After I did the Kondo sweep of my book collection, I went through the books that I was keeping and pulled out a shelf’s worth of books to set aside. These were the books that were especially important to me, not necessarily for what they were in themselves, but for what the represented and for how they spoke to each other when organized together. In the spirit of the Kondo cleaning, a book made it onto the shelf according to whether it felt like it belonged.
It didn’t matter if I read the book often or barely at all, though I had to have read at least a great portion of the book at some point. Two of the books I bought just so I could put them on this shelf. While those two books are still wrapped in plastic, I had read library copies of them frequently.
I organized that one shelf chronologically by the composition dates of the book. This isn’t about their publication date, mind you. Most of those are pretty recent. Rather, it was about the date of origin. Oral texts like the Popol Vuh? Despite being contemporary published works, I organized them according to their oral source in the period just after European contact. Other books, which were quite contemporary, I ordered according to their subject matter, so that The Flower and the Scorpion sits between Dante’s Inferno and the Popol Vuh. Again, feeling trumped strict logic.
The chronology provides both a sense of temporal depth and complexity. Seeing these texts that span more than 5,000 years and the globe side by side also lets me contemplate the wondrous sympathies that flash between millenia and space. It is a useful experience to see that these books have a significance that isn’t exactly contiguous with their contents. In fact, several of these books seem to be there precisely because they point to historical and spiritual aspects of my work that their contents only tangentially address.
Since I set up the shelf, a few books have come off it and a few others joined it. Still, I have refused to let it expand past a single shelf. The coherence of a single shelf matters here. If I felt a book needed to be added, I considered what book(s) might need to be removed. In several cases, slim but representative volumes replaced thicker, more thorough texts. Right now, there are 24 books on that shelf.
In order they are:
I Ching (Peter Karcher), The Image of the Netherworld in the Sumerian Sources (Dina Katz), the Tanakh (JPS version), the Bible (King James version), the Qur’an (Abdel Haleem’s translation for Oxford Books), Sefer Yetzirah in Theory and Practice (Aryeh Kaplan), On Magic (Epistles of the Brethren of Purity, vol. 52a), The Taoist I Ching (Thomas Cleary), Bezels of Wisdom (Ibn al’Arabi), On the Divine Governance of the Human Kingdom (Ibn al’Arabi), Meccan Revelations, volumes I and II (Ibn al’Arabi), The Soul’s Journey into God/The Tree of Life/The Life of St. Francis (Bonaventure), The Inferno (Dante, Robert Pinsky translation), The Flower and the Scorpion (Pete Sigal), the Popol Vuh (Dennis Tedlock translation, 2e), Grimorium Verum (Joseph Peterson’s translation), Letter to a Priest (Simone Weil), A Recitation of Ifa (Judith Gleason), The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick (Philip K. Dick), Rituals of Sacrifice (Vincent Stanzione), Our Mothers, Our Powers, Our Texts (Teresa Washington), The Art and Practice of Geomancy (John Michael Greer), and Obeah (Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold).
I am toying with the idea of talking through this shelf, mostly for the opportunity to reflect and illuminate the feelings that animate it for myself. We’ll see.