Favourite books

I originally wrote this piece for a group of people interested in personality theory. Hence, the book descriptions also contain a mention of the author’s personality type in code words. This is a personal list, and a growing one, since it reflects my inner journey over the years. The books mentioned here were read solely for the purpose of understanding life better and I can say that I would have been a different person in the absence of any one of them. They are listed in a rough order, which may change from time to time and hence is only an approximation.

1. Most books by J. Krishnamurti, except the dialogues. Krishnamurti intensely describes the activity of the mind in the here and now, helping you come in touch with your own mind and understand the more spiritual, meaningful aspects of it, vis-a-vis those that keep us struggling. The First and Last Freedom and Freedom from the Known are probably the best of his books, although they are all similar. Krishnamurti was a 4, I think and probably the most spiritual person I have come across in books or real life.

2. The Seven Storey Mountain Elected Silence by Thomas Merton – Highly recommended if you are even remotely interested in the spiritual life. Merton wrote this autobiography in his late 20s, describing his itinerant childhood, troubled teenage in the UK, and his turbulent 20s as a political activist and aspiring novelist in New York, before a series of inspirations led him to settling down as a monk in one of the most silent monastic orders of Catholic Christianity. It is a very, very rich narration of a journey from inner emptiness to richness and meaning. Definitely the most inspiring book I have read. I once visited a monastery where 3 of the 4 monks I talked to cited this book as an important influence on their taking up the monastic life. Merton was certainly a 4.


3. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl – touched a deep chord in me in emphasising the significance of meaning in our lives, found either in relationship, or in work, or in accepting our situation with dignity. Frankl was a 4w3, ENFP. A very touching, hope-giving book.

4. The Impact of God: Soundings from St. John of the Cross by Iain Matthew – again, only for those who have an interest in the spiritual life. Basically, it is an explanation of the meaning of suffering. It explains suffering as a source of spiritual growth, especially if we can have the right attitude to it – which is one of open listening. Matthew considers God to be always present, and suffering to be his way of building down our expectations of what we think life should be, which keep us from knowing God. Another deep, contemplative book.

5. I and Thou by Martin Buber – this is a deeply philosophical, intuitive, abstract book, a bit like the sayings of the Taoist masters. It’s theme is that all living is living in relation, first of all in relation to people but also to our own emotional states and to the objects in our lives. Relation can either be deadening and isolating, or enriching and meaning giving. A book with layers and layers of meaning, to be read many times. Many consider it a book that offers a spiritual way of life mostly without bringing in mainstream religion. Buber was a 4w5 INFP, I think. It’s the most 4w5 book I have ever read.

6. Man and His Becoming According to the Vedanta by Rene Guenon – a very philosophical, intellectual book but one which can affect you deeply on your feelings about life, afterlife, and where we all came from.

7. Swamplands of the Soul: New Life in Dismal Places by James Hollis – written by a Jungian psychotherapist, it is based on the idea that negative states of mind aren’t just something to get out of as soon as possible, but something that may hold a potential meaning for where our deeper self wants our life to go. For example, anger sometimes means we are being constricted, and we need to expand, express our being in larger ways. It has a chapter on each negative emotion – sorrow, loneliness, boredom, anger, guilt, etc. Very thoughtful and contemplative.

8. Sculpting in Time: Reflections on the Cinema by Andrei Tarkovsky – Tarkovsky was a visionary filmmaker whose films are always about people seeking the meaning of their life, coming to terms with their experiences, trying to connect to each other deeply, trying to understand their suffering. They are shot in long shots, with many silences and affect you more like music does – pre-verbally, rather than how a narration of a plot does. This book explains Tarkovsky’s view of what cinema should be. From the meaning of cinema, to the meaning of art; from the meaning of art, to the meaning of life – that’s the subject of this book. Another contemplative, abstract but inspiring book for those who want to explore any form of art deeply. Tarkovsky was a 4, probably a 4w5, INFP.

9. Symbol and Archetype: A Study of the Meaning of Existence by Martin Lings – Martin Lings was a Sufi and a scholar of comparative religion. This book examines various elements from nature, passages from scripture, and aspects of the inner world to illustrate that all that we perceive is a symbol of a higher reality. Eventually, all that exists is meant to remind us of the Absolute. A very philosophical, abstract book but one that can subtly alter your perception of life. Martin Lings was probably an INFP, 4w5.

10. The Sign of Jonas by Thomas Merton – This is a collection of Merton’s personal diaries in his initial years at the monastery. It contains descriptions of the simple, ordinary, rooted life Merton lived – cutting wood, farming, writing – and also inspiring descriptions of his rich inner life. Particularly remarkable is an entry called ‘Night Watch’, Merton’s description of his experiences on one night when it is his duty to be awake and watch over the monastery from its roof, sitting in solitude under the starry sky. A beautiful record of a man’s inner world, deeply moving both in its simplicity and its psychological richness.

11. The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society by Henri Nouwen – An inspiring book about the spiritual dynamics of a helping relationship. What happens when a minister or a therapist listens to a person in inner turmoil? How does healing take place, if it does? Nouwen explains that the listener’s own woundedness is essential to his capacity to be an instrument of healing. Without being in touch with it, all healing encounters are superficial. This is set down within a Catholic framework with frequent references to the original wounded healer – Jesus himself. Nouwen was probably a 4w3, ENFP.

12. Becoming Partners by Carl Rogers – Carl Rogers was the most humane, open-minded and humble psychotherapist. Each chapter in this book is an interview of a couple in a relationship that is functional, flourishing, floundering, or otherwise, followed by Rogers’ comments on what he thinks makes the relationship work and not work. Also a lot of writing on the rising divorce rates and the difficulty of being happy in a relationship. Basically says that unconditional positive regard, empathy, and a full exploration of one’s inner states in the presence of a loving partner are central to the growth of a relationship. Rogers was a 9w1, INFP I think.

Updated on 24 January, 2015. 

~ by tdcatss on September 22, 2013.

2 Responses to “Favourite books”

  1. Very interesting list… but I don’t understand references to people as 4w5 and along similar lines. Could you please explain…

  2. Thanks George. Do we know each other ?

    4w5, 9w1, etc. are codes from a personality theory called the Enneagram. You can find out more about it on my post https://nookinthewoods.wordpress.com/2013/06/08/the-enneagram/

    or at various online forums like this one https://www.enneagraminstitute.com/

    The letter codes like ENFP and INFP are from another personality theory called the MBTI. I’d suggest that you read the Wikipedia entry on this if you are interested.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: