If you are a reader, it can be wonderful to dive headlong into some profound and philosophical tome or to sink snugly into a deep and meandering novel. Yet, I still find that sometimes the best insights can come from small books with soulful stories, like these.
When I find myself at elaborate banquets, I tend to indulge heavily in the appetizers during the cocktail hour because, more often than not, I find the small bites are better than the dinner being served in the hall. Those little bites are usually focused creations that delight the senses with a poignancy not present in the large plate. This is how I feel about these five books–small but delicious works that delight us with their poignancy and beauty. They speak to the senses of the soul.
You may know this story from its equally wondrous film, but this won’t prevent you from enjoying Von Arnim’s clean and engaging style as she weaves a modern mythical tale. Von Arnim takes us on a journey through the lenses of four women who share a villa in Italy. She weaves a tale with a wonderful mystical quality, while also revealing critical and relevant issues in modern relationships. This is a great read for anyone in the family–elder and younger. I’m including links to the book & the film below, but I encourage you to read the book before you indulge in the film.
The Enchanted April, written in 1922, is Elizabeth von Arnim’s most charming novel in every sense: it casts a spell. In narrative terms, it’s fairly slight: a sun-washed fairytale, delicious in its contrivance. But it’s also a paean to the transformative power of travel. Four very different women respond to an advertisement in the Times appealing to “those who appreciate wisteria and sunshine” to rent a small medieval Italian castle for a month. Mrs Wilkins and Mrs Arbuthnot, the original two respondents, are joined in their act of escape by the youthful Lady Caroline, whose beauty and general melodiousness have become something of a burden to her, and the formidable Mrs Fisher, who insists that everyone think of her “just as an old lady with a stick” as she sets about imposing her will on the rest. Each one is vaguely unsatisfied with their lot and Mrs Wilkins and Mrs Arbuthnot both have marriages of quiet English unhappiness. [Excerpt from review in The Guardian] Click Here to View the Film Listing on Amazon.
Robert Johnson is a Jungian analyst who has written a wonderful series of little books that expand on the big ideas about psyche, myth, and archetypes. In this book, he works with two engaging myths, The Fisher King and The Handless Maiden, to focus on the wounded feeling function (in both the feminine and the masculine) that is endemic to modern society. His discussion draws us into the archetype of woundedness and the healing power of “feeling” — a term he uses to describe the act of valuing experiences and sensations. Even though this is a self-awareness book, Johnson takes us on a deep journey through the these two profound medieval stories.
“Thinking is that cool faculty which brings clarity and objectivity–but provides no valuing; sensation describes the physical world–but provides no valuing; intuition suggests a wide range of possiblities–but provides no valuing. Only feeling brings a sense of value and worth; indeed, this is its chief function.” (3)
“A healed person is automatically a healer. And his or her strength is the greater for having been through dark times and having brought a conscious solution as a gift to the world.” (103)
This small book encapsulates a playful metaphor for what life is really about and a powerful reminder of how we can get caught up in the problems and forget the most important things. It makes a great stocking stuffer, and a great bathroom book after the holidays.
I first discovered Robert Bly at the Los Angeles book fair where he was reading poetry from this newly released collection. I was mesmerized that day by the almost bizarre combination of playfulness and profundity. His poetry draws heavily from myths and the mythic imagination, and many will take you on a wonderful journey to wondrous landscapes of thought and images. One of my favorite poems which I heard him read that day in LA is “Pitzeem and the Mare,” which tells a poetic fable about a man and mare, and the power of love. Here’s a sampling of some opening stanzas for some of his poems.
Wanting to Steal Time
“People are moving big milk cans around in
The storeroom, and I am there. Each day I move
Barrels full of nothing to a different spot.”
This little book has actually been riddled with controversy over the years due to the dubious background of the author and his autobiographical claims about this story. However, background aside, there is no denying that the story itself is a moving and soul enriching story that still resonates with relevance today. Carter’s central character, Little Tree, becomes orphaned and is adopted by his part-Native American and all hill country grandparents. His grandparents teach him to survive the rigors of a hard life and to reconnect with nature as a living and loving entity. It could be a fast read, but I encourage you to sip a cup of tea or glass of wine and relish the language, the imagery, and the heart-touching story of a little boy’s initiation into the sacred world.