by Laura Crum
And no, I don’t mean my books. I’m not even talking about “horse books”—sorry Equestrian Ink members and followers. I know fiction about horses is supposed to be our theme here. But the books I am writing about today are the ones that have spoken to me lately. And, as you all know by now, lately I am only interested in “what counts.” Life seems too short to me at this point to seek entertainment for entertainment’s sake. Though I will admit that some of the books that have helped me “see the light” have also been entertaining. (And I have read horse books that seem pretty magical—there have even been a few fans of my books who thought that my own mysteries were magical—so I’m not discounting horse fiction here.) Also, I am enough of a writer to find a poorly written book so annoying that no matter how touching the subject matter I can’t get through the book. (Certain self-published books come to mind-- my apologies here to all the authors of excellent self-published books, because I know you are out there, too, but some self-published books are just nightmares to those of us who wrote under the guidance of the incredibly picky and experienced editors in large publishing houses. And I also grew very frustrated with several “mass market” type self help books that were clearly written quickly in order to make the author a little more money.) But some books have been truly magical—and a great gift to me at this time.
The first magical book I want to mention actually came to me in a magical way. Or so I see it. Several people had mentioned a book called “Proof of Heaven” by Eben Alexander to me on facebook. I was familiar with the concept of the book. A neurosurgeon who does not believe in God or heaven has a NDE and becomes convinced of the truth of the afterlife. I wasn’t actually too interested in this book. I had no intentions of reading it. But lo and behold, when a box arrived from Amazon one day, this book was in it—along with some shampoo that I distinctly remember ordering. I do not remember ordering the book.
Of course, I could have ordered the book after a couple of whiskey and sodas—and might not remember. But I ordered the shampoo one afternoon—completely sober—and Amazon doesn’t usually put things in the same box unless you order them close together. Go figure. I don’t know how I came to receive the book, but once it was here I read it. And it was magical.
I know books about NDEs are relatively common—but I haven’t read very many of them. This book touched me in several ways. The author’s obvious sincerity most of all. The fact that the book confirmed many things that I have believed for a long time also resonated. But the bottom line is simply magic. The book spoke to me of the real magic that underlies this world. And that was so helpful. I recommend it highly.
The next magical book was given to me by a new friend. I am not a Buddhist and neither is she. But the book is a collection of writings by a Buddhist nun. (“The Pocket Pema Chodron”) Many of the concepts were rather disorienting to me. But the book makes me think. It opens my mind. It speaks to suffering and loss in a different way from the western notions we are accustomed to hearing. And my husband did much Buddhist training and practice, though I don’t think he would have called himself a Buddhist exactly. He didn’t much care for labels. (I believe when he was asked his religion on a hospital form he wrote “Evangelical Druid.”) In any case, the Buddha is said to have told his followers, “Don’t listen to me. Go have your own experience.” And this is a sentiment that resonates for me.
I recommend this tiny book of Buddhist insights—a lot. I don’t agree with everything in it. Heck, I don’t really get a lot of it. But it helps me to open my mind. It helps me move toward peace.
The third magical book was recommended by a friend and I ordered it. “The Alchemist” by Paolo Coelho. This book really is about magic. A magical novel. It’s also about animals and wisdom and following your dreams and God and love. In short, all the real things. I liked it so much that I am now reading what is described as the companion volume-- “The Pilgrimage” by the same author. This book I think I like even better (so far). It is a memoir rather than a novel, and tells the story of a pilgrimage that the author made—a trek that taught him about the real magic in the world and was the foundation for his novel, “The Alchemist.”
I just finished “Hannah’s Gift” by Maria Housden—a book written by a woman whose three year old daughter died of cancer. It is an astonishingly uplifting book about magic and faith and joy—as well as great grief and sorrow. The two halves of the whole…
Besides these books, which have truly moved me, I have read quite a collection of other books given to me by friends or recommended by friends. Some of these spoke to me more than others, but I will list a few here, in case they help someone else. “Gift of the Red Bird” by Paula Darcy—story of a women who lost her husband and infant daughter in a car wreck and her path to healing. “A Grace Disguised” by Jerry Sittser—story of a man who lost his wife and daughter and mother in a car wreck and his path to healing. “H is for Hawk” by Helen McDonald—story of a woman who lost her beloved father to a sudden heart attack and who embarks on a path of healing through a hawk. “The Art of Stillness” by Pico Iyer—an international travel journalist’s exploration of going nowhere and doing nothing—and the magic to be found in such stillness. All of these books offered insights that I found helpful.
I re-read “A Grief Observed” by CS Lewis—a book I have read many times before. His clear, direct expression of his terrible grief at the death of his wife from cancer is deeply honest and moving. His faith is equally honest and inspiring.
And I read, a little at a time, my husband’s blog ("Begonias in the Mist"--inspired by his job of raising the tuberous begonia crop for Golden State Bulb Growers--which he did for over thirty years)—to hear his steady, humorous voice, and see the magic he always found in the world. Here is a link to one of my favorite posts, "Names for Fog" The photo below shows a display of begonias at Andy's workplace that was created in his honor.
If any of you have recommendations for books that illuminate the magic in this short mortal life that we live, please add them in the comments. I would appreciate it very much.