books

How Emotions Are Made

“Emotions are not reactions to the world; they are your constructions of the world.” …

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Hermann Hesse on Discovering the Soul Beneath the Self and the Key to Finding Peace

“Self-hate is really the same thing as sheer egoism, and in the long run breeds the same cruel isolation and despair.” …

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The Secret Life of Chocolate: Oliver Sacks on the Cultural and Natural History of Cacao

Without chocolate, life would be a mistake — not a paraphrasing of Nietzsche he would have easily envisioned, for he was a toddler in Germany when a British chocolatier created the first modern version of what we now think of as chocolate: a paste of sugar, chocolate liquor, and cocoa butter, molded into a bar. As the making of bars entered the factories over the course of the next century, chocolate — further and further removed from the lush life of cacao, stripped of its cultural history and botanical wonder — became a microcosm of our progressive commodification of delight,… read article …

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Anne Morrow Lindbergh on Embracing Change in Relationships and the Key Pattern for Nourishing Love

“All living relationships are in process of change, of expansion, and must perpetually be building themselves new forms.” …

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The Art of Allowing Change: Neurobiologist Susan R. Barry’s Moving Correspondence with Oliver Sacks about the Blessed Overwhelm of Transformation

There is a thought experiment known as Mary’s Room, brilliant and haunting, about the abyss between felt experience and our mental models of it, about the nature of knowledge, the mystery of consciousness, and the irreducibility of aliveness: Living in a black-and-white chamber, Mary the scientist studies how nature works — from the physics of light to the biology of the eye — but when she exits her monochrome room and encounters color, she experiences something far beyond her knowledge of what color is. It might be impossible, the experiment intimates, to imagine — even with our finest knowledge and… read article …

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The Warblers and the Wonder of Being: Loren Eiseley on Contacting the Miraculous

“The time has to be right; one has to be, by chance or intention, upon the border of two worlds. And sometimes these two borders may shift or interpenetrate and one sees the miraculous.” …

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Thich Nhat Hanh on True Love and the Five Rivers of Self-Knowledge

“For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks… the work for which all other work is but preparation,” Rilke wrote to his young correspondent. The great difficulty of loving arises from the great difficulty of bridging the abyss between one consciousness and another in order to understand each other, to map the inner landscape of another’s territory of trust and vulnerability, to teach each other how what we need of love. “Understanding and loving are inseparable,” the humanistic philosopher and psychologist Erich Fromm wrote in his wonderful field guide to the… read article …

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Time and the Soul: Philosopher Jacob Needleman on Our Search for Meaning

“The real significance of our problem with time… is a crisis of meaning… The root of our modern problem with time is neither technological, sociological, economic nor psychological. It is metaphysical. It is a question of the meaning of human life itself.” …

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The Bird in the Heart: Terry Tempest Williams on the Paradox of Transformation and How to Live with Uncertainty

“We can change, evolve, and transform our own conditioning. We can choose to move like water rather than be molded like clay.” …

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War, Peace, and Possible Futures: George Saunders on Storytelling the World’s Fate and the Antidote to Media Manipulation

“War is large-scale murder, us at our worst, the stupidest guy doing the cruelest thing to the weakest being.” …

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What Makes a Compassionate World: Sophie de Grouchy’s Visionary 18th-Century Appeal to Parents and Teachers

The morning after the 2016 presidential election, I awoke to terrifying flashbacks of my childhood under a totalitarian dictatorship. Desperate for assurance that the future need not hold the total moral collapse of democracy, I reached out to my eldest friend for perspective. Months shy of 100, Helen had been born into a world war, survived the Holocaust, and fled from Poland to America without speaking a word of English before becoming a professor of English literature for half a century. I asked her what to do, where the hope lies. Her response was simple, profound. “The most hideous crime… read article …

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‘It Ends With Us’ Cast Just Added These 2 Actors To Play Young Lily & Atlas

Colleen Hoover’s movie adaptation is star-studded. …

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Sentimentality and Being Mortal: Poet Mark Doty on the Passionate Fragility of Our Attachments

How beautiful and unbearable that only one of each exists — each lover, each child, each dog; that this particular chance-constellation of atoms has never before existed and will never again recur in the history of the universe. The fact of each such singularity is a wonder beyond why, as mysterious and irrefutable as the reason you love one and not another. The feeling trembling beneath the fact — the brutal knowledge that everything we love is irreplaceable yet will be lost: to dissolution and death, to rejection and indifference, to our own return to stardust — is the hardest… read article …

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The Two Souls Within: Hermann Hesse on the Dual Life of the Creative Spirit

“Like a precious, fleeting foam over the sea of suffering arise all those works of art, in which a single individual lifts himself for an hour so high above his personal destiny that his happiness shines like a star and appears to all who see it as something eternal and as a happiness of their own.” …

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A Parliament of Owls and a Murder of Crows: How Groups of Birds Got Their Names, with Wondrous Vintage Illustrations by Brian Wildsmith

Language is an instrument of great precision and poignancy — our best tool for telling each other what the world is and what we are, for conveying the blueness of blue and the wonder of being alive. But it is also a thing of great pliancy and creativity — a living reminder that how we name things changes what we see, changes the seer. (This, of course, is why we have poetry.) It is the birthplace of the imagination and forever its plaything: I remember my unabashed delight when a naturalist friend first introduced me to the various terms for… read article …

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Love and the Sacred

“I did not know what love was until I encountered one that kept opening and opening and opening.” …

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A Spell Against Stagnation: John O’Donohue on Beginnings

“Our very life here depends directly on continuous acts of beginning.” …

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We Are the Music, We Are the Spark: Pioneering Biologist Ernest Everett Just on What Makes Life Alive

“Life is exquisitely a time-thing, like music.” …

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What It’s Like to Be an Owl: The Strange Science of Seeing with Sound

“We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals,” the great nature writer Henry Beston wrote in his lovely century-old meditation on otherness and the web of life. “In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear.” In the century since, we have come to unravel some of the wonders of the non-human sensorium — from the tetrachromatic vision of bees to the choral communication of migrating birds to the magnificent… read article …

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Hermann Hesse on What Books Give Us and the Heart of Wisdom

Books show us what it is like to be another and at the same time return us to ourselves. We read to learn how to live — how to love and how to suffer, how to grieve and how to be glad. We read to clarify ourselves and to anneal our values. We read for the assurance that others have lived through what we are living through. “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read,” James Baldwin reflected in his most personal interview. And yet while books may give… read article …

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Favorite Books of 2023

To look back on a year of reading is to be handed a clear mirror of your priorities and passions, of the questions that live in you and the reckonings that keep you up at night. While the literature of the present comprises only a tiny fraction of my own reading, here are a handful of books published this year that moved me with their tendrils of timelessness, with their questions and their consolations — selections neither exhaustive nor universal, as subjective as a shade of blue. THE HALF KNOWN LIFE “The mind is its own place, and in it… read article …

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Working Out, Working In: Applying the Six Principles of Athletic Training to Writing and Creative Work

The highest and hardest task of life may be to become entirely ourselves — to continually purify and clarify who and what we are, shedding the shoulds of culture, convention, and expectation to discover the innermost musts: those deepest and truest callings of the authentic self, or what we might call soul. And yet the great paradox is that the self is not a fixity but a perpetual fluidity, reshaped by every experience we have: every love and every loss, every person we meet, every place we visit, and every book we read. And so it must be: “A self… read article …

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The Power of a Thin Skin

“To be thin-skinned is to feel keenly, to perceive things that might go unseen, unnoticed, that others might prefer not to notice.” …

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How the Sea Came to Be: An Illustrated Singsong Celebration of the Evolution of Life on Our Pale Blue Dot

“Who has known the ocean? Neither you nor I, with our earth-bound senses,” Rachel Carson wrote in the pioneering 1937 essay that invited the human imagination into the science and splendor of the marine world for the first time — a world then more mysterious than the Moon, a world that makes of Earth the Pale Blue Dot that it is. In the near-century since, we have made great strides in illuminating the wonderland of the sea — from the birth of sonar and the revelations of the first submersibles to our ongoing discoveries of astonishing sea creatures. And yet… read article …

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How to Bless Each Other: Poet and Philosopher John O’Donohue on the Light Within Us and Between Us

“The structures of our experience are the windows into the divine. When we are true to the call of experience, we are true to God.” …

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Poetic Ecology and the Biology of Wonder

“The real disconnect is not between our human nature and all the other beings; it is between our image of our nature and our real nature.” …

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