Once I was invited to speak to a gathering of people in the publishing business. I accepted the invitation because I thought it an excellent opportunity to publicly express my gratitude to people who had been kind to me as an author.
Accepting the invitation was easy. Selecting an appropriate topic was not. I would be talking to men and women who were experts in the business of communication and who worked with some of the finest Christian communicators in the world. What could I say that they'd not heard, and heard better, a hundred times?
Then I had a breakthrough. Why not, I asked myself, began my speech like this?
Ladies and gentlemen, as I anticipated this event and what I might say to you, I began to toy with this question: In all of my reading experiences, what book has most influenced me and set the direction of my life? Perhaps my answer might interest you.
Now I realize that this question is not really a novel one. Almost every week in the New York Times Book Review section, an interviewer asks it of some famous author. They often name books I've never heard of such as—let's say—Sigmund Trilovicholaski's Poems from a 17th Century Mongolian Barbershop.
The time for my speech to the publishers came. I began with the question I'd asked myself during my time of preparation: What has been the most influential, the most life-directing, book I have ever read?
I felt the members of the audience spring to attention. Would the book I was about to name be one that had been published by their company? Maybe each VP of marketing and sales was imagining a full-page advertisement that proclaimed, "Read the book that Gordon MacDonald described as the most …"
I confess I enjoyed this moment as everyone awaited my disclosure of the most influential book of my life. I admit to teasing the audience for a moment, just like they do on Dancing with the Stars when they prepare to announce the winning couple.
To heighten the suspense, I listed categories of possible books—biographies, ...