The recent post about Mister Rogers got me thinking about how to give gifts that “encourage wonder and reflection? That question has been resonating as I belatedly assemble a list of gift suggestions.
In addition to giving money to charities in my friends’ names (with a pretty card alerting them), or food gifts I’ve made myself, I love to give books. Here are a few favorites that encourage wonder, reflection, quiet.
The Mountain Poems of Stonehouse, Red Pine’s superb translation of the hermetic Chinese Buddhist poet who used poetry as his medium of instruction. Pure illumination, with lots of nature. Opened at random here.
The two-volume Collect Poems of W.S. Merwin has provided endless perfect poems to weave through posts the past year. At $63, it is a hefty gift. For a less expensive dose of his transformative poetry, I recommend Flower & Hand, a compilation of three books, including his lovely “haiku”.
Jenny Odell’s brilliant How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy is all about how to make space and find quiet in our dangerously consuming world. You can open it anywhere to find illuminating and clarifying ideas.
In the books I give to the kids I know, I find myself infusing the idea of “encouraging wonder” with creative thinking. They invariably hit home with adults as well.
My perennial, zennish favorite is Marjorie Winslow’s classic Mud Pies and Other Recipes. Each recipe evokes quiet, magical hours outdoors.
Tiny Perfect Things is the story of a child and a grandfather whose walk around the neighborhood leads to a day of shared wonder as they discover all sorts of tiny, perfect things together. Few words, lovely illustrations.
Ancient Trees: Portraits in Time, presents 60 astonishing images photographer Beth Moon made during fourteen years traveling the world photographing the most ancient living trees. She describes her work as “Portraits of Change. Portraits of Survival. Portraits of Time.”
It can be read as a sort of adult story book, due to the note on the history and origin of each tree that accompanies each rather magical image, many in remote parts of the world. Moon’s duotone photographs powerfully (and curiously) amplify the vitality of these remarkable trees. The images are interspersed with the occasional perfect poem. Ancient Trees: Portraits in Time is a deeply heartening book I leave propped open, to keep in my field of vision as I go about my day.
I’ve had Tantra Song: Tantric Painting from Rajasthan open on my mantle for years, never tiring of the images, and a deeply enjoying their curiously modern, deeply meditative quality. A jewel of a book.
This collection of rare, abstract Tantra drawings was conceived when the French poet Franck André Jamme stumbled on a small catalogue of Tantric art at a Paris bookseller’s stall. The volume included writings by Octavio Paz and Henri Michaux, and Jamme became fascinated by the images’ affinity with modern art and poetry. He read voraciously and even journeyed to India, searching in vain for Tantric practitioners, until a bus accident on the road to Jaipur sent him home to France with serious injuries. When he returned a few years later, he met a soothsayer who proclaimed that Jamme had now paid sufficient tribute to the goddess Shakti and required him to take a vow: he must visit the tantrikas alone or only in the company of a loved one.