By Gary Z McGee, The Mind Unleashed
“All good books have one thing in common –they are truer than if they had really happened.” ~Ernest Hemingway
“I think that most of us, anyway, read these stories that we know are not “true” because we’re hungry for another kind of truth: the mythic truth about human nature in general, the particular truth about those life-communities that define our own identity, and the most specific truth of all: our own self-story. Fiction, because it is not about someone who lived in the real world, always has the possibility of being about oneself.” ~Orson Scott Card
1.) The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho:
“We are travelers on a cosmic journey: stardust, swirling and dancing in the eddies and whirlpools of infinity. Life is eternal. We have stopped for a moment to encounter each other, to meet, to love, to share. This is a precious moment. It is a little parenthesis in eternity.” ~Paulo Coelho
Coelho’s short fiction (only 163 pages), The Alchemist, is an inspirational masterpiece. Santiago, a Spanish shepherd boy keeps experiencing repeated dreams about a lost treasure in Egypt. He goes on a lifechanging journey, referred to as accomplishing his Personal Legend, after receiving sage advice and some magic stones from an old king. His journey takes him across the Mediterranean and through the Sahara Desert, where he experiences tribal wars, falling in love, and the secrets of alchemy.
A running theme in the novel is: “When you really want something, the universe always conspires in your favor.” But no amount of description can fully encapsulate the magic of this story. Written with soul, it must be read to really understand the deep feeling of destiny inherent within it. It runs the gambit on spiritual lessons: everything from courage to the language of the heart, from perseverance to the interconnectedness of all things. An awe-inspiring novel that helps us escape reality by teaching us how reality works.
2.) God’s Debris: A Thought Experiment by Scott Adams:
“The human mind is a delusion generator, not a window to truth.” ~Scott Adams
From the creator of “Dilbert,” comes this unique and thought-provoking novel that takes the reader on a journey into God’s debris, which is basically the primordial matter of the universe (quarks and leptons and such) leftover since the Big Bang. The novel is based upon the precept of pandeism, which is the theological doctrine that combines pantheism and deism.
Explained through a Socratic dialogue between a delivery man and an old man named Avatar who “knows everything,” an idea emerges explaining how God annihilated himself into an infinite number of pieces (the big bang), as a challenge to himself and his omnipotent powers, and that the basic function of the universe, which is governed by the laws of probability, is simply God trying to reassemble Himself.
This book redefines the entire concept of God, merging spirituality with science. Empowering the deep thinker hiding inside all of us, Adams uses Occham’s Razor throughout the book to slice and dice the superfluous away from our perception of reality, calling into question our basic assumptions regarding Truth.
3.) Life of Pi by Yann Martel:
“You must take life the way it comes at you and make the best of it.” ~Yann Martel
Life of Pi is a harrowing tale told from the perspective of Pi Patel, a teenage Indian boy, who finds himself stranded on a large lifeboat after a shipwreck at sea. The morning after the freighter sinks, he finds himself as the only human survivor but he is in the company of a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker, an injured zebra, a mean hyena, and a matronly orangutan named Orange Juice.
After a few days only Pi and Richard Parker are alive. As days turn into weeks and weeks drag into months, Pi and the tiger must learn to trust each other against all odds if they are going to survive the dangers of being stranded at sea. They have a series of stressful encounters but eventually settle into an unorthodox and complicated relationship.
Life of Pi raises complex philosophical and religious questions that cause us to question life and the things we take for granted. It’s an emotionally driven story of tested faith, unlikely friendship, and perseverance. It’s a book about survival, but it’s foremost a novel about the determination of the human heart in the face of astronomical odds. The twist at the end of the book gives a different account of what happened at sea, forcing the reader to decide which story was better even if one was more likely to have occurred.
4.) Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card:
“There are times when the world is rearranging itself, and at times like that, the right words can change the world.” ~Orson Scott Card
Andrew “Ender” Wiggin is a young precocious military strategist who is chosen from a shortlist of other genius children to lead humanity in a war against a powerful and unpredictable alien foe seeking to destroy all human life. Through adrenaline pumping military training at a place called Battle School, young Ender and his cohorts are tested to the nth degree. He is forced to grow up fast. But with the help of his even smarter, and shorter, sidekick and right-hand man, Bean, he becomes a military mind the likes of which have never been seen in the history of the human race.
The movie, after the same name, does not do this phenomenal novel justice. Ender’s Game is a science fiction novel that changed the way science fiction novels were written. It follows an engaging, unpredictable, action-packed plot that is well balanced between Ender’s adventures at Battle School, his older brother Peter’s plot toward political power, and the mysterious work of his sister Valentine as a covert writer writing under the pseudonym Demosthenes. Like Ender, Peter and Valentine are prodigies.
Ender’s Game is an affecting novel full of surprises and deep strategy. Think Harry Potter meets Starship Troopers. An engaging page turner from the jump. It will not disappoint.
5.) Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell:
“Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” ~George Orwell
Can you say, “classic!” So much of this deeply affecting political thriller has been absorbed by our culture. Perhaps no other book, other than maybe Lao Tzu’s Art of War, has been used more to explain the dark political animal of the human condition. Many people even reference it as a prophecy of today’s governmental overreach and tendency to use newspeak and doublethink in its relentless propagandizing. “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength,” The warnings of George Orwell seem more relevant now than they ever were.
Nineteen Eighty-Four is a dystopian novel set in a world of endless war in which Big Brother (can you say National Security Agency?) is omnipresent and always listening in on its downtrodden and brainwashed citizens. An agency called The Ministry of Truth oversees the rewriting of history as it sees it, literally changing the truth to fit its political agenda despite history and science (cough –Trump!– cough). The novel’s doomed protagonist Winston Smith and his lover Julia must rebel in subtle and covert ways in order to seek truth and freedom despite the Party and its blind followers.
Nineteen Eighty-Four has become shorthand for tyranny, for the overreaching surveillance state, and for the power of the media to manipulate public opinion. It strikes at the heart of the human condition and its tendency to become corrupt by unchecked power.
6.) Ishmael by Daniel Quinn:
“There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with people. Given a story to enact that puts them in accord with the world, they will live in accord with the world. But given a story to enact that puts them at odds with the world, as yours does, they will live at odds with the world. Given a story to enact in which they are the lords of the world, they will act as the lords of the world. And, given a story to enact in which the world is a foe to be conquered, they will conquer it like a foe, and one day, inevitably, their foe will lie bleeding to death at their feet, as the world is now.” ~Daniel Quinn
Awarded the Turner Tomorrow Fellowship Award, Ishmael is a novel that uses a kind of Socratic dialectic to deconstruct the notion that human beings are the pinnacle of creation on planet earth.
Ishmael is a Gorilla who is able to communicate telepathically. He takes on a nameless human student and proceeds to teach his philosophy using the Socratic method of dialogue.
He teaches his student about “Taker” societies and “Leaver” societies, and how Takers are always breaking the immutable laws of nature. Ishmael explains, “The premise of the Takers’ story is ‘The world belongs to man.’ …The premise of the Leavers’ story is ‘Man belongs to the world.’”
Ishmael argues that civilized societies (takers) are failing the world, and that human supremacy is nothing more than a cultural myth, asserting that Takers are enacting that myth with dangerous consequences, such as endangered or extinct species, global warming, and modern mental health illnesses. This novel is truly an adventure of the mind and spirit that forces us to think outside of the box of our anthropocentric tendency to perceive an otherwise indifferent and interdependent cosmos.
7.) Siddhartha by Herman Hesse:
“Wisdom cannot be imparted. Wisdom that a wise man attempts to impart always sounds like foolishness to someone else … Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom. One can find it, live it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate and teach it.” ~Hermann Hesse
Siddhartha is a tour de force of spiritual discovery. Considered Herman Hesse’s magnum opus, it takes the reader on a spiritual journey like no other. The novel is structured on Buddha’s four noble truths (Part One) and the eight-fold noble path (Part Two) which form the twelve chapters in the novel.
Siddhartha’s journey shows that the best way to approach the understanding of reality and attain enlightenment is through a totality of consciousness that doesn’t focus on separate events in life but looks more holistically upon life as an interconnected whole. He learns that wisdom cannot be taught, but must come from one’s own experience and inner struggle.
In the end of the book, Siddhartha doesn’t discover true wisdom through any single teacher, but through the understanding of all his experiences combined, put into perspective by “listening” to a river that roars in a funny way (a language older than words) and to a wise, old, smiling ferryman.
It’s a masterwork of spiritual self-discovery that presents a strikingly unique view of man in relationship with cosmos, and the arduous process of discovering meaning in an otherwise meaningless universe.
(Featured image: Pixabay, Creative Commons)