I’d be interested to hear which book(s) you’ve read more than once, and why!


About Shawn Thomas

My blog,, provides brief devotions from own personal daily Bible reading, as well as some of my sermons, book reviews, and family life experiences.
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8 Responses to The Top Shelf: Books I’ve Read More Than Once

  1. Oloryn says:

    I’m one of those for whom Tolkien’s “Lord Of The Rings” is a regular re-read. Used to be an every-two-year re-read, but I’ve slacked off lately.

    The C.; S Lewis collection “God in the Dock” is one I re-read (at least parts of) regularly. Some of those essays (particularly “Bulverism”, “First and Second Things”, and “Before We Can Communicate”) seem to me to be especially insightful, and it’s good to be re-reminded regularly. You can tell it’s a favorite, as my copy is almost in tatters.

    I’ll confess to having re-read multiple times Christopher Stasheff’s “A Wizard in Rhyme” series. Stasheff apparently at one point was arguing that most medieval fantasy novels weren’t realistic, as they rarely mentioned Satan, and never mentioned God. For real medievals, religion was constantly in view, and Satan was lurking around every corner. He then “realized” that being a medieval fantasy writer himself, he was obligated to write his next novel in a more realistic fashion. This series was the result. The Christianity is Catholic, and a fairly wide literary (and science and philosophy) background is helpful to catch all of the references, but it makes for a good read.

    • Shawn Thomas says:

      Hey Ben!
      I am almost ashamed to say I have never read LOTR; I need to get them in the queue!
      I have “God in the Dock” and have enjoyed several of those articles.
      And I have never heard of Stasheff’s books; sounds interesting though — you may put some people on to them!
      Thanks for sharing!

  2. Susan Gordon says:

    My bookshelves could be categorized as “excessive” as well. Next to God, my husband and my children, I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE my books! A few that will go with me to my grave (and if God changes His mind about temporal things entering Heaven, they may accompany me there as well. lol):
    The Radical series by David Platt
    Knowing God by J.I. Packard
    Think by John Piper (and any of my books by him which are too many to name.)
    A Chance to Die by Elizabeth Elliott
    Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan
    and….various multitudes of true stories about my hero missionaries, i.e., Hudson Taylor, Isobel Kuhn, and my fav – Gladys Alyward .
    This blogging space my explode should I list them in their entirety!
    Happy reading all you bloggers!!!

    • Shawn Thomas says:

      Great lineup, Susan; those are worthy of being classified as “top shelf” books. Packer’s “Knowing God” is classic; I have read that and some of the others (but only once!;) Thanks for sharing!

  3. Susan Gordon says:

    I keep having to go back to them since my 57 year old mind doesn’t remember quite like it used to!
    Keep most of them at my fingertips to incorporate into my Sunday School lessons. Enjoy your blog and share it with my class often! God bless and so glad you are feeling better!
    P.S. We are looking for a pastor in West Monroe, La. And actually one of the ladies in my class is the daughter of some people that were in your church in Louisiana! Small world!

    • Shawn Thomas says:

      Susan, I know what you mean. Someone once said that C.S. Lewis remembered everything that he ever read — I so WISH that were true for me; then I wouldn’t have to go back and read those “top shelf” books again!
      Thanks for writing — and for sharing my blog with others! Give my greeting and blessing to (would it be Jacinda, and the Dardeau family? Some of God’s choice people!)

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