Red Wheel Weiser Staff Picks: Holiday Gift Guide

Publishers love books, but we also love to read them! And it’s not just the editors who do all the reading. We’ve scoured our library shelves to bring you staff picks from our back and front list, from the people who make them!

Pick 1: Death Poems

death poems

Death Poems
Classic, Contemporary, Witty, Serious, Tear-Jerking, Wise, Profound, Angry, Funny, Spiritual, Atheistic, Uncertain, Personal, Political, Mythic, Earthy, and Only Occasionally Morbid
Edited by Russ Kick
Disinformation Books. Paperback, $21.95.

Death Poems seems an odd choice for a holiday gift, eh?  Not really.  Though it offers a vast survey of death (320 poems by 200 poets) including the death of children, funeral rites for serial killers, war, elegies for famous people, and more death-ish-ness, it is actually life affirming!  Readers will find Walt Whitman celebrating death as an important part of the richness of life.  Lord Byron pens a beautiful epitaph for his beloved dog.  Emily Dickinson goes for a carriage ride with Death, and Dylan Thomas pleads with his father to go gentle into that good night.  Kick offers a “finely wrought kaleidoscope of ideas, attitudes, and experiences.” Celebrate the season (and life) with Death Poems!

~ Bonni Hamilton, Director of Marketing & Digital Content

Pick 2:  The Showings of Julian of Norwichthe showings julian of norwich

The Showings of Julian of Norwich
A New Translation

Mirabai Starr
Hampton Roads. Paperback, $18.95

Julian was a fourteenth century mystic who was an anchoress at the church of St. Julian in Norwich, England.  She is called Julian after the church where she served; her real name is lost to us.  An anchoress literally lived in a very small addition to the church she served at.  Her function was to pray, and the only human contact she had was through a small window to the outside world.  Her only other point of contact was either with the priest  assigned to the church or her cat, which she kept with her.

What makes Julian remarkable to me are her visions of Christ, set at a very patriarchal time, which fairly sing with love, peace, optimism, compassion, and most of all, of motherhood.  Julian proclaimed the motherhood of God at a time when doing so could result in a quick trip to the nearest stake with a match.

She was insistent in proclaiming God’s tender love for all people; she looked deep into God and said there was no punishment, only understanding and love.  She identified “sins” as mistakes and urged all to simply get up, not waste time on guilt, but throw themselves into the arms of a God who loves with a tender mother’s love for healing and grace.

If that’s not an appropriate holiday message, I don’t know what is.

~Meg Richardson, Sales Manager

Pick 3: Everyday Energy Boosters

365 energy boostersEveryday Energy Boosters
365 Tips and Tricks to Help You Feel Like a Million Bucks
Sondra Kornblatt and Susannah Seton
Conari. Paperback. $17.95

With the constant running around, over-scheduling, overworking, and undersleeping who couldn’t use an energy boost? This book offers easy ways to make the most of your day and find that second wind. There are far too many things to see and do and not enough time to waste.

~Kimberly Ehart, Publishing Associate

Pick 4: The Museum of Lost Wonder

J030023 Jacket.pdf, page 1 @ NormalizeThe Museum of Lost Wonder
Jeff Hoke
Weiser. Hardcover w/ paper model kits, full color throughout. $49.95

This book is a real trip. A trip in the sense that it takes visitors through a series of mysteries for which there can be no absolute answers, but leaves them understanding more than when they set out. It’s an adventure through various wonder-full ideas which reside at the base of human questioning. The Museum of Lost Wonder is one of those rare books which provides a lesson as an object, not just within the text. This lovely, oversize, full-color illustrated and illuminated book is perfect for delving into, parts at a time. Pull-out card stock models provide activity which stimulates the hands as much as the mind. It doesn’t so much explain what Wonder is as directly engage readers in Wonder, inviting us to re-experience and treasure Wonder in our lives.

Careful readers of this recommendation will note that there are not too many specifics given. This is a difficult book to summarize in a pithy gift-book review, but an easy pick to recommend as a gift book. It’s a Big-Picture (and illustrated!) kind of book, exploring eternal questions of humanity through a lens of mystery and awe. This is one of those gifts where a recipient will look at it–and you–quizzically, but may very well launch late night discussions about Big Issues months down the road, or remain a true coffee table curiosity object for visitors to peruse.

Over-the-top production values, truly unique and thought-provoking content, and a presentation which makes this a book which can be read at any point for however long a visitor wishes to remain in The Museum make it a perfect gift, especially for those who have everything: who couldn’t stand a bit more Wonder in their lives…?

~Mike Conlon, Production Manager

Pick 5: The Upgrade

the upgrade coverThe Upgrade
A Cautionary Tale of Life Without Reservations
Disinformation. Paperback, $18.95

The holidays can be a busy time, although the commercials lead you to believe that it will be a time filled with sweaters and hot chocolate, in all reality it is filled with stress and frustration. So what is the best way to relax after the most reeling time of the year? Well to laugh of course. The Upgrade by Paul Carr will make you do just that. Paul Carr takes you through his self entitled “ridiculous adventure” of living out of luxury hotels and giving up all commitments. Working out that it is actually cheaper to live this way, then in his small London apartment Carr takes his readers on a hilarious adventure across the world. Although this book will make the reader laugh, Carr’s behavior tends to escalate towards the destructive, teaching a valuable lesson on what is really important in this life. This is the perfect gift to give anyone on your list, especially someone who has had an especially stressful time hanging the stockings.

~Grace Goodman, Editorial Intern

Pick 6: Darkside Zodiac

darkside zodiac coverDarkside Zodiac
Stella Hyde
Weiser. Paperback, $24.95.

Sometimes, in a world where everyone is posting adorable little memes on facebook telling you to “shine bright” it’s refreshing to have someone tell you like it is: you suck. I laughed out loud, like LOL, when I read this line about my own sign, Taurus,  “Alright, being soul-sappingly boring isn’t the most stygian you can get on the Darkside (although tell that to your desperate family, mouthing ‘kill me now’ through the windowpane at passersby as you get out the Monopoly board for your biweekly game.)” You may not like what you read about your own Zodiac sign, but you’ll get a real good laugh to see what this book has to say about the signs of your family and friends.

~Hillary Peacock, Operations Manager

Pick 7: Steampunk Magic

Steampunk magic

Steampunk Magic
Working Magic Aboard the Airship
Gypsey Elaine Teague
Weiser. Paperback. $16.95

Even for the Scroogiest of us all, the holidays are the most Victorian season of the year, from Yule logs to plum puddings. Why not revel in the mood with Steampunk Magic, the only book that tells you how to invoke Queen Victoria for good fortune, celebrate your coming of age among the crew of your very own airship, and gaze into the Aether through consecrated brass goggles? It’s a little pagan, a little Dickensian, completely adorable, and the only magick system that’s just as at home with Ada Lovelace as it is with tarot divination.

~Michael Alexander, Assistant Production Editor

Pick 8: Banshees, Werewolves, Vampires and Other Creatures of the Night

banshees, werewolves, vampires

Banshees, Werewolves, Vampires, and Other Creatures of the Night
Facts, Fictions, and First-Hand Accounts
Varla Ventura
Weiser. Flapped paperback. $16.95

Ventura’s little book is packed with vintage charm, full of stories of olden days, modern-day horror stories, true and terrifying tales. It’s just creepy enough to please any fan of horror, magical creatures, vampires, werewolves, monsters, fairies, and odd history. It’s good for tweens and as well as the decrepit, and holds a special charm for anyone who feels most comfortable at midnight. The package itself is perfect for a stocking-stuffer, it’s 5 x 7 with lots of charming spot art. Fans of Ventura’s other works will appreciate her inside-jokes and puns, and those new to this author will surely be charmed into wanting more. It’s one part Ripley’s Believe it Or Not, one part Bram Stoker, and three parts “sh*t, did I remember to lock the door?”

~Amber Guetebier, Editor

Pick 9: The Good Stuff from Growing Up in a Dysfunctional Family

the good stuff

The Good Stuff from Growing Up in a Dysfunctional Family
How to Survive and Then Thrive Karen Casey
Conari. Paperback. $16.95

I’m thinking people might like to check out Karen Casey’s latest, The Good Stuff from Growing Up in a Dysfunctional Family, because pretty much, no matter how old you are and how much “work” you’ve done, if you grew up in a dysfunctional family, things can get pretty hairy at the holiday time. This book will help restore balance and peace. So maybe multiple copies are in order—one for everybody.

~Jan Johnson, Publisher

Pick 10: 12 Secrets of Highly Creative Women

12 secrets of creative women

The 12 Secrets of Highly Creative Women
A Portable Mentor
Gail McMeekin
Conari. Paperback. $17.95

My pick is an oldie but a really, really goodie. Every time I open the book I get another shot of inspiration, whether I read just a few lines or curl up on the sofa with it for a rejuvenating break (we have this wonderful red leather sofa in the office, and when I’ve had enough computer time I sometimes change the scenery and sit there for reading and contemplation). Sometimes I just like to open the book to a random page and see what’s in store for me at that moment. Today’s “random” hit was this quote from poet Minnie Richard Smith: Diamonds are only chunks of coal that stuck to their jobs, you see.” Perfect for writers and editors and publishers and, well, pretty much everyone else who is trying to leave the world a bit better, a bit more beautiful, than they way they found it. I love how Gail draws wisdom from women from so many different fields and creative endeavors and finds these 12 themes—from Following Your Fascinations to Conquering Saboteurs to Surrendering to Cycles. We originally published the book back in 2000, which just goes to show that most good reads never go out of style. The book continues to touch so many creative women, and I just love that. And the new cover we added last year is so pretty to look at, too.

~Caroline Pincus, Associate Publisher

What’s on your holiday must-read/must-buy list?

A Bold Life -T. Thorn Coyle’s “Kissing the Limitless” Revisited

As we near the end of this month’s session of the Weiser Book Club on Twitter (#WBC3) my thoughts turn back to that first enthusiastic foray into book-ala-tweet — a discussion of T. Thorn Coyle’s Kissing the Limitless. For four weeks in the winter of 2009 a dedicated group of bloggers and twits examined this occult treatise with a passion and intensity that I have yet to see repeated. It was thrilling, but not at all surprising. Thorn is a beloved teacher, a vocal activist and a kick-ass musician. Her name conjures immediate and affectionate responses from her many friends, fans and students.

I often turn back to my dog-eared and heavily annotated copy of  Kissing the Limitless for something that’s …well, hard to define. There’s a clarity and depth to Thorn’s writing that resonates with what I can only call the seeker in me – as corny and inadequate as that sounds.

Here are just a few of my favorite excerpts:

Monotheists almost had it right in speaking of the unity of love, but they did not yet have the number zero, the cipher, the void. By naming something one, they were trying to get at its unity. They were not able to realize at the time that naming something one, instead of all, can be a first separation; a distancing that can turn the All into the other. (p.2)

There is a self. And there is unity. Neither can be accessed without the other, not on this plane and within this lifetime. (p.7.)

We need to make magic from where we are, not where we should be. (p.4)

Magic comes to life in the space between what exists and what is possible. (p.29)

Things may need to stay in the darkness for some time. There is power in darkness: the power of gestation, deep dreaming, and the sweetness of night. (pp.26-27)

How we spend our time shows what we think we love, what we are devoted to, or what we worship. (p.37)

All movement arises from stillness, and all integration comes from some sort of observation. A life lived without consciousness is a life run by random chance, pain, or folly. The life lived in search of and in service of consciousness is one lived toward integrated enlightenment. (p.53)

All acts of magic are acts of choice. (p.70)

We are part animal, part human, and part divine, and the moment we forget the possibility of any one of those, we are lost. (p.84)

Just as we look at what gods we worship – all the things we make central to our lives, whether we are aware of them or not – we must look upon the demons we feed. (p.152)

All directions are necessary. One force alone will not create a world. (p.187)

This is the place of daring spoken of in the four magical powers: to know, to will, to dare, and to hold the mystery of silence. (p.196)

Let me make it clear that these quotes are taken out of the larger context of a serious book on deep magic – instructional, informed, and profoundly philosophical.  I have literally hundreds of passages underlined – the book has become a sort of personal I-Ching – but the value comes from its overarching vision, which integrates lyrical and insightful prose  with practical applications of breath-work, meditation, shadow work, and divination. It is a course designed for fearless study.  Its purpose  is transformation, and its exercises are intended to shake the reader to the core.

For many, the most terrifying occult adage  is “Know thyself.” It was the warning inscription to all petitioners to the Delphic oracle, and it has been the basis for many magical traditions. Thorn successfully argues here that it is the essential truth for any spiritual seeker -it is the foundation of integrity, insight, honor and strength. It is the place where freedom and discipline, power and compassion coexist. It is, in essence, what makes magic work. It is also a life-long pursuit. “Life is perfect, ” Thorn writes, “but perfection involves change.” (p.125)

Which is why after two years and many other wonderful books I keep coming back to this one. It’s principles are timeless, the Great Work ongoing, and the poetic insights of its author continue to inspire.

May our lives be born from the beauty of darkness, and shine with the possibility of light. (p. xii)

Visit the author’s website – you won’t be disappointed!

Weiser Book Club (#WBC3) – The Diary of a Drug Fiend by Aleister Crowley – Book II

Book II  of Crowley’s The Diary of a Drug Fiend is told through Lou’s (Louise Laleham Pendragon’s) journal entries.

Lou and Peter find themselves back in England. Having been robbed and humiliated during their European honeymoon binge, they arrive in London broke and desperately addicted. Compounding their troubles is a recently passed law which restricts the distribution and prescription of dangerous drugs.  Their friends cannot supply them, and the underground dealers they seek out take advantage of their naivete and desperation. Peter becomes brutish, violent and paranoid. Lou is willing to do whatever she must to restore the relationship and the euphoria they felt in Europe – even bargaining sex for drugs. The sudden death of an old friend and fellow user (Mabel Black) does not restore their sense of perspective, but an encounter with another friend (Maisie Jacobs ) kindles in Lou a sense of purpose and clarifies the true nature of King Lamus and Thelema.  Inspired and resupplied, Lou and Peter retreat to his country estate and embark on a series of reckless magical experiments*.   Both become increasingly delusional, and the tension mounts until Peter, in a fit of paranoia, shoots himself in the chest.  Lou rallies to his aid, and the shock and sudden urgent focus of the situation restore her to a form of sobriety. Peter’s recovery takes longer, but by the end of Book II both are clean – alas, not for long.

One of the most significant features of this section is a poem that King Lamus recites to the couple when they visit him in Chapter I. He refuses to meet their chemical need, but offers instead a long and complex verse that haunts both (especially Peter) throughout the rest of the book.

That poem has obsessed us. It fills our souls to the exclusion of everything except the thirst…I don’t know what some of the words mean. But there is a fascination about them. They give the idea of something without limit. (Lou – p.231)

Then later…

The rhythm of the poem was still in muy own blood; but it seemed to have worked itself out into another channel.. (Lou p. 237)

What is the purpose of Lamus’s poem and how does the power of words (the poem, Lou’s diary, the Satanic books in the Grange Library) dictate the action in Book II?

Tweet with the #WBC3 hashtag or chat here!

*These passages are truly frightening and deserve their own, lengthy examination – so have at it, if you are so inclined!

Weiser Book Club (#WBC3) – The Diary of a Drug Fiend by Aleister Crowley

It is easy to see why The Diary of a Drug Fiend helped to spark the Crowley renaissance in the 1960’s and 70’s. Sex, drugs and a rock ‘n roll lifestyle without the big hair or bad guitar solos. Yet despite what initially seems like a glamorization of narcotic-induced licentiousness (and let’s face it – as the binge progresses the narrative and even the writing itself improves) the story turns in Chapter IX: The Gatto Fritto.

I have set down how the action of the drugs had partially stripped off the recent layers of memory. It had achieved a parallel result much more efficiently on the moral plane. The toil of countless generations of evolution had been undone in a month. ..No action of violence or lust but seemed a necessary outlet for our energies!

We said nothing to each other about this. It was, in fact, deeper and darker than could be conveyed by articulate speech.

There are hints of a moral shift before this – frequent references to insanity and the bestial nature of human physicality, and by the final chapter in Book I (Chapter X: The Bubble Bursts) Peter and Lou have lost everything, even their love for one another.

Contrast this with the unbridled exultation of drug use in Chapter VIII: Vedere Napoli E Poi – Pro Patria – Mori,  and a complex and morally ambiguous philosophy emerges.

She offered me a pinch of heroin with the air of communnicating some exquisitely esoteric sacrament…We took it not because we needed it; but because the act of consummation was, so to speak, an act of religion.

It was the very fact that it was not an act of necessity which made it an act of piety.

How does circumstance change the  way Peter and Lou process their own drug experience? Is it only withdrawal that debases them at the end of Chapter X, or is Crowley trying to convey something else?  No fair using what I’m sure you all know about Crowley’s personal history with heroin addiction or his treatises on ritual drug use. How well does the narrative (so far) convey the author’s intentions?

*Interesting Fact: Crowley wrote The Diary of a Drug Fiend in 28 days – the average length of time required for in-house drug rehabilitation.