I thought I'd follow David Bard's lead and add a little something about each book that made my "top 15". It's an interesting exercise and for me fairly difficult when it came to thinking about books from my distant past that I had read. It hasn't really been until the last 10 years or so that I really read much of anything for the sake of reading. Prior to that I was more of a magazine reader and then when I entered my current profession I was reading articles in journals and books on ecology and aquatic biology (as you can see, not one of those made my list).
First on the list is "Neither Wolf nor Dog" by Minnesota author Kent Nerburn. It's the story of his travels and discussions with a Lakota elder. Although written through "white eyes" it gives one a glimpse of the crap we've dealt Native peoples over the course of our nation's history on a very personal level. It's one of a very few books that quite literally changed the way I think about things. Another book that fits that category is "A Sand County Almanac" by Aldo Leopold. I first read this book when I as in 6th grade and every March I read it again. Leopold's work is foundational in modern ecology and it is impossible to understand issues of land, sustainability, and land-human interactions without this book, particularly the essay on "The Land Ethic". Dan O'Brien's book "Buffalo for the Broken Heart" is a true-life story about his efforts to raise bison for food in a sustainable, humane manner. It's a great story and you learn about the foibles and failings of our nations agricultural policy and blatent disregard for the Great Plains as you read.
"The Politics of Jesus" by John Howard Yoder is challenging to say the least. Yoder uses Luke's Gospel to demonstrate the political nature of Jesus and makes a very strong case against "just war theory". It's about power, politics, and pacifism and love of neighbor. Personally, I think he's the leading theologian of the last 50 if not 100 years.
I love reading Louise Erdrich and "The Last Report on Miracle at Little No Horse" is by far my favorite. She's just a great story teller and writer. There are so many twists and turns in this book that you can't put it down. Joseph Marshall is a prolific writer and story teller. His book "The Lakota Way" focuses on stories that demonstrate the core values of Lakota society: bravery, fortitude, generosity, wisdom, respect, honor, perseverance, love, humility, sacrifice, love, and compassion. John Trudell's collection of poems "Lines from a Mined Mind" (they're actually song lyrics to his blues music), is often a difficult read. He's brutally honest and in your face with his feelings, yet there is a certain kinship there. Like he says, "I'm just a human being trying to make it in a world that is very rapidly losing its understanding of what it means to be human". There are days I certainly feel that way.
Pat Conroy has a way of taking me back to the south that's difficult to explain and his character development is incredible. Of all his books, Prince of Tides is my favorite (why did they wreck it with that stupid movie!!!). Ah, Lamb (subtitled "The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal"). Chris Moore's wacky and thought provoking christologic tale is one I've read a couple of times. Moore's research is impressive and the book is a "hoot".
I like reading Black Elk Speaks just to find the parallels between the Lakota and Christian worldviews. There's an endless sense of mysticism here.
Aldo Leopold's "The River of the Mother of God" is a collection of essay's that were foundational for Leopold's development of his "land ethic". There are a number of interesting essays related to theology as well, like discussions of forestry practices in the Old Testament. "Worship as Theology" by Don Saliers is a look at what it means when we say "Come, Lord Jesus" or ask God's will be done on earth "as in heaven" as well as what takes place when we gather as community.
"The Necessity of Empty Places" by Paul Gruchow is a series of essays about his travels to quiet places that are often overlooked by a society that is always "on the go". I particularly love his description of listening and watching the sandhill cranes migrating along the Platte River in Nebraska. I miss his writing. I cheated a bit with Cloister Walk and Dakota, both by Kathleen Norris but they are intertwined to some degree. Both deal with her developing love of the prairie, her struggle to find a spiritual component to life, and her life with the Benedictine monks. Of course the connection to St. John's Abbey is a bonus here as well.
Finally, Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey had to make the list. I think it was the first book I ever checked out from the school library. I've always loved ducks and I used to spend hours and hourse drawing and redrawing the duck illustrations in the book. I have no doubt that it influenced my career path as well.
So, there you have it; a number of books that will always be on my shelves and in some way, shape or form, shaped me into who I am.