Book Review: "Consolations," by David Whyte




There are not many conversations that exemplify an honest dusting away of the cobwebs, or the opening of new windows into and from ourselves, or that can be profoundly intimate, yet universal at the same time. "Consolations," by David Whyte, is one such conversation. Part extended word-definer, part philosophical musing, part existential-examination-beyond-and-behind-the-words, and a wholly indispensable companion for our individual journeys, Consolations is a brilliant read. Whether enjoyed from cover-to-cover, or as an index into a pertinent query (my preferred method), it is an exercise that reveals newer layers at every subsequent visit.

Strung together in alphabetical order are 52 words that Whyte chooses from our the humdrum of our everyday lives, and then explains, with a gradual removal of superficial layers, the fundamental qualities of that word. The musings accompanying every "card in the pack1" seem to transcend the boundaries of language, culture, or even the limited experiences of the human mind - I strongly believe that a person who has spent enough time with, or has at least observed, other members of the animal kingdom may well recognize the shared spark from these words to their experiences!

The list includes a well-worn spectrum of human emotions and qualities that taken together, provide a lentille de gestalt, if you will, on humanity and its humanness. This in itself is a very delicate undertaking indeed, for such claimants are available a dime-a-dozen in the "self help" section! But this volume, one feels, is not meant for helping us with ready-to-use solutions for our quests -- as one explores the text, there is a definite sense of multiplicity in the questions that plague us, accompanied by a clear understanding of which of these questions are superfluous, and which are not. As such, I will refrain from mentioning any of the 52 words themselves, hoping that I can steer interested readers in the direction of this text with an absolutely open mind!

I will, however, have a few more words to add about my experience reading this book. The foremost experience one has as one reads (and re-reads, and re-reads...) the text is the dazzling clarity that each encounter enables, and even encourages -- to the extent that every subsequent visit is highly anticipated for its novelty as well as a firm reassurance of being in our element. While it is true that the process of understanding a poet's philosophical statement and mapping it to our personal experiences is a highly subjective criteria, I have no doubt that the set of our cumulative experiences in the face of something as luminous as this text will definitely converge to a common point of elevation.

One cannot really claim to "review" a work like Consolations. So, while the title of this post includes the term, I would like to add that the post itself is a review of my expression in its face, rather than a rigorous analysis of the text itself. I hope that the post is taken as an indicator of gratitude, and not hubris, on the part of this reader.

Thank you!


1 Do visit Maria Popova's brilliant essay on this book, and more.
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