The books I cherish most – the ones I reread and reread again – are those that speak to me of the love of family, of its necessity to any understanding of ourselves as individuals, for who are we but elements of the larger whole of family? My copy of Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping, about two orphaned girls left to be raised by their mysteriously whimsical aunt Sylvie, is worn out for the number times I've been through it, as is my copy of First Light by Charles Baxter, a novel mapping the meaning of brother and sister. Another favorite I've read too many times to count is Toni Morrison's Beloved, for its portrait of a familial love so beautiful and terrible and deep it can abide even in death; and Jayne Anne Phillips' Machine Dreams, a rewarding and painful saga chronicling the rise and fall of a West Virginia family from World War II to the Vietnam War.
But my most cherished book, the one that has transformed me and from which I read every day, is the Bible. Though I know this sounds like a Sunday sermon, the Bible has been – and is – the single most influential book in my life, the book that inspires me, challenges me, changes me, confirms me. Like the character Jewel, the people found throughout it are at once strong and weak, well-meaning and flawed, stubborn and loving, all of them wrestling with the will of God; and there at the center of it all is Christ, God on earth, to show us what genuine love really is: the surrendering of self for others.
Family, and finding oneself within the family, both of God and man. That's what's important to me, what I've been led all my writing life to try and understand, and what these extraordinary books have led me to see: that family matters.