Ben Patrick Johnson's Books That Move Me


Holidays on Ice

by David Sedaris

Exposing the seamy, dark side of a department store Christmas, Sedaris is delightfully brutal as usual.

This book also appears on Every Book by David Sedaris


Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

by Anne Lamott

A must-read classic for writers and creative people in general. Funny, poignant, and wonderfully self-deprecating, Lamott gets to the heart of the creative process and the resistance we all encounter when asking ourselves to emote on the page.


The Poisonwood Bible

by Barbara Kingsolver

I think of this book as the counterpoint to my own If The Rains Don't Cleanse, similarly themed. The books were written around the same time, but Poisonwood came out a decade prior to my own. I like to think that Kingsolver paved the way for me.


West with the Night

by Beryl Markham

A remarkable look at colonial Africa from a young British aviator early in the 20th century. Spare and poetic.


The Smithsonian Institution

by Gore Vidal

Long before the film Night at the Museum, there was this gem of a book by Gore Vidal. Bitingly funny and irreverent, Vidal brings history to life in most unexpected ways.


Practicing Peace in Times of War

by Pema Chodron

Amazing advice for getting along peaceably. Chodron, a Buddhist nun, suggests that the path to global peace starts on an interpersonal level. Brilliant stuff.


The God of Small Things

by Arundhati Roy

A little gem of a novel by Indian writer Roy, better known for her political and social commentary. This book is a great example of talking about large issues through the lens of individual human experience. Intimate and sweet.



by Joseph Heller

Many of us read this classic American war book in school. It deserves another look, both for Heller's brilliant use of dialogue as well as his exploration of the absurdities of war and the military machine.


Things Fall Apart

by Chinua Achebe

Another classic, this time from 1958, Things Fall Apart is insider's look at tribal life in Africa before and after Colonialism that helped inform my perspective as I worked on If The Rains Don't Cleanse. Its author, Chinua Achebe, uses clean straightforward prose to explore complex issues that still resonate today.


God's Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse

by Maya Angelou, James Weldon Johnson, edited by Jr., Henry Louis Gates

A prominent figure in the Harlem Renaissance, Johnson compiled this collection of Negro sermons for posterity, re-imagining them as lyrical poems. I read an excerpt from one of these at my own father's memorial service, and alluded to some of the imagery in If The Rains Don't Cleanse.