He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often and loved much ... who has left the world better than he found it, whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul; who has never lacked appreciation of earth's beauty or failed to express it; who has always looked for the best in others and given them the best he had; whose life was an inspiration; whose memory a benediction.
(Bessie Anderson Stanley)
Last year's December BookLoons editorial quoted Edward Fitzgerald's version of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, with its Carpe Diem message. This year, with the world in just as sorry a state, it will take more than a sprint of optimism to see us through. It seems that humanity is increasingly divided between groups who see destruction as a way to address their problems, and individuals willing to work at building a better future. It's not a sprint now, but a marathon of optimism that is needed. Where to find it? Here is an eclectic selection of books that inspired me this year. I hope that some of them work for you too.
Marlo Thomas' The Right Words at the Right Time distils the wisdom of 110 different lives, including advice that changed the course of many futures. Richard Carlson moves from the small stuff to answer What About the Big Stuff? with specific tools and techniques for coping. Terrie Williams gives us a blueprint for a life balanced by a focus on seven living virtues in A Plentiful Harvest. And Karen Foli recounts her family's heroic journey through a son's learning difficulties in Like Sound Through Water.
Though I don't advise anyone to go to quite the same lengths as James Mawdsley, he makes clear in The Iron Road, how much one motivated individual can do to address global wrongs. In Of Beetles & Angels, and despite a tough childhood in war-torn Ethiopia, Mawi Asgedom inspires others to 'inscribe a little goodness on the hard surface of this world'. It's Our World, Too!documents how effective even small children have been in working hard for what they believe in. Jane Goodall is one of the most inspiring individuals of our time; read Reason for Hope to share her ideas on mankind's moral evolution and 'responsibility toward the other life-forms of our planet'. And enjoy The Ghost with Trembling Wings as a marvelous celebration of diversity in an ever shrinking world, whose wild places remain 'fit habitat for myths and monsters, a place where dreams can live.'
Fiction can always inspire, and we all differ, in the genres and authors who speak most clearly to our inner ear. Two wonderful novels stood out from the crowd for me this year. One, widely recognized for excellence, is Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones, which gives us joy in the midst of desolation, and a vision of an afterlife. And Eliot Pattison's Water Touching Stone opens up cracks of hope for a people who are being systematically destroyed, as his hero engages in a 'struggle for those who love the god within and for those who can learn to do so.'
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