Although I write both fiction and non-fiction, I probably gravitate a bit more toward non-fiction in my reading choices and most of this is philosophy, psychology and theology–anything that makes me think. (I already have a list of favourite fiction – see the side bar). Just as with my list of movies, this is not my attempt to canonize the great works of non-fiction or something like that. Instead, these are some of my personal favourites – non-fiction books that made me think about the world in a new way. Some of these books may not be even all that good, but they had an impact on me when I read them. Nor do I necessarily agree with the ideas presented in these books. To me that is completely irrelevant to my enjoyment of them. Part of the thrill of reading non-fiction is challenging my own assumptions and that often means I read (and thoroughly enjoy) books that counter my own beliefs.
1. Walden – Henry David Thoreau – As good as this book is, the impact of it probably had as much to do with the age that I read it as it’s actual merit. I was young and impressionable. I thought Thoreau had found a portal into my mind and had articulated thoughts about government and society that I couldn’t quite put into words myself. “Simplify, simplify.” This book initiated a path of political enlightenment that I am still following to this day.
2. Dynamics of Faith – Paul Tillich – This theologian certainly has his critics, but this was the book that spurred my interest in theology. It was the first book I read that demonstrated a depth of philosophical insight in theological matters, rather than trite apologetics or pop theology. My first “serious” Christian book – the kind they don’t sell in Christian bookstores. “God is a symbol for God,” says Tillich.
3. The Feminine Mystique – Betty Friedan – An utterly engaging work. One of the most page-turning non-fiction books I’ve read. Seriously. I couldn’t put this one down. This book made me think about gender in ways that had never dawned on me before. More men should read this great and utterly riveting work of non-fiction.
4. Modern Man in Search of a Soul – C.G. Jung – This is not Jung’s most famous or important work necessarily, but here Jung eloquently blends analytical psychology with the existential and spiritual needs of human beings. Other works have tackled this topic, but Jung’s book still resonates with me today.
5. Fear and Trembling – Soren Kierkegaard – A difficult book but the one that, when I had finished, gave me the deluded notion that I was now an “intellectual.” I likely had no clue what Kierkegaard was talking about when I first read it, but he certainly had me curious for more. I’ve visited this man’s grave; I even have a Kierkegaard finger puppet on my fridge – how intellectual 🙂
6. My Last Sigh – Luis Bunuel – One of the most honest and brilliant autobiographies I have read. Bunuel was a fantastic film-maker and fascinating biographer, a man who admits his own fallibility on every page.
7. The Chomsky Reader – Noam Chomsky. This man changed my thinking about politics more than any other person. It’s strange to think about now, but I was campaigning for Vic Toews and reading Chomsky at the same time. Chomsky’s ideas were compelling, probably because I found them so novel. At the time I first read Chomsky, I didn’t think I agreed with him. Eventually he won me over, though.
8. The Denial of Death – Ernest Becker. Perhaps the best book ever recommended in a Woody Allen film, Becker tackles the problem of death from a psychological perspective. His theory is cohesive, comprehensive and makes considerably more sense than Freud’s sexual explanation of human behaviour.
9. Man’s Search for Meaning – Victor Frankl – Alright, so by now you’ll see I’m a bit of a sucker for anything that fuses religion and psychology. Frankl was a Holocaust survivor who used his experiences to assert that finding meaning in one’s life is the basic goal of all humans. I know that summary makes it sound a bit self-helpish, but that’s just because I’m not as compelling a writer as Frankl is.
10. The Death and Life of Great American Cities – Jane Jacobs – Perhaps living in such a small town makes me obsessed with cities. Whatever the case, I found this book incredibly thought provoking and, in turn, I’ve been incredibly frustrated that so few cities have the foresight to heed Jacobs’ advice.
11. Anarchy and Christianity – Jacques Ellul
12. The Kingdom of God is Within You – Leo Tolstoy
16. The Book of Learning and Forgetting – Frank Smith
17. Deschooling Society – Ivan Illich
19. Medium Raw – Anthony Bourdain
20. The Second Sex – Simone de Beauvoir
21. The Medium is the Massage– Marshall McLuhan
22. The Beauty Myth – Naomi Wolf
23. Pedagogy of the Oppressed – Paulo Friere
30. The Seven Storey Mountain – Thomas Merton
31. A New Kind of Christian – Brian McLaren
32. The Wretched of the Earth – Frantz Fanon
33. The Communist Manifesto – Karl Marx
34. The Politics of Jesus – John Howard Yoder
35. Persepolis – Marjane Satrapi
36. The Christian Tradition, Vol. 1 – Jarsoslav Pelikan
37. Open Veins of Latin America – Eduardo Galeano
38. Orientalism – Edward Said
40. Sex, Art and American Culture – Camille Paglia