Sam Sanford is a visual artist and wizard living and working in Austin, Texas.
William T. Vollmann, You Bright And Risen Angels
Vollmann has dedicated his life to dissecting the structures of power and violence and their historical roots, but his first novel is a lot more fun to read than that makes it sound. Considerably easier to read than his later Seven Dreams novels, You Bright And Risen Angels eases you in to the “dream of history” style he perfected in the later books, as it reveals the genesis of corporate fascism in a nineteenth-century boarding school. This book is both funnier and more serious than Infinite Jest, and if you fall under its spell it will stay with you forever.
Wilhelm Reich, The Function Of The Orgasm
Back in my twenties when I was still a hard-headed and hard-hearted empiricist, this book opened my eyes to the fact that certain early childhood experiences had given rise to unconscious reflexive stimulus-responses that were inhibiting my enjoyment of life.
Susan Blackmore, The Meme Machine
Richard Dawkins clarified a lot of confusion in evolutionary biology by showing (in The Selfish Gene) how genes can be successful at getting replicated even when they are not beneficial or even harmful to the individual that carries them. If cultural change is also and evolutionary process as it seems to be, then there must be a cultural replicator – the meme – whose success or failure at replicating and spreading through a population is not necessarily dependent on its benefit to the individual who passes it on. In other words, culture has a life of its own and its own interests that may not always coincide with ours. Susan Blackmore was the first to develop Dawkins’s idea of the meme and some of its implications for understanding social behavior and cultural change.
Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson, The Illuminatus! Trilogy
This book is an actual magic spell, having the effect of freeing the reader’s mind from the knee-jerk belief in a single true narrative. “Nothing is true; everything is permitted.” How did they write this before the Internet existed?
Anonymous, Meditations On The Tarot
Have you ever wondered, what is the ultimate nature of reality, of human life and of humanity’s place in the universe? This book has all the answers! It was the life’s work of an anonymous French monk, and absorbing all its wisdom is also the work of a lifetime. If you finish you will be a real wizard!
Christopher Alexander, A Pattern Language, The Nature of Order (four volumes)
Christopher Alexander, an architect, wondered why some built spaces feel more “alive” than others, why they feel better to be in, why they seem more peaceful and harmonious – what is the nature of the quality that makes some places just better than others, and can it be elucidated in an objective or at least intersubjective way? A Pattern Language was his first attempt to nail down this quality of “aliveness” in the built environment, by identifying “patterns” of building that seemed to contribute to a more alive space. The Nature of Order is the final distillation of Alexander’s decades of investigation into this quality of aliveness, a general theory of design that is both simple and far-reaching. To me the most important question in any endeavor is: What is beauty, and how can I make more of it right here? This book provides a systematic way of thinking about this question.
Daniel Dennett, Consciousness Explained
Can empirical science explain how the mind is produced by the brain? It can sure try! And it can provide some startling insights into the nature of perception along the way. You really do live in the Matrix, but the computer is your brain.
Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
These days “science” is used as an indisputable signifier of truth; if science says something is true then it must be so, end of discussion. This is dumb for a lot of reasons. This book demonstrates how wrong ideas can become entrenched in scientific theory and practice, and why changing them is so slow and difficult.
Marion Zimmer Bradley, The Mists of Avalon
Bradley’s retelling of the King Arthur stories, centered around the female characters and the indigenous religion of the British Isles, is the fairest flower of the twentieth century pagan witchcraft revival. It’s like Lonesome Dove for Wiccans!
Walpola Rahula, What The Buddha Taught
The title says it all! This book explains the teachings of Siddartha Gautama, a man who sat under a tree until he figured everything out and turned into the Buddha. If you want to know exactly what he figured out, this book explains what he actually said about it. Buddhism can seem confusing with its hundreds of sutras and millions of bodhisattvas, but the actual teachings of the man who sat under the tree are pretty simple, and hey I think they’re pretty cool.