For your Christian reading pleasure here are the top 5 books I recommend for understanding your religion:
5) The Holy Bible. I know, I know the PASTOR is going to explain it. And how do you know he's explaining it right? How will you know if he's taking things out of context, or leading you astray inadvertently? Jesus told the scribes and Pharisees to read the bible. Obviously he was talking about the New Testament, which had not been written yet. He must have meant the old, so dust it off and open it up! You want to do what Jesus suggests don't you?
If you can't understand the poetry of the King James Bible in its original, don't bother with the New King James version. Its the worst of both worlds, poetry extracted - unusual word order intact. The New International Version, or NIV completed in the 1970 is a serviceable alternative. The language is common, and not outdated slang as in "The Message." There is also a very fine translation available of the New Testament by Richard Lattimore, famous for his translation of the Iliad by Homer.
Don't be afraid of buying a bible without footnotes. Most of the footnotes are subjective more than historic. When you need to know the history of something you can get better facts by doing the research yourself. People who edit bibles tend to have an agenda. You can't learn properly if everything presented to you has a skew. The only bible I can't recommend has this problem. "The Amplified Bible," has arbitrarily chosen words to "amplify" giving new stress to ideas that were not necessarily stress in the original translations. If you want to read it for curiosity sake, keep some other version handy for comparison and you'll see what I mean.
4) Christian's secret of a happy life, by Hannah Whitehall Smith. This book teaches what contentment is. It is not trendy and not denominational. I think any person of the Christian persuasion, Catholic, Baptist, Mormon would learn from this book. It is written in very easy to read prose with warmth and candor. And yes, she makes good on the title, the secret is revealed.
3) Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew, By Bart Ehrman. This book is a must read for all Christians as it is a fabulous historical overview of how Christianity came to be. It is written by a true scholar in easy to read prose. It is NOT a book designed to promote or convert, it is simply a historical account based on primary sources.
2) The teachings of Buddha. Don't let a Christian person teach you what Buddhists believe, because they probably don't know. Frankly I am appalled by some of the things I hear Christians say. Look at this way, how are you going to convert anyone if you say incorrect offensive things about other people's beliefs? And what if, what if there's some merit to those beliefs? There is actually quite a bit of common ground between Buddhism and Christianity as this little gem of a book will reveal. What you don't agree with, you don't have to worship - just educate yourself. There would be so much less hate and war in the world when people take the extra step to understand others.
1) The poems of Rumi, by Rumi. If you liked the song of Solomon, you will find these absolutely profound in their haunting beauty.