In a post from last year, entitled 15 Best Things To Do While Stoned (which has become a fan favorite here at Weed Reader, check it out if you haven’t already!), I mentioned that one of my favorite things to do is get high and read.
I mean, reading is great anytime. Books can take you to another time and place, another world. They invite you inside the mind of another human being, to see the world from their perspective and experience their thoughts and ideas as your own. It’s like being a mind reader, only you can still read books even after the author has been dead for centuries.
And as with so many things, it’s even better when you’re baked.
Anyways, after rattling off some of my favorite authors, I casually and half jokingly threw out the possibility of making a list of my favorite books to read while high. And — surprise, surprise! — some of you guys loved the idea.
So for all you lovers of reading while stoned, here ya go! 20 of the most amazing, inspiring, entertaining, mind-expanding books ever written. Enjoy 🙂
1. Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo
This is #1 on the list because it might be the single greatest book I’ve ever read. Set in France, in the revolutionary period after the fall of Napoleon, Les Miserables tells the story of Jean Valjean, and his transformation from a petty thief and hardened criminal into a humble saint, and the loving guardian of a little orphaned girl.
It’s not what you would call an “easy read.” It’s loooooooong, and it’s sprinkled throughout with French words and names and places, which constantly trip up my clumsy American tongue. On top of that, the author frequently departs from the narrative in order to give lengthy dissertations on French history and society, human nature and civilization, and many other topics, including religion, prayer, poverty, crime, slang, etc. And these tangents often go on for so long that you forget what the hell was going on in the story when you left off!
But these challenges only make me love it all the more. I’ve read it through 3 times, all 1400 pages of it. The story is so good, and the writing so poetic and insightful, that I lose myself in it’s passages, and I am moved, inspired, uplifted and transported, over and again.
(Bonus: if you like this, also check out Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.)
2. Pale Fire, by Vladimir Nabokov
Nabokov is most well known for his controversial novel Lolita. But this one is his masterpiece, in my humble opinion. Pale Fire defies explanation and categorization. It features an epic poem by the fictional John Shade. After Shade’s murder, his manuscripts are edited and published by his neighbor and colleague, Charles Kinbote — who completely hijacks the text with his rambling Index and footnotes, which tell the fantastic story of an exiled king and a eunuch assassin…
It’s a wild ride which will have you turning back and forth from poem to commentary, scratching your head and wondering, “What’s really going on? And how the hell did he do this?!”
3. On the Road, by Jack Kerouac
This classic Beat novel is Kerouac at his finest. It’s inspired by his real life, the larger-than-life personalities of his friends (including Neal Cassady, William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder), and the years they spent hitchhiking and traveling back and forth across America — and the drugs, jazz, sex, love, loneliness and self discovery they find along the way.
4. The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
A true American novel, The Grapes of Wrath tells the story of the Tom Joad and his family. The unlucky Oklahoma farmers lose their land during the Great Depression, and are forced to migrate to California seeking work. The novel is not only a moving story, it’s a powerful lesson on American history, and a profound meditation on labor and human rights, and how they clash with the impersonal forces of the economy and corporate interests.
5. The Prophet, by Khalil Gibran
A prophet and wise man named Almustafa has lived for man years in a foreign city, and is preparing to board a ship that will carry him home. On his way out of town, he is stopped by a group of locals who are sad to see him leave. They proceed to ask him many questions about life and death, love and friendship, prayer and religion, good and evil, and so on. His answers are breath-taking in their depth, beauty and brilliance.
Gibran’s masterpiece is short, poetic and an absolute pleasure to read. It is one of my all time favorites, that I come back to again and again.
6. The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkein
And speaking of coming back again and again, The Hobbit gets the prize for being the book I have read through more times than any other. More than a dozen times, actually. It is of course the story of the reluctant burglar Bilbo Baggins, and his adventures with Thorin Oakenshield and company. And unlike Tolkein’s more famous work, The Lord of the Rings, this tale is short, light-hearted and fun to read. I first read it when I was a child, and I still love it to this day. I read it allowed to my son and he enjoyed every minute of it.
7. Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert M. Pirsig
While the title makes it sound like an instruction manual for New Age bikers, it’s actually a novel. And a terrific one at that! It tells the story of a father and son on a motorcycle trip across the country. Along the way you find out that the father was a former college professor who had a complete mental breakdown, and follow along as he recounts his old life, revisits the philosophical conundrums that drove him insane, and tries to heal the rift in his personality — and the rift it created between him and his son.
This classic novel is a slow and thoughtful read, that will make you look at life in a whole new way.
8. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey
This psychedelic classic was immortalized as a movie, starring none other than Jack Nicholson. But the book (as is often the case) is even better than the film adaptation. Inspired by Kesey’s time spent working as an orderly in a mental institution — as well as his liberal use of LSD and other psychoactive substances — this book tells the story of Randle Patrick McMurphy, a troublemaker who fakes insanity and ends up confined in a psyche ward. It’s an entertaining and mind-bending read, all the more so after a little toke.
9. Stranger In A Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein
One of the timeless classics of Science Fiction, this novel tells the story of Valentine Michael Smith, a child raised by Martians and brought back to Earth 25 years later. His Martian upbringing gives him a unique perspective… not to mention incredible psychic powers, which everyone has on Mars. He struggles to understand — and eventually rejects — human culture, and eventually founds a new church to teach Martian language and philosophy, in an effort to save the Earth and it’s people.
(Bonus: if you like this, check out Heinlein’s other books, like Job: A Comedy of Justice. Or anything by Douglas Adams, or Richard Bach.)
10. The Sirens of Titan, by Kurt Vonnegut
The problem with including a Vonnegut novel on this list is: how to choose which one? Dark, funny, devastatingly clever… the man is simply one of the greatest authors ever to write in English, and he has penned at least a half dozen of my favorite books of all time. Cat’s Cradle, Slapstick, Deadeye Dick, Breakfast of Champions, the famous Slaughterhouse Five… all of them deserve a spot. But in the end I decided on The Sirens of Titan, because, well…
Screw it. Read ’em all. You can thank me later.
11. The Ocean At The End of The Lane, by Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman has a gift for capturing the magic, mystery and immensity of the world as seen through the eyes of children. This book, which is sort of like a fairy tale for grown ups, tells the story of a man who pays a visit to the countryside where he grew up. A visit to his old neighbors stirs up long lost memories of supernatural events from his childhood.
12. The Bone Clocks, by David Mitchell
Let me say this outright: Mitchell is a genius, a wizard with words, and one of the finest storytellers I’ve ever had the pleasure to read.
And The Bone Clocks is perhaps his best work yet: a twisting labyrinth of a novel, told from the perspectives of several different characters who all find themselves caught up in a war between immortals, and an epic struggle between good and evil. It contains several references to his past works, which, while not necessary to understanding and enjoying the story, make it worthwhile to read his other novels first (such as Ghostwritten, Black Swan Green, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, and Cloud Atlas).
Seeing how these stories all share one universe — which exists inside the author’s mind — and the threads that connect all these stories through time and space, gives you a much greater appreciation for the depth of his creative accomplishment.
13. Leaves of Grass, by Walt Whitman
One of the first poets to completely throw out rhyme and meter and embrace free verse, Walt Whitman ushered in the modern era of English poetry. His poems, which celebrate Nature, life, friendship, sexuality and the human body, and many other themes, are all collected and published in one volume, his life’s work, Leaves of Grass. It’s a literary treasure, and a must-read for any and all lovers of poetry and the great outdoors.
14. The Gift, by Hafiz (translated by Daniel Ladinski)
The 14th century Persian poet and mystic known as Hafiz (or Hafez) is one of the most celebrated literary figures in his native Iran. His poems dealt with the mystical theme of union with God, the Beloved. In this volume, Daniel Ladinsky brings the poetry of Hafiz to life for English readers, with playful metaphors that are true to the spirit of the original verses, yet relevant to a modern, Western audience.
15. The Essential Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks
Another Persian poet and Sufi mystic, Rumi is perhaps the most well known to us in the West. In The Essential Rumi, Coleman Barks takes these classic 13th century verses and reinterprets them in a way that is fresh, inspired, and accessible to us today. Drawing from the Qur’an, hadith (the recorded sayings of Muhammad, peace be upon him), and even gossip, stories, and scenes from the local bazaar, Rumi weaves together in his poems the essence of Sufi spirituality, and the perennial philosophy of mysticism.
16. New and Selected Poems, by Mary Oliver
Mary Oliver is one of the most successful and best-selling American poets of all time. She is one of the finest Nature poets in any language, and most of her work is heavily inspired by the birds, plants, animals and wild scenes she encounters on her daily walks through the woods. Her poems are both simple and profound, praising the wild heart of the world and reminding us to look, and see, and appreciate the awesome beauty that surrounds us.
(Bonus: if you like this, check out the poetry of David Whyte.)
Philosophy & Spirituality
17. Be Here Now, by Ram Dass
It is no exaggeration to say that this book changed my life. I stumbled across it at a time in my adolescence when I was desperately in need of some spiritual direction and guidance… and, voila! It appeared.
This book tells the true story of Dr. Richard Alpert, his experiments with psychedelics, his journey to India in search of a guru, his meeting with Maharaji Neem Karoli Baba, and his metamorphosis into Ram Dass (“servant of God”). This classic text introduced to me to yoga, meditation, and Eastern philosophy, and saved me from the dark pit of depression, nihilism, and mindless consumerism.
Thanks, Ram Dass. I owe you one.
18. The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz
This short and easy to read book presents the spiritual teachings of the ancient Toltec shamans, distilled into four simple agreements: 1) Be impeccable with your word. 2) Don’t take anything personally. 3) Don’t make assumptions. 4) Always do your best. The author brilliantly illustrates how making these commitments to yourself can help you take your personal power back from others whom you have let control you, and from the culture into which you were born, so that you can begin to be your authentic self, and live the life you truly long to live.
19. Nature, Man and Woman, by Alan Watts
Alan Watts is one of the greatest minds of the last century, and one which has had profound influence on me, and how I think, and see the world, and live my life. Perhaps his most well known book, The Way of Zen, is a brilliant and lucid exploration of Zen Buddhism, it’s philosophy, practices and implications for living, and one I highly recommend to anyone interested in Eastern culture and religion. But his masterpiece, as far as I’m concerned, is Nature, Man and Woman, a sort of Taoist critique of Western thought, which exposes the falsehoods upon which our culture is founded and shows us a more holistic way of experiencing life and the universe.
Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
20. Essays, by Ralph Waldo Emerson
What to say about Emerson? He is the cornerstone of the Transcendentalist movement in the 19th century, and one of the most beloved and influential thinkers in American history. His essays (especially “Self Reliance,” “The Over-Soul,” “Nature” and “Circles”) are literary classics that still resonate today. They continue to be a source of inspiration for me, and I would recommend them as a “must read” to anyone interested in philosophy, American history, or the art of communicating deep, complex thoughts via the English language.
So, there you have it. My personal favorites. What are yours? Tell me in the comments below… I’m always looking for new reading material 😉