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The Wonder Paradox

Embracing the Weirdness of Existence and the Poetry of Our Lives

Jennifer Michael Hecht

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

The Wonder Paradox Download image

ISBN10: 0374292744
ISBN13: 9780374292744


368 Pages



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Where do we find magic? Peace? Connection?

We have calendars to mark time, communal spaces to bring us together, bells to signal hours of contemplation, official archives to record legacies, the wisdom of sages read aloud, weekly, to map out the right way to live—in kindness, justice, morality. These rhythms and structures of society were all once set by religion. Now, for many, religion no longer runs the show.

So how then to celebrate milestones? Find rules to guide us? Figure out which texts can focus our attention but still offer space for inquiry, communion, and the chance to dwell for a dazzling instant in what can’t be said? Where, really, are truth and beauty? The answer, says The Wonder Paradox, is in poetry.

In twenty chapters built from years of questions and conversations with those looking for an authentic and meaningful life, Jennifer Michael Hecht offers ways to mine and adapt the useful aspects of tradition and to replace what no longer feels true. Through cultures and poetic wisdom from around the world—Sappho, Rumi, Shakespeare, Issa, Tagore, Frost, Szymborska, Angelou, and others—she blends literary criticism with spiritual guidance rooted in the everyday. Linking our needs to particular poems, she helps us better understand those needs, our very being, and poetry itself.

Our capacity for wonder is one of the greatest joys of being human; The Wonder Paradox celebrates that instinct and that yearning.


Praise for The Wonder Paradox

The Wonder Paradox is part practical, inspiring guide to meaning and connection, part love letter to poetry and the role it can play in our lives. Every page sings with beautiful sentences I couldn’t help but underline. At the core of this book is something deeply true: poetry is for everyone. The Wonder Paradox is a book I’ll gift to friends and family—to everyone—for years to come.”—Maggie Smith, author of You Could Make This Place Beautiful

The Wonder Paradox leads its readers into the open space between the extremes of atheism and religious belief; here, spiritual insights that lie hidden in daily experience are released through secular rituals and the practice of poetry. In her lively, useful exploration of this middle zone, Jennifer Michael Hecht offers us a wakeful perspective, both timeless and germane to our times.”—Billy Collins, poet laureate of the United States and author of Whale Day

The Wonder Paradox takes the reader by the hand and patiently, gently, and with great care introduces us to the delights, joys, and wisdom of poetry. If Jennifer Michael Hecht is starting a movement—sign me up! Finally, here is a party worth joining.”—Ilya Kaminsky, author of Deaf Republic and Dancing in Odessa

“I was immediately trapped by and then happily and gratefully in the thrall of a writer who shares my world and makes it brighter. The Wonder Paradox makes us better and smarter by assuming we already are. This is a rare heart.”—Roger Rosenblatt, author of Making Toast

The Wonder Paradox is such a brilliant, generous, funny, helpful book. Jennifer Michael Hecht knows just what to say to guide us through our modern confusions. I’ve never read anything like it, and I want to give it to every friend I know.”—Matthew Zapruder, author of Story of a Poem

“A journey into The Wonder Paradox will reawaken not only your poetic imagination and search for timeless truths about existence, but also your very capacity for that most human of tendencies: wondering about the meaning of life. Reading Jennifer Michael Hecht’s tour of wonder will stir your soul.”—Dacher Keltner, author of Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life

“Thought-provoking and intriguing . . . Studded with insightful commentary . . . [An] inspirational invitation to reconsider the role of poetry in life.”Kirkus Reviews

“[The Wonder Paradox] delights . . . Warmth and enthusiasm suffuse Hecht’s enchanting prose, which make this book a moving, hopeful read.”—Zachariah Motts, Library Journal (starred review)

“[Jennifer Michael Hecht] designs a liturgy for a disenchanted world . . . Drawing on an admirable array of poets (many not Western), Hecht synthesizes artistic and spiritual insight in astute but not stuffy ways, and welcomes readers unsure where to start.”Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads


Read an Excerpt


I was raised as an “atreeist,” in a New York–based antiarboreal coven.

I’m kidding.

Sort of.

It’s true that my Jewish identity felt bound up in not being allowed to have a Christmas tree. I didn’t...

About the author

Jennifer Michael Hecht

Jennifer Michael Hecht, a historian and poet, is the award-winning and bestselling author of the histories Doubt, Stay, The Happiness Myth, and The End of the Soul. Her poetry books include Who Said, The Next Ancient World, and Funny. She earned her PhD in history from Columbia University and teaches in New York City.

Jennifer Michael Hecht

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