Saturday, October 3, 2015

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

27. A Book with Magic

When I read books written by Elizabeth Gilbert, I feel like I am reading in big great gulps. She is so fun and easy to read. Everything written by her goes quickly.  What is it about her writing that makes her so readable?  I believe that is what made her big best seller Eat Pray Love so successful. The journey could have been anyones.  The insights were good but truthfully the woman knows how to write clearly, cogently and compellingly.  I had read one of her earlier books called The Last American Man long before Eat Pray Love came out and she was readable then too.  Her novel, Signature of All Things--fastest 700 pages I have ever read.  Beautiful, well told story. How does she do it? I would love to write so well that time slips away as you turn the pages.

I didn't even know she had a new book out, except suddenly there she was in my FB feed thanking me for being so supportive of her new book, so I ran out and bought a copy of Big Magic.  It is about creativity and how to embrace it and use it and be in it and be your best artistic self.

Big Magic is an artistic memoir.  It answers the question: How did Elizabeth Gilbert get to be a writer?  What does she think has made her so successful?   Again, I read this quickly and in great mouthfuls--good stories, good lessons--100% Liz Gilbert.  She believes that you should be an artist and creative person before you worry about being successful.  Don't worry so much about making it your living, make it simply your life. Her lessons revolve around several main topics: courage, enchantment, permission, trust, and persistence. All with examples from her own life and her artistic friends' lives.

I have heard her speak before and some of what she speaks about is recounted in this book.  Good life lessons, all of it.  I would use this when I teach or write, to give myself and others inspiration or direction. It is nothing remarkably new or groundbreaking, but it is well written and very much all about Ms Gilbert and her creative life. All worth reading.  It is very fast--a good library read.  Or you can borrow it from me!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Leave the Dogs at Home by Claire S Arbogast

25. & 26.  A book set in a high school and a book in my hometown.

The summer has come and gone and as usual I lost a lot of my interest in reading as the sun shone brightly and beckoned me to other pursuits. I may not finish this challenge by years end but it has been interesting for me.

The book set in a high school is only mentioned as it is a manuscript that someone has trusted me to read before it was published.  I loved reading it, but am not at liberty to review it because it still belongs to the heart and mind of the writer, but I make note of its presence in my reading life. It is always a good and fine thing to put your stuff out there. Risky and human and beautiful.  I admire any writer who does that.

The book set in my hometown was  somewhat trickier for me to find and write about.  My true home town is a suburb east of Cleveland, Ohio.  A good place to grow up but not particularly noteworthy for literary achievements although the 20th president of the US is from there and I used to work as a tour guide at his house. This is probably the subject of another blog.

Instead, I choose my hometown to be the place I live now and have lived for 22 years: Bloomington, Indiana.  I have lived here longer than the place I grew up, so we are calling this my home town and here is a memoir by a fellow writer that was published in the thick of this fallow reading summer and has inspired me to be creative and live that life I want to live.  Ms Arbogast's memoir is set in my hometown and takes place in and around the IU campus where I work and where my husband and I have gotten 3 degrees between us.

Here is a story of a woman coming to terms with her husband and partner's death.  It is moving and poignant and filled with life. I am glad to know the writer and know the town it was set in.  The title is perfect.

So this entry is dedicated to the writers I know. The writer in me and the writer in you.  Go forth and create!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

What Comes Next and How to Like it by Abigail Thomas

24. A book with a love triangle

Abigail Thomas is possibly the freshest, wittiest, easiest to read, loveliest, most honest, most authentic writer on the planet and she has a new book out! I loved A Three Dog Life  and  Safekeeping.  She has a wonderful small book about writing memoir that I use when I teach memoir. She is a perfect read for any occasion.  They should make a movie of her sweet life as revealed in all her memoir. I think she made memoir a genre--not sure about that though.

Anyway, Ms. Thomas is aging and contemplating the things one contemplates at the end of life among them a long friendship that spans the decades and includes a kind of infidelity, her own children and her love of them, he daughters cancer diagnosis, and her own mortality. Ms. Thomas is observant, witty, and can create tension in the narrative over the most normal life events.  The book was pure pleasure on every page.


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Redeployment by Phil Klay

23. A Book of Short Stories

Redeployment by Phil Klay won the National Book Award.  The description, a book of stories about soldiers at war in Iraq in the post 9/11 era, caught my attention because I absolutely loved Tim O'Brien's book of short stories called The Things They Carried, short stories about soldiers in the Viet Nam war. I will never know war first hand (at least I hope never to) and am interested in the stories war brings to the table. 

As one would expect the stories are full of irony, horror and hypocrisy. They are full of truth and beauty and terribly compelling. Heres a story about a chaplain trying to help men he ministers to be more compassionate. Heres a marine in a bar with his disfigured friend meeting beautiful women. Heres a story told all in military acryonyms.  Heres a story about a man who comes to lead an NGO to do good works in a horrible place and finds that the best thing he can do is stage a photo of some boys playing baseball.  

All told in first person, by male narrators, some long, some short, some stateside, some in Iraq, all worthy of attention.  This is a fine collection.  I enjoyed it.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Bettyville by George Hodgeman

22. A book based on or turned into a TV show

From the dedication page:  "Finally it is for Madison and Paris, where so many I have cared about walked. I will always remember you, good people."

Epigraph from the book: If only one knew what to remember or pretend to remember. Make a decision and what you want from the lost things will present itself. You can take it down like a can from a shelf. ~Elizabeth Hardwick, Sleepless Nights.

Love for this story and this book and this writer took me by surprise. I spent the first 75 or 100 pages trying to decide what the writer was trying to do and when I finally got it, I was in love.

George Hodgman has written a beautiful memoir about growing up in Paris, Missouri and taking care of his aging mother Betty in the present day. It is an elegy to small town rural life that is disappearing under a haze of poverty and meth clinics; it is a love letter to his mother; it is a painful understanding of what it means to be young and gay and come out to your parents. It is the bittersweet time of life when you are saying farewell to the people who knew you best and are taking stock of what they have given you and what you in turn have made of it.

Page by page Mr Hodgeman won me over with beautiful writing, love for his home and his people, and a slow building of suspense for how everything would turn out with his mother and his life.  Let me add also that the author is hysterically funny. He has a dry with that allows him to slip in great lines and passages again and again.

This is an amazing book made great because Mr Hodgman is a really truly fine writer.  Betty and George could be any one of us.  Betty and George didn't fly to the moon or get elected president. What they did was not extraordinary, but the author's writing is simply superb. So many lines to write down, so many places to stop and hold your breath because he knows exactly how to express love and family and emotion and life.  I truly can't say enough great about this memoir.

This is a book I will gift to many people as we all come to understand what it means to grow old and say good-bye to our past and make sense of how we became who we became.

( I read somewhere that this books has been optioned for a TV series--not sure if i will come about but I think that qualifies it for the above category!)

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Light Between the Oceans by ML Stedman

21.  A Book That Became a Movie

My summer beach read is set in 1920's Australia--on an island called Janus where the lighthouse keeper and his wife live in isolation from the rest of the world.  Tom is a decorated war hero and Isabel is his young bride.  Both are excited about the prospect of having children but when Izzy has miscarriage after miscarriage she begins to go a little mad.  A storm one day brings in a small rowboat with a dead man holding a little crying baby.  Izzy and Tom see it as a gift from God and they raise the baby as their own. Until one day they just cannot escape the truth any longer. They must confess and deliver the child to her true mother.

This is a page turner and a tear jerker all in one book.  I sobbed pretty well through the last few chapters. It was a beautiful story, a tad overwrought in places, and I think the author wrote it to be turned into a movie because there were definitely some cinematic scenes--many of them--and the location of the novel-a distant lighthouse in the sea are also very cinematic. There are also a lot of twists and turns--I really did not guess how it would end.  So its really a fine read.

As a writer, I noticed how deftly she wove points of view back and forth between multiple characters. I loved that about the book.  I personally always have a hard time reading about sad things happening to good people--but hey--thats the point of a good story.

So this is worth picking up.  Good beach read.

(After writing this review, I went back to note that someone has made this into a movie set to be released this year.  When I started the review I had not done that homework.  Cant wait to see the movie now.)

Thursday, July 2, 2015

When Women were Birds: 54 Variations on Voice by Terry Tempest Williams

20. A Book with a Number in the Title

 Terry Tempest William's mother died when she was 54. She told Terry that when she died, Terry would get all her journals. Terry's mother kept years and years worth of journals. When Terry opened them up after she had died all she found were blank pages. Book after book, year after year, white page after white page, nothing but blank white pages.

 Terry uses this fact quite brilliantly as a metaphor for her mothers voice and in fact women's voices everywhere. She tells 54 tales of voice, 54 ways to ponder her mother's enigmatic journal. There were tales of being frightened by creepy men in the wilderness and never telling anyone. Tales of testifying before congress. Tales of her mother's journey, of meeting her husband. All ways of looking at our voice both realistically and metaphorically.

 This book had an ethereal zen like quality. You could read it again and again and find new lessons every time. Lots of prompts for writers. Lots of things to ponder for women and members of the human race. I loved it. It makes me want to write another variation on voice.