Clock of the Long Now by Stewart Brand (Basic, $14). This book takes a brilliant and insightful look at why our culture’s pathetically short attention span may be our doom. I loved its concept of holding politicians accountable for the future damage caused by their poor decisions. The Long Now Foundation also has a website worth checking out: Longnow.org.
Essential Writings by Thich Nhat Hanh (Orbis, $15). This “best of” collection shows the gentleness and kindness of this great Buddhist teacher. His writing is child-like in the best sense of the word—full of love and wonder at the immediate world. This is one of my favorite quotes: “When we have joy and peace in ourselves, our creations of art will be quite natural, and they will serve the world in a positive way.”
A Season in Hell by Arthur Rimbaud (New Directions, $11). This is the book you read as a teenager trying very hard to impress your friends and alarm your parents. It’s full of blazingly decadent visions and subversive thoughts. Read it now and wonder: How could an 18-year-old have produced this work?
The Essential Rumi by Jalal al-Din Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks (HarperOne, $15). Many works by this great Sufi poet have a lot of similarities with Zen koans. They are amazingly beautiful to read, all centered on immediate, mindful experience.
How to See Yourself as You Really Are by His Holiness the Dalai Lama (Atria, $23). This in-depth exploration of Buddhist meditations was written by a very dear and wise man I’ve been privileged to meet on many occasions. It’s humorous, inspiring, and empowering, with exercises on letting go of the individual self in order to embrace the world.
I Put a Spell on You: The Autobiography of Nina Simone (Da Capo Press, $17). Nina was a multifaceted, strong, and fascinating woman, and a huge musical influence on me. There was no difference between Nina the person and Nina the performer, and I admired greatly her ability to stay true to herself in the most trying times. An unbelievably powerful soul.