I’ve always loved reading non-fiction as much as fiction, and have a particular attraction to all things philosophy and psychology. I always manage to take something away from every book I read and feed it into my worldview, so I thought it would be an interesting exercise to write a little bit about the ones that have had the biggest impact on me over the years. I’ve chosen my top 5, listed in the order I read them.
1. Friedrich Nietzsche – Thus Spoke Zarathustra
When I was 15, I wrote an essay on my typewriter called ‘The Personal God’. It wasn’t for school, and it wasn’t really planned out; it just sort of wrote itself. In it, I set out my reasons for believing that God was created subjectively in the minds of men, and that the concept of a mythical overlord was becoming less relevant as we developed as a species. It wasn’t great: I was 15. But it meant that when I saw a documentary about Nietzsche on TV a few months later – the first time I’d ever heard of him – I was immediately drawn to his ideas. I got a copy of Thus Spoke Zarathustra as soon as I could, devoured it, and covered it in pencil notes.
Apart from the opinions on women he expresses in the book, which frankly seem primitive compared to his other musings, there are many themes that made a big impression on me. The will to power, the bowels of existence; herd morality. His succinct descriptions of the suffering that is so very human and rooted in the self. The idea that the only meaning we can create in this absurdity we call life is that which we make for ourselves. His existentialism set my mindset up nicely to understand the ideas of Thelema a couple of years later, and I have continued to return to this book and his others many times. I think there is an appropriate Nietzsche quote for every situation in life.
2. C.G. Jung – The Essential
Jung’s psychology has had a profound impact on the way I see the world. Generally, a major criticism of his work is that he was swayed too readily by mystical fancies, yet the very fact he was not afraid to face the metaphysical and the unknown is one of the reasons he appeals to me so much. His thought attempts to bridge the gap between science and religion, the rational and the irrational, and had he been around to see modern developments in neuroscience I think he’d have had a lot more to give.
Science or pseudoscience, Jung’s model of the psyche works very well for me. I use it to analyse my mental states, my dreams, my path to individuation (which is remarkably similar to both alchemy and, at times, taoism), and the way I interact with others. His thoughts on the collective unconscious and personal myth constantly feed into my creative work.
I chose this book as the one that shaped me simply because it is the first one of his I read. I borrowed it from my local library when I was about 16 or 17, and was hooked on Jung’s style straight away. Since then I have been working my way through all of his books, including the stunning Red Book, the full folio version of which sits pride of place on my bookshelf.