My interest in aphorisms started, oddly enough, after reading William Blake's "Proverbs of Hell" in his magnificent work "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell." These sardonic little gems fascinated me with their succinct beauty. Here was something that was neither poetry nor prose yet could contain both with great potency.
Once learned, the power of aphorism cannot be unlearned. I started finding aphorisms not just in compilations like Ben Franklin's "Poor Richard's Almanack" but hiding in novels and song lyrics. I found Oscar Wilde to be one of the greatest proponents of this art. From "The Picture of Dorian Gray" this remains one of my favorite examples of aphoristic beauty: "Nothing can cure the soul but the senses, just as nothing can cure the senses but the soul."
I had long thought of aphorisms as a lost art- till I came across a recently published anthology of aphorisms called "Short Flights: Thirty-Two Modern Writers Share Aphorisms of Insight, Inspiration and Wit". The lucky happenstance of finding this gem made me aware that not only is the aphoristic tradition alive, it is doing rather well.
The collection begins with a very informative introduction to the concept and history of the aphorism. Examples of famous aphorisms illustrate the variations of this form for the reader. This is an excellent prologue as it is rare to come across someone who is cognizant of the ancient origins of the aphorism or of the fact that it is a standalone literary form.
Another great aspect of the book is that each author has written an intimate little introduction to the section containing their aphorisms. These introductions vary from profound observations about how aphorisms allow the writer self-expression to humorous anecdotes from the writer's life.
The authors featured in this collection come from a wide range of ethnic and religious backgrounds and a fascinating aspect of the collection are the way subjects like religion, family and politics are treated in such richly different ways.
"Short Flights" will be the perfect addition to any book collection. Those not familiar with aphorisms will be surprised by how gratifying these little word nuggets can be. As the title suggests, insight, inspiration and wit are the main focus of the aphorisms contained in this book. Yet each author brings their own personality and literary flavor to the aphorism. Some like Hart Pomerantz will make you laugh out loud with the delightful wryness of their humor. Others like Charles Bernstein sink in slow and make you work to grasp the complex cerebration encapsulated in such brevity. Then, there are those like Yahia Lababidi who combine insight, inspiration and wit in equal measure gently prodding the reader to start thinking, well, aphoristically!
"Short Flights" is published by the Schaffner Press and can be purchased from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Walmart as well as here: http://www.schaffnerpress.com/books/short-flights