For Oct. 26, 2011

“Read the best books first, or you may not have

a chance to read them at all.”


Last week’s blog on the Williamsons’ travel books appears to have started something totally unexpected.  Or perhaps it would be more apt to say “restarted.”  Our daughter Michelle suggested I organize a series of blogs having to do with my favorite books—and I had a tough time sleeping that night.  Should I devote one blog a month to a favorite book?  I’ve since become convicted that I ought to do just that.

Former students of mine who are kind enough to check in with the daily tweets and weekly blogs will remember that for years I taught such courses as Great Books of the World and Modern and Contemporary Literature, as well as individualized Directed Reading courses.  Many of you actually took some of those courses.  In those courses, I had the opportunity to share some of my most loved books with my students.  I miss those courses.

After I left the classroom for a full-time career as an author, over a five-year period, I edited special editions of some of my favorite books for Focus on the Family/Tyndale House.  The twelve we created are: Little Women and Little Men by Louisa May Alcott, Robinson Crusoe and The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, A Christmas Carol and David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, The Christmas Angel by Abbie Farwell Brown, Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery, Freckles by Gene Stratton Porter, The Twenty-fourth of June by Grace Richmond, Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz, and Ben-Hur by Lew Wallace.

At the front of each book, under the heading of “A Life-Changing Letter,” were these words:


                                    Several years ago I received a letter that changed my life.  Sadly, I don’t

remember who wrote it, only what she said.  In essence, this was her plea:

                        “Dr. Wheeler,

    I have a big favor to ask you.  First of all, though, I want you to know how much I enjoy your story collections; they have greatly enriched my life.  Now for the favor: I was wondering if you have any interest in doing with books what you are doing with stories.

    You see, while I love to read, I haven’t the slightest idea of where to start.  There are millions of books out there, and most of them—authors too—are just one big blur to me.  I want to use my time wisely, to choose books which will not only take me somewhere but also make me a better and kinder person.

   I envy you because you know which books are worth reading and which are not.  Do you possibly have a list of worthy books that you wouldn’t mind sending to me?”

   I responded to this letter but most inadequately, for at that time I had no such list.  I tried to put the plea behind me, but it dug in its heels and kept me awake at night.  Eventually, I concluded that a Higher Power was at work here and that I needed to do something about it.  I put together a proposal for a broad reading plan based on books I knew and loved—books that had powerfully affected me, that had opened other worlds and cultures to me, and that had made me a kinder, more empathetic person.


You see, we have so little time in this tragically short life in which to read books worth reading.  If, over a seventy-year period, we read only a book a week, that would total only 3,640 books during a lifetime.  A book a month would come to only 840.

So my question to you is this: Would you be interested in such a book club, beginning this November?  Most of these titles would not be new but rather would have stood the test of time.  Some might turn out to be books you once read but might enjoy re-reading.  Others would be new to you.

There would be no cost for joining.  You could either purchase a copy of each book at a bookstore or from the worldwide web (Amazon, ABE, etc), or check it out from your library.  There is another option for some of the titles I’d choose: Eric Mayer of Bluebird Books (8201 S. Santa Fe Drive, #245, Littleton, CO 80120 (303) 912-4559.   books@bluebirdbooks.com  www.bluebirdbooks.com   Reason being that for most of my life I planned to open up a book business when I retired, and so purchased many thousands of books over the years for that purpose.  Well, I’ve ruefully concluded that I’ll probably never retire, so I turned over a good share of those books to Bluebird Books for him to dispose of.  He is aware of this book club concept and is enthusiastically on board.  He is honest, conscientious, prices out-of-print books at market norms, and is dedicated to securing books in the best condition possible.  You’ll find him special to work with.  Let him know you’re part of this book club.  Me too, as I’ll be making up a list of names and addresses of each of you who joins.  Would love to hear from you as to reactions to the books we select.

Years ago, I joined the Heritage Book Club and, over time, purchased most of their classic titles.  They tended to cycle through certain authors.  I would too.  Not all at once, but over time.  If you’re like me, however,  you’re not likely to wait but if you fall in love with a certain author you’ll start adding others of their books to your personal library.

As to my favorite books, I’m a sentimentalist who loves romances, family favorites, adventure, historical romances, classics, etc.  I gravitate to books that move me deeply, take me places I’ve never been to before, make me laugh or cry, incorporate values worth living by—pretty much the same criteria I’ve used in selecting stories in my 60 story anthologies.

I’ll be candid with you: I really miss the one-on-one interaction with my students.  Such a book club as this would be second best to actual classroom interaction.  I’m really looking forward to such contact.



—Harold Bell Wright


Have you ever noticed that it is only in retrospect that we realize that if certain days in our lives had never been, how different our lives would have been.  Well, there was just such a day I’d like to share with you.

It was a heartstoppingly beautiful spring morning along California’s Feather River.  Since my missionary parents were far away in the West Indies, relatives stepped in to keep me from being lonely during vacations.  On this particular day, two of my favorite relatives, Aunt Jeannie and Uncle Warren, pronounced it picnic time.  We stopped en-route to Feather River Canyon at the Tehama County Library where my aunt steered me to certain authors she thought I’d relate to.  I checked out a number of books that really looked interesting to me.  One of them was this particular book, first published in 1909 by the Book Supply Company.  After settling down on a blanket under a great oak, I opened this book, and was almost instantaneously drawn into it—so much so that I lost all track of time, only remaining aware of the haunting riversong.

I was more than ready for this romance.  Having grown up in a conservative Christian church my world view was a bit limited.  Wright, a pastor himself, disillusioned by church politics and broken in health, had come to the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas to see if he could find answers.  In time, he was strongly impacted by the Social Gospel Movement of the 1890s, the discovery of the Didache being at the root of it.  Only during the last year have I discovered (during research for my second biography of St. Nicholas) that for four centuries the early Christian Church exploded across the Roman World, not because of doctrine but because of living out Christ’s injunctions to serve others, to help those who were ill or in prison or who were in need of humanitarian aid (known as the Didache).  Wright concluded that if he incorporated Christ’s injunction to make service to others the highest calling of his life, he could revolutionize American life.  But not through sermons but rather through fiction.  He wrote three books in what has become known as the Social Gospel Trilogy: That Printer of Udel’s, The Calling of Dan Matthews, and God and the Groceryman.  Not until years later did I discover those other two books.

But the book proved to be an epiphany for me.  It radically changed my life: gave me a vision of selfless service and revealed that God was not owned by any one denomination but rather that He found ways to relate to every human being on earth, regardless of nationality or religion.  He was—and is—Father of us all.

I set out on a life-long search for all of Wright’s other books.  Wright has that effect on his readers.  I know of one woman who cried when she read the last Wright novel.  Cried because never again could she listen to Wright in an unread book.  Not all our mentors are still with us—many speak to us from the grave through their books that live on and on.

So this is why I’m starting with Wright.  As you begin building a library—or expand it to include these books—, I strongly encourage you to buy your own books, choosing First Editions or special editions, keeping in mind that in books, as in art, condition is everything.

I’ll be talking a lot more about books in blogs to come, among our other subject areas.  Next Wednesday I’ll be discussing the importance of journaling and why, if we don’t, we’ll be losing out big time!

No, I haven’t forgotten the Southwest National Parks.  I just got sidetracked!

If you wish to write me, I can be reached at Box 1246, Conifer, CO 80433.

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18 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. The idea of a book club does interest me though I will find it a challenge to add additional reading into my schedule. And I do miss interaction with my favorite English instructor. (I will always smile when I remember the calendars in our classroom.) I have been considering a Kindle to carry books with me during my day and this is enticing me to move up that possibility. I am told many of the classics are available free for the e-readers. Hummm, maybe a Christmas present to self. . .

    • Dear Linda, Gratifying to hear after all these years that the calendars were appreciated too! I doubt tht I will ever fully embrace e-books, but,like it or not, they are definitely a significant part of our world today. Good to hear from you. JLW

  2. Yes! Yes! Yes! Sign me up for the book club, please! I have 12 of Wright’s books right now, but haven’t been able to find the one on the Grocery Man yet. Any suggestions? Looking forward to being a part of this project. ~~Betty Burnett

    • Dear Betty, Good to hear from you. Welcome to the club! Twelve Wrights already–congratulations! You might check with Bluebird to see if he has any of those you do not. JLW

  3. Your Book Club sounds great! Count me in!
    Jan Keller

    • Dear Jan, Welcome to the club! By the way, your latest issue is great! Fascinating experiences you had down there–you are really making a difference. Joe

  4. I totally agree!!! This sounds like so much fun, and I am a HUGE Wright fan. I just finished reading Helen and the Old House (which was great), and am always up for anything that involves books. And this particular Wright has to be one of my favorite books.

    Also, thanks for the letter and the recommendations!! Am reading another Elizabeth Goudge – The Scent of Water.


    • Dear Rachelle,
      So good to hav e you too climb on board our fledgling book club! You’re already into Wright and Goudge, I see.JLW

  5. I am so excited about the book club…and journaling…again!! And you, who “turned me on to” Wright’s books…are starting with one of my all time favorites!! YIPPEEEE!!!!

    • Hi Naomi,
      Hurrah! My first book club member.
      Always great to hear from you.

      • I have located my Harold Bell Wright Trilogy…and eagerly looking forward to sharing thoughts and passages that thrill and inspire me!!

  6. Yes, I am interested in being a part of a book club. Those books by Wright sound fascinating to me, because I too, have been disillusioned by church politics and become greatly interested in social issues.

  7. Count me in. Today I ordered my book from Amazon, and did my first journal entry. Sounds like fun.

  8. I would like to be a part of your book club. Never heard of Wright, but being disillusioned with the organized church, I could use some life changing input. Will the club be through this blog? Or another venue?
    Count me in!

  9. though I’m not a club ‘joiner’ I will happily lurk and gain knowledge and enjoyment from the suggestions! Elizabeth Goudge is a treasure. The Brother Cadfael series is rich and meaningful. The Miss Read series…ah, books. And thank you Dr. Wheeler for the superb anthologies you’ve created!!

  10. I just finished The Call of Dan Matthews. This author is brand new to me. I struggled a bit with the style of writing but the story spoke to me. I have struggled with organized religion since Sunday School. My mom was told I ask too many questions….now so many years later, my husband says the same.

    I definitely want to be a part of this book club. Joe, you are new to me as well. I found you through the Christmas in my Heart books. I read two this Christmas. I’m a new fan….following your blog and friending you on facebook. I look forward to reading more great books through this club.

    • Dear Kathryn, So good to hear from you. Appreciate your thoughts re the blogs, Wright, and Christmas in My Heart. Welcome aboard! Dr. Joe

  11. I, too, very recently finished “The Calling of Dan Matthews” and was pleased with how quickly and thoroughly the author pulled many fleeting elements of the book’s story line together to create such a strong and compelling conclusion. It is fun to read works from different eras to discover and realize how quickly our language evolves with time. Because I am fascinated by word usage and sentence sturcture, I am a slow reader — but also one who savors the flavor. Thanks for this wonderful and thought-provoking book suggestion!

    Moving on, I honestly hoped to finish “The Christmas Angel” before the New Year — but it didn’t happen. I truly enjoyed reading the introduction and learning some about the book’s author Abbie Farwell Brown and the chance to read some of her poetry from various stages of her life as I awaited my husband’s recovery from recent out-patient surgery. I look forward to snuggling up with the book soon — perhaps sometime with this weekend’s predicted snow and colder weather.

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