11 November 2011

Ten Books I Cannot Live Without (11 November 2011 Edition)

Every so often I practice a fun mental exercise: I list the top ten books I cannot live without. The list changes from time to time, but it gives me a snapshot of my values and interests at the time I compose it. This morning, I made a new list. Here it is:
  • Bray, Kingsley M., Crazy Horse: A Life, (2006). Of all the human beings who have lived, Tȟašúŋke Witkó (Crazy Horse) is my #1 hero. He was a leader, but also an outsider; he was extremely generous, but also modest and retiring; and he did his best to serve his people during a time of great change and destruction. I will always study his life.
  • Bryant, Edwin F., The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali: A New Edition, Translation, and Commentary with Insights from the Traditional Commentators, (2003). Patañjali's text has only a little to do with what we think of Yoga in the US (which is specifically the exercises of Hatha Yoga), and a lot to do with the why of Yoga; Bryant's edition includes such an extensive commentary that it includes virtually all traditional schools of Indian philosophy, including Buddhist, Jain and Islamic; the book really serves as a very good survey of Indian philosophy en toto.
  • Likosky, Stephan, Coming Out: An Anthology of International Gay and Lesbian Writings, (1992). Likosky's excellent anthology covers the array of lesbian and gay life and issues, and it is in a way a snapshot of the movement at the time; furthermore, Likosky's book is unabashedly left-leaning, which is rare today. Finally, and most importantly, this book is out of print, so if you ever see it on a second-hand bookstore's shelf, buy it!.
  • Mair, Victor H. (trans.), Tao Te Ching, (1990). I've had in my possession over time perhaps a dozen translations of Tao Te Ching and it is very difficult to isolate just one I cannot do without. I chose Mair's because it companions well with the Chuang Tzu (see below), and because it is a good, intelligent translation in its own right.
  • Mair, Victor H. (trans.), Wandering on the Way: Early Taoist Tales and Parables of Chuang Tzu (1994). I have seen a few translations of Chuang Tzu, but almost always they are of the so called "Inner Chapters", the first seven chapters. Mair's book includes all 33 chapters, which makes it indispensible for studying Taoism.
  • Merleau-Ponty, Maurice, Phenomenology of Perception (Colin Smith, trans.) (1996). I'm halfway through this text right now, and I can tell I will be wrestling with it for years. In a nutshell, Merleau-Ponty rectifies the mind-body duality that re-entered Western philosophy with René Descartes, by identifying the body as neither an object nor a subject, but something ambiguous in between. His book brings the wonders of perception of the luminous world back into Western philosophy.
  • Montaigne, Michel de, The Complete Works (Donald M. Frame, trans.) (1998). Montaigne's œuvre really was a lifelong examination of the Self, in all it's beauty and failings. He's a humanist's humanist.
  • Oates, Whitney J., The Stoic and Epicurean Philosophers: The Complete Extant Writings of Epicurus, Epictetus, Lucretius, Marcus Aurelius (1940). Of all philosophical systems, Taoism, Existentialism and Stoicism are the ones I find most useful for daily living. In addition to admiring Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, I've recently begun to be intrigued by the Epicureans, whose philosophy is deeper than most people have been led to believe.
  • RE/Search Publications, RE/Search #12: Modern Primitives (1989). This was the book that brought to light the world of tattooing, piercing and scarification. It is filled with interviews of people who have chosen to get tattoos, piercings and ritual scarring, and introduced the world to the philosophy and psychology behind these choices.
  • Sartre, Jean-Paul, Being and Nothingness (Hazel E. Barnes, trans.) (1984). This is the primary text of Existentialism, and another book I will be wrestling with for the rest of my life. After thickly laying a foundation of his understanding of reality, Sartre hints at the possibilities of an extensive, comprehensive and useful ethos for living in the world.
Thanks for indulging me in the publication of this list. Very likely it will change some more in six months time.

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