SOME BOOKS ARE FINISHED IN a day; others, only when we are.

If books are portable doorways, then stepping into a beloved-since-childhood instant Now every few years can sometimes tell us where we’ve been in the meanwhile. As one of my perennial obsessions is the slippery intersection of awareness and time — e.g., free will[1] as side effect of fore-ignorance[2] — many of my own favored rereads tend to be “quest” stories: people who go in search of something and discover something unimaginably else. Here are five or six:

» Lord of the Rings (trilogy), J. R. R. Tolkien
If you’ve seen the movie, you think you know the story. But if you haven’t read the books, you really really don’t. Tolkien’s words have a different flavor in the mouth than on the page; I recommend reading these aloud, one night at a time, to someone you enjoy. (Takes about a year.) If you can do voice impressions, so much the better.

» The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester
Space-stranded Gully Foyle was waiting to die until a passing ship ignored his pleas for rescue. His vengeance takes him from the interplanetary gutter to the height of decadent society, but his education elevates him to the next phase of human potential.

» Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-glass, Lewis Carroll
A chief delight of my 40 years’ acquaintance with Carroll’s endless puzzle has been watching it slowly transform from fairy tale to divine satire. How does he do that?

» Schrodinger’s Cat (trilogy), Robert Anton Wilson
Extrauniversal intrigue among at least three universes next door to this one, all wrapped in a literary Moebius strip. Wilson once offered a quick intelligence test: If the universe is getting bigger and funnier, you’re getting smarter. RAW’s books are for anyone who wants to become smarter — and really, shouldn’t that be everyone?

[1] For the record, I am not smart enough to reckon the “difference” between “free will” and “predestination.” However, I’m fairly sure that it’s my hand — and not God‘s — who’s picking out my socks and entertainment, at least most of the time.

[2] Similar to, but more certain than, “foreknowledge.”

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