15 Great Books That Will Incidentally Improve Your Philosophical Health Without Trying Too Much

  1. Will make you be more self-assertive and creative: Thus Spoke Zarathustra (F. Nietzsche)

The Masterpiece of Masterpieces, a blending of fiction and non-fiction on the creative meaning of life. Written to forget about loneliness and to celebrate our longing for friendship.

2. Will make you be more playful and detached, even with serious matters: The Dice Man (G. Cockcroft)

A cult novel of the Seventies. What if we acted based on randomness, would we be more authentic? We have too many domestic or social goals, and they hinder our vitality.

3. Will make you stick to your deepest ideal: The Fountainhead (A. Rand)

A controversial author applies the lessons of Zarathustra (see above, number 1) to build the ultimate novel about creative integrity. Too bad Rand became an advocate of capitalism, due to her family’s trauma with communism.

4. Will remind you that experience and passion is better than hearsay knowledge: The Red and the Black (Stendhal)

The ultimate romantic novel in the noble sense: ideal, passion, pride, and some prejudice.

5. Will make you less attached to your social image and more attuned with your personal thinking: Being and Neonness (de Miranda)

How and why the twentieth century transformed us all into neon lights. I wrote this one, so feel free to consider it should not be on the list. The collateral lesson here is that if you are not proud of what you write, stop writing.

6. Will make you think that you can also be a philosopher by venturing outside the codes: A Thousand Plateaus (Deleuze & Guattari)

This is philosophy liberated from academic rules, with many inspiring insights and many self-contradictions too. A reminder that good philosophy must also be a form of poetry, not just analytic sleeping pills.

7. Will remind you that one can smile and smile and be a murderer: Candide (Voltaire)

Unfair criticism of Leibniz in the form of a comical and picaresque novel. A fair account of the cruelty of the human race. Cultivate your garden (see below, number 15).

8. Will remind you that a life without adventure and mystery is not worth being lived: The New York Trilogy (P. Auster)

The most familiar things can be strange food for thought. There are epistemic crimes and not just bloody crimes – after all Sherlock Holmes is a failed philosopher (according to Conan Doyle himself).

9. Will remind you that humour and a sense for nonsense is vital: Ferdydurke (W. Gombrowicz)

Sometimes is good to stop making sense and consider that much of what is presented as normal behaviour is in fact ridiculous. When should we be mature and when should we remain immature? A matter of wisdom and humour.

10. Will remind you to reach for the sublime but to know when to move on: The Unknown Masterpiece (H. de Balzac)

Perfectionism will kill you. Life is raw, and sometimes it’s good to keep it that way, instead of editing everything to death.

11. Will reconnect you with your inner fantasy and your childish joy: The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy (L. Sterne)

There is always someone who has a bigger ego than you, and whose ego trip is more flamboyant. Don’t bother and keep your fantasy alert by not confusing Shandy and Sterne.

12. Will remind you of the care for the here and now: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (R. Pirsig)

Doing is a way of thinking. Doing well is a way of thriving. Caring for the present in its sophisticated quirkiness is healthy.

13. Will remind you that life is war and love, both being intertwined in an epic narrative: Journey to the End of the Night (LF. Céline)

This is War and Peace for postmodern times. Even in the midst of global chaos your are creating your autobiographical narrative. Make it epic enough, since other people and events will make it pathetic.

14. Will teach you to see the labyrinth and know that IN is OUT and OUT is IN: The Aleph (JL Borges)

Labyrinths everywhere: you can get lost if you forget that you are the centre of your own experience. You are your A but perhaps not your Z. Or vice versa.

15. Will give you the courage to think: Meditations (Descartes)

Books are good but they should not come first when you are thinking about the meaning of life. Trust your own experience, your own imagination, your own mind first. Meditate not by emptying your mind, but by philosophising and feeling at the same time.

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