How I recommend books to myself

After I was led by my unconscious to read C.G. Jung’s autobiography, I lost the urge to read much more. Instead I was drawn to, of all things, Michael Crichton’s autobiography. I’d found out some months earlier that he’d written one and his name kept surfacing in my mind. So I did.

As for why I felt the urge, I figured I needed a break from studying the unconscious and from reading serious stuff and that this book would be just the thing.[1] Nor did it disappoint. Crichton entertainingly recounts his days in medical school, his rise to fame as a writer, his divorces, his playboy life in L.A., his travels to exotic parts of the globe. Oh, and his experiments with the unconscious.

The first reference was pretty light and I chalked it up to coincidence. I reminded myself that because I’d become so enamored with the unconscious I was likely to see it everywhere.

But a few chapters later there’s Crichton explaining how he learned to enter a deep trance during which he could move his ego aside, allowing his unconscious to surface with such an overt presence that others in the room could actually converse with it. He even kept transcripts.

Then Crichton finds himself doing a past-life regression during which he is supposed to recall one of his previous lives. He does this easily and vividly recalls life as a hulking, nineteen year old Roman gladiator. But exhilarating as it is, Crichton is unconvinced that it was really a past life of his. He mentions personas and says there are other explanations too and I can tell he’s referring to archetypes.

“Wait a minute,” I thought to myself, feeling suddenly that I’d been tricked. All these references to the ego, the Self, personas, and now archetypes. This is too much. So I flip to the back of the book and find a postscript full of quotes by Jung and references to his autobiography.

So much for pleasure reading and a break from the unconscious. It turns out that Crichton was a full-on explorer of the psyche.

Increasingly, things like this make me feel that I’m not the one devising my life’s plans but only a laborer carrying them out. My conscious mind finds this so hard to believe that it keeps trying to invent explanations for my behavior so as to convince itself that it’s in control.

Like how when I was in public I would sometimes cover up Crichton’s autobiography so people wouldn’t ask why I was reading it. After all, the man wrote thrillers, the sort of stuff I haven’t read since I was a teenager. I even rehearsed answers just in case someone did ask what I was reading. “Oh, just taking a much needed break from all the serious and important stuff I usually read.” But the truth is I was just following orders, and the conscious mind didn’t know what to make of it.

So why did the unconscious lead me to switch from reading Jung, wizard of the unconscious, to Crichton instead? Maybe because Jung led a life so dissimilar to mine. He was a German psychiatrist of yesterday. A family man. A man given to dreams and visions. A painter and sculptor.

Crichton, however, was a modern American with a technical background who explored the psyche on the side. He lived often as a bachelor and rather than visual arts had a thing for the written word. His life was quite a bit like mine (even our writing styles are similar) and I think the unconscious wanted to show me how it was once explored by a guy like me.

I have to say I’m impressed by the way my unconscious is guiding what I read. It’s so efficient and points me to such relevant things. Increasingly I’m learning to trust it; to not pay attention to the recommendations I get from other people, to not impatiently go looking for things to read, to not care about starting a book at its beginning or finishing it. Now I just wait till I get a peculiar impression to read this or that and read till I find what I’m supposed to find.

[1] The last time I tried to take a break from reading serious stuff, I picked up Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov. It turned out to be a pivotal read.