You reveal a bit of yourself through the books you read, I do too.
I wrote on Books: the mirror of your mind and soul with the perspectives on how we tend to choose books we read and what these selections reveal about our character. Books are the window into your nature. Here, I offer my personal choices and journey to my library that may inspire your next reads.
How books pull me to themselves and when not
With each detour into an indie book store displaying a mind-grabbing title in its window, when a good review tickles my curiosity or a theme I am currently interested in or a thoughtful friend gifts me plenty of amusement bound in paper — my physical library keeps expanding. I rarely order online. I don’t use e-readers. I don’t like the semi-tactile, cold experience, plus I am unapologetically writing in the page margins my own reflections. You wouldn’t want to read a book I owned, unless it was a rare vintage pursuit. Pencil, highlighter and pen draw my creative self over bland typing on screen.
Well, there was one, attention worthy classic that I read in its entire page count on Kindle, Nabokov’s Lolita. Often reading while traveling, this ubiquitous gadget’s design allows for an incognito mode saving some disapproving or curious looks.
Sometimes at airports and train stations, I swoosh through the books on offer. Checking out local bestsellers, I rarely succumb to popular trends. These “hits”, whatever their star promises on the cover exclaim, rarely become those attitude or mind shifting reads that alter my life view or connect on a deep level. They are just page turners like thousands of others. I am into the brainy books, those heart and mind stirring metaphors of life.
Diving into the Poetic Depths of Humanity
On the tactile side of reality we live through our actions, and not just in our imagination. The American poet Emily Dickinson wrote a beautiful poem about hope that during strenuous years, a prolonged illness, an injury, a broken heart or being caught in the screeching claws of war lifts us up: “Hope is that thing with feathers…” this line lightens harsh reality with fleeting optimism. I think it is more realistic to recognise the fragility of positive mindset whatever the situation. What makes the difference is what we do about the situation, how we get out of it safely and if possible unwounded. Be practical, not a dreamer when the stakes are high. Always stick up to your values.
Victor Hugo in Pauca Meæ comforted me in time when it seemed that my father would depart from this world prematurely. The beauty of the French language sensually sparks in poetry.
The Senegalese contemporary poet Amadou Lamine Saul in his exemplary French reminded me of the beauty and strains of love. I adore his catholic school learned elegant form of speech. His voice elicits such an avowing, sensual experience.
I read French poetry in its original, which is the best experience one can have. Poetry is the most sensitive literary genre to be flipped into another tongue. Perhaps it is its sometimes irrational, emotional charge and the contact with the unconscious realm that burden its translation. It can also be the metaphors culturally charged with meaning that in some other language could not find the same resonance.
On the similar sphere of human feelings, but rather spiritually Rumi connected love with the divine as nobody else did for me. I was inspired by his poems for my own. Asking my Persian friends how different his poetry sounds in English, I was told that it seems to them the essence did not get lost trough translation.
My countryman Rainer Maria Rilke, struck the spiritual accord with me in his masterpiece The Duino Elegies. Yet it was the English translation of his Poems from the Book of Hours [Das Stundenbuch] by Babette Deutsch next to the German originals when I realised that even Rilke cannot stir my love for that harshly strung language that German is (I wield a survival mode level of Deutsch).
It is the opposite with Shakespeare. Even the most profane translations into Czech did not do what his mother tongue does in his Sonnets.
Who brought me closer to the rainbow of human suffering alleviated by nature’s vibrations is Mary Oliver. In her collection A Thousand Mornings, her poem Hum, Hum connects the hard collective effort of bees and nature in its wholeness, good and bad, ever changing with one’s work on accepting the past’s wounds, facing them, not letting them to stop you through fear and denial from pursuing life.
Books that inspired action, comforting reassurance
A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf has paved the literary path for many female authors of the 20th century. Published posthumously by her husband, the co-founder of Hogarth Press in London, her essay on women’s emancipation and the repression of creative expression of the other half of humanity over millennia enriched the literary world in understanding. Part a memoir but mainly an illuminating feminist crescendo of I want to be heart as well, and I can do it skilfully!
Circe by Madeline Miller empowered me as an intellectual woman. The author took Ancient Greek classics and retold them from women’s perspective. Miller thus heralds our equalising century by flipping the past fictive accounts through the neglected gender’s perspective in focusing on female characters. Currently, there are more books in her growing stable and also by other authors, including male who switched the masculine focus to a feminine point of view.
The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas is a memoir by Gertrude Stein, the Paris-based American confidante of the greatest artists of the first half of the 20th century. The stories are weaved around this close friend of Picasso, Matisse, Braques, Apollinaire, Derain and other geniuses congregating at her Rue de Fleurs house. Stein not only inspired some iconic portraits, but also wrote portraits herself.
From the Nobel Prize awarded authors I was caught by Jon Fosse. A Shining is a tiny, but potent story of an archetypal journey of the author through life’s most challenging moment. Here, Jungian psychology, mythology, and universal struggle with life echo in a brilliant simple telling pregnant with metaphoric magic. Like a contemporary Le Petit Prince by Exupéry for grown-ups, but only an initiated reader can comprehend its abundant nuances.
Learning and Natural Sciences
From science-leaning publications Diane Ackerman’s A Natural History of the Senses shifted poetically my attention to the instinctual feelings through which I engage with the outside world.
I am sumptuously enjoying an ornamental rendering of the story of human perception and connection with the natural world in The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram. His take employs more ethnographical focus.
These urgent calls for humanity to open our senses to the magic there is between us and the crying nature of our era, strike the heart and open the mind to bliss in perception.
The Italian theorist of the loop quantum gravity Carlo Rovelli taught me about the subject I reviled the most in school though his brilliant Seven Brief Lessons on Physics. Without abstract numerical calculations, he drew from a person’s perception and that connection with experience is what lends his language a more humane lustre.
Eco-minded eye-openers were The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. I gave a Czech version to my dad, who loves trees as it rendered trees alive.
Satish Kumar enlightened my moral self on the importance of caring and the cultivation of the natural environment, personal wellbeing and values in Soil•Soul•Society.
Connecting human health and happiness with nature is the object of Forest Bathing, a popular tradition in the animist Japan that cropped across different continents. I bathed in the forest of Los Angeles Arboretum discovering some profound truths, in the Dolomites as well as around my Czech hometown. Artfully and systematically, Dr. Qing Li seduces under his wings a mindful experience within nature. He chairs the Japanese Society for Forest Medicine.
World Connecting Philosophy
Philosophy has always drawn my attention deep within and out into the universal mind world. The most influential and thought stirring were On Freedom by Epictetus, Cicero’s On the Good Life, The Stranger by Camus and Confessions of a Sinner by St Augustine from the western pool of thought. The last two you may object to as belonging to the philosophy window, yet their detailed and honest exploration of dark ideas were life-changing for millions and this for me personally is philosophy expressed at its greatest.
Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching grounds me through millennia-proved wisdom in this classic poetic foundation of Chinese philosophy. Creativity and Taoism by Chuang-yuan Chang brought art and poetry from east to west on board.
Carl Gustav Jung’s Red Book shook me through the pandemic, yet it was not until the events around me started to follow an invisible string only synchronicity could explain. I did not get mad only thanks to timely rereading this strange work between fantasy, dream, mythology, spirituality, psychology and art. Published posthumously, the decades-spanning oeuvre is accompanied by Jung’s personal paintings of fascinating mandalas pregnant with symbolism. I own also the XL copy where this mind-boggling art received the space it deserved.
I need yet to find a contemporary travel writer who will rock me up or knock me down my chair yet. I welcome any suggestions!
I have not specifically reviewed most of the books I read here at La Muse Blue. I tend to include the references while working with some of their concepts within an essay, musing or alongside a poem. Were I regularly posting my favourite books reviews, I would have to write an entire book with commentaries myself. For the gems I mention in this post enriched my knowledge so generously that I glimmer over each line as my eyes mindfully consumes the profound nonmaterial pleasure. My relationship with such books transcends me onto another plane of being. The mentions here are brief, you must discover their value yourself.