The best novels of spiritual freedom

Who am I?

I've been searching for spiritual freedom since the age of four when I was sent to school. Soon I recognised books as an escape from the limitations of the physical world and into the dream world. Each of the five books below have made serious contributions to this psycho-spiritual escape plan, and have lifted my spirit to that higher dimension of freedom. I live in the Scottish Highlands, as my ancestors did, in a misted swirl of ghostly archetypes, mountains, deer, lochs, and brooding skies. Even here though, an escape tunnel is needed into the deepest realm of mind, where the stories and mystery hide away until the moment needed. 


I wrote...

The Survival of Thomas Ford

By John A.A. Logan,

Book cover of The Survival of Thomas Ford

What is my book about?

Thomas Ford is the only survivor of the car crash which killed his wife. He is also the only witness who would be willing to identify the young, reckless driver who caused the crash. But the driver has no intention of ever letting himself be identified.

The young driver’s father is Jack McCallum, the powerful entrepreneur who has built a housing empire, McCallum Homes, on the high hills surrounding the city. Robert Ferguson, the passenger who was with the young driver on the day of the crash, watches carefully to see what the universe will do about it all, and he thinks he can hear the gears and chambers of the universe’s engine, rolling terribly towards them, out of the future.

The books I picked & why

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The Master and Margarita

By Mikhail Bulgakov, Richard Pevear (translator), Larissa Volokhonsky (translator)

Book cover of The Master and Margarita

Why this book?

The searing soul of his characters is explored, from a talking black cat to witches, demons, and Pontius Pilate's dog. The blasted heath of the human mind is laid bare, and the reader transported to ancient, familiar realms. 

I am haunted by Bulgakov's tale and by himself, by all the spirits, demons, ghosts, and apparitions he somehow conjured here, and which have never ceased to live in my imagination since. I had never heard of the book, saw its dark spine on a bookshop shelf 20 years ago, and was lured over to it, drawn to the thick, heavy-inked pages. I did not expect all the universe to be depicted there, in a frenzied, swirling maelstrom that would never surrender me since. 


Hunger

By Knut Hamsun,

Book cover of Hunger

Why this book?

Hamsun's account of a man’s refusal to die of starvation in 1880s Kristiania. His protagonist yearns for life and love as he pursues the impulses of his subconscious, even though they seem to only lead to his further degradation and destruction. Is there a deeper purpose to this apparent madness? Perceptions, sensations, and fears, all assail the young man's soul, even as he tries to write another article for the local newspaper editor or attempts to hide the fact his trousers are falling apart. The sight on the street of the woman he calls Ylayali, and the yearning aroused, keeps him alive a little longer, as reality becomes a stranger and the normal world of humanity left behind. 

This is one of only two novels I have ever read three times, taking a 10-year break between those reads to process and absorb. 


Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

By Robert M. Pirsig,

Book cover of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

Why this book?

State-enforced electric shock treatment to the brain has split the personality of the narrator into the dual-identity of Phaedrus the wolf, and the conforming alter-ego man. Based on the reality of Pirsig's own ascent/descent into either the heights of Satori freedom, or the depths of disjointed madness, depending on one's point of view, this detective story of the mind became a 1974 bestseller. Spiritual freedom, represented here, is attained by evading the splits and schisms, daring the 'modern heresy of insanity,' and merging in whichever moments one can with the All-Unifying One on the healing mountain heights usually too high to ever see. 

This is one of only two novels I have ever read three times, taking a 10-year break between those reads to process and absorb. 


Mockingbird

By Walter Tevis,

Book cover of Mockingbird

Why this book?

A future run by robots, with one robot above all others, and his only desire to be able to die, which he cannot achieve alone. All books forgotten, humans with no memory of how to read, until one lonely man teaches himself by watching old, silent, subtitled films from centuries earlier. He meets his rebellious female counterpart, and the idea of a future free of the state drugs, public human immolations, and mind-numbing rule by dumb robot, begins to take form. Is there time left to revive a barren, childless, thoughtless, hopeless world, and bring to life again the oldest of dreams? In any case, 'Only the mockingbird sings at the edge of the woods.' 

I fear the future described in this masterpiece ever growing near, but the escape hatch from such horrors may lie here also in Tevis' pages. 


The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

By Carson McCullers,

Book cover of The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

Why this book?

Impossible to fathom how Carson McCullers could have distilled such wisdom into her soul by age twenty-three, and then produced this book. The passions and losses, violence and ambition, guilts and loves, of her cast of small-town 1930s Americana characters, wander across the pages like spectres disrupted by a shifting wind. 

The lost, struggling to hear each other's songs above their own pain, but continuing to try through the long night, no matter the chance of success. 

I first bought a copy of this in Sandusky, Ohio, in 1993, on a day off from working at Cedar Point Amusement Park, entranced as I read the first pages standing up in a mall bookshop, the after-echoes of rumbling roller-coasters pummelling my ears and spirit.


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