Category Archives: Writers are Readers

5 Books for Creatives.

5 Books for CreativesFeeling uninspired? Burnt out?

As a writer, I know that I have to constantly be reading great fiction to write my fiction. Surrounding myself with creative people is another thing I can do to keep my brain moving. When it comes to blogging or even my new hobby of photography, constantly producing new content that I am excited about and that people enjoy reading can be exhausting (blogging…every…single…day…).

There is such a thing a Blogging Burnout just as there is Writer’s Block (although there are some disagreements if this really does exist or is more mental). When I am feeling blocked here on the blog, it can be so frustrating. There are some books that have helped me in the past, are helping me, or that I return to again and again.

 (whether you’re an artist, a blogger, a photographer, anything at all). I hope it’s helpful!

Here are 5 Books for Creatives:

1. Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking on Water (hardcover)

Remember A Wrinkle in Time? She wrote it. I am halfway done with this book and it’s actually the book that gave me the idea for this type of book post. Below the title it reads: Reflections on Faith and Art and that is exactly what it is. I have highlighted and annotated like a crazy person. To pick out my favorite quotations or parts would be painful. I love that she is constantly asking herself questions, pulling from creative thinkers, and quotations she has been collecting her whole life. I feel like I am on a journey with her as we both try to find the connection between faith and art and to make better art through faith. If you have not read this book and consider yourself a Christian Creative, please order it.

2. Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird (kindle|paperback)

I first read this in high school when I was taking a Creative Writing Independent study and I loved it. If you love Lamott, you’ll love this book on creativity and process that includes her usual humor, wit, and honesty. If you haven’t read Lamott before, please check out Traveling Mercies (kindle|paperback). Gosh, it is so good. Good writing like this inspires me to be a better writer, both in my fiction and here.

3. Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way (kindle|paperback)

This is set up kind of like a workbook. It’s been in print for over two decades and I read it years ago but I recently pulled it out again when it was mentioned on a blog (I’m so sorry I can’t remember which!). It labels itself as “a course in discovering and recovering your creative self.” This is on my list to re-do (won’t my old responses be interesting) when I finish Walking on Water. I love the idea of recovering my creative self as I have discussed blogging burn out with a few of you guys. We all struggle with at it times. Wouldn’t it be nice to rediscover that creativity and passion? We know when all the wheels are oiled. This is always recommended to help creatives do just that.

4. Glennon Doyle Melton’s Carry On, Warrior: The Power or Embracing Your Beautiful Messy Life (kindle|paperback)

This isn’t a book necessarily about creativity but it made me so mindful of the type of storyteller I want to be. I have been giving this book away like crazy (I mean, I’m not Oprah but as often as I can). She’s definitely a student of Lamott and guess who loves Glennon? Brene Brown who I also love. Glennon writes at Momastery (not a mommy blog, for the record) and I read it as often as she posts. Her openness and honesty, her desire to love and live fully are contagious. When I read her work, I want to write. Do you know what I mean?

5. Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned in Editing my Life (kindle|paperback)

I could have chosen any of Miller’s work (I am just finishing Scary Close kindle|hardcover) but I specifically chose this because this is all about living your life’s story or narrative with beauty and possibility. It’s about taking risks with your life story. I think in living great stories, we as artists, produce great stories so that’s why I chose this Miller book. It actually is about a time when he should have been on a creative high: they were making Blue like Jazz into a movie (kindle|paperback). Instead he felt blah and depressed and realized he wanted to live a better story.

5 books for creatives

Do you have any you would add?

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February Read: The Goldfinch.

Screen Shot 2014-03-12 at 6.36.43 PM(And though this is later in the month to post, I am hard at work on March’s books already.)

As you can see, as opposed to January, I read only one book. I am a fast reader so even though it’s around 800 pages, it shouldn’t have been a problem. Yet, this month was busy, and this book is unique. It feels like four books–four engrossing books–in one. It’s the story of a 13 year old boy, Theo, who has an incredible mother. In a freak terrorism attack, he loses his mother. In his stupor, after the explosion, he takes a piece of artwork with him–his mother’s favorite piece–The Goldfinch.

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This is the painting in question…The Goldfinch.

The painting will follow Theo as he goes to live with a very wealthy family on Park Avenue, to Las Vegas with his deadbeat farther, and back to New York again to live with the business partner of another victim of the attack. The writing is gorgeous. Theo’s ache for his mother, his only tie to the world really is palpable and even as you know what is going to happen, it’s heartbreaking. “How was it possible to miss someone as much as I missed my mother? I missed her so much I wanted to die: a hard physical longing, like a craving for air underwater. Lying awake, I tried to recall all my best memories of her–to freeze her in my mind so I wouldn’t forget her–but instead of birthdays and happy times. I kept remembering things like how a few days before she was killed she’d stopped me halfway out the door to pick a thread off my school jacket. For some reason, it was one of my clearest memories I had of her: her knitted eyebrows, the precise gesture of her reaching out to me, everything” (Tartt, 85).

It’s a hard book to put down and yet it was a hard book to keep reading. There is a sense of dread throughout the book because through it all, it just doesn’t seem like Theo will have a happy ending. Happy endings aren’t necessary in books but it just seems like Theo, again and again, is thrown into the ringer–whether it’s living with his ex-alcoholic father (is he really an ex alcoholic) who selfishly looks out for his own interests as he plays in the casino? Or even his hilarious friend Boris who introduces Theo to drugs and alcohol? There is Hobie, the lovable business partner he finds, who is a gentle soul but Theo can’t be honest with Hobie, not completely because Theo can’t be honest with himself. writers are reader

For me, that was the hardest part of the book. I don’t mean it made me not want to read it. It just broke my heart, reading about him as a child and seeing his trajectory–like watching a car crash. And yet again and again, Theo makes it through by the skin of his teeth.

Through it all, it is the painting–which technically he stole, though he was concussed, totally out of it, and didn’t mean to steal itis his touchstone, not only for his mother but all the secrets he must keep. Theo even says, near the end of the book, “Because: if our secrets define us, as opposed to the face we show the world: then the painting was the secret that raised me above the surface of life and enabled me to know who I am…A secret about a secret” (Tartt, 727).

Theo doesn’t think much of himself and I so wanted him to show the real Theo, the one his mother, to someone so that he would realize that he is good but “…Disney princess knows the answer: ‘Be yourself.’ ‘Follow your heart.’ Only here’s what I really want someone to explain to me. What if one happens to be possessed of heart that can’t be trusted–? What if the heart, for its own unfathomable reasons, leads one willfully and in a cloud of unspeakable radiance away from health, domesticity, civiv responsibility and strong social connections and all the blandly held common virtues and instead straight towards a beautiful flare of ruin, self-immolation, disaster?” (Tartt,724)

The writing is gorgeous. The length, for some, is an undertaking. And there are no clear answers here. The characters are as clear as if you know them. It’s quite the book and yet at times frustrating. Perhaps that is what good writing is. (Follow me on goodreads here.)

What have you read lately? Have you read The Goldfinch? I’m always looking for good books.

Writers are readers,

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January Reads.

Screen Shot 2014-01-27 at 8.28.52 PMConfession: I love reading and I want part of this blog to be about reading and writing. However, I realized that the way I was previously talking about books wasn’t working. This isn’t about writing a paper on the book; it’s about sharing with you guys. And so I am trying a new format; at the end of the month, I’ll share a brief review on the four books I read that month. This month it’s a coincidence that all four books are written by women. But I am not complaining, not one bit. In fact, you can’t really go wrong with any of these book; it just depends on what you like. I enjoyed all of them, would recommend all of them, and learned different things from each of them. So let’s get to it.

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Atwood won the well deserved Booker Prize for this novel and I will admit to picking it up and putting it down a couple of times in the past years. Not because it is bad. Far from it. It’s because this is a novel within a novel. It sounds very complicated but it isn’t. You just need to pay attention. The book starts from Iris’ point of view: “Ten days after the war ended my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge” (Atwood, 1). Throughout the book there is the story of clandestine lovers, two young girls growing up, an elderly woman trying to make sense of it all. It’s part romance, part mystery, part coming of age. Besides the enemies in human form (and they are awful), time is enemy: the lovers against time (will they be caught?), Iris trying to finish the story so we can finally get the whole story before she dies, and the young woman with so many if onlys. Why did Laura kill herself? Who are the lovers? Iris races against time to try and finish the story so we can know, telling us, “without memory, there can be no revenge” (Atwood, 508). Boom, this lady knows some people who deserve to eat that well known dish best served cold.

The prose is magnificent. As always, Atwood is a master. It’s hard to pick examples to show you because there are so many. Iris says, “In life, a tragedy is not one long scream. It includes everything that led up to it. Hour after trivial hour, day after day, year after year, and then the sudden moment: the knife stab, the shell-burst, the plummet of the car from the bridge” (417). Read this. Read this. Read this. 5 Stars. No question.

five stars

 

 

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This is the story about a group of kids at an arts camp and their lives that follow. They name themselves The Interestings because, “they were only fifteen, sixteen, and they began to call themselves the name with tentative irony” (Wolitzer, 3). Julie, one of the main Interestings feels like an outcast at camp and in life: “Irony was new to her and tasted oddly good, like a previously unavailable summer fruit…Fairly soon after that, the snideness would soften, the irony would be mixed with seriousness, and the years would shorten and fly. Then it wouldn’t be long before they all found themselves shocked and sad to be fully grown into their thicker, finalized adult selves, with almost no chance of reinvention” (3). In a way, that sentence summarizes the book because their lives are chronicled through adulthood. I will tell you I laughed and I cried. I could relate. It held my attention which is not easy, when a book spans the lifetime of some teenagers. I learned a lot about pacing as a writer. Wolitzer does an excellent job of moving the book along so one never feels stuck. The timing just makes sense which isn’t easy when chronically several people’s lifetimes.

My only criticism is that some really serious things were not given enough weight. Without giving anything away, the example of Julie’s father is a good one. In the first pages we find he died of cancer. Julie is pretty flippant about this in my opinion. At times, Julie or should I saw Jules (as she is dubbed by The Interestings), wonders why it doesn’t affect her much which could be used as great characterization if not for the fact that very serious topics in the book are handled with the same flippancy by the characters, if not the author. Still, it was an amazing book I could not put down. 4 stars.

four stars

 

 

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This is the second book in French’s series. I read and reviewed In the Woods here. Here is the thing, I don’t read a lot of mystery books because…well, typically mystery writers don’t care as much about the actual prose. They are more story focused. I will read anything if the prose is beautiful. In French’s case, her books are part of a series where one can recognize some characters but it’s wholly unconnected to In the Woods. First of all, the con: the basis of this story is impossible. Cassie, the main character, was undercover a long time ago as Lexie Madison. One night, a chick named Lexie Madison is murdered. Yes, someone stole Cassie’s undercover identity years after she got off that particular job. Now Lexie–the identity Cassie and the Irish police created–is dead. So far so good. Here comes the bad part: the dead girl looks exactly like Cassie. Which means the girl who stole the made up identity of Lexie also happens to look exactly like Lexie aka Cassie, the police officer. So naturally Cassie goes undercover in the house Lexie shared with three other roommates because they are the main suspects, pretending to be Lexie (they are able to figure out a way where dead Lexie was only injured Lexie) to impersonate the girl who impersonated her. Yes. That is the story.

Now ignore that really lame synopsis because the writing is really good. It’s probably the best mystery writing I’ve ever read. As Cassie enters the house for the first time to become Lexie, she says, “Frank turned and looked back over his shoulder, waiting for me. My hand was on the door handle when for a split second out of nowhere I was terrified, blu-blazing terrified, fear dropping straight through me like a jagged black stone falling fast. I’d felt this before, in limbo instants, before I moved out of my aunt’s house, lost my virginity, took my oath as a police officer: those instants when the irrevocable thing you wants so much suddenly turns real and solid, inches away and speeding at you, a bottomless river rising and no way back once it’s crossed. I had to catch myself from crying out like a little kid drowning in terror, I don’t want to do this anymore. All you an do with that moment is bite down and wait for it to be over” (French, 91). Characterization is great in this book. That was my biggest take away.

Her best passages come when she is talking about the relationships within the house–even as they are suspects she falls in love with the love they have with one another and the familiarity. Cassie/Lexie wants to be known. Where do her loyalties really lie? I would normally give this 4 stars but with company here, I would give it 3. But is that fair?

four stars

 

 

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Ursula is born in 1910, dying the same night with the cord wrapped around her neck. And yet she is born again. And again. And again. Each time with a different story. Each time with a stronger sense of the older stories: “She was prone to these sensations, as if a memory was being tugged reluctantly out of its hiding place. She presumed it was the same for everyone” (Atkinson, 488). Again, incredible writing is here.

I read in a few places, about this book, where people complained that it was redundant since Ursula is born again and again. I found that to be completely untrue. Some episodes are quick, some are longer. Each of them is profoundly different. If you love history, you will love this book–spanning WWI, WWII, and run ins with Hitler. Literally. I will say it took me a few (short) chapters to understand the pacing but every time Ursula lives again is very different, whether she is trying to write a past wrong or whether it is a new adventure. 4 stars

four stars

 

 

Have you read any of these? What did you think? Do any of them strike your fancy? If you had to choose one, which one would you read?

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Writers are Readers: Joyce Carol Oates’ “The Accursed”

Screen Shot 2014-01-09 at 1.23.30 PMFull disclosure: in the San Francisco airport (which boasts a great bookstore), I picked up this book because I love Joyce Carol Oates. Once I read the back, however, I never would have bought it if not for the author, a woman and writer I admire greatly, since I read her haunting and uncomfortable “Where are you going, where have you been?” short story in high school.

The back summarizes the story as such: in Princeton, New Jersey, at the turn of the twentieth century, a curse takes over the town. The back mentions vampires, ghosts, an underworld, shape shifters, historical figures–like Grover Cleveland, Woodrow Wilson, Upton Sinclair, and Jack London.

What??????

SONY DSCLike I said, this book had no chance to be bought by me (the back summary was nowhere near my cup of tea) but I trust the author. So, I bought this whopper of a book at 667 pages and carried it through the airport with my already present laden bags.

Throughout the book, I wondered if I should even write about it here. How will I explain it, I wondered? Well, I’ll tell them that they should definitely read Oates and that this book is worth reading but I would never start an Oates virgin with this book. It’s not her normal style, seen in the likes of her opus to Marilyn Monroe in Blonde or even the grounded Missing Mom. 

Oates writes this book from the point of view of a historian who actually is an infant at the time of the curse. Somehow he has documents no other historian ever found and was able to decode a journal no one else in history could decode (22). He is not objective. He tries to be but he often feels the need to explain his decisions when it comes to the details he includes and does not include. It can be dry, as histories can be. The humor is often sly, at the expense of the “characters” (who from the historian’s “point of view” are real people and therefore, sometimes he feels badly for making them look a certain way, though he assures the reader he is only recording the facts).

The book begins with the “unspeakable” act of a lynching. It’s the white aristocracy which calls it “unspeakable.” In fact, the men consider the women of the town even to delicate to hear of such things. So begins the the strands of race, sex, and class that twine through the gothic novel. Woodrow Wilson, for example, at this point the president of Princeton University thinks to himself, “As to the matter of the ugly Klan lynching–Mrs. Wilson would not have spoke of so obscene an event if she even heard of it. For there are some things too ugly for women to know of. Genteel Christian women, at least” (22). As you can see, Wilson’s priorities are a little out of whack and when I say a little, I mean a lot. This passage also brings up a huge part of the book–that of religion.

Really the book centers on the Slade family. Winslow Slade, the patriarch, is a reverand and is looked upon as the sage, father figure of the town. They would say he was the best of them–in character and deed–and always has an open door for anyone in need of advice or help.  The story then revolves around his grandchildren–Annabel, Josiah, Todd, and Oriana–and how the curse affects them. Fantasy and gothic elements mix together in a tough mortar along with religion. Why are certain people afflicted by the curse? How can people known forever suddenly turn and do something so out of character? Is it truly out of character, or has their horrible action just been lurking beneath the surface? The historian does his upmost not to make judgements and as I read, it was hard for me to make judgements too when it comes to the root of the curse (when it came to making judgements about how race and gender were handled I wanted to reached into the book and knock some people out…even the socialist and one would think, progressive Upton Sinclair, writer of The Jungle is sexist and ignorant to his prejudices).SONY DSC

Ultimately, when it came to this curse, I kept coming back to the depravity of man–that is the true curse. Because no vampire or ghost can be held accountable for sexism, racism, classism, and even insanity.

People are characterized (by the town) as good or bad, white or black, poor or wealthy, woman or man, married or single. They are not allowed to step outside the bounds of those characterizations. So this isn’t a book about vampires, not really. And yet I don’t want to say much more without giving anymore away.

Did I enjoy it? Yes. I found Oates ability to write from the historian’s point of view uncanny. It very well could be a history. At one point, I thought I caught her in a mistake (the horror) and in the end, she out smarted me. Furthermore, by the end of the book, I knew only some of what really truly happened, just as a historian would, looking back. I am still left questioning and wondering where the line between fantasy and realism is found and I suppose that’s the point.

If you’ve never read Joyce Carol Oates before, I don’t recommend that you start with this book. Her narrator is so in character that there were many times I wondered if he wasn’t truly writing the thing. If you want a taste of what Oates’ is like start with the short story I mentioned at the top–”Where are you going, where have you been.”

Find me on goodreads here.

Four stars because it is an opus that leaves me with more questions than answers which is uncomfortable but a feat.

four stars

 

 

 

What kind of books do you like to read? What’s your all time favorite book? Author? I seriously would love to know.Signature

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Writers are Readers: Where’d you Go, Bernadette.

Screen Shot 2014-01-09 at 1.23.30 PMBTW, if you’re on good reads, so am I!

I’m contrary, okay? That’s part of the explanation of why I waited so long to read Maria Semple’s Where’d you Go, Bernadette. Sure,  it was called one of the best books of the year but so what? That didn’t mean I would like it. Plus, I knew the book was made up of emails and letters spliced together and that thing typically isn’t my bag. On top of that, I didn’t really love the premise: Bee’s mom, Bernadette, a woman with some issues, disappears and her daughter tries to put the pieces of her life together in order to map away to find her mom.

But anyway, the point is, I am dumb.SONY DSC

Maria Semple, the author, is funny. She’s written for Mad about You (remember that one?), Ellen, and Arrested Development. I definitely laughed out loud a few times.

During an intervention gone wrong, before Bernadette disappears, there is a transcript from the event:

(Her husband has already gone off on her, very frustrated, and upset.)

Dr. Kurtz: Another example of love is a hug.

Branch [Bernadette’s husband/Bee’s dad]: You’ve gone insane, Bernadette, it’s like aliens came down and replaced you with a replica but the replica is a drag queen demented version of you. I became so convinced of this that one night while you slept I reached across and felt your elbows. Because I thought, no matter how good they made the replica, they wouldn’t have gotten the pointy elbows right. But there they were, your pointy elbows. You woke up when I did that. Do you remember?

Bernadette: Yes, I remember” (Semple, 209).

For me, the biggest issue is Bee trying to understand all this. I kept feeling like something was off and about halfway through the book, I went back to the first page: “The first annoying thing is when I ask Dad what he thinks happened to Mom, he always says, ‘What’s important is for you to understand it’s not your fault.’ You’ll notice that wasn’t even the question. When I press him, he says the second annoying thing, ‘The truth is complicated. There is no way one person can ever know everything about another person.’

Mom disappears into thin air two days before Christmas without telling me? Of course it’s complicated. Just because it’s complicated, just because you think you can’t ever know everything about another person, it doesn’t mean you can’t try.

It doesn’t mean I can’t try” (Semple)

Aha! I figured it out. This book is mislabeled. It’s a Young Adult novel–not because it is immature in anyway but because it is about a daughter, about to start high school, trying to map her mother, trying to figure out and navigate this very adult world. For Bee, it is a coming of age story, almost. For Bernadette, it could be a middle age coming of age story but Bernadette is not the main character. Of course, she is the main subject of all the letters and emails and through those we get to learn a great deal about her, but it’s not the same. We learn about her as Bee does.

But as a character, I loved Bernadette. Yes, there is something tragic about her: “I love you, Bee,” Mom said. “I’m trying. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t” (Semple, 82).

Even more touching is Bee’s vision of her mother, which may be closer to the truth than anyone else’s. After all, don’t children often reveal the true nature of things? “When Here Comes the sun started, what happened? No the sun didn’t come out, but Mom opened up like the breaking through the clouds. You know how in the first few notes of that song, there’s something about George’s guitar that’s just so hopeful? It was like when Mom sang, she was full of hope, too” (Semple, 81).

(I know I am just giving you pieces but doesn’t this sound more, YA?)

Plus, Bernadette sound like a really incredible and unusual Mom. Here is one of her husband’s recollections: “…please indulge me while I tell you the story of the first and last time Bee ever claimed she was bored. Bernadette and I were driving Bee and a friend, both preschoolers to a birthday party. There was traffic. Grace said, “I’m bored.”

“Yeah,” Bee mimicked. “I’m bored.”

Bernadette pulled the car over, took off her seat belt, and turn around. “That’s right,” she told the girls. “You’re bored. And I’m going to let you in on a little secret about life. You think it’s boring now. Well, it only gets more boring. The sooner you learn it’s on you to make life interesting the better you’ll be.”

“OK,” Bee said quietly. Grace burst into tears and never had a playdate with us again” (Semple, 44)

Whatever anyone has to say about Bernadette, she raised an amazing child. And I’m going to stop there because this, in a way, a mystery, and I don’t want to give it away.

Hardee har har

Hardee har har

The other parts I enjoyed were supporting characters, another mom who claims to be a christian but who is a liar and a fraud.

“Audrey said quickly, “I am a Christian woman so I will forgive that.”

“Give me a break,” (Bee) said. “Christians don’t talk the way you talked to my mother” (Semple, 89).

Like I said, I do think the book should be in YA section. Did I enjoy reading it? Yes. Would I read it again? (I am notorious for rereading my favorite books.) No, I wouldn’t. But it was a fun ride.

It reminded me that the older I get, the more I understand the adults around me as people, not just Mom, Dad, Aunt, Grandmother, etc (although they are that too!). It’s illuminating.

three stars

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