New South Wales coast, as interpreted by Mark Holder

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Version: 3.0
(February 8, 2014)

.Books.

My mother taught me to read when I was 4. It was certainly the greatest gift anyone could ever give me and I'm forever in her debt for doing so. I've had my nose stuck in a book ever since. I can't recall the number of books read in my life tho they would surely in the hundreds. At one time I owned over 200 books and had read them all before giving away, trading or selling them. For some reason I felt I needed a personal library and bought (and read!) every book I'd ever wanted.

The first book I remember reading was The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien. Unless you've been under a rock for the last few years, you'll have noticed Tolkien has undergone a resurgence in popularity, no doubt by the popularity of the films of The Lord of the Rings trilogy by Peter Jackson. Jackson's work, brilliant in its own right, is a magnum effort to bring 3 very large books to the screen in a manner acceptable to the books' legion of fans. I feel he has achieved this goal admirably. However good the films may be, they hearken back to their author, much the same way the ring refers to its master. Tolkien was a living encyclopedia of myth and legend, a writer of imagination who wove tales of fantasy that inspire to this day. For an example of Tolkien's influence, just listen to the music of Led Zeppelin, whose lyricist/singer, Robert Plant, a die hard fan, wrote several songs referring directly to Tolkien's work.

Tolkien was the first author I read, but the title of favorite is a two-way race between Henry Miller and Jack Kerouac. Miller, a Brooklyn boy who went to Paris to write, and Kerouac, a New Englander who traveled the globe, have much in common, despite their generational differences. Both traveled, were interested in Eastern philosophy/religion, and both surrounded themselves with other artists in whom they found inspiration. Above all, they were both writers, masters of their form, tho neither would ever be described as faultless. Both spoke the language of the common man; Miller's best-known works, Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn were banned in the US for 27 years for their use of four-letter words. Kerouac wrote with the enthusiasm of the post-war youth, using slang and describing all-night jazz and poetry jams. On The Road, Kerouac's Bible of the Beat Generation, written during a 3 week remembrance of his travels across the US, sought to marry language with the rhythms of modern jazz. Both writers pushed the boundaries of literature and continue to be discovered by new readers to this day.

At the time of this writing, Kerouac leads the race. His novella, Tristessa, about his falling in love with a junkie prostitute in Mexico, is my personal favourite piece by him. Jack wrestled with his own personal demons (most notably alcoholism) and shared his highs and lows with the world, pulling no punches, laying bare his soul.

A close third (and rapidly gaining) is the late John Fante, the under appreciated author of the Bandini Quartet. Fante was a writer of great passion, one who might be considered the link between Miller and Kerouac. Altho he was unknown as a novelist for most of his life, those who read his work found it greatly inspiring. Included among his fans are the poet Charles Bukowski and screenwriter Robert Towne, whose magnum opus "Chinatown" was partly inspired by the 1930s Los Angeles of Fante's novels. Towne would bring Fante's Ask The Dust to the big screen in 2006 after 30 years of effort.

Gao Xingjian is a Chinese author/artist and Nobel Prize winner for literature (2000) whose novel, Soul Mountain, is an immense work of biographical fiction. In a nutshell, it tells Xingjian's story of being a dissident artist in post-Cultural Revolution China. Facing prison for his anti-authoritarian work, he is diagnosed with lung cancer, which killed his father before him. Facing death, he lives well, dining and reading to his heart's content. Some weeks later he finds he has been misdiagnosed and returns to the world of the living. The threat of prison renewed, he flees Beijing, traveling into the forests and mountains of eastern China on foot and by bus. Soul Mountain is written with clarity and imagery that make it a delight to read, so much so that even 500+ pages feel too short. Gao Xingjian now lives in Paris, writing and painting to his heart's content.

Hunter S. Thompson, Dr. Gonzo, the deceased father of gonzo journalism. Thompson introduced a new style of journalism in the 1960's; instead of reporting objectively, he became a part of his subject, whether it be the Hell's Angels Motorcycle Club or reporting from the political trail, Thompson threw caution, and at times, credibility, to the wind. His tales of hippie-era San Francisco, Nixon-era Washington, Reaganomics, and drugs, drugs, drugs make for a surreal roller coaster read. When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.

George Orwell must surely have been a prophet. His nightmare vision of the future, 1984 has sadly predicted the rise of the state over the individual, wars without end, propaganda over truth, totalitarianism over reason... in short, almost everything facing 21st Century society. I would suggest this book, quite possibly the most important piece of literature of the post-War era, to anyone giving even a slight moment of their time to mass media.

Walt Whitman is my favorite poet and Leaves of Grass my favourite collection. Whitman wrote of the universal beauty of nature and man's place in it. Song of Myself is perhaps his best-known piece; each verse a celebration of being alive. The Whitman Archive hosts numerous versions of his major works.

Poet William Blake - printer, engraver, poetic genius. His work glows with a richness and vision that is as beautiful as 1984 was dreadful. Blake was known to have visions of angels and Paradise that profoundly influenced his work and life. Forever remembered for The Marriage of Heaven and Hell and The Tiger, Blake died a pauper and is buried in an unmarked grave in England.

Ram Dass (see the Links page) is the author of one of my favorite books, Be Here Now, which tells of his spiritual awakening in India after years of playing games as a psychoanalyst. The book also acts as a guide for those seeking to follow their own path. Best of all, the book is written using lots of hippie slang, making it easily understood by virtually anyone born in the post-WWII era. He's also written a number of books relating to aging, caring for the dying, and more.

Huston Smith's masterpiece, The World's Religions, is an encyclopedic look at the many faiths of humankind, written from a different point of view. Rather than simply distill the teachings of these faiths to a minimum, Smith actually practiced them, meditating in India, attending Christian churches, even undergoing rituals in Native American sweat lodges. By doing so, he can offer a first-hand account of each faith he writes about. Truly a massive undertaking by one man to better understand all of man.

Voluntary Simplicity by Duane Elgin is a book that I can honestly say changed my life in many meaningful ways. In the mid-1990s I was the typical materialist, obsessed with possessions and money, completely miserable with my so-called comfortable lifestyle. I always needed something more and found it, paradoxically, with less. Elgin's book inspired me to stop being ruled by things and to start living. I trimmed away the fat of my life, selling or giving away most everything I found to be unnecessary; the feeling of liberation this brought about was revelatory. I also began reading Be Here Now at about this time. I recommend Voluntary Simplicity to anyone on the work-produce-consume treadmill they mistake for a life. For a darker look at the work-produce-consume mentality and its possible origins, see Blueprint For A Prison Planet.

Alain de Botton presents philosophical ideas in such a way as to make it fun and interesting. His books include The Art of Travel, The Consolations of Philosophy, and his most recent work, Status Anxiety. Each covers a number of very modern problems and offers advice and solutions from a surprising array of sources, many of them ancient. Great thinking distilled for easy comprehension.

Graham Hancock's Fingerprints Of The Gods is a mind-expanding epic about the possibility of a lost, highly advanced civilization. It begins with a story of a map dated from 1513AD that accurately charts the coast of Antarctica - a continent not officially discovered for another several hundred years. The map's author stated in his notes that the southern region of his map was based on a far older map. How was this possible, Hancock asks, offering a number of theories involving flood myths, geological shifts and the occasional extraterrestrial visit. A rewarding book for anyone willing to look beyond the accepted timeline of human history. Running in a similar vein is the work of Jim Marrs, a researcher who pushes the boundaries of what is accepted with such books as "Rule By Secrecy".

Speaking of history, a fine alternate history is "The Man In The High Castle" by the late Philip K Dick. In this book, the Axis powers win World War II, the USA is occupied by the Japanese on the west coast and the Nazis on the east. A brilliant book by a brilliant writer whose works inspired such films as "Bladerunner" and "Total Recall."