I love to read.
And in 2016, I feel a little bit lucky that this is the case for me. It seems like people are having more and more trouble justifying the process of reading -- sitting down, relaxing your mind, and turning the pages of an actual book. Why take the time, when you could just listen to the same content while you work, drive, or clean and get through it faster?
For me, making time to read everyday has totally changed the way I work and has impacted my overall mindset, for the better. Every morning I wake up, make coffee, head to the couch, and dive into whatever non-fiction book I'm working through. Doing this first thing sort of lubricates my mind for the day. It gets me making connections and thinking of new ideas at just the right time.
At night, I try to read fiction before I go to bed. This habit isn't as solidified as my morning routine (Mozart in the Jungle has been interfering as of late ... definitely not complaining about that), but when I do take the time to open a novel, it always helps me sleep better. Getting a little bit lost in a story, as opposed to running through my to-do list and needlessly worrying about everything else that's going on, helps me relax and allows me a chance to think about writing in a more creative, low-pressure environment.
I think one of the most important things any writer can do is read. Other than just writing a lot, reading is the best thing you can do to improve your writing. Once you start, you'll notice changes in your writing -- from how you put a sentence together to the comparisons you begin to craft.
But that's another topic...
Check out the books I read in January and please let me know what you're reading (or want to read) this month. I'd love to hear from you!
All the books linked here are Amazon affiliate links, meaning if you decide to treat yourself a copy, a portion of the cost will go towards my business! A win-win, don't you think? :)
Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
By Elizabeth Gilbert
If you’re judging this one by it’s cover, clearly, it gets five stars.
looked awesome sitting on my coffee table for a couple of weeks, but ultimately, I finished the book with mixed feelings.
Part memoir, part manifesto, Elizabeth Gilbert explores what it means to live a more creative life and what it feels like to be open to creative possibilities in her latest work. She argues that all of us -- whether we define ourselves as artists or not -- have creative gifts inside of us that can be powerful and great, we just need to find the courage to bring them out, and give them the care they need to flourish.
While I respect Elizabeth Gilbert’s means of showing all of us that we can live a beautiful life in the pursuit of creativity if we choose to, I don’t 100% agree with her art-for-art’s-sake philosophy, which by the end of the book, seemed to be the backbone of her message. That’s simplifying it a bit, of course, but as a professional writer, I have a hard time accepting some of her advice on never putting pressure on your art to provide income or a full-time job.
There are plenty of artists, writers, musicians, dancers, and other creative professionals making a living doing what they love, each and every day. It’s possible and it's happening. Sure, those in pursuit of pure art might have to be willing to make some compromises, especially in the beginning. But I think most successful working artists would tell you, they didn't get to where they are now overnight, and that compromises are just a piece of the puzzle, as they are with any job.
My goal has always been, in it's most basic form, to make sure I'm getting paid to do what I love. For me, that's writing. I don't think that makes my creative pursuit any less worthy, it just makes it harder to follow the muse when instead, I'm on a deadline.
Perhaps I’ve become jaded from reading too many entrepreneurial-driven books, and if that’s the case, please forgive me. I also know that this book is not just for me, it's for those of us who are looking for permission to live the life we know, deep down, we're capable of experiencing and creating. And that's something I can get behind.
What I loved most about
is Gilbert's writing style and voice -- they're both spot on and totally genuine. All in all, this book was a pleasure to read, even if some of the takeaways didn't resonate with me as much as I'd hoped. I will say, it did push me to try and make more time to write not because I have to, but because I want to.
If you're interested in another review of
, check out Maria Popova's in-depth article on
. Her endorsement is actually what compelled me to order the book for myself.
Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life's Work
By Steven Pressfield
I first read The War of Art, Stephen Pressfield’s first book of this kind when I was in college. A creative writing professor who taught fiction assigned it to our class, and challenged us to pair reading the book with writing for at least 30 minutes every single day. It was hard to do, but felt easier after reading about the many, often clever, ways we all resist our creative work and self-sabotage without even realizing it. The book changed my thinking and quite frankly, my work ethic, as I imagine it did and still does for many people.
Mostly, I picked up Turning Pro just because I'd been staring at it on our bookshelf in the living room for months, and knew it would be a quick, kick-in-the-ass read -- good for the beginning of the year. It proved to be just that. Less than 150 pages, and structured in short mini-chapters, you could easily get through Turning Pro in an afternoon if you wanted to and honestly, reading it in one sitting might be the best way to digest and harness the stark realizations that happen while you're reading Pressfield's writing.
While The War of Art is all about how to overcome the road blocks that keep you from getting started on doing meaningful work, Turning Pro is about how to take that work to the next level, and make it your life's pursuit. Pressfield writes about how most of us, instead of going after what is we really want to be or do, end up in shadow careers. He writes:
Sometimes, when we're terrified of embracing our true calling, we'll pursue a shadow calling instead. That shadow career is a metaphor for our real career. Its shape is similar, its contours feel tantalizingly the same. But a shadow career entails no real risk. If we fail at a shadow career, the consequences are meaningless to us ...
If you're dissatisfied with your current life, ask yourself what your current life is a metaphor for.
That metaphor will point you toward your true calling.
This nugget of truth is just one example of how Pressfield offers the reader some tough love, over and over again. What he reveals might not sit well with us at first, it might not be what we want to hear, but it's valuable insight for anyone who feels like they're on the cusp of figuring out what it is they really want or should be doing, but just haven't broken through yet. Pressfield gives you that little extra push you need.
All The Light We Cannot See
By Anthony Doerr
I purchased this book earlier this fall, when my book club (more often than not it should be called wine club), chose this as our next read. It's such a beast of a book (over 500 pages), that not many had finished it when we met to discuss. And it wasn't until around the holidays that I finally picked it up to begin.
Although I wouldn’t consider this novel a page-turner, it’s so beautifully drawn out and detailed that you become entranced by the characters right away. You can't help but fall in love with Werner, a young German boy who gets swept up in a Hitler Youth academy, and Marie-Laure, a young, blind French girl who must flee her home city of Paris to the small, seaside town of Saint-Malo during the German occupation of World War II. The two inevitably collide and it's the unfolding of their stories that creates both tension and wonder that are impossible to turn away from.
Doerr captures Marie-Laure's perspective perfectly, explaining blindness in a way that feels like you can almost understand it, and showing the reader what everyday life is like for her by bringing her other senses alive. Doerr writes:
"Can you see this?" Marie-Laure will not see anything for the rest of her life. Spaces she was knew as familiar -- the four-rom flat she shares with her father, the little tree-lined square at the end of their street -- have become labyrinths bristling with hazards. Drawers are never where they should be. The toilet is an abyss. A glass of water is too near, too far; her fingers too big, always too big.
What is blindness? Where there should be a wall, her hands find nothing. Where there should be nothing, a table leg gouges her shin. Cars growl in the streets; leaves whisper in the sky; blood rustles through her inner ears. In the stairwell, in the kitchen, even beside her bed, grown-up voices speak of despair.
I think it's safe to say that I enjoyed reading the writing of this book almost more than reading the story itself. As a Pulitzer Prize winner, it's hard to ignore the craftsmanship with which Doerr pieced together this epic, deeply poignant novel.
What I'm Currently Reading...
The Goldfinch is another hefty piece of fiction, so if I'm able to get through it in February alone, I'll be thrilled. The following are the next two books on my reading list, so I’ll be back at the end of the month to share about them!
What are you currently reading? Do you read more fiction or non-fiction? Let me know in the comments,
. Talking about books is one of my favorite things.