So, a lot of my Facebook friends have tagged me to ask about ten books that influenced me in some important way. It’s hard to pick only ten – I live in a library, after all, and have done since I was nine years old – but here’s ten, anyway, that have been on my mind recently. But I want to say more about some of these titles than the pithy paragraph of a Facebook status update. So here we go:
1. Mike Scott, Adventures of a Waterboy.
This is the autobiography of one of my all-time favourite musicians, Mike Scott, frontman of The Waterboys. I got my copy this afternoon: it was waiting for me when I got home from work. I read the first 120 pages in one sitting. It’s magnificent. Knowing his music, and knowing many of the places he speaks of (like him, I too lived for several years in the west of Ireland), reading this book is really taking me somewhere. It is not normally the intention of an autobiography of a celebrity to provoke philosophical thoughts, but this book is making me think of priorities in my life that I need to change. What an adventurous, magical, and real live Mike Scott has lived: and what a routine, almost ‘establishment’ life mine has recently become.
2. Jeff Mitscherling, Aesthetic Genesis.
I read an unpublished draft years ago. It’s an attempt to instigate a new ‘Copernican revolution’ in phenomenology the philosophy of mind: it argues that consciousness is a product of intentionality, not the reverse (as is hitherto believed), and so consciousness may well be something spread out on the earth, everywhere. It seemed exciting, powerful, esoteric, and new. I felt like I was thinking thoughts no one had ever thought before. I have a copy of the complete published work now, and I’m enjoying re-discovering it.
3. Arthur C Clark, 2001: A Space Odyssey.
A book that gave me the same feeling as #2, when I read it for the first time at 10 years old. Its exploration of mind, and computer intelligence, and paranoia, and the prospect of extraterrestrial life, gave to me a lifelong interest in science and philosophy. Although, admittedly, I already had that interest in science, due to the gift of a telescope when I was very young, and this next book:
4. Roy Gallant, Our Universe.
A children’s book about astronomy, produced by the National Geographic Society back in 1980, and I think the first book to reveal a world beyond my local world. Scientifically, it’s now hopelessly out of date. Pluto was still a planet, back then! But it’s lavishly illustrated, and delivers a sense of wonder far better than any religious book I knew at the time.
5. Nichols, The Book of Druidry.
This one seems less revolutionary to me now, than it did when I was 17, a gift from my friend A.D. But back then it was the book that I wanted to be true. It gave me a new model of a wise man that I could look up to, and maybe aspire to become. I think of myself as a philosopher more than as a pagan, now. Indeed as I look back on my life, it seems my paganism was never about ritual or magic, as it seems to be for perhaps most other pagans I know. But my paganism was always about the earth, and about music and friendship and storytelling. And food! And sex. And I remain committed to ideas like pantheism, gnostic neoPlatonism, and humanism. I first encountered these ideas in this book.
6. Browning, The Nameless Man
I include this fiction title, partly because I read it a week ago, partly because I think it’s important to support indie and small press writers, and partly because it’s a gentle-yet-firm expressionist painting of a novel. It’s the story of a man who declines to give his name, visiting Jerusalem, and seeking shelter in an abandoned house along with other pilgrims, while sectarian violence rages outside. Much of the novel involves the nameless man giving speeches, and thus the story can be compared to other philosophical novels like Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael, or even Gibran’s The Prophet. Yet there’s something different here: clues about the nameless man’s identity are dropped early, and I enjoyed the puzzle of guessing his name and the anticipation of finding out near the end whether I was right. Further, the nameless hero doesn’t merely descend from on high to tell it like it is: he has a struggle of his own to complete, and by the end of the novel it is mostly resolved – mostly, but not completely, thus preserving the novel’s dramatic tension. The author’s strong grasp of philosophical concepts and of human relations, added to a touch of rage at the social injustices perpetrated in the name of religion, make the reading very satisfying. And I have a signed copy. I’m delighted.
7. Gregory, Gods and Fighting Men.
This book made the world magical for me. It did so twice: first in my 20s, reading “the story of my people” (or at any rate my father’s people), and again in my 30s when I went to live in Ireland and got to visit the places described in the book. I know that a lot of strict Celtic Reconstructionists hate this book, and so do a lot of modern Irish for that matter. They can all suck it. The book is a masterwork of Irish language, folklore, mythology, and nation-building. I still read it, once a year, and have done for nearly 20 years. Lady Gregory is for me what writers like JRR Tolkien and JK Rowling are for so many others.
8. Karsten Harries, The Ethical Function of Architecture
I bought this book after the author visited NUIG on the academic lecture tour, and I was a neophyte grad student. Loved every word of his talk, so I bought the book. Loved the book too. It’s an intellectual play on space, time, and meaning. Besides, it’s kind of rare to find a philosophy book with photos and illustrations.
9. Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil.
This book is dangerous. Don’t read it unprepared. But read it. Every last remaining vestige of the so-called european ‘Enlightenment’, with its pompous pretentiousness, is utterly and savagely destroyed by this book. And rightly so. And on top of that, it’s a delight to read. It’s like reading the score of an opera. A Wagnerian opera! And I say this as a man committed to the importance of rationality and social justice. But what Nietzsche sees in the gaping hole in the world that his act of destruction leaves behind – well, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
10. James Lovelock, The Ages of Gaia.
Probably the first book of environmental science I ever read. I once heard the author speak on CBC Radio, and was fascinated first of all by the sonorous and grandfatherly sound of his voice, and then by the astonishing power of his simple idea: that the earth ecosystem as a whole behaves as if it is a single organism – and this is a scientifically testable idea, not just a visionary hyperbole. I went on to study environmental philosophy precisely because of this book.
It seems this “10 Book” facebook thing was the subject of some data-mining. So, if you participated in it, you just handed to an advertiser a load of personal information they can use to target-market shit to you. Sucker. But I must admit, the results are interesting. Follow this link to see for yourself.