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Guest Column: Three Books You Need To Read By Circle Takes The Square's Drew Speziale

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Guest Column
In our undying efforts to bring you engaging columns you won’t find anywhere else, we’ve reached out to the metal world, seeking submissions for a new subject: Three amazing books you have to pick up.

Seeing as you read this blog everyday, we went out on a limb and assumed you’d maybe want to get some book suggestions from your favorite bands, too. So today, we continue this series on rad, must-reads with an entry by Drew Speziale of Circle Takes The Square.

As someone with currently little time to spend engaged in epic reading sessions, I definitely value a book that I can work my way through in short increments — where the individual parts contain as much value as the whole. I’ve compiled a few recent favorites, which all deliver immense revelations no matter how much time you can devote to them in one sitting. Reading a single short story by Borges, a few pages of Jung, or a an entire chapter from Pendell’s trilogy should definitely provide more than enough to contemplate until your next opportunity to visit their work.

Jorge Luis Borges, Collected Fictions

In the Collected Fictions of Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, you’ll find serpentine narratives that read like text-based versions of M.C. Escher’s most circuitous visions. His best writing employs those innovative structures that he’s known for — complex riddles in prose form — which helped to blaze the initial trails that many authors have since journeyed down and continue to develop. Echoes from the center of Borges’ labyrinths can be heard throughout the demented architecture of Danielewski’s House of Leaves, or in the exponentially regressing footnotes of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.

Borges explores the nature of dreams, mysticism and the unconscious in a language and format he seems to have brought back from those very realms. Certainly, some of his short stories appeal to me more than others, but I consider a small handful to be immaculately conceptualized and executed, and have thoroughly enjoyed scratching through Borges’ legacy slowly, in search of the true gems that lie there in wait.

Dale Pendell, Pharmako Trilogy: Pharmako Poeia, Pharmako Gnosis, Pharmako Dynamis

You don’t have to be a “plant person” to glean some of the magic contained in each of Pendell’s three Pharmako volumes; there is genuinely something here for everyone who dares to persist. But it will be no small feat, with little in the way of initiation to prepare you for the series of rabbit holes you will soon be guided through. Crack the first page of the first volume, Power Plants, Poisons, and Herbcraft, and immediately find yourself in the midst of Pendell’s swirling, psychedelic tapestry, where he weaves together references to dusty anthropological sources; mythology-laden ethno-botany; quotes from writers, historians, and even the “plant allies” themselves; and his own dynamic poetics as a means to tell this comprehensive tale of psychoactive compounds and how they relate to human history.

The set-up is this: throughout the trilogy Pendell meticulously describes the historical value, botanical specifications and folklore pertaining to every classification of “drug” out there, while simultaneously documenting his own experiences with said plant poisons, holed up somewhere in the California wilderness, studying each substance’s unique effect, and communing with the spirit each contains. My favorite portions are the extremely expressive writings he produced during his personal explorations. From stark, Zen-inspired simplicity to sprawling dialogues with impish Elementals, his poetry paints an impressionistic picture of his broad range of visionary experiences. It is impossible to encapsulate all the ground Pendell covers in this series of books, but within them exists a wealth of knowledge, presented in a very compelling, stream of consciousness structure, rich with esoteric references and a continuous collage of glyphs, bookplates, and illustrations to enjoy as you go. Pendell’s magnum opus is a gold mine for any artist seeking that heroic dose of inspiration.

Carl Jung, Man and His Symbols

This is a surprisingly accessible primer covering many of Jung’s most refined concepts and theories. Jung himself technically penned only a portion of the book, as most of it was assembled by a handful of his colleagues in an effort to consolidate into one introductory volume his main contributions to psychology. It reads like a textbook, concisely illustrating many of his best-known lines of thought, and because it was written with a universal audience in mind it serves as a great in-road toward deeper explorations of his life’s work. While your next stop might well be his illuminated manuscript-style Liber Novus, it’s always nice to have a tidy introduction to such an intimidating body of work, and Man and His Symbols definitely serves that function.

As with my other recommendations, what I like about Jung in this format is that it isn’t necessary to read the book from cover to cover or to trudge through his collected essays to find the specific content you’re seeking out. Here, you can randomly flip to pretty much any section of the book and immerse yourself in some compelling and heady material pertaining to mythology, dream symbolism, universal archetypes, creativity, the process of individuation, and other subject matter along these lines. Jung’s influence is vast, and whether or not you agree with his ideas or simply wish to engage them as a mental exercise, this book certainly helps to illuminate his undeniable influence on contemporary art and culture. Once you dig in, you will never watch a Lynch or Kubrick film the same way again.