Wednesday, July 2, 2008

100 book challenge: part three: religion, new age, fringe science, and science

Still in the process of [at least theoretically] culling my book collection down to 100 key books. Moving on down the shelf takes us through Drama—my drama selection is pretty patchy and under-appreciated; I'm not sure that any of the scattering of volumes I have would be worth including in the final 100. If I had a good volume of Shakespeare's plays I'd take that, but I don't. Moving on.

The next couple of shelves are religion, "new age"-type stuff, and fringe science. Here are my picks from that area:

  • The Grove Press "Pocket Canons" Books of the Bible box set.
    [I should be honest and acknowledge that I'll almost certainly never read the entire Bible, but reading these twelve books every few years is feasible and desirable.]

  • Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, by Gershom Scholem
    [This book took me forever to get through, but was incredibly rewarding. There are so many strange ideas in the history of Judaism, and this book is a fascinating overview.]

  • A History of God, by Karen Armstrong
    [Contains just about everything you'll ever need to know about the three major monotheistic religions.]

  • The I Ching, or Book of Changes (Wilhelm / Baynes translation)
    [Carl Jung claimed that this book was alive. Philip K. Dick claimed that this book could not predict the future, but could rather provide an accurate diagnosis of the present, from which probable futures could be extracted. Anything I could add would be extraneous.]

  • The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick, edited by Lawrence Sutin
    [If anything, Dick's non-fiction is even more interesting and loopy than his fiction. This book contains a lot of Dick's thoughts on spirituality, synchronicity, and reality: great stuff. I'd also find it hard to part with In Pursuit of Valis: Selections from the Exegesis, the book that editor Lawrence Sutin valiantly attempted to carve out of Dick's 8,000 page journal documenting his mystical experience.]

  • Cosmic Trigger Volume One: Final Secret of the Illuminati, by Robert Anton Wilson
    [For better or for worse, Cosmic Trigger changed my life, and although I'm a little more distanced from Wilson these days, this volume is still a real gold mine of high weirdness.]

Let's move on down into the science books...

  • Metamagical Themas, by Douglas R. Hofstadter
    [Godel, Escher, Bach is more renowned, but this book, which collects Hofstadter's Scientific American columns from 1981-1983, has just as many fascinating ideas, and in more digestible form. Language, self-referentiality, fonts, game theory, geometric art... this thing is like a laundry list of geek interests. Plus it is the book that taught me the game Nomic.]

  • Emergence, by Steven Johnson
    [A good, readable introduction to the science of complexity and self-organization.]

  • Chaos, by James Gleick
    [Great pictures of fractals, and still (to my mind) the best introductory book on this particular branch of science. I also own Mandelbrot's The Fractal Geometry of Nature, which is wonderful to look at, but a bit over my head.]

  • Li: Dynamic Form in Nature
    [A tiny little book—basically an impulse-buy kind of thing—documenting "surface patterns" in nature—crystal designs, cat markings, vascular structures in leaves, etc. Those are the kinds of patterns I'm attracted to, so this book is pretty important to me. Since it's small, I'll throw in its sister volume, Sacred Geometry, a similar-sized volume on the harmonic mathematics of ritual spaces.]

This brings me right up to the halfway point: 50 books, 50 to go.

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