Looking for books with absorbing stories with a mystical/Buddhist/Gnostic philosophical bent
May 5, 2011 4:30 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for recommendations for books for someone who has the following preferences: Loves Salinger, especially Nine Stories ("Teddy") and "Franny" in Franny and Zooey (the mystical aspects are particularly appealing); loves Steinbeck, especially East of Eden, favorite parts were those discussing the Biblical philosophy/hermeneutics. Any recommendations for books with a really good story but some strong elements of theology or philosophy, especially Eastern-influenced?
posted by cheshirecat718 to Media & Arts (27 answers total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: poster's request -- jessamyn

I like Steinbeck. What about Umberto Eco's The Island of the Day Before or Baudolino? The Island of the Day Before is a love it or hate it sort of book. I liked it, and the chapter that some people hate -- the one about the rock and what it means to have consciousness -- I read twice. Baudolino I thought was ok much of the way through, but the last couple of chapters were really interesting.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 4:36 PM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I loved all of the above.
You've got Herman Hesse's Siddhartha. Razor's Edge. Have you read Steinbeck's Arthur?
Echoing Eco. Foucault's Pendulum.
posted by asavage at 4:37 PM on May 5, 2011

Gabriel Garcia Marquez' One Hundred Years Of Solitude is among my favorite books of all time, and could scratch some of these itches. the genre it falls into is known as "magical realism", which could also yield some promising results in your search.
posted by radiosilents at 4:39 PM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Lost Horizon by James Hilton. It's a WW2 era adventure story about the lost utopia of Shangri-La (and is in fact where the word "shangri-la" comes from)

A Voyage to Arcturus by David Lindsay is a fantastically weird, little-known Gnostic allegory in the guise of a sci-fi novel, entertaining on multiple levels. It might be too weird, though.

Moby-Dick is probably the grandfather of the metaphysical digression adventure genre. (But with more of a Christian naturalist bent)

Life of Pi was criticized for its religiosity, but it has a good story and I thought it was entertaining. Cloud Atlas is another recent book that deals with the theme of reincarnation.
posted by Nixy at 4:49 PM on May 5, 2011

Peter Camenzind, The Journey to the East and Magister Ludi by Hesse
posted by jgirl at 4:57 PM on May 5, 2011

I love Jonathan Goldstein's Lenny Bruce is Dead, which has some tangential religious mysticism to it. (But the mysticism's more Eastern European than Eastern proper, if you know what i mean.)
posted by buriedpaul at 5:04 PM on May 5, 2011

Marilynne Robinson's Gilead might suit. MMV. It's a beautiful book.
posted by jgirl at 5:06 PM on May 5, 2011

Your friend might enjoy Sophie's World.
posted by pupstocks at 5:08 PM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I haven't read it in ages, but I immediately thought of Mister God, this is Anna.
You've got the brilliant, insanely wise child and much pondering about g(G)od and philosophical things.
posted by Glinn at 5:30 PM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Robert Pirsig's Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
posted by jon1270 at 5:33 PM on May 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

Sadly, Is God a Taoist? is not a book, but a dialectic of sorts. It might be a little something to through into the mix.
posted by forthright at 7:05 PM on May 5, 2011

The Eight Day by Thornton Wilder might fill your criteria, especially if you like Steinbeck.
posted by Allee Katze at 7:17 PM on May 5, 2011

The Eighth Day by Thornton Wilder, Eighth! Criminy, I hate typos.
posted by Allee Katze at 7:27 PM on May 5, 2011

The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac, hitchiking and wilderness in the west with a definite buddhist bent.
posted by Maude_the_destroyer at 7:33 PM on May 5, 2011

Bridge to San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder might also fit the bill.
posted by telegraph at 7:38 PM on May 5, 2011

Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny is a mind-blowing take on Hinduism and Buddhism.
posted by wayland at 9:34 PM on May 5, 2011

Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn, might fit the bill.

nth-ing anything by Hermann Hesse, particularly Magister Ludi, aka The Glass Bead Game.
posted by vytae at 10:46 PM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I want to re-iterate the Hesse recommendations, especially Magister Ludi, Journey to the East and Siddhartha.

I highly recommend Jorge Luis Borges, who is able to wrap layers and layers of the world up in simple, short stories. I have never seen such magic on the page.

And, speaking of short stories, Gabriel Garcia Marquez could have written only his short stories and would still be considered a master of his craft. Delve beyond his novels.

Your friend might also like the tangled mythos revealed throughout The Magus by John Fowles.

Rainer Maria Rilke, the poet, wrote a collection of modern fables called Stories of God, which does what it says on the tin. His poetry can hardly be disguised as prose.

Finally, and this may be getting off-course, might I suggest Jesus the Son of Man by Kahlil Gibran. It is a collection of about 80 short vignettes each from the point of view of someone who was a major, minor or even unnamed person in the biblical stories involving Jesus. Each deftly displays a facet of God-as-Man in unique ways.

(All of this is going off of the specific Salinger stories you mentioned, which are two of my favorite. I have not read Steinbeck. )
posted by iurodivii at 10:58 PM on May 5, 2011

Philip K. Dick's final trilogy of novels bubble with gnostic ideas. VALIS in particular is a very funny read:

The Divine Invasion &
The Transmigration of Timothy Archer

His earlier novel, The Man in the High Castle, figures its philosophical story through the Chinese divination text the I-Ching.

I would also recommend the books of Olaf Stapledon, Last and First Men and Starmaker. They are deeply engrained in notions of the human spirit and it's evolution over epochs of cosmic time.
posted by 0bvious at 1:45 AM on May 6, 2011

Another note about Mister God, This is Anna, in case the Jesus thing is the reason you think you might not like it? (I'm just guessing here, so ignore if this is not the case). I re-read the first few pages on Amazon, and I saw that Jesus is mentioned once. IIRC, although it is often found in the "Christian" section, it isn't a Jesus book at all (unless you are very Christian and just substitute "Jesus" for "Mister God" which I suppose some people do). I am very strongly not-Christian, and I was able to take it another way. So, obviously, ymmv. Aaah, now I have to dig through some boxes and find my old copy. ;)
posted by Glinn at 5:33 AM on May 6, 2011

The Discovery of Heaven by Harry Mulisch.
posted by misteraitch at 6:24 AM on May 6, 2011

If your friend likes his mysticism heavily parodic, you might try Robert Anton Wilson's "Illuminati Trilogy" and "Schrodinger's Cat Trilogy".

The best Eco for this kind of thing, for my money, is either Foucault's Pendulum or The Name Of The Rose.

Has your friend read any Rushdie? He might try picking up Midnight's Children, The Ground Beneath Her Feet, or Satanic Verses...

I just read this book, "The Hakawati," by Rabih Alameddine. It was pretty compelling. It's a riff on Arabian Nights and storytelling generally, narrated by a more-or-less post-national Lebanese guy.
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 8:26 AM on May 6, 2011

Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory or The End of the Affair.
posted by Spinneret at 10:10 AM on May 6, 2011

Best answer: Not quite what you want, but just throwing it out there in case--I feel very much the same, esp. about the mystical aspects of Franny and Steinbeck--and I adore Gerard Manley Hopkins' poetry, the sprung rhythm and eccentricity and personal, not empty fervor of it. This is also one reason I freakin' adore Walter Benjamin, including his theories of the angel of history and the idea language and literature has a mystic undercurrent to it. She might dig it, even though neither are story suppliers per se.
posted by ifjuly at 12:23 PM on May 6, 2011

This is more allegorical than your Salinger suggestions (and perhaps closer to Steinbeck in that sense), but G.K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday presents a singularly absorbing and idiosyncratic version of Christian mysticism.
posted by speicus at 1:50 PM on May 6, 2011

The Lost - non-fiction, strong story about the Holocaust and the author trying to find what happened to his ancestors, but also has quite a bit of Biblical commentary / theology.
posted by paduasoy at 2:33 PM on May 6, 2011

'The sea, the sea' by Iris Murdoch
posted by BigSky at 7:49 PM on May 7, 2011

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