We asked the Homecoming Friends a number of bookish questions — favorite classics, books they’d recommend, favorites as a child, favorite quotes, books they’d like to live in … and the answers we received were as diverse and interesting as the artists themselves!

My favorite classics include:
East of Eden: An intriguing story filled with biblical themes. This kind of reading helps us learn from the characters’ mistakes, just as we learn from the mistakes of biblical characters.

To Kill a Mockingbird: A favorite of mine and I would recommend it to anyone. In my opinion, Atticus’ speech is one of the greatest discourses on equality ever written.

I also love Huckleberry Finn and as a child, some of my favorite books were Little Men and The Hardy Boys series.

In terms of favorite lines, I have to cheat a little and name some poetry that has been especially meaningful to me: “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” by Longfellow and Robert Frost’s “The Road Less Traveled” are words to live by.

I like a lot of Louis L’Amour; I like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer, Of Mice and Men. Why? I guess ’cause I was a country boy and I farmed and always wanted to be a cowboy. That’s a lot of why I like Louis L’Amour. I lived on the Mississippi River, just five miles away. I worked on the Mississippi River to pay for college. I love the Mississippi and Hannibal, Missouri, and all that kind of thing that Huck Finn dealt with while floating down the river.

I always just like to recommend L’Amour books — they always have positive outcomes and there was always some little anecdote in them that would make you think about how good is always going to win. Anything that would just have you realizing that death is not going to win.

One of my favorite lines — well, it’s from a poem, but I do like the Edgar Allan Poe line from “The Raven” when he replies, “Nevermore.” And I liked Poe’s story, The Pit and the Pendulum, but it’s been a long time since high school. I don’t remember any lines!

I probably most relate to Huck Finn as a character. He was always getting in trouble — always wanting to do the right thing. People didn’t always believe you because you didn’t always tell the truth!

As for a book I’d like to live in, again I would say Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn or in a Louis L’Amour book where I could be a cowboy. Somewhere years ago — a hundred years ago! I was born too late. I just like the thought of living back then … the freedom … not having the hustle and bustle of our modern lives. You still had to work hard, but you weren’t working to make a living, you were working just to survive.

I can’t remember my childhood books but my favorites as an adult are: This Present Darkness, Piercing the Darkness, and The Oath by Frank Peretti, the Left Behind series by Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye, and Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers!

I think everyone should read Redeeming Love.This is a wonderful and most profound work on the grace of God in my readings. It shows us the extent God will go to reach us in our present state of running from Him instead of to Him and how grace will not allow Him to let us go! Whew! It’s excellent! It’s a screamer! I LOVE IT!

My favorite books are thrillers, So NOOOO, I wouldn’t want to live in one of them, ever! I love sharing in the excitement of what God does and can do for His people! Thrillers get you right there ... right at the point of disbelief, which shows our inadequacy. Then God, our eternal Hero who does all things well, shows up and does the unimaginable to redeem us! It keeps me anticipating, crying, rejoicing and cheering on the magnificent power of my Lord and His unfathomable abilities! (About like how I act on stage while ministering and Bill has to calm me down ... this is why! LOL!) The joy I receive while reading about the Lord is uncontainable. I always want to share it! It’s Good News! He is our Hero! I know what He does for me, but reading about what He can do and does for others, even if it’s only in the form of fiction, is just as exciting to me!

Sense and Sensibility, a novel by Jane Austen, is by far my favorite classic. I feel like I have read the book and have seen the movie hundreds of times! If there is ever a moment that I can sit down and retreat to my comfy chair, it is always with Sense and Sensibility. The story is about the three Dashwood sisters and their mother being forced to start a new life after their father has passed away. It is always fun to embark on this journey with the Dashwoods as they find joy and fulfillment in a life they had anticipated being only full of sorrow and despair. I identify with so much of this story, but I’m especially moved by a line the mother speaks when she says, “Know your own happiness.” For most of my life, I had known a happiness that I had inherited. Traveling as a member of the Singing Hemphills was my whole life and joy, which continued even into traveling with Bill and Gloria Gaither and the Homecoming Friends, but when I decided to retire, I suddenly realized that music wasn’t my own happiness. Music was a happiness that I had inherited. Just like the Dashwood sisters, I found myself starting over and I began asking the Lord to show me the “joy unspeakable and full of glory” that I could only receive through Him. Little by little, He led me along, and finally under a Bridge with outcasts and misfits I found my own happiness … it was serving Jesus and being His hands and feet to “the least of these.”

“I had found a new friend. The surprising thing is where I’d found him — not up a tree or sulking in the shade, or splashing around in one of the hillside streams, but in a book. No one had told us kids to look there for a friend. Or that you could slip inside the skin of another. Or travel to other places with marshes, and where, to our ears, the bad people spoke like pirates.” – Lloyd Jones
When I first read this quote, it leapt off the page and burrowed into my heart. I grew up on a bus from the time I was born until I was 15, traveling the country singing and with my family. The bus technically slept 12, but it wasn’t a stretch to have up to 20 cramped into that 45-foot space. My bunk was my sanctuary and my headphones shut off the noise enough to have adventures of my own. Books became my best friends. My escape. My shelter. My wings.

I’ll never forget the day I looked up into my Grandmother Dottie’s bookshelf and saw her copy of Herman Melville’s classic, Moby Dick. I was 7 years old and the richly bound, gold-leafed pages drew me in like a moth to the flame. “That’s a mighty big book, for such a little girl,” she told me when I asked to borrow it. I scanned the glowing pages and opened my soul to the beauty of the written word. “Call me Ishmael. Some years ago — never mind how long precisely — having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on the shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.” I was hooked.

J.M. Barrie taught me that I didn’t need pixie dust to fly. The Lord of the Rings taught me courage of purpose. (I might have had a slight crush on Legolas too.) Every wardrobe I opened, I prayed was an entrance to Narnia. As a child, Madeleine L’Engle taught me of Tesseracts, but as I grew, she wooed my gypsy heart with tales of finding oneself in Antarctica. In the pages of those “fairytales” I found the foundation for the artist I am today.

As an adult, I still love to read the whimsical tales, but now my palette has a deeper appreciation for the books that light fires of hope in the dark places of my “real life.” These, I keep as armor, ready to pick up from the nightstand at a moment’s notice.

The Message Bible, Madeleine L’Engle’s A Circle of Quiet and An Acceptable Time, Prototype by Jonathan Martin, The Alchemist by Paul Coelho, The Naked Now by Richard Rohr, Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton, and my giant book of the collected works of E.E. Cummings (pretty sure it weighs 20 pounds!) are always at arm’s reach. I recognize not all of those may be your particular cup of tea, but I believe that in order to understand “story” we have to be able to, as my mother says, “chew the meat and spit out the bones.”

There are new friends and teachings hiding in the oddest of places. The greatest ones I’ve found are in the tear-smudged pages of the books that built me.

My favorite classics would be Atlas Shrugged, 1984 and my all-time favorite classic ... Animal Farm!

Both 1984 and Animal Farm were the beginning of a hard look at human societies and the capability of evil to impact minute changes upon people that modify a society ever so slightly toward an inhumane destiny.

The books I think are ones everyone should read change with the seasons of my life. At this time as a 50-year-old, I think everyone should read Atlas Shrugged. Our society has reached a tipping point into a socialistic mindset. Ayn Rand shows us where that line of thinking eventually leaves us. She delves into whether the pursuit of profit is evil or good and also explores the kinds of societies where people thrive and excel.

As a child my favorite book was The Secret Garden and one of my favorite lines from a book comes from C.S. Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles: “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb and he almost deserved it.”

The fictional character I most relate to? Maid Marian. I adore the setting of Robin Hood books where anything is possible when one is trying to overcome evil. And a book I’d like to live in for a time would be The Hobbit! I can’t stop staring at their big feet!

Many, many years ago I graduated from college with a B.A. in English literature. I tell people I was a bad English major because, at that time, in my misspent youth, I was squandering to some degree most of the opportunities I was given. However, I do remember it beginning to dawn on me, around my junior year, that this stuff I’d been reading really deserved more than the Cliff Notes treatment, and perhaps it was time to start really digging in. It was a little late to be having this realization, as far as my GPA was concerned, but I have to say that by the end of my college career, I was glad to be an English major, albeit a stunted one.

Several years later, after my spiritual conversion, I remember thinking that it was about time to start making up for those locust-eaten years through some remedial reading. I started by revisiting some of the classics I had skimmed over in high school and college, but also began adding to that list other classics I had neglected all together. Now, all these many decades hence, I’m still discovering and re-discovering a growing list of old authors and their amazing, important works, and in the process becoming better acquainted with their history, their culture, and their manners. I’m simultaneously gaining a better understanding of how our world got to be like it is today.

There’s really no better way, in my opinion, to begin to understand the human story and condition than when we take the time to delve into the stories, poems, novels, plays, histories, essays — all that encompasses classic literature — and see what we can glean. A few years ago I re-read Huckleberry Finn and got a better understanding of how complex were the mid-nineteenth century American issues of slavery and religion as I listened to the amusing, yet subversive, first person narrative of Huck. A few years before that, I read Moby Dick for the first time and I couldn’t believe the depths of the American experiment that Melville was plumbing through the convoluted telling of the mythical tale of Captain Ahab and his maniacal quest for the white whale. About 25 years ago, I read The Brothers Karamazov for the first time and was amazed at how Dostoyevsky’s Christian faith had compelled him to create one of the great literary masterpieces of the last thousand years. I could go on and on.

I guess these days, if I’m neglectful, it’s of the many good contemporary offerings out there, though occasionally I will pick up something current and give it a shot. But my first inclination is to pick up one of the old books that I haven’t gotten around to yet, because I’m not getting any younger and school’s still not out.

I just watched the movie To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time last night! I like a story like that — where the main character does what is right no matter the cost.

My favorite books as a child were anything by Dr. Seuss — I loved him.

A book that truly affected my life and that I think everyone should read is The Grace Awakening by Chuck Swindoll. Everybody who was raised in legalism and thought that they had to get God’s approval should read that.

The fictional character I identify with would be Peter Pan. I’ve always wanted to be able to fly without any effort — I don’t want to have to flap my wings — I just want to be able to stretch my arms and go fly all over. In fact, when we went to see Peter Pan when I was a kid, when we got home my brother and I made Daddy tie felt around us and swing us around the room like we were flying.

Here are some of my favorite classics:
Charlotte’s Web: One of my favorites and I remember it being one of the first books I ever read that brought me to tears.

Jane Eyre: I could almost hear her speak to me. I couldn’t put the book down, I had to know what was coming next and if she would survive this world of not knowing her parents and being an orphan.

Little Women: I never had sisters so it was very interesting to me how Louisa May Alcott, the writer, shared the stories of the sisters’ personalities and how they dealt with life and death.

My favorite book as a child was really a series of books — the Raggedy Ann and Andy books. My mom had ordered them for me and it really opened my appetite for reading. I couldn’t wait to see a new book come in the mail. I would open it right then and read it all the way through.

Though not a novel, but a true story, The Hiding Place probably affected me more than any other book. To see what they went through in the concentration camps and how they were steadfast through it all was amazing and encouraging. A favorite line from the book is when Corrie Ten Boom stood naked with her older sister Betsie, watching a concentration camp matron beating a prisoner. “Oh, the poor woman,” Corrie cried. “Yes. May God forgive her,” Betsie replied. And, once again, Corrie realized that it was for the souls of the brutal Nazi guards that her sister prayed.

The character I most relate to would be Mary Poppins. I’m a fixer and always want people to get along and be happy. Mary Poppins always had a solution!

The book I would like to live in for a time would be Gone With the Wind — during the good times! I loved the beautiful homes and the decor and the costumes and clothing were spectacular. I would also love to live in Little House on the Prairie — times were about family, and loving and giving not only to our families, but also to our neighbors.

When I was a child I homesteaded the school library. I learned to read long before I started school, and as an only child of traveling singers, books, along with my invisible dog Germs, were my best friends. I devoured all the then children’s classics: The 5 Little Peppers and How They Grew, The Boxcar Children, Golden Books, fairy tales and of course, all the L. Frank Baum books in The Oz Collection. By the third grade I had graduated to the young person’s reading section and discovered science fiction, grown-up poetry (I was obsessed with E.E. Cummings), the Bronte sisters — Emily and Charlotte — Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn… and the list goes on.

I’m not sure why, but in the fifth grade, I decided I needed to graduate to a higher realm of reading. I waded into the strange waters of The Grapes of Wrath, To Kill a Mockingbird, Shakespeare, Atlas Shrugged, and on to Homer’s epic Odyssey along with Dante’s Inferno. My brain was spinning with both information and questions.

One day, one of the wisest teachers I’ve ever known, Mrs. Jepson, saw me in the library poring over one of the books almost as big as me. She took me by the hand, led me to her classroom, and opened her locked wall cabinet. “This is one I’m re-reading,” she said as she handed me a book. “It’s about becoming … becoming real. There are mysteries of wisdom hiding in the pages.” I looked down at the title, The Velveteen Rabbit. Somehow in my journey I had missed that one.

I still read lots of books. To me none, except the Holy Bible, has any more practical truth than this one. Here’s an excerpt…
“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

Click here to read God In Literature by Gloria Gaither.