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Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words by David Whyte

The author dedicated this book to WORDS and their beautiful, hidden, and beckoning uncertainties.

I was clearly out of my element with this slim volume, and I had only made it to the Dedication page.

Prior to holding this book in my hand, I was right there with Nathaniel Hawthorne:

Words: So innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.

Words, standing in the dictionary, had an assigned meaning. In and of themselves, words hold their own superpowers—to inspire and destroy. But a beckoning uncertainty?

Turning to the promise of the Publisher:

Consolations invites readers into a poetic and thoughtful consideration of words whose meaning and interpretation influence the paths we choose and the way we traverse them throughout our lives.

Beginning with “Alone” and closing with “Withdrawal,” each chapter is a meditation on meaning and context, an invitation to shift and broaden our perspectives on the inevitable vicissitudes of life: pain and joy, honesty and anger, confession and vulnerability, the experience of feeling besieged and the desire to run away from it all.

With the imagery of a poet and the reflection of a philosopher, David Whyte turns his attention to 52 ordinary words, each its own particular doorway into the underlying currents of human life.

Honestly, while I couldn’t resist the invitation, I was more than a tad bit intimidated. The Introduction by Maria Popova, a personal heroine and author of The Marginalian Newsletter ( a must read for book lovers and bibliophiles, that lifted the veil of my own bias, creating an opening for me to suspend disbelief and experience the beckoning world of words:

. . . the commonest words in our lexicon—those tasked with constraining and conveying the most elemental human truths and experiences—are slowly being shorn of meaning: assaulted by misuse, abraded by overuse, overthought, and underconsidered, trampled of dimension, and discolored of nuance.

In Consolations, David Whyte repatriates us in the land of language by giving words back to themselves and, in this generous act, giving us back to ourselves . . .

What emerges is that supreme gift of being: a deeper sense of belonging—of words, to words, and to ourselves.

What does one say to that? Only that this is not a book to be read, but a book to be experienced.

Consolations is a paradox—graceful yet confounding. I started to read the words in alphabetical order, Alone, Ambition, Anger, Beauty, Beginning. By the time I finished Beginning, so drawn into the unexpected and provocative, I found myself continuing in the order the words spoke to my heart—Courage, Destiny, Giving, Longing, Naming, Parallels, Silence, and Solace. I felt as if I was walking an emotional labyrinth. When I came to the end of one emotional string, I began again—Besieged, Forgiveness, Gratitude, Honesty, Memory, Shadow, and Withdrawal.

Through Whyte’s lens, Procrastination may be a necessary ripening; Hiding an act of freedom; Shyness the appropriate confusion and helplessness that accompanies the first stage of revelation; Courage the measure of our heartfelt participation with life; Heartbreak an indication of our sincerity; and Genius both a specific gift and a possibility that has not yet occurred.

This book is pure genius.


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