Utne Reader magazine devised The Loose Canon: 150 Great Works to Set Your Imagination on Fire . The list consists not just of books, making room for music, cinema, and television--a commendable approach, especially given that, like Kanigel's Vintage Reading or Dirda's Classics for Pleasure, the project seems driven by a goal of offering an addendum to lists of "great books" and other canons. The original article should be read, at least for the relatively-obscure entries. It is replicated here from the magazine's web site (the pages at their site are not well maintained; the text for the Jane Jacobs and Pattern Language entries somewhere got lost). As with the magazine itself, we can predict the lazy critiques that have come its way, probably all making use of the word, "hippie," but the connections between the paired works are generally quite compelling.
What follows is a smorgasbord of books, movies, plays, television shows, and works of music that broaden,deepen, or define the experience of being alive.
What follows is a smorgasbord of books, movies, plays, television shows, and works of music that broaden,deepen, or define the experience of being alive.
They will stretch your thinking, stir your soul, and maybe even offer some startling insights on what to cook for dinner tonight. We created this list out of thousands of recommendations from authors, activists, professors, book club members, spiritual teachers, and bemused observers of the human condition. It's offered not as a checklist to measure your intellectual standing, but as an inspiration, to give you an incentive to pursue your own blissful course of study.
The real value of self-learning is that it connects you with a whole web of knowledge, each new discovery moving you in the direction of further insights. That's why every one of the main selections here points to another work we've listed, which of course will lead you to more and more. Please let us know where this list takes you, and what else you would include.
--Jay Walljasper and Jon Spayde
--Jay Walljasper and Jon Spayde
150 GREAT WORKS...
The Book of Isaiah (ca. 8th - 2nd centuries B.C.E.). The fieriest of the Hebrew prophets zaps the rich, the greedy, and the unjust as well as the ungodly, and calls eloquently for an end to war. The Zohar (ca. 1275) The most beloved and influential of all kabbalistic books, finding magical, mystical meaning at the heart of the Torah.
Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching (3rd century B.C.E.). A political treatise as much as a spiritual text, but readers in China and the West have long been fascinated by its enigmatic doctrine of wise compliance with nature's way. Chuang Tzu: Chuang Tzu (3rd century B.C.E.) The other classic of Taoism is full of delightful stories that illustrate the vast mystery of the world.
Thucydides: History of the Peloponnesian War (431 - 404 B.C.E.). The story of antiquity's Vietnam: a punishing conflict between Athens and Sparta that ripped the Greek world apart. Hesiod: Works and Days (ca. 700 B.C.E.). While his contemporary, Homer, sang of battles and wanderings, Hesiod stayed home and penned hymns to the seasons and the right way to live on the land.
Mahabharata (ca. 400 B.C.E. - 200 C.E.). The Iliad on acid. This vast, fantastically elaborate Indian epic of warfare is also a profound meditation on duty; it contains a religious allegory (The Bhagavad Gita) that has shaped Indian culture as no other book has. Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj: I Am That (1983). Brilliant teachings on the true nature of the self and other tenets of Eastern mysticism from a simple Indian householder.
Marcus Aurelius: Meditations (ca. 2nd century). Somber and eloquent musings on human community, duty, and fate by one of the few Roman emperors who wasn't a murderer or a moron. Lucins Apuleius: The Golden Ass (ca. 2nd century). The opposite side of the Roman mind. Irrepressible high spirits fill this picaresque tale of an apprentice magician who gets turned into a donkey and is rescued by a goddess.
Hildegarde of Bingen: Scivias (1141 - 1151). The mystical visions of a Christian seer who was also the enemy of ecclesiastical and political corruption. Elaine Pagels: The Gnostic Gospels (1979). An insightful exploration of the spiritual fluidity of New Testament times and the various forms of Christianity that existed then -- including doctrines of God the Mother.
Jalal ad-Din ar-Rumi: The Divan of Shams-i-Tabriz (13th century). Passionate poems by the greatest Sufi master. In Rumi, earthly love, including sexual desire, always joins the great river of love that flows to God. Margaret Smith: Râbi`a (1994). A biography of the greatest female saint in Islam, an eighth-century Sufi teacher whose spiritual passion recalls the great women mystics of the West.
François Rabelais: Gargantua and Pantagruel (1532-1546). In this baggy monster of a book, giants cavort, defecate, fornicate, and celebrate the forces of the Renaissance unleashed: human power and passion. Wu Ch'eng-en: Monkey (or, Journey to the West) (1592). Buddhism goes Rabelaisian in this Chinese tale of a monkey with superpowers and his mind-blowing adventures with gods, demons, and the King of Death.
William Shakespeare: Coriolanus (1608). This story about the fall of a Roman general isn't the Big Bard's most famous tragedy, but it is unmatched as a study of what happens to heroism when it's forced to confront political reality. Akira Kurosawa: The Seven Samurai (1954). Out-of-work samurai defend a village against bandits in the greatest action movie ever made, resonant with the noblest themes: justice, loyalty, love, memory, and the resilience of the downtrodden.
Johann Sebastian Bach: Suites for Solo Cello (1720). Bach's magnificent genius shines no matter who's performing -- Pablo Casals, Yo-Yo Ma, or (our favorite) Mstislav Rostropovich. Arvo Part: Te Deum (1993). Spiritual wonder at the immensity of existence still lives in our age, as seen in the majestic work of this Estonian composer.
Samuel Johnson: Rambler, Adventurer, and Idler Essays (1750 - 1760). None of the mundane emotions of daily life -- boredom, embarrassment, daydreams, vague dissatisfaction -- was too trivial for Johnson to take on and ennoble with his rolling ocean of prose. Freya Stark: The Journey's Echo (1920s - 1960s). Excerpts culled from the many books of an extraordinary Englishwoman who camped with desert nomads, explored forbidden cities, and crafted one of the 20th century's finest writing styles.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Don Giovanni (1787). Breaking musical rules, flaunting moral conventions, Mozart's opera was hailed as a masterpiece opening night -- and ever since. Alban Berg: Wozzeck (1922). Berg translated opera for the 20th-century sensibility: a hapless soldier in place of romantic heroes, flourishes of dissonance and atonality on top of arias.
William Blake: The Book of Urizen (1794). One of the most accessible of the poet-visionary's books, this is the story of Urizen ('your reason'), a chilly deity whose kingship over human beings keeps the imagination on the defensive. Allen Ginsberg (with Eric Drooker): Illuminated Poems (1996). A late collection that matches some of the Blake-loving New York poet's best works with Drooker's gritty-but-grandiose illustrations.
Jane Austen: Persuasion (1818). A serene story of love regained between two proud people, written by a novelist for whom the comedy of manners is a way into deeper truths. Lady Murasaki: The Tale of Genji (ca. 1000). The world's first novel of manners (the world's first novel, period) is a Japanese tale of a supremely attractive prince whose lovers form an unforgettable gallery of female sensibilities.
Ludwig van Beethoven: Ninth Symphony (1824). Reaches for the heavens, and gets as close as any music ever written. Gustav Mahler: Fourth Symphony (1902). Another musical imagining of life beyond this realm, joyous but with the recognition of loss.
Henry David Thoreau: Walden (1854). Thoreau is as much a satirist as a nature rhapsodist in this famous memoir as he mixes serene reflection with political and social zingers. Mary Oliver: New and Selected Poems (1992). Nobody puts fewer human beings in her poems than this singer of the magnificence and cruelty of nature. For Oliver, the world of moles, bears, and lilies is a vehicle for understanding deeper truths.
Walt Whitman: Song of Myself (1855). The greatest long poem in American English -- an epic that imagines a human self that's as vast as our landscape. Muriel Rukeyser: A Muriel Rukeyser Reader (1935 - 1976). This poet, activist, and explorer of the American psyche was probing the relationship between sexuality, history, the body, and politics decades before the advent of feminist cultural studies.
Leo Tolstoy: Anna Karenina (1875 - 1877). Tighter and more tragic than War and Peace, this story of doomed adultery is no less of a panorama of the corruption and idealism of Russian society. Alexander Herzen: My Past and Thoughts (1852 - 53). The most humane of Russian socialist revolutionaries tells, in prose as vivid as the great Russian novelists', the story of his adventures as a thorn in the czar's side.
Mohandas Gandhi: The Gandhi Reader (1900s - 1950s). No one in the 20th century more profoundly nor successfully challenged the prevailing order -- it's a life well stocked with lessons and inspiration for those seeking to change the world. Paulo Freire & Myles Horton: We Make the Road by Walking (1990). A seminal Brazilian educator trades ideas about social change and education with a legendary American organizer.
Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th edition (1910). The classic edition, acclaimed for its fine writing, offers a window on the world as it existed before the shiny-new, high-speed values of the 20th century took over. Bill Bryson: Made in America (1994). A riotous and grandly researched romp through the history of English that also serves as handy revisionist history of our land.
Marcel Proust: Remembrance of Things Past (1913 - 1927). The Everest of novels, offering a similarly spectacular view of nature -- in this case, human nature. E.M. Forster: Howard's End (1910). Even better than the movie, a story of how modern society muscled out the traditional ways of English culture.
Rainer Maria Rilke: Duino Elegies (1923). The greatest spiritual poet of the century shows the beauty and the terror of wrestling with all that's unfathomable in life. Tu Fu: Poems (8th century). Somber and reflective, Tu Fu lived in a turbulent era of Chinese history and wrote political poetry of a beauty and density rarely equaled anywhere.
Antonio Gramsci: Prison Notebooks (1926 - 1937). An Italian Marxist martyr whose keen thinking on the role of mass media, civil society, and power politics in society is still important in the postcommunist world. Subcomandante Marcos: Shadows of Tender Fury (1995). Communiqu*s from the masked rebel who speaks for the insurgent Mexican peasants of Chiapas: 'We are nothing if we walk alone; we are everything when we walk together in step with other dignified feet.'
Marx Brothers & Leo McCarey: Duck Soup (1933). Amidst all the hilarious mayhem, the brothers Marx offer trenchant commentary on the all-out idiocy of war. Stanley Kubrick: Dr. Strangelove (1964). Not only the best (and probably only) comedy about nuclear war, but also one of the funniest satires on any subject.
Robert Johnson: Complete Recordings (1936 - 37). Haunting distillations of hard living from the most legendary blues singer of them all. Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five: The Message (1982). Stark scenes of ghetto life comin' at ya in a riveting rhythmic recitation -- rap music at the peak of its powers.
Pablo Neruda: Canto General (1938 - 1950). In this book-length epic, the towering Chilean leftist poet explores the geography, history, and troubled fate of Latin America from a life-affirming point of view. Clarice Lispector: The Hour of the Star (1977). In exquisitely simple prose, this Brazilian Jewish novelist turns the heartbreakingly ordinary life of a forgettable young girl of the slums into heroic poetry.
Duke Ellington: In a Mellotone (1940). In the absence of a royal family, America created an aristocracy of jazz -- in which the Duke always holds court. John Coltrane: A Love Supreme (1964). The giant of free jazz saw playing the saxophone as a form of prayer.
Billie Holiday: Lady in Autumn (1940s - 1950s). Pain crackles through her voice, but there's also a deep passion and poignance that may be unsurpassed in recording history. Amalia Rodrigues: Monitor Presents . (1960). Fado is Portugal's blues -- sad and stirring sounds rising out of slums and shanties -- and Rodrigues' powerful voice makes her the master of the form.
Hank Williams: 40 Greatest Hits (1940s - 1950s). Although he's worshipped as the patron saint of Nashville, Hank goes further than anyone in country music at evoking both the sorrow and joy of being alive. Johnny Cash: The Sun Years (1950s). A sharecropper's son with his hand on the pulse of American music -- call it country, rock, or folk, it's all Johnny Cash.
James Agee & Walker Evans: Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941). A roving reporter and photojournalist find poetry as well as pain in the lives of Depression-era cotton farmers. John Berger: Pig Earth (1979). A celebration of French peasants living close to the land, sparing none of the blood, sweat, or splendor.
Orson Welles: Citizen Kane (1941). This echt-American tale of the making of a capitalist titan gets better with every viewing. Robert Altman: Nashville (1975). Altman's chaotic, everybody's-talking style meshed perfectly with the theme in this country-music saga: America adrift socially, sexually, and politically -- and looking for a reason to believe.
Gore Vidal: United States: Essays (1951 - 1990). Elegant and incisive analysis of American literature, politics, and history from our most brilliant wit. His patrician bearings don't stop him from exposing the darkness lurking in the heart of the American dream. Howard Zinn: A People's History of the United States (1980). From Columbus to corporate power, here's what your high school history teacher glossed over: bare-knuckled injustice and ruthless class bias that has sparked an impassioned tradition of resistance.
Howlin' Wolf: His Best (1950s - 1960s). Rawboned, wailin' Chicago blues with undertones of pride, hope, and even joy. Los Lobos: Just Another Band from East L.A. (1980s - 1990s). A wonderful blend of bar band boogie, Mexican folk styles, mythic borderland themes, and serious dedication to rock 'n' roll artistry.
Simone de Beauvoir: The Second Sex (1952). In the opening volley of the modern struggle for women's rights, Beauvoir portrays women as a distinct class in need of economic freedom. Mary Daly: Gyn/Ecology (1978). A radical feminist combines theology, mythology, philosophy, history, and biology in her examination of centuries of sexism.
Ralph Ellison: Invisible Man (1952). This stark parable illuminates the plight of African Americans by way of existentialism, absurdism, and other currents of international postwar thought. Nathaniel Mackey: Bedouin Hornbook/Djbot Baghostus's Run (1986-1993). Avant-garde literature you can love: an evolving multivolume novel of the jazz world that plays with language and ideas the way Thelonious Monk plays with flatted fifths.
James Baldwin: Collected Essays (1955 - 1986). Angry and eloquent, Baldwin expresses the complicated experience of being black before, during, and after the civil rights movement. Cornel West: Race Matters (1993). A preacher and Harvard professor looks deep into the soul of contemporary American culture in search of ways to overcome racism and the self-destructive impulses that racism spawns.
Satyajit Ray: The Apu Trilogy (1955 - 1959). Effortlessly told, luminously portrayed, this growing-up story of a Bengali boy insists that life's simplest truths are always its most resonant ones. Abbas Kiarostami: Where Is My Friend's Home? (1995). This Iranian director is often called the heir to Ray -- and his quiet film about a little boy trying to return a notebook to a friend has a lot of the Indian master's less-is-more sense of conviction.
Naguib Mahfouz: The Cairo Trilogy (1956 - 57). In a leisurely, sensual family saga, the Arab world's first Nobel laureate tells the story of modern Egypt from street level. Pramoedya Ananta Toer: The Buru Quartet (1969 - 1979). Deprived of paper in prison, this often-jailed Indonesian novelist dictated his multivolume masterpiece of anti-colonialism (and veiled anti-Suharto-ism) to fellow prisoners, who kept it alive in their memories till he could write it down.
Ingmar Bergman: The Seventh Seal (1957). A gripping philosophical inquiry into whether God exists played out in the story of a medieval knight home from the Crusades. John Sayles: The Secret of Roan Inish (1995). An enchanting fairy tale about family secrets and the endurance of tradition set among the myth-lush scenery of Ireland's west coast.
Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong: Verve Recordings (1956 - 57). Two vocal masters at the height of their powers make this roster of standards, including all of Porgy and Bess, completely their own -- a truly joyful occasion. Louis Armstrong: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1922 - 1934). Few CD box sets could live up to this title, but this collection captures the young Armstrong at his most inspired, creating the music that turned the jazz age inside out.
Chinua Achebe: Things Fall Apart (1958). This saga of a Nigerian villager torn from his past by missionaries and colonialists, yet unwilling to 'modernize,' sums up the central spiritual dilemma of the 'developing' world. Edward Said: Culture and Imperialism (1993). Palestinian-born critic Said wants us to understand the colonialism implicit in many of the great 19th-century works of literature -- not just to be PC, but to make them richer reading experiences.
Jane Jacobs: The Death and Life of Great American Cities
Christopher Alexander et al.: A Pattern Language
Christopher Alexander et al.: A Pattern Language
Francois Truffaut: Jules and Jim (1961). Everybody's favorite m*nage-?-trois movie follows the story of three bohemian friends in World War I-era France. Swift changes of tone from sadness to whimsy keep you guessing -- and remind you what life is really like. Jean-Luc Godard: Two or Three Things I Know About Her (1967). Godard's deadpan mock-documentary about a prostitute is full of ironies that stand for the deeper disorders of modern life.
Rachel Carson: Silent Spring (1962). The famous wakeup call about the dangers of pesticides. What makes the book still compelling is the clarity of Carson's ecological vision and her ominous warnings about unchecked corporate power. Lynn Margulis & Dorion Sagan: What Is Life? (1995). This beautiful large-format book uses design and image as well as language to show how biological cooperation works alongside competition in the process of evolution.
Thelonious Monk: Monk's Dream (1962). Monk is one of the masters of modern composition and, in the words of critic Martin Williams, 'a virtuoso of the basic materials of jazz: time, meter, accent, space.' Miles Davis: Kind of Blue (1959). Davis is the Chartres cathedral of jazz improvisation, or maybe Chartres is the Miles Davis of Gothic architecture.
Thomas Kuhn: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962). Kuhn made paradigm into almost a household word, and he brings a new understanding of the dynamics of intellectual development in science -- and, by implication, all other fields of knowledge. James Gleick: Chaos (1987). Charting the seeming randomness of weather patterns and traffic jams, chaos theory reminds us that the universe does not behave according to our best calculations; something more complicated and interesting is at work.
Kenneth Rexroth: An Autobiographical Novel (1965). The elder statesman of the Beat Generation vividly narrates wild tales of his bawdy, boho youth in jazz-age Chicago. Harvey Pekar: New American Splendor Anthology (1991). The real world that you never see on TV. An engrossing comic book series about the everyday life of a working-class comic book writer in Cleveland.
Bob Dylan: Highway 61 Revisited (1965). 'How does it feel?' Dylan sang -- and pop music (and numerous other things) would never be the same again. Iris DeMent: The Way I Should (1996). A honky-tonk singer-songwriter, full of rollicking good-time rhythms and twanging hard-luck stories, but also outrage at America's escalating injustice.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez: One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967). Garcia Marquez' saga of a Colombian family introduced something new to the modern novel: a fusion of political concern, exquisitely inventive fantasy, and a sense of the immortality of human desire. Tony Kushner: Angels in America (1993). In this magical multilayered play about a gay man dying of AIDS, Kushner widens the American mind and heart.
Aretha Franklin: Queen of Soul: The Very Best Vols. 1 & 2 (1960s-1990s). Franklin's ecstatic renderings brought the sweet soul of gospel music into R&B. Marion Williams: Surely God Is Able (1989). This superb gospel singer -- called 'America's greatest living singer' by rock critic Dave Marsh -- gives a powerful, rollicking voice to the Holy Spirit.
Michael Murphy: Golf in the Kingdom (1972). Carlos Castaneda with a nine iron: a mystical fantasy of one man's quest for perfect golf -- and inner peace -- under the tutelage of Shivas Irons, the Don Juan of the driving range. Steve James, Fred Marx, & Peter Gilbert: Hoop Dreams (1994). Visions of NBA stardom and the realities of life in Chicago's inner city shape the lives of two black high school stars in this poignant documentary that raises serious questions about the American sports machine.
E.F. Schumacher: Small Is Beautiful (1973). A surprise best-seller from an English economist making the simple but exceedingly radical observation that large-scale projects tend to turn into disasters. Ivan Illich: Tools for Conviviality (1973). A maverick thinker takes aim at the institutions of modern technological society, from medicine to transportation, convincingly showing that most of them offer us far less than is commonly assumed.
Ursula K. Le Guin: The Dispossessed (1974). A science-fiction journey to an anarchist utopia filled with intriguing theories about society, science, and spirituality. Starhawk: The Fifth Sacred Thing (1993). A thought-provoking novel about an ecotopian society of the future forced to defend its green lands and gentle ways against an invading technofascist army.
Federico Fellini: Amarcord (1974). A bittersweet, slightly surreal, and altogether engaging comedy of Italian village life, focusing on a gang of schoolboys hungry to figure out the meaning of sex, religion, family, and politics. Edgar Reitz: Heimat (1984). The evolution of the modern world from World War I to the Cold War of the '80s as seen through the eyes of one German village -- a masterful, completely captivating 16-hour saga that makes most other films feel like mere anecdotes.
Bob Marley: Songs of Freedom (1960s - 1970s). Not just the giant of reggae but also a music master whose social commentary matches that of any of his rock 'n' roll peers. I.K. Dairo and His Bluespots: JuJu Master (1960s). One of the grandparents of today's world beat music, Dairo added electric guitar and accordion to traditional Nigerian rhythms, spawning the dazzling JuJu sound and setting the stage for the emergence of African pop.
Leslie Marmon Silko: Ceremony (1977). The odyssey of an American Indian World War II veteran from shell shock and drunken madness to redemption through the healing power of Native ritual. John G. Neihardt: Black Elk Speaks (1932). The profundity of a Lakota holy man's teachings, as revealed to a white writer, transformed the wider culture's image of Native spirituality.
Anaïs Nin: Delta of Venus (1977). Underrated as a fiction writer, the famous memoirist is also a splendid erotic writer whose lyrical turn-ons prove that there's as much sexual excitement in a perfectly shaped phrase as in a hot body part. Margo Anand: The Art of Sexual Ecstasy (1989). A Tantric sex manual showing how spiritual awareness can channel the body's pleasures to enlighten the heart and build mature love.
The Clash: London Calling (1979). Smarts, spunk, overflowing creativity, and a sharp political edge made these boyos into one of the greatest rock bands ever. The Pogues: If I Should Fall from Grace with God (1988). Punk bumps into traditional Irish music late one night in a smoky pub, with utterly exhilarating results.
Dario Fo: Accidental Death of an Anarchist (1980). A radical jester but nobody's fool, this Nobel Prize-winning Italian playwright deploys comedy, absurdity, and slapstick sabotage to undermine authoritarian power. Caryl Churchill: Cloud Nine (1981). Merry mischief on stage as all the political and personal parameters surrounding sex, class, and the fall of the British Empire are turned upside down.
Pier Paolo Pasolini: Poems (1982). The great filmmaker is also a great poet: a singer of the forgotten poor on the dirty edges of Italy's postwar economic recovery, a stunning nature poet, and a relentless examiner of his own troubled life. Kenji Miyazawa: Spring and Asura (1924). Miyazawa is a rarity: a brilliant avant-garde poet who was also a dedicated helper of the poor. These poems from once-impoverished northern Japan crackle with visionary intensity and Buddhist clarity.
Riane Eisler: The Chalice and the Blade (1987). Eisler relates how critical the roles of cooperation and sexual equality have been in the evolution of human culture -- not only to correct the idea that might-makes-right makes history, but also to point out the direction humankind might follow from here. Susan Griffin: Woman and Nature (1978). A powerful exposition of how women and the natural world have been seen as versions of each other -- and violated in strangely similar ways.
Toni Morrison: Beloved (1987). An escaped slave murders her baby to save the child from being returned to bondage under the Fugitive Slave Act. From this terrifying true story Morrison fashions a lyrical, ghostly novel of love and remorse. Zora Neale Hurston: Dust Tracks on a Road (1942). The spirited autobiography of the Harlem Renaissance novelist and anthropologist who enshrined the poetic genius of black folklife.
August Wilson: Joe Turner's Come and Gone (1987). A revealing portrait of the African American extended family and the role mystical belief plays in it -- not just as picturesque 'hoodoo,' but as a very real tool of survival in a world that often makes no sense. Anna Deavere Smith: Twilight, Los Angeles 1992 (1994). The pioneer of documentary theater, Deavere Smith interviewed 200 people involved in some way with the Rodney King case and incorporated their words into a riveting one-woman show.
Jamaica Kincaid: A Small Place (1988). Read this unrelenting essay on the psychological effects of Caribbean colonialism and tourism and you'll understand why the guy serving you rum punches in your favorite island paradise does not like you. Gloria Anzaldúa: Borderlands/La Frontera (1987). The Chicana poet and critic uses her own life as a springboard for a freewheeling, poem-enriched collage of reflections on being Latina, being queer, and the postmodernity of the Aztecs.
Noam Chomsky & Edward Herman: Manufacturing Consent (1988). An eye-opening account about why media propaganda is subtler yet more prevalent in America than in other nations. Rick Goldsmith: Tell the Truth and Run (1996). An entertaining documentary about George Seldes, a legendary foreign correspondent of the '20s and '30s who became the granddaddy of the alternative press.
Charlotte Joko Beck: Everyday Zen (1989). Zen never seemed less like an endurance contest and more like a path to genuine healing than in this down-to-earth, plainspoken guide. Sogyal Rinpoche: The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying (1993). A Tibetan answer to The Divine Comedy complete with mind-boggling stories and the real deal on living your dying.
Matt Groening: The Simpsons (1989-). An 'anti-sitcom' that shishkabobs every shabby contemporary trend from infomercials to 'safe' nuclear power without a whisper of political correctness. Ernie Kovacs (1951-1962). This small-screen pioneer created a surreal world of sight and sound gags -- women disappear as they take off their clothes, hula hoops cut people in half, typewriters tap to music all by themselves -- that stretched and celebrated the new medium.
Viana La Place: Verdura -- Vegetables Italian-style (1991). Earthy recipes for fulfillment -- one of the easiest and most rewarding vegetarian cookbooks around. Erich Schiffmann: Yoga -- The Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness (1996). A guide to inhabiting your body in new ways. This accessible, clearly written book opens a doorway to yoga for newcomers and jaded veterans alike.
Julia Cameron: The Artist's Way (1992). It's not about how to paint or write or dance -- it's about how to nurture the part of you that's afraid to paint or write or dance. Cameron's pathway to creativity is through health and fulfillment, not purgatorial pain. Brenda Ueland: If You Want to Write (1938). Shining with the visionary high-mindedness of the old American avant-garde, this classic on unblocking your inner writer recommends watchful laziness, cheerful egotism, and flat-out joy.
Dorothy Allison: Bastard out of Carolina (1992). In the turbulent Southern-poor-white world of this novel, incest isn't a joke -- it's a powerful, brutal family reality, movingly and convincingly portrayed. Sharon Olds: The Dead and the Living (1984). No-holds-barred poems about Olds' own abusive family risk self-indulgence in order to deliver a knockout emotional punch.
James Hillman & Michael Ventura: We've Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy -- and the World's Getting Worse (1993). Enlightening conversations on the nature -- and limitations -- of therapy, especially the danger of cordoning off psychology from the gritty world of civic and political life. Alice Miller: The Drama of the Gifted Child (1983). A bad title but a good book, which explores the hollowness within people whose parents instill in them an insistent and urgent expectation of success.
Rupert Sheldrake: Seven Experiments That Could Change the World (1995). Empirically probing the mysteries of life that the scientific establishment refuses to acknowledge, the celebrated biologist invites us to share in the creation of a New Science. Wim Wenders: Wings of Desire (1987). A profound, non-sappy exploration of the interplay between the angelic realm and earthly desire.
Cesaria Evora: Cesaria Evora (1995). A barefoot diva who touches the whole world with her stirring interpretations of Cape Verde's melancholy morna music. Umm Kulthum: Al-Atlaal (1966). This beloved Egyptian singer sent audiences into frenzy with love songs that hover between despair and ecstasy.
David Abram: The Spell of the Sensuous (1996). There's far more to the world than science can measure, says anthropologist and magician Abram, proving his point with a rich helping of examples from indigenous cultures. Robert Flaherty: Nanook of the North (1922). A still-fascinating portrait of the life and traditions of the Itivimuit people of Hudson's Bay that helped launch documentary filmmaking.
Fritjof Capra: The Web of Life (1996). Challenging all who think the world functions like a machine, Capra examines the new science of life and explores possibilities for an emerging ecological politics. Paul Hawken: The Ecology of Commerce (1993). At last -- a business guru who talks about something other than fatter profits. A calm and illuminating discussion of how the economic order must adapt to environmental realities.