November 22nd, 2010
01:03 PM ET

My Take: My top 3 books for the hotel nightstand

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

If you have ever contemplated being stranded in a hotel room without electricity, you might be happy to hear that the Gideon’s ubiquitous nightstand Bibles are no longer your only reading option. For some time, many Marriott Hotels have featured copies of the Book of Mormon, and, now, according to Kate Shellnutt at the Houston Chronicle, Hare Krishnas have placed roughly 7,000 copies of the Hindu scripture the Bhagavad Gita in 100 Houston-area hotel rooms.

Some will doubtless see this development as the beginning of the end of all that is good and godly in Christian America, while others will read it as a reason to rejoice in U.S. religious pluralism. For me, however, the arrival of Arjuna and Krishna (the heroes of the Gita) alongside Jesus and Mary and Joseph Smith in hotel room nightstands prompts this question:

If you were stuck for a week in a hotel room with no television and no Internet connection, which religious books would you want to have along? For the sake of discussion let’s say there is only room for three other books, alongside the Bible. Which books would be in your holy trinity, and why?  The Quran? The Kama Sutra? The Tao of Pooh?

Here are my top three:

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

I’m tempted to go with Pullman’s entire “His Dark Materials” trilogy, but I’ll have to settle for the first in that series, The Golden Compass. Pullman is an atheist, and organized religion takes a beating here, but this is a deeply theological book, very much in conversation with Milton and obsessed with, among other things, the story of humanity’s fall. Theology aside, however, The Golden Compass is just a great page-turner, right up there in my view with the Harry Potter books, and featuring, in the orphan Lyra Belacqua, one of the great heroines of western literature. Oh, and please don’t let anyone tell you it’s “just” children’s literature.


My favorite story of all time, particularly as it is retold by Herbert Mason in Gilgamesh: A Verse Narrative. Here two characters, the god/man Gilgamesh and the animal/man Enkidu somehow figure out how to become human—one through sex and the other through grief. Not typically classified as a religious book, Gilgamesh can certainly be read simply as a great adventure story—“On the Road” for the Mesopotamian set. But it is also a tale of a failed quest for immortality, replete with gods and monsters. The oldest epic in western literature—it antedates even the Bible—Gilgamesh is in my view the greatest story ever told.

An Autobiography or the Story of My Experiments with Truth by Mohandas Gandhi.

For my third and final choice, I am tempted to pick Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (an inquiry, as the subtitle promises, into not only air/fuel mixtures but also values) or Christopher Pike’s Sati (about a girl who claims to be God, and may just be), but I have to go with Gandhi’s autobiography, in part because it's a doorstopper, and I am going to need a lot of pages to get me through my week, but also because Gandhi is one of the great figures of the twentieth century—politician and mystic, Hindu and Christian, pragmatist and visionary, all rolled into one.

As my students say, however, "That's just me, what about you?" What are your top three?

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Bible • Books • Opinion • United States

soundoff (59 Responses)
  1. Kristen

    I think the biggest problem I have with the addition of other books to hotel room night tables is it kills my favorite line in "Guys and Dolls". "There are two things yo wil find in every hotel room -a Bible and Skye Masterson". At least that was one of the not out of date things until now!

    November 26, 2010 at 2:27 pm |
  2. Iqbal khan

    Sum Dude have shown what is in his mind.

    November 24, 2010 at 9:38 pm |
  3. Iqbal khan

    @Peace2All and Sam Dude, Thanks for telling me about Ur mind set and lives.
    It is Ok not to listen, watch or read any thing related to religeon as there are many people who don't beleive in any religeon and one of the big reason is most of the religeons do not provoide answers to many questions they have this makes them so furstrated that they start running away from religeon, Islam on the other hand have answers to almost all the questions that may come in one's mind all it needs is a little hard work to gain knowledge and study, thank God Almighty with the help of internet and more so with the help of Youtube vedios it has become much easier to gain knowledge and get the answers one have from highly educated and learned folks, preachers, Imams,Phd's, etc.
    This is one of the big reason I take help from youtube vedios to spread the truth of Islam, Islam the religeon of all the Prophets from Adam to Muhammad peace be upon all.
    You may dislike muslims because of some who acted improperly or crimnaly, and there are many muslims who don't act according to Islam, but you can not hate Islam, as a matter of fact Islam is the worlds fastest spreading religeon, and you will agree with me that Truth always prevail so please don't get upset by the vedios that I post watch them with open heart and mind and I am sure you will gain lots of knowledge, and have a nice thanks giving holiday!

    November 24, 2010 at 4:43 pm |
    • Sum Dude

      @Iqbal khan

      I do not agree that "truth will always prevail".
      That is a complete and utter lie.

      I can hate Islam if I want. Islam is a lie and full of lies and liars like you.

      You think your rudeness is not rude.
      You can barely rub two English words together compared to your constant spam of puke videos.
      I will be glad to send you to your "paradise" if I get the chance.

      Islam answers no questions that I have put to it. You cannot prove Mohammed was not a filthy businessman looking to cheat and defraud anyone he could. You cannot prove anything with your lies. You can only prove things with real proof, which you do not have.
      Your stupid videos teach nothing. You are stupid beyond stupid. You are someone who should not be allowed on the internet. If I could take away your computer, I would. I spit on your Mohammed. Yet these are just words. You are retarded.

      November 24, 2010 at 9:29 pm |
  4. Ciaran O'shiehl

    You KNOW of the Ta-En La? ?,4, Kena hGaelen

    ?:2, Daha seshda cian do testhan neeran hudabuh. !!:1,Toran Sha, Do Kennesh Ta.

    November 23, 2010 at 9:27 am |
    • Kelly Garrett

      !!:1 Eshteh Ciaran-ha. Tadeshtehwan. Keshteh hann An Am Cara. Ting Wennesh An Erina.

      November 23, 2010 at 9:30 am |
  5. Kelly Garrett

    First off, why does the bible need to be included? It can be found anywhere, and most are up to our eyes sick of it. I would replace the tome of the hateful god with "The Teachings of The Prophet Yeshua ben Yosef as Told by Didymos" aka "The Gospels of Yeshua as Told by Thomas" aka "The Gospels of Thoman" aka GTh. There we can find the real prophet the Emperor Constantine stole when he invented christianithy. The parable of the Five Trees should be highlighted...a loving, henotheist prophet.

    The next one would be the Gita, if by a real Hindu. The third would be the Celty Ta-En La.

    "When nature, herself, decides there should be only one kind of flower, only one kind of bird and only one kind of human being will I believe there is only one true god above all others, and only one way to worship."

    November 23, 2010 at 9:09 am |
    • Peace2All

      @Kelly Garrett

      I am with ya' on those. Great choices...!


      November 24, 2010 at 2:54 am |
  6. Q

    The Trial and Death of Socrates should be in here somewhere.

    November 23, 2010 at 12:44 am |
    • Sum Dude

      How about a book on "how to get out of that hotel room" ?
      Or why not bring a bedbug-sniffing dog and a metal detector to find hidden hypodermic needles?

      Or a book on how to make a bomb from materials found in a hotel room?
      (Those are always handy to leave out for the maids to see.) 😛

      November 23, 2010 at 2:01 am |
    • Peace2All

      @Sum Dude

      What the F ...? 8O...!!!!!!!!!! LOL...!!! Oh, the FBI, CIA, DHS & NSA.... are just a lovin' on you right about now...!!!!

      You are a funny motha' fu--r..!!!!

      Yes... of course I will c-ome and visit you in the 'big house.' Note to self...."bring file and cake".. lol... 🙂


      November 23, 2010 at 2:31 am |
    • Peace2All

      @Sum Dude

      Sorry bro... * 😯 ...!!!!

      November 23, 2010 at 2:32 am |
    • Sum Dude

      @Peace2All – 😯
      OMG! You have just given the game away! Now they'll get me for sure. You're probably a secret FBI agent, too. Wouldn't surprise me in the least. I guess you'll be testifying against me, so I'll see you at trial, yes? How many people have you put away in your career? Lots, I'm betting. And all of them done peacefully, of course. Oh, why didn't I listen to my magic 8-ball?
      Oh, woe is me!

      Heh. 😛

      November 23, 2010 at 3:56 am |
    • Sum Dude

      @Peace2All – you do know I was kidding rite? Heh heh. (don't shoot!) 😯

      November 24, 2010 at 3:56 am |
    • Peace2All

      @Sum Dude

      You were kidding about which: Making a bomb out of materials in a hotel room...? 😯 Or, me being an FBI agent...?

      By the way, I never did get an answer as to whether or not you wanted me to c-ome and visit you at the 'big house.'...?


      November 24, 2010 at 4:08 am |
    • Sum Dude


      Thanks for wanting to visit me. You have no idea how many times I have re-written this post. 😯

      Have a good Thanksgiving, Peace!

      November 24, 2010 at 4:33 am |
  7. Gary Gach

    Shambhala has miniature editions that fit in a pocket ... Dhammapada ... Thomas Merton ...Emily Dickinson .... and many more ... those are the 3 I'd draw from ... as I imagine I'd also spend time writing ... and reading what I'd written ... & revisioning ... ( so I guess I'm saying I'd include My Blank Notebook as one of the 3, ¿huh? ) ...

    November 22, 2010 at 11:50 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @Sum Dude

      * 😯 lol.!!!!!

      November 23, 2010 at 2:32 am |
    • Peace2All

      @Gary Gach

      Apologies...! face was meant for @Sum Dude obviously.


      November 23, 2010 at 2:37 am |
  8. somedoody

    yes i will peace. yes i will

    November 22, 2010 at 8:34 pm |
  9. Sum Dude

    What's amazing is that so many people don't like to read anything more complicated than a menu. Room service, anyone?

    November 22, 2010 at 8:20 pm |
    • somedoody

      its only so amazing to you because you're light years ahead in intelligence than them.

      November 22, 2010 at 8:28 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @Sum Dude

      O.K.... Would you 'puhleeeeeeeease' have a talk with your buddy @Iqbal Khan about the Islamic videos. I know you tried before... try harder grasshopper, before I end up converting to shut him up... Yes... my head is bangin' right now.. Arghhh...!!!!! 😯

      I will gladly handle or jump in on the conversations of any of your 'friends'... of which you have 'lotses' of them on this blog.

      November 22, 2010 at 8:32 pm |
    • Sum Dude


      Peace, my friend. You are full of ....peace, right? lol

      I have no influence with Iqbal khan, who is a fool and delusional to boot.
      Why don't you turn off all your Java? Then you will see what I see – pale yellow squares that look like puke.

      And what can I say? People love me, but they don't listen to me. My family is the same way.

      Use your scroll button. That's what it's for.
      Can you hear the cricket at your feet? Yet you are young. Sna-tch the pebble from my hand and you will have a pebble.

      November 22, 2010 at 8:48 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @Sum Dude

      Why.... Yes, Dudester.... ya' know me... full of.. er...Peace...!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      I accidentally 'banged' my head against the cricket. It is dead now. Sorry.

      And ya' gotta stop bringin' up the wife thing... that was a long time ago. 🙂


      November 22, 2010 at 9:16 pm |
    • Sum Dude


      Sorry my friend, I must sound like a broken record. My apologies 2 u.
      I had fun looking up old "Kung Fu" quotes. Master Po was a cool dude.

      November 22, 2010 at 9:38 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @Sum Dude

      Nah.... Its all good Dude. Ya' got me good with the n-d comment with the wifey.... fair and square. What are friends for but to torment you for a good long time for saying something that as soon as you it the 'post' button, you go OH S-H-I-T!!!!!!!!!!!! 🙂

      Yeah.... Master Po was the coolest. I miss that show. *sigh* Oh well.


      November 23, 2010 at 12:52 am |
    • Sum Dude

      lol – I hit you with that joke because I am not married and felt, um, "qualified" to make fun of married people in that regard.
      A half-assed comedian like me doesn't get a straight line like that every day, you know. I had to strike while the iron was hot.
      It's even better when a fundie starts handing out straight lines, of course, but one must work with what one has...hmm?
      I could make fun of Buddhism again. (evil laughter) Or we could argue about Mother Teresa, the sadist nun of Calcutta...?

      November 23, 2010 at 1:53 am |
    • Peace2All

      @Sum Dude

      Yes...I 'teed' that one right up for you... Mr. Fundie...

      I laughed.... My wife did *not* She failed to find the humor in it. Then she really did hit me with a *brick*.. LOL..!!! 🙂


      November 23, 2010 at 2:36 am |
    • Sum Dude

      What? You don't want to argue with the infamous "Sum Dude"? The scourge of CNN's Belief Blog? The Troll himself? Wha?

      Consider yourself vanquished, fundie! Now you can protest and complain that I am a God-hater and a nasty person of ill-repute.


      November 23, 2010 at 3:47 am |
    • Sum Dude

      @Peace2All – Oh, yeah...and that I am destined for a fiery and eternal torment in Hell. And all that other stuff. 😛

      November 23, 2010 at 3:51 am |
    • Peace2All

      @Sum Dude

      Ugh... Excuse me.... Where you actually playing 'fundie wars' by yourself...? LOL 8O..!!!!!! You promised not to play without me. And, by the way... Ahem, my church says if you continue to do that 'by yourself' you will go 'blind.' 🙂

      And, ya' don't have to remind me, I know my 'lines' and what to say.... O.K....??!!!! Got it..! Argghhhh...!!!!!

      You God-hatin' socialist communist commentator of secular devilism, which is evil to the world.

      I will pray for you.... Be open and let Jesus into your heart. I did, and I am now saved forrrrrrrrrrrrreeeeeeeevvvvvvvverrrrrr!!!

      You... *not so much* We will work on it next time we connect. 🙂

      And FYI--Don't be startin' on the Buddhism thang.... or I will have to 'open up a can of whooooop- ass on ya' 🙂 And, don't be hatin' on Mo. T.....!!! the Saint that she is...

      Peace to you Sir Dudemeister

      November 23, 2010 at 3:20 pm |
    • Sum Dude


      I hope you have a big enough can of whoop-ass. Buddhism is a religion and delusional. It is filled with and well known for its dogma. Mystical words and phrases. Bugs Bunny would find a Sutra and turn you into a bat with glasses reaaal easy.

      And St. Teresa is no saintly person. She is dead. When alive, she was a sadistic nun who only pretended to the "faith".
      Unknown numbers of victims were tormented under her "gentle" ministrations.
      Almost all the money given to her by well-meaning people did NOT go to her victims. Their suffering was approved by the Catholic Church, so she made sure they damn well suffered! She was nasty. NOT a "saint" except in name only.

      So there. pppbbb! 😛

      November 24, 2010 at 3:45 am |
    • Peace2All

      @Sum Dude

      You 'fundies' are all alike. Your religion is the 'only' *right* one. *sigh*... when will you learn...?

      Yes, Mo. T wasn't always a nice one. We are certainly in agreement on her.

      As for the Buddhism thing, I will have to kick your behind about that another day.

      It's getting late, and I'm starting to wilt.


      November 24, 2010 at 3:56 am |
    • Sum Dude


      Peace....and go ahead and try to kick my ass....whenever you feel up to it....heh heh heh... 😛

      November 24, 2010 at 4:36 am |
  10. humbahaha

    I agree completely on Gilgamesh. It is a surprisingly humanistic story that holds both the human condition and the actions of the gods up to critical scrutiny.

    Might I also suggest The Bible: the Old Testament according to Spike Milligan for a healthy dose of eccentric and irreverent english humor.

    November 22, 2010 at 7:11 pm |
  11. Akhtar Hakim

    If brother Iqbal (above) has finished converting people here to Islam (I'm Muslim, by the way LOL, I'll go ahead and list my 3 must have religious books. 1) The Mathnawi by Rumi. 2) The Gita by Lord Krishna and 3) The Lord of the Rings by Tolkien. Yes, you heard the 3rd one right. LOTR. I consider that trilogy quite religious.

    November 22, 2010 at 6:02 pm |
    • Gary

      I can not wait to read satanic verses... by my hero Salaman Rushdie

      November 22, 2010 at 6:30 pm |
    • Iqbal khan

      No my brother I have no power to convert any one,when God told their prophets that Just give them the message. It is God Almighty who only can guide these people, people who wants to be guided to the Truth, and those who wants to go astray no one can guide.
      I am just trying to convey the message what has been given to me and people like me by our Prophet

      November 22, 2010 at 7:56 pm |
    • Iqbal khan

      Watch this, this is also a way of giving the message by your actions


      November 22, 2010 at 8:27 pm |
  12. JohnQuest

    My must haves: American Gods, The end of Faith, and His Dark Materials (the entire trilogy).

    November 22, 2010 at 5:21 pm |
    • mohammy

      don't forget your spiderman comic books!

      November 22, 2010 at 5:22 pm |
  13. Iqbal khan


    November 22, 2010 at 3:16 pm |
    • Reality

      The top two books for any hotel room are: (or for any library, public or private)

      Satanic Verses by Sir Salman Rushdie and Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali:

      Some excerpts:

      Satanic Verses, p. 376, paperback issue –

      Mahound = Mohammed
      Gibreel = Gabriel

      "The faithful lived by lawlessness, but in those years Mahound – or should one say the Archangel Gibreel? – should one say Al-Lah? – became obsessed by law.

      Amid the palm-trees of the oasis Gibreel appeared to the Prophet and found himself spouting rules, rules, rules, until the faithful could scarcely bear the prospect of any more revelation, Salman said, rules about every da-mn thing, if a man farts let him turn his face to the wind, a rule about which hand to use for the purpose of cleaning one's behind.

      It was as if no aspect of human existence was to be left unregulated, free. The revelation – the recitation- told the faithful how much to eat, how deeply they should sleep, and which se-xual positions had received divine sanction, so that they leamed that so-domy and the missionary position were approved of by the archangel, whereas the forbidden postures included all those in which the female was on top.

      Gibreel further listed the permitted and forbidden subjects of conversation, and earmarked the parts of the body which could not be scratched no matter how unbearably they might itch.

      He vetoed the consumption of prawns, those bizarre other-worldly creatures which no member of the faithful had ever seen, and required animals to be killed slowly, by bleeding, so that by experiencing their deaths to the full they might arrive at an understanding of the meaning of their lives, for it is only at the moment of death that living creatures understand that life has been real, and not a sort of dream.

      And Gibreel the archangel specified the manner in which a man should be buried, and how his property should be divided, so that Salman the Persian got to wondering what manner of God this was that sounded so much like a businessman.

      This was when he had the idea that destroyed his faith, because he recalled that of course Mahound himself had been a businessman, and a damned successful one at that, a person to whom organization and rules came naturally, so how excessively convenient it was that he should have come up with such a very businesslike archangel, who handed down the management decisions of this highly corporate, if noncorporeal, God."

      From Hirsi Ali's book, Infidel:

      paperback issue, p. 47:

      "Some of the Saudi women in our neighborhood were regularly beaten by their husbands. You could hear them at night. Their screams resounded across the courtyards. "No! Please! By Allah!" This appalled my father. He saw this horrible, casual violence as a prime example of the crudeness of the Saudis."

      November 22, 2010 at 6:05 pm |
  14. Iqbal khan


    November 22, 2010 at 2:37 pm |
  15. Iqbal khan


    November 22, 2010 at 2:34 pm |
  16. Iqbal khan


    November 22, 2010 at 2:22 pm |
  17. NL

    I would go with shorter books, ones you can actually get through easily while waiting for your room service to arrive, like

    Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach. I read this one at least once a year. Sums up nicely the search for meaning in life and has several nice religious overtones.

    Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris. Short, concise introduction to non-believing.

    A History of God by Karen Armstrong. Well, this one is longer, but if you read it carefully you can see the gradual evolution of God from his humble roots as a tribal deity to what we have today.

    November 22, 2010 at 2:14 pm |
    • JohnQuest

      NL, thanks I have not read A History of God by Karen Armstrong, I will pick it up soonest.

      November 22, 2010 at 5:26 pm |
    • Peace2All


      Nice list... Have you read Harris' latest...? Also, Hawking's-Grand Design was a hoot.


      November 22, 2010 at 8:37 pm |
  18. Iqbal khan


    November 22, 2010 at 2:13 pm |
    • piecetooyall

      borat is that you?

      veddy nice how much?

      November 22, 2010 at 2:14 pm |
  19. Fizzmick PaChee

    I would like to see God is Not Great everywhere but especially alongside any books that promote religion. Nonfiction is the antidote for the poisonous lies put forth about this crap.

    November 22, 2010 at 1:53 pm |
  20. piecetooyall


    November 22, 2010 at 1:47 pm |
    • Hotel Bob

      Wow, first hey? Who cares, get a life.

      November 25, 2010 at 11:13 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.