By Herb Silverman
Each of the books below changed my worldview and my way of thinking to varying degrees. They are listed in the order I read them — and all but the last I read before the age of 20, when most of us are probably more open to learning about and considering new ideas.
1. The Bible by authors unknown
I “knew” as a trusting child that the Bible was God’s word, and consequently the most important book in the world. I learned Hebrew in my Orthodox school by reading the Hebrew Bible (which we called Torah). We were praised for our ability to read fluently and follow rituals, but not so much for understanding what we were reading. Later we learned to translate and to converse in Hebrew. And, thankfully, my best Hebrew teachers encouraged us to question. And unlike Ken Ham, I found no answers in Genesis.
Teachers in my public school in the 1950s used to start the morning by reading biblical passages. One passage from 1 Corinthian 13:11 captured my evolving views about the Bible: “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”Long before Judy Collins had any hit songs, I could say: I’ve looked at Torah from both sides now, from Orthodox Jew and atheist, too. But it’s Torah’s illusion I recall. I really don’t know Torah at all.
For better or worse, the Bible and the monotheistic religions it spawned have deeply influenced our culture and the world. For that reason alone, the Bible is worth reading. I regard it like Aesop’s fables, with some moral lessons and universal truths (along with talking animals). My problem isn’t so much with so-called holy books, but with adherents who take them literally. I’ve written here about the value I find in the Bible.
2. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
This novel was required reading in my high school sophomore English class, which means I didn’t expect to like it. I was wrong. I identified strongly with Hester Prynne, who was required to wear a Scarlet A on her chest as punishment for her “sin” of adultery. She refused to reveal that her baby’s father was the respected Reverend Dimmesdale.