On My Shelf: Life and Books with Kathy Keller

On My Shelf is a new feature designed to help you get to know various people through providing a behind-the-scences glimpse into their lives as readers.

I corresponded with Kathy Keller, assistant director of communications for Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, about what’s currently on her (prone-to-spontaneously-combust) nightstand, books she re-reads, her favorite fiction, and more.


What’s on your nightstand right now?

There’s always a mystery novel; right now there are short stories from the greats. (Roger Nicole, my systematic theology professor at Gordon-Conwell, had a mystery collection that rivaled his theology collection. He said they were the most Christian of all forms of fiction—at least in the classic form; right always triumphs, as in Joan Hickson’s interpretation of Miss Marple.)

I’m again reading through Dorothy Dunnett’s magnificent historical fiction series, The Lymond Chronicles. (Just be ready to ignore the minor nod to astrological influence, as everyone believed it in the 16th century.) Also, Lois McMasters Bujold’s Young Miles, the first in her series about a disabled sci-fi hero. Usually there’s something by Jim Butcher (e.g., Dresden or Codex Alera), sometimes by Lee Child (e.g., Jack Reacher). And my Bible. Why my nightstand doesn’t blow up is anyone’s guess.

What are you learning about life and following Jesus?

That there are dark, dark places that have to be faced and excavated in my heart. I can never dust off my hands and say, “There! Nearly done.” Not even close. Grace becomes more precious by the day.

What are some books you regularly re-read and why?

I’ve read Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings every year, sometimes twice a year, for more than 40 years. I regularly re-read Lewis’s Perelandra and Narnia as well. Those are for the joy that pierces my heart. I’m not particularly given to joy; my highest aspiration is usually to contentment. But those books, as well as classical music, give me a taste of worshipful joy that I can both take into worship and also read through worship.

Also, Patrick O’Brian’s 20-book series that features the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars, but features even more the friendship and relationships of Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin. O’Brian was such a master of his period that he even wrote in the style of the 19th century.

What books have most profoundly shaped how you serve and lead others for the sake of the gospel? 

The letters of John Newton, mostly the collection published under the name Utterance of the Heart. Nothing is more insightful about dealing with people and pastoral issues. Tim and I take people through them whenever we’re able. In fact, we’re both doing so now, with different groups.

What are your favorite fiction books?

Maybe you can tell I gravitate toward fiction rather than the newest Christian titles? I was formed (since second grade) by C. S. Lewis, who taught that it’s story rising to the level of myth that puts us in touch with our deepest longings. I see can see Jesus everywhere, hiding in plain sight: The Lone Ranger (who fights for justice while always being taken for a criminal), Superman (a deliberate Christ figure if ever there was one), Hiccup in How to Train Your Dragon (who wins through weakness), The Iron Giant (who wins through self-sacrifice), Balto (who was despised and rejected but is the savior), Miles Vorkosigan in the Vorkosigan Saga (whose disability enables him to triumph), Tavi in the Codex Alera series (who, well, that would be a spoiler), Gandalf, Frodo, and Aragorn (prophet, priest, and king), and so on.


Also in this series: Jared Wilson, Tullian Tchividjian

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  • http://www.claphamchurch.org.uk Phil Allcock

    Wonderful stuff. Can anyone tell me whether Cardiphonia is significantly different in content from the Banner of Truth ‘Letters of John Newton’? Is one better / more comprehensive?

  • http://www.recoveringwomanhood.weebly.com Hope Henchey

    Thank you for posting. This is a very interesting interview. As a self-righteous fiction-avoider this is very good for me to read. I’ll have to check out some of these books mentioned.
    And I have never had it explained to me about the LOTR and the threefold office! That makes so much sense!

  • http://theoldadam.com/ the Old Adam

    “Where God Meets Man”, by Gerhard Ford.

    Can read it in a day or two. Makes a great gift for your Christian (or non) friends or family.

  • http://www.redeemer.com Tim Keller

    The Banner paperback “Letters of John Newton” are a short selection of letters from longer collections such as Cardiphonia. However, the paperback is a very excellent selection–lots of pure gold.

    • http://www.claphamchurch.org.uk Phil Allcock

      Dear Tim,
      Many thanks
      I look forward to digging into Newton. ‘Beyond Amazing Grace’ really whetted my appetite

  • KDB

    “We read to know we’re not alone” and we find through what others read a comforting kinship. Since I am also Kathy with a “K” and am currently reading The Lord of the Rings I appreciated this post.

  • Paul Y.

    Love that she reads Butcher and Childs, two of my favorite fiction authors. And sci-fi.

  • http://stephencswan.wordpress.com/ Steve, Winnipeg, Canada

    Kathy is so right about O’Brien’s series on Aubrey/Maturin.

    Take it from this ex-sailor, they make you feel like you’re really out there on the sea! *200years ago of course.

  • Bob

    Kathy, what other settings besides your “Newton group” do you share the books you’re reading?

  • Sean Thomas

    It sounds like Kathy would enjoy the Harry Potter series. If she hasn’t read it yet, she should definitely take the time to read it. It’s definitely worth a read if one likes Narnia and LOTR!!

  • Missy Wymer

    Kathy sounds like a fantastic person to sit down with a cup of coffee with! There is one thing I would like to understand better about her. In the article it says: “I’ve read Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings every year, sometimes twice a year, for more than 40 years. I regularly re-read Lewis’s Perelandra and Narnia as well. Those are for the joy that pierces my heart. I’m not particularly given to joy; my highest aspiration is usually to contentment.”
    What does it mean to not be particularly given to joy?
    I have never read Lewis’ Perelandra- sounds like that needs to be on my shelf!

  • Will Barkley

    Patrick O’Brian! Best historical fiction you will ever read……ever. Now available in itunes bookstore.

  • Kathy Keller

    Thanks, yes, I love Harry Potter!

    Re the “not given to joy” comment—it’s partly a temperament thing. My family of origin is famously phlegmatic, having grown up with a volatile mother. Further, having spent a lot of time in my high school/college years in the less biblical corners of the charismatic world, I heartily mistrust anything that seems aimed at manipulating my feelings. Joy has to sneak up on me, like Lewis’s Sehnsucht.

    • Missy Wymer

      Thank you for the reply, Kathy! Without knowing you personally, we have several “common threads”. I have the same issues with joy (happiness). Your husband has been key in helping me understand the joy of the Gospel, which has been life changing for me. I look forward to diving into some of the books you mentioned! Thank you for all that you do for the Kingdom- I pray for you and Dr. Keller often.

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  • Ruth

    Mrs. Keller, I love your reading list. I especially love that you included Superman in your list of favorite fiction titles. If you have not read it already, then I recommend Kingdom Come by Alex Ross and Mark Waid.

    • Kathy Keller

      I’ve READ “Kingdom Come”!! I know one of the graphic artists who worked on it. Former Redeemerite, now in California. He sent it to me as soon as it came out. Great work!

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