These (→) are some of the books I read last year; the ones I enjoyed most. Out of around eighty-five books, it wasn’t easy to select only around ten. I decided to exclude anything by Steiner. Also, for example, von Stuckrad’s book Western Esotericism, which I greatly recommend, as it provides a very good introduction; same goes for Heiner Ullrich’s Steiner biography, which I read at last, and which is the best I’ve read so far. So basically all books on esotericism or by esotericists. Well, this is depending on how you see it. But none of the ones I chose are explicitly esoteric.
Harris’s book — promising, of all things, spirituality without religion — may seem like a suspicious choice. But it was lovely to read. It also contains a section where Harris discusses the familiar old question: is ‘spirituality’ a word that could even be used in a meaningful way? It’s the word that has cause so much confusion (not at least in discussion of these things); all those people who claim that others, who don’t share their beliefs, deny they value of the spiritual, while being unable to explain what it actually is. I particularly remember anthroposophists who, when asked what it is, then, that they think people like me don’t value, respond that the spiritual is ‘thinking’. Well, okay. I long thought it a useless word because it is so ill-defined or defined so widely it can be taken to mean just about anything. That is still the case, much of the time. Is it thinking or other inner experiences? Is it records with whale-song? Is it angel hierarchies or communicating with penguins? Wishy-washy paintings or glittering hearts flowing through the air with rainbows and unicorns?
Anyway, Harris does believe one can use the word ‘spirituality’ in a meaningful way; actually, he thinks the concept is indispensable. And, without bowing to a God, he believes firmly in transcendent experiences, which sets him apart from many of his fellow atheists. I’d like to mention another book — which I also read last year — in connection with Harris’s, and happens to be anthroposophist Arthur Zajonc’s book about meditation (Meditation as Contemplative Inquiry). It didn’t make it to my list, but it’s not too bad.
And, oh, how I’d love to see or hear a dialogue between the two of them. Harris, of course, is and remains a rationalist and a sceptic. Zajonc is very readable; he’s also quite level-headed, quite reasonable in fact, and there isn’t any channeling of penguins in his work.
Then to the rest of the list: Zweig’s memoirs are lovely, and (as a small bonus) there’s also a page or so about one of his contemporaries who also happens to be our ethereal friend, namely Steiner. This year, I also read his Schachnovelle. Utterly fascinating, actually, a product of genius.
As for James Salter, his collection of stories (including, forgive me, I can’t help myself: ‘The Destruction of the Goetheanum’) is wonderful, but I could have mentioned Light Years as well, a novel. Torgny Lindgren’s most recent book (included on my list) was great, but I also read an older work of his: Pölsan. You could get it in English, and in my opinion, you should.
I could have mentioned also this longish short story by Dostojevski, though it doesn’t quite qualify as a novel or a proper book. I also read some fascinating novels by Selma Lagerlöf, it’s all very old stuff, of course. Among more recent Swedish literature, I’d like to say something about Lena Andersson: the sequel to this novel doesn’t seem to have been translated yet, but it is brilliant; I liked the new one more (not in English yet). She’s got one of those crystal clear brains; her language is like a pure mountain stream, it flows with effortless magic while every stone, rock and fish — nay, every grain of sand — remains visible. She’s one of those people who have no use for obscurity or obfuscation, because she knows how to think and to make use of her thinking. (I, being very muddled, admire that kind of thing.)
On to Karl-Ove Knausgård, who is invaluable and who did make it to the list; I assume that the collection of essays that is on my list (Själens Amerika) hasn’t been translated, but all six parts of his enormous autobiographical novel My Struggle ought to be out in English by now.
There were some books I didn’t like, too. And one I didn’t even finish: it was by the Swedish author Sara Lidman. She was enamoured with anthroposophy actually, but that doesn’t help much. Written in a deliberately impenetrable fashion, I had no clue what the novel was about; it was as if it lacked content or meaning, though I accept that the fault may lie with me, not with the novel itself. Higher worlds, elemental beings, the state of things on Atlantis, well, I can deal with it all. But modernist female writers who appear to think obscurity is a virtue and clarity a sin — no, that’s not my cup of tea. I will have none of that next year! Only the clearest writing and the loveliest of philosophies — the gnomes of reason and the elves of transparency! May Dog provide it.