It’s a curious thing to be told by an author, who has written a book on a subject, that the truth of said subject is only ‘concealed by explaining it’. That a major branch of the world’s fourth largest religion has ‘nothing to say, nothing to teach’. Philosophies and schools of thought in the west have been much more characterised by grand abstraction and complex conceptual frameworks, authors whose ability to think is much greater than their ability to commit their thoughts to paper. Alan Watts' The Way of Zen provides a detailed historical view of the origins of Zen Buddhism and an almost artistic summary of the Zen approach to reality. Though old and many such books have come in its place since, it remains one of the best introductions to Zen in English.
I’ve tried to write about this book several times since I first read it back in June; every attempt I make seems to fizzle a few sentences in. I read Charlie Jane Anders’ first novel, All the Birds in the Sky, during a particularly depressing summer, and it sparked something hopeful in me that I thought I’d lost. It’s a book about talking to animals and building supercomputers, and it is beautiful and charming and kind, in as much as a book can be kind. I loved Anders’ vision, her aesthetics, her narrative voice.
So I had been eagerly anticipating her follow-up release, The City in the Middle of the Night, for quite some time, and after I’d read it I loved it too. I’m writing this because I want to explain why. Maybe this time I’ll even manage it.
It’s been a year to really get you thinking, and think I did. For almost half of the year I was on furlough, leaving me with more free time on my hands than I had had in years. Time that I spent thinking and reading, and reading and thinking, and thinking about what I’d been reading – which led me to reading philosophy. I’m going to share with you a couple of the books that really stuck with me in the hopes that you can read them too and start to see philosophy, like I have, as an anchor in a choppy sea and a safe place to call home.