Procrastinator | Seeker | Bag Collector | Geographer | Story-er | Recovering Malcontent | Philosophical Traveler
I don’t know when I fell in love with books, but I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love them. Like many introverts, I find refuge between the covers. Books don’t care if your clothes are rumpled or if you’ve put on fifteen pounds. They don’t ridicule or mock you. In exchange, they ask only for your full attention. A fair tradeoff, I think.
My reading is eclectic, everything from historical fiction to metaphysics. I’m not a serial reader but a simultaneous one. I might read seven or eight books at a time, dipping out of one and into another like a frog leaping between lily pads. I always travel with books: as many as twenty on a single trip. I tried switching to a Kindle, but found that I then traveled with a Kindle—and twenty books! I love the feel and smell of print, and always will.
Narrowing down this list was tricky, like being asked to choose your ten favorite people. I didn’t want to leave anyone out. In the end, I chose the books that have stayed with me the longest, and that I keep returning to, in good times and bad.
Many of my copies are worn and heavily underlined. I am a chronic underliner. The act of underlining always contains an element of self-recognition. You see your own thoughts reflected on the page, and for a brief but beautiful moment, the world feels less lonely.
ERIC WEINER is a philosophical traveler and recovering malcontent. He also writes. He is author of The New York Times bestsellers The Geography of Bliss and The Geography of Genius, as
well as the critically acclaimed Man Seeks God and, his latest book, The Socrates Express: In Search of Life Lessons from Dead Philosophers. His books have been translated into more than 24 languages. A former foreign correspondent for National Public Radio, Eric was posted in New Delhi, Jerusalem and Tokyo. His work has also appeared in the New Republic, The Atlantic, National Geographic, The Wall Street Journal, and the anthology “Best American Travel Writing.” Eric leads several writing workshops each year, and is co-founder of the Himalayan Writing Workshop. He lives in Silver Spring, MD with his wife, daughter and a menagerie of animals. His interests include cycling, procrastination and, for some reason, collecting bags. | ericweinerbooks.com
My 10 Best
Waiting for God
by Simone Weil
The French philosopher defies classification. Born Jewish, Weil embraced many Christian beliefs. She was tremendously empathetic, but failed to care for her own health. Her philosophy., explained in this collection of essays, is not easy. She demands we pay attention. Not any sort of attention, either. Weil’s notion of attention is unlike any I’ve encountered: unwavering and outwardly focused.
The quality of our attention determines the quality of our lives. You are what you choose to pay attention to and, crucially, how you pay attention. There’s a name for attention at its most intense and generous: love. Attention is love. Love is attention. They are one and the same. “Those who are unhappy have no need for anything in this world but people capable of giving them their attention,” writes Weil. Like so much on the spiritual path, that is easier said than done, but we need to hear it said and said well, as Weil does in these pages.
The Bhagavad Gita According to Gandhi
by Mahatma Gandhi
Gandhi was spiritually omnivorous. He sampled many religious delicacies, from Christianity to Islam, but it was the Hindu Bhagavad Gita that reliably satisfied his hunger. It was his inspiration, and his consolation. Faced with doubts or disappointments, he said, he’d turn to his “Mother Gita,” as he called the spiritual poem, and “find a verse to comfort me.”
An anonymous author wrote The Bhagavad Gita thousands of years ago yet it is still relevant today. Gandhi’s commentaries make it even more applicable to our lives. For me, the most salient theme is that of separating action from results. Invest 100 percent effort into whatever you do, the Gita implores, and have precisely zero percent invested in the outcome. It’s not easy advice to follow, of course, but something I find myself returning to time and again.
by Italo Calvino
Most books you read once, and that is enough. Other books you dip into again and again, discovering new wonders each time. For me, Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities is that kind of book.
The slim volume is tough to classify. I think of it as a travel book, though technically it is not. The cities Calvino describes—fantastic, beguiling places—don’t exist on any map. Yet with his lyrical, clever prose, he illuminates the question at the heart of all good travel—and, for that matter, spiritual—writing: What if life were otherwise?
Reading this book, at some point you realize that Calvino is not talking about cities at all, real or imagined, at least not in the way we normally think of the word. Calvino’s cities are constructed not of steel and concrete but of ideas. Each city represents a thought experiment, or, as Calvino writes: “You take delight not in a city’s seven or seventy wonders but in the answer it gives to a question of yours.”
Commentaries on Living
I’ve read many chronicles of Krishnamurti’s philosophical and spiritual jam sessions. This one is my favorites. The tone is conversational, accounts of meetings the Indian spiritual teacher had with students, interspersed with descriptions of the lush settings in which they took place. The language is straightforward, direct and utterly free of “spiritual jargon.” The topics discussed are wide ranging, from “The Void Within” to “The Importance of Change” to “Hate and Violence.” What ties them all together, and what makes for such compelling reading, is Krishnamurti’s gentle but relentless probing. He questions assumptions that are so deeply ingrained you probably are unaware you have them. By stripping away layers of crusty thought and deeply rooted conditioning we make room for genuinely fresh perceptions of the world, and of ourselves. To be honest, this stripping away can be brutal at times—we don’t release our grip easily—but it is worth the effort. I suggest reading this book slowly.
My Bright Abyss — Meditation of a
by Christian Wiman
This collection of essays is written in prose but is imbued with the musicality and depth of poetry, Which makes sense because Wiman is first and foremost a poet. Suffering from a debilitating and incurable cancer, Wiman explores the connection between faith and suffering, light and darkness. He asks urgent questions like “What is poetry’s role when the world is burning?” and elides the ineffable nature of the spiritual life (“The minute you begin to speak with certitude about God, he is gone”).
Wiman connects poetry and faith in new and meaningful ways. Each word is chosen with great care and economy. Each passage is both self-contained and part of a larger tapestry that Wiman weaves with the earned epiphanies of someone who knows firsthand how fleeting our time on Earth is. This is another one to be savored slowly.
Callings – Finding and Following an
by Gregg Levoy
Some books are special not only because of what they have to say but when they say it. Timing matters, and sometimes the right book comes along at just the right time. Such was the case with Gregg Levoy’s Callings. I was young and floundering, wondering what I should do with my life, when I stumbled across this gem.
Levoy comes at his subject from many different angles. How do we know if we’re following our true callings? How do we sharpen our senses to cut through the distractions of everyday reality and hear the calls that are beckoning us?
This is not your typical self-help fare. Levoy steps back and examines callings as one of life’s great mysteries and most sacred duties. He grounds his more esoteric ideas by telling stories of people who had the courage to follow their callings. Many hear the call but few heed it. Levoy shows you how to be one of the few. Written with compassion and insight, this is a book I keep close at hand.
The Perennial Philosophy
by Aldous Huxley
Best known as the author of Brave New World, Huxley was also a deeply spiritual person. In this book, he shows how a common thread runs throughout all spiritual traditions. He calls it the perennial philosophy and defines it as, “The metaphysic that recognizes a divine Reality substantial to the world of things and lives and minds.” Toggling effortlessly between Eastern and Western traditions, ancient and modern, Huxley serves up a spiritual smorgasbord. The excerpts he’s chosen are spot-on, and his commentaries illuminate them beautifully.
by Joshua Abraham Heschel
Heschel was the most profound Jewish theologian of the twentieth century, and perhaps any century. Most of his books, like God in Search of Man, are long and at times, difficult. Not this one. A slim volume, it explores one central idea: how the Jewish Sabbath represents a “sanctuary in time.” Just as we seek refuge in certain places, we seek refuge from our too-busy lives in the sabbath. Heschel’s book renewed my adherence to a Jewish tradition that, frankly, I had not observed for a long time.
The Philosophies of Asia
by Alan Watts
Watts was the guru’s guru, a student of Eastern spirituality long before it was fashionable. In this slim volume, he manages to distill the essence of several Eastern faiths, from Taoism to Buddhism, and in prose that is clear and sharp. Watts writes from a place of both knowledge and experience, and his books are always relevant to the “real world.” They are also highly underline-able!
A Year in Thoreau’s Journal
by Henry David Thoreau
Most readers know Thoreau’s Walden, but where Thoreau really comes to life is in his journals. This is Thoreau at his most honest, and vulnerable—and his most active. He walks, skates, swims, tastes fermented apples, chops wood, sounds ponds, surveys lots, paddles upriver, builds houses, plays the flute, juggles, shoots, and, on at least one occasion, stares down a woodchuck.
He did all these activities in order to see better. Thoreau, student of the East, was undergoing a kind of purification. Cleansing his lens of perception. Proper seeing, says Thoreau, requires “a separate intention of the eye.” It’s all about the angles. No one played them better than Thoreau. Change your perspective and you change not only how you see but what you see. “From the right point of view,” he writes, “every storm and every drop in it is a rainbow.”