Mary/ December 28, 2016/ Books, Literary, Living, Uncategorized

I have a short bookshelf where I put my “small” books.  I’ve gathered quite a number of these gems and most are ones I will read again, and again.  They are delightful, moving, full of insight and inspiration and they warm my heart. Some light, some heavy, all great. I’ve also included a few “regular” sized books that I have in small paperback versions – they are worthy company.  They all make great gifts: for others or for yourself…for the new year maybe?

1) 10 POEMS TO CHANGE YOUR LIFE – Roger Housden, editor

The first few lines of the book jacket read: “This is a dangerous book. Great poetry…dares us to break free from the safe strategies of the cautious mind….it can lead to communion and grace.”

Ten wonderful poems and the author’s glimpses and reflections on each, and how they resonate with his life.  Derek Walcott’s “Love after Love”, will melt your heart and also make it sing.

2) 10 POEMS TO OPEN YOUR HEART – Roger Housden, editor

Similar to the first volume noted above, but this one is described as being “… devoted to the intimacy of personal love and lovemaking, to a loving compassion for others, and to the love that embraces this world and the next.”  In his eloquent style, Housden examines works from ten poets and includes illustrations from his own life to express the tenderness, beauty, joy and sorrow of love.  Mary Oliver’s “West Wind #2”, an absolute favorite of mine, is the opening poem.

 3) FOOD RULES – An Eater’s Manual – Michael Pollan

With charming illustrations by Maira Kalman, this delightful book has all kinds of wonderful “rules” about food.  Admonishments that might have come from your grandmother, common sense type rules, good words to live by and eat by.  One of my favorites:  “If you are hungry, have an apple. If you don’t want an apple, you aren’t hungry.”

 4) THE INVITATION – Oriah Mountain Dreamer

Shared by word of mouth, e-mailed from reader to reader, recited over the radio, and read aloud at thousands of retreats and conferences, “The Invitation” has been transformational for many.

In this bestselling book, Oriah expands on the wisdom found within her beloved prose poem, challenging us to live in intimacy, honesty, authenticity and peace with ourselves, others, and the world around us. She invites us to embrace the varieties of human experience, from desire and commitment to sorrow and betrayal, and to open ourselves to all possibilities.

5) THE DANCE – Oriah Mountain Dreamer

Oriah returns with another enchanting poem, The Dance.  Savoring the everyday world of family, friends, love – and working with clear minds and open hearts – is key in reminding us that happiness is not lost, but is buried beneath the clutter of our harried lives.

“To dance — to live in a way that is consistent with our longing” — is to discover a gift that we can give ourselves again and again over a lifetime. To dance, alone or with others, is to be who we truly are and fulfill our heart’s desires. To do this, we must learn how to let go and slow down, and return to encounter our true self. Practical and profoundly inspiring, The Dance is an invitation to discover a place of connection, serenity, and joy that is uniquely our own.

 6) THE CALL – Oriah Mountain Dreamer

The trilogy of The Invitation, and The Dance, is complete with The Call.  We are challenged to discard what we know of ourselves as seen through other people and the world around us, and to dig deeper into ourselves to find out who we truly are. She maintains that we each have our own call, but it can’t be found in expectations of others… only within.

She writes: “Remember, there is one word you are here to say, with your whole being. When it finds you, give your life to it”.

7) SHAKESPEARE’S SONNETS – edited by A.L. Rowse

I’ve thrown in a classic: Shakespeare’s Sonnets.  I met a Shakespearean scholar a while ago, a very cool young guy…and he told me this opinion about the Bard:  that his plays were like Spielberg movies: fun and popular attractions for the masses, but it was his commissioned sonnets that were the works of art.

The thing that’s great about this little paperback edition, is that in each two page spread, the left hand side has the original sonnet, but the facing page has a lay person’s version, paraphrased in easier to understand prose.  That helps, big time!   I’m trying to memorize one of the most famous ones, #18:  “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”   At least I now know what the phrases mean!

8) TRIBES– Seth Godin

 In his unique, approachable style, Seth Godin describes the three steps to building a tribe: the desire to change things, the ability to connect a tribe, and the willingness to lead.

We all seek out tribes, whether they are religious, ethnic, economic, political, or even musical. And now social media has eliminated many obstacles of geography, cost, and time and given people the tools to make a difference. An interesting read about workplace culture and leadership.

9) THE DIP – Seth Godin

What starts out as fun and exciting, usually has a low point somewhere along the way…This book is about when to quit and when to ride out the dip; how to determine what is a dead end, and what isn’t, and when to push through. A fascinating little read, and a good alternative viewpoint to barriers that we sometimes encounter.

 10) THE FOUR AGREEMENTS – Don Miguel Ruiz

The four agreements is a book about ancient Toltec wisdom – and the distillation of this wisdom into a simple, yet powerful code of conduct:

-be impeccable with your word

-don’t take anything personal

-don’t make assumptions

-always do your best

Wonderful goals for us to aspire to.

11) WOMEN WHO RUN WITH THE WOLVES – Clarissa Pinkola Estes

This book is one of my top pick gifts to give to girlfriends who are seeking, searching, and learning.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D., Jungian analyst and storyteller shows how women’s vitality can be restored through what she calls “psychic archeological digs” into the ruins of the female unconscious. Through a wonderful collection of tales from many cultures she reminds women that we are born with an instinctual knowledge of things to come.

“The work shows the reader how glorious it is to be daring, to be caring, and to be women. Everyone who can read should read this book.”–Maya Angelou

12) THE FAITHFUL GARDENER – Clarissa Pinkola Estes

I can’t say enough about Clarissa Pinkola Estes – one of my favorite stories to read aloud is contained within her book The Faithful Gardener. It is a story within a story within a story: elegantly told interlocking tales of loss, survival and fierce rebirth. These stories remind readers of all ages of “that magisterial life force within all things that strengthens us in times of turmoil or transition, that faithful force which can never die.”


This is a great little read about the suppression of creative genius in the corporate world, and it is full of humorous and entertaining stories related to McKenzie’s long career at Hallmark Cards.  Even the layout and design of the book fly in the face of tradition – creating an interesting visual experience. A good outside-the-box view of corporate culture for creative souls.


Kevin Carroll, athletic trainer and public speaker, tells the story of his childhood passion for sport and play and how he turned that into a universally appealing blueprint for life. He draws wisdom from the playgrounds of his youth, where he spent hour after hour honing his physical skills and his mind.  Carroll shares how to find your own red rubber ball and chase it to your heart’s content, to achieve peace, prosperity, and happiness. The book’s message, and beautifully creative design are playful and engaging.

15) HELP, THANKS, WOW – Anne Lamott

Anne Lamott’s three simple “prayers” are uplifting and heart healing:

-ask for assistance from a higher power

-appreciate the good in what we have

-feel awe at the world around us

In her engaging style, Lamott recounts how she came to these insights, explains what they mean to her and how they have helped her, and also how others have embraced these ideas.


As a child, I saw this book in our family bookshelf, and I read a copy when I was in my 20’s when I was going through some sort of crisis; on the brink of some life decision that was making me sad, homesick and worried. It worked. And I still remember one of the best takeaways:

If you find yourself worrying about something, just ask yourself:

  1. a) what is the worst thing that can happen?
  2. b) can I deal with that?

If the answer is yes, then….you’ll manage.  It really helped me.


Mitch Albom reconnects with his old college professor, from long ago, when he discovers the professor is dying of ALS.  Mitch visits Morrie Schwartz in his study every Tuesday, just as they used to back in college. Their rekindled relationship turned into one final ‘class’: lessons in how to live; lessons about regrets, fear, aging, marriage, forgiveness, money and family.  A feel good book full of thoughtful advice.

18) THE LAST LECTURE – Randy Pausch, Jeffrey Zaslow contributor

Carnegie Mellon University has a tradition of inviting professors to give a lecture where they pretend that it is their last chance ever to talk to their students. What would you say? What wisdom would you impart? What are your lessons in life?

For Computer Science professor Randy Pausch, who received this invitation, this was not a hypothetical question. Barely a minute into the lecture he introduced “the elephant in the room”: advanced pancreatic cancer that would kill him in a matter of months. With this revelation out of the way, he gave a talk about achieving your childhood dreams and enabling the dreams of others.

The lecture was so full of optimism, clarity, hope, humour, and sincerity that the YouTube video went viral and a few months later it was published as a book (2008).

What comes across most strongly is his deep love for his wife and children who he knew he would be leaving behind. It is inspiring and emotionally charged, and you will want to kiss your kids, your partner, or call your parents…

19) IKEBANA: Chat with Flowers – Noriko Ohno

The simplicity of Ikebana – Japanese minimalistic flower arranging – has always calmed and delighted me. I love browsing through used book stores in the home/living/design sections and finding little vintage gems on domestic arts. They are a thing of beauty.

20) MAN’S SEARCH FOR MEANING – Viktor Frankl

A profound, seminal work – part psychological treatise and part harrowing memoir of psychiatrist Viktor Frankl’s experience in Nazi death camps.

Based on his experiences and of others he treated later in his practice, Frankl argues that we cannot avoid suffering but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose. He believes that our primary drive in life is not pleasure, as Freud maintained, but the discovery and pursuit of what we personally find meaningful.

At the time of Frankl’s death in 1997, Man’s Search for Meaning had sold more than 10 million copies in twenty-four languages.

21) INTIMATE DISTANCES – Fiona Tinwei Lam

A gift from a friend, who is a friend of the poet. Eloquent, elegant prose poems with captivating viewpoints – one where she “rewinds” her mother’s life: walking backwards away from birthday cakes and a wedding aisle, swirling backwards in time.  Another poem is a spare, beautiful description of voice and heart.

I’ll leave you with that one….


I carry everything

in my throat

behind a tender keyhole

where mind and heart

and knowing join

and clench.


Touch it. The voice

underneath flesh,

the breath

underneath voice,

the world

underneath breath,

underneath words

burrowed in bone.


-Fiona Tinwei Lam


 I hope there are some surprises and some new ideas among these selections – ones that perhaps you didn’t know about, and that you might explore and enjoy. Happy reading and happy gifting in the new year.