I have a lot of book friends. Some boast stained, underlined pages with taped spines. Others appear with the swipe of a finger on my Kindle, seemingly eager for an afternoon of conversation.
All of these book friends have challenged me to see and think in new ways, and many of them have helped me begin to unwrap the gift of friendship. These particular book friends have given me, an introvert, courage to head into the world of flesh-and-blood people and work at living connected.
In honor of International Friendship Day (July 30, 2021), allow me to introduce you to some of my favorite friendship books.
The Friendship Factor: How to Get Closer to the People You Care for by Alan Loy McGinnis (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 1979, 2004)
I read this book when it first came out in the 1979 and have reread it many times since. McGinnis writes simply and candidly about the value of friendship in his own life—something a lot of men don’t discuss.
“Why is there such a shortage of close friendships? One simple reason: We do not devote ourselves sufficiently to it. If our relationships are the most valuable commodity we can own in this world, one would expect that men and women everywhere would be pursing them with enthusiasm. But for many, it does not even occur in their list of goals.”page 20-21
How to Be a Best Friend Forever: Making and Keeping Lifetime Relationships by Dr. John Townsend (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing, 2011)
I so appreciate reading the words of this man who deeply values friendship, even when it offers challenges. Psychologist and prolific writer, Dr. John Townsend, also wrote the hugely helpful book Boundaries.
This particular sentence (one of my favorites) speaks profoundly to developing friendships that go beyond small talk and common interests:
“To tell a good friend, ‘I want you to see a therapist to get some help on this’ is one of the most growth-producing things anyone can do.”page 96
A Year Between Friends 3191 Miles Apart: Crafts, Recipes, Letter, and Stories by Maria Alexandra Vettese and Stephanie Congdon Barnes (New York: Abrams, 2016)
These two photographers met one day when they both posted similar photos in an online forum. Despite living 3,191 miles apart, they developed a friendship and eventually collaborated on this book, which oozes with craft ideas, photos of everyday life, letters, and recipes. I love that social media launched this friendship (a great use of this challenging tool), and I love that creativity and family play important roles in the ongoing relationship.
These words from Stephanie capture the tone of the book so well:
“As usual, your notes and photographs have helped keep me going. There were certainly days when I felt I couldn’t recognize beauty in anything, but then I would view a snippet of something from 3,191 miles away and it would jolt me out of my despair. I am ever so grateful to you for your friendship.”loc 1574 of 1788, Kindle
I first read this book decades ago in college for a class in children’s literature. I’ve returned to it several times since, including recently. Set in rural Virginia, this beautifully written tale of friendship between two grade-school children always makes me laugh and cry and marvel at the gift of friendship at any age.
Jess, one of the main characters, sums up friendship so well:
“He thought about it all day, how before Leslie came, he had been a nothing—a stupid, weird little kid who drew funny pictures and chased around a cow field trying to act big—trying to hide a whole mob of foolish little fears running riot inside his gut. It was Leslie who had taken him from the cow pasture into Terabithia and turned him into a king.”
When I graduated from college, my Children’s Literature Professor, Helen deVette gifted me a copy of this book. How I treasure it! And I return to it again and again. I marvel at the humor, the use of language, the random bits of poetry created by a “Bear of Very Little Brain,” and the endearing friendships between Christopher Robin and his animal friends and they with each other. They forgive each other and help each other conquer real and imagined fears (including Heffalumps).
I love these words about friendship, spoken by Pooh:
“Let’s go and see everybody,” said Pooh. “Because when you’ve been walking in the wind for miles, and you suddenly go into somebody’s house, and he says ‘Hallo, Pooh, you’re just in time for a little smackerel of something,’ and you are, then it’s what I call a Friendly Day.”page 269
In 1979, shortly after this book arrived in the world, I read it with awe and in small doses. The more I read, the more I began to glimpse the magnitude and reality of God. And I also began to see clearly the friendship that God offers us.
“What matters supremely, therefore, is not, in the last analysis, the fact that I know God, but the larger fact which underlies it—the fact the He knows me. I am graven on the palms of His hands. I am never out of His mind. All my knowledge of Him depends on His sustained initiative in knowing me. I know Him, because He first knew me, and continues to know me. He knows me as a friend, one who loves me; and there is no moment when His eye is off me, or His attention distracted from me, and no moment, therefore, when His care falters.”page 37
The Book of Ruth in the Holy Bible, New Living Translation (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 2015)
I first read this book of the Bible as a high school student and found this unusual tale of romance so fascinating. But I’ve returned to the book again and again as an adult and find the friendship between Naomi and Ruth, developed in the midst of cultural and age differences, just as fascinating. I love this unfolding story of how their relationship began as in-laws and grew into a strong, life-giving friendship for both of them.
You may know these familiar words (often quoted at weddings).
“But Ruth replied, ‘Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried.’ “Ruth 1:16-17, NLT
The Business of Friendship: Making the Most of Our Relationships Where We Spend Most of Our Time by Shasta Nelson (Nashville, TN: HarperCollins Leadership, 2020)
I so appreciate Shasta Nelson’s passion for friendship. And I particularly appreciate the focus of this book: developing friendships at work—the place (physical or virtual) where we spend so much time. I like that Nelson wrestles with hard questions, such as concerns that friendships at work could create drama and adversely affect productivity.
But I like even more that after all her research, she concludes:
“It’s time to let go of our hesitations, guilt, and fear about friendships at work and instead see that the more connected we are the better it is for all of us.”Loc 392 of 3879, Kindle
Becoming Gertrude: How Our Friendships Shape Our Faith by Janice Peterson (Colorado Springs: CO, NavPress, 2018)
This book, rich with stories and wisdom won from decades of living, sprang from a childhood connection Janice developed with a backdoor neighbor named Gertrude Floyd.
“I often found myself walking through the back gate and knocking on Gertrud’s screen door, where I was always received with a warm welcome and a ‘Come in—I’ll get us some lemonade. You go on out to the porch . . . ‘ Her loving friendship showed me how powerful it can be to live a life of being readily available to others—to listen, to care for them, to engage with their lives.”loc 233-240 of 1334, Kindle
By the way, you can actually see the hospitality of Janice Peterson in this delightful video about a time when Bono came to their home in Montana to talk with her husband Eugene about his translation of the Psalms.