Tag Archives: Elizabeth Gilbert

Sunday Salon/Currently: Reflecting on a Year of Reading

Books Transform in Hourglass

Books Transform in Hourglass – courtesy of Getty Images

Here we are … the first Sunday Salon/Currently post of 2016!  As I’ve mentioned before, I am all too happy to welcome a new year and a fresh start, even if not much has actually changed.

I thought I would use this post to reflect on and recap my 2015 reading year.  I would categorize this as a pretty good year, quality-wise.  In terms of quantity, though, not so much. I read a total of 52 books, compared to 75 in 2014. (This is still rather respectable, especially when you consider that this averages to be one book per week).  I try not to fall into the book blogger trap of comparing my totals to others; the reality is that I always am most critical of myself.

I attribute the decrease to two factors: 1) more time spent listening to podcasts in the car  (I listened to 22 audiobooks last year, compared to only 10 this year) and 2) being ruthless in abandoning books that weren’t working for me. At the same time, I have quite a few books in progress. Finishing books was a bit of an issue this year, probably because of reading multiple books at once.

(What can I say? I work for an organization that has five million items available free for the borrowing — and most of them are books. It is hard not to be tempted by the shiny and new. Or the old and classic.  Or, whatever.)

So, we’re not really going to focus much on the amounts. It’s all about the experience, right? And there were some great literary experiences in 2015.

Before we get to the Best Of selections, some stats for my fellow book geeks who love this sort of thing.  (You know who you are.)

2015

Number of Books Read = 52
Number of Pages Read = 10,001
Longest Book:  The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters (564 pages)
Shortest Book: Remnants of Passion by Sarah Einstein (37 pages)
Number of Audiobooks Listened To = 10
Number of Hours Spent Listening to Audiobooks = 87.31
How Many Days of Listening That Equals = 3.6
Average Number of Days It Took Me to Finish a Book = 7
My Average Rating of a Book = 3.9
Authors Who Were New to Me = 36
Authors Who I’d Read Previously = 16
Female Authors Read = 33
Male Authors Read = 19
Oldest Book Read = The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (published in 1890)
Second Oldest Book Read = The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (published in 1892)

And now, without further ado, here are my favorite books in Fiction, Short Stories, Memoir, and Nonfiction.  Links take you to my reviews, if I’ve written one. (Writing reviews was also a bit of a challenge this year.) As you’ll note by the years in parenthesis, these include my favorite books I read in 2015, regardless of the publication date.

Best Fiction

Thirteen Ways of Looking

Thirteen Ways of Looking by Colum McCann (2015)

None of the Above

None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio

“But once you understood what you were … how could someone not want to be fixed? I couldn’t conceive of a world in which I wasn’t broken.” (pg. 146)  Debut novelist I.W. Gregorio has given her readers a story that explores identity and acceptance through the perspective of a main character who just learned she was born intersex. This is one of those books that I appreciated on a highly personal level and for the sensitive way the author handles a subject matter that’s considered by some to be taboo. Because of books like None of the Above and authors like I.W. Gregorio, there exists the hope for a more caring, sensitive, and accepting world. ~ from my review, 6/22/2015.

Tampa - 2

Tampa by Alissa Nutting (2013)

The Paying Guests

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters (2014)

The Picture of Dorian Gray

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1890)

Honorable Mentions for Fiction:

The Edible WomanThe MiniaturistZLike FamilyOur Souls at NightEverything I Never Told YouWest of SunsetMy Sunshine Away

The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood (1969)

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton (2014)

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Fowler (2013)

Like Family by Paolo Giordano (2015)

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf (2015)

Our Souls at Night is a quiet, understated novel about love and grief, family and community.  It challenges the reader to view older people as still having desires and needs rather than individuals who should renounce all vestiges of intimacy the minute their AARP card arrives in the mail.  It is a gorgeous finale for author Kent Haruf.  (From my review 9/22/2015)

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (2014)

Living in suburban Ohio in the 1970s, the Lee family is one full of secrets, of regrets, of unfulfilled dreams and hijacked ambitions. Of letters never sent nor received, of tchkotches stolen, of misunderstandings big and small, of innermost feelings repressed and silent pacts. And sometimes – yes, oftentimes – our lives turn out differently than we planned. Terrible things happen. But by listening to what the people we love are and aren’t saying, admitting to our deepest wishes and exposing our most fragile insecurities, our lives and those around us have a chance to change for the better. (Reviewed 5/4/2015)

West of Sunset by Stewart O’Nan (2015)

Stewart O’Nan, a Pittsburgh author, more than succeeds in capturing legendary F. Scott Fitzgerald during the legendary author’s final troubled three years.  At 40, Scott’s literary success is well in the past and his wife Zelda is institutionalized for psychiatric issues. When Hollywood (finally, thankfully) comes calling with work as a screenwriter, Scott is emotionally and financially broke, “borrowing against stories he has yet to imagine.” (Love that line!)

Dust off the Hollywood glitter, though, and there’s something universally relatable about West of Sunset. Anyone who has ever gone through a difficult professional or personal stretch of time (which would be …oh, all of us) will likely find something to identify with in the F. Scott Fitzgerald that Stewart O’Nan presents. West of Sunset is about coming to terms with real and perceived failure, the drumbeat of self-doubt and loathing that accompanies it, the quest for self-redemption, and what happens when our self-reliance runs out.  (“Somewhere in this latest humiliation there was a lesson in self-reliance. He’d failed so completely that he’d become his own man again.”)  Reviewed 2/5/2015.

My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh (2015)

Best Short Stories

The Yellow Wallpaper

The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1892)

Best Memoirs

Dear Mr. You

Dear Mr. You by Mary-Louise Parker (2015)

Whatever ...Love Is Love

Whatever … Love Is Love: Questioning the Labels We Give Ourselves by Maria Bello (2015)

Belief Is Its Own Kind of Truth, Maybe

Belief is Its Own Kind of Truth, Maybe by Lori Jakiela (2015)

M Train

M Train by Patti Smith (2015)

Best Nonfiction

Between the World and Me

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (2015)

This book’s moment in the spotlight comes at precisely the right time, given the current racial climate and rhetoric in our country. Between the World and Me is an important book, a classic of our era that deserves to be widely-read and taught in schools long after the accolades and the “best of” lists fade into the New Year and the ether of the Internet. Ta-Nehisi Coates writes that he “would have [his son] be a conscious citizen of this terrible and beautiful world.”  Reading this book and talking with others about it is one small way we can do the same.  Reviewed 12/29/2015.

Big Magic

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert (2015)

You may be thinking that Big Magic is just another gimmicky book about creativity and following your passion, the likes of which you’ve probably read before. And you also may be judging this based on perhaps a negative impression of Eat Pray Love or any other of Gilbert’s work. And you would be wrong on both counts.  (I can say that because I did both of those things.)

Elizabeth Gilbert isn’t advocating that we creative types go into the office tomorrow and quit our jobs or commit to waking up every morning at 3 a.m. to write The Best Novel Ever or build a wing onto our house for the studio of our dreams. If you are able to do those things, more power to you. That’s not reality for most of us, however. And if we’re looking to our creativity to solve the bigger questions of our lives, we might be missing the point altogether.

“Perhaps creativity’s greatest mercy is this: By completely absorbing our attention for a short and magical spell, it can relieve us temporarily from the dreadful burden of being who we are. Best of all, at the end of your creative adventure, you have a souvenir — something that you made, something to remind you forever of your brief but transformative encounter with inspiration.” (pg. 172)

I really enjoyed this book and Elizabeth Gilbert’s direct and down-to-earth approach to creativity was exactly what I needed at the time.  Reviewed 11/3/2015.

Letters to a Young Poet

Letters to a Young Poet by Rainier Maria Rilke (1929)

As I said, this was a wonderful year. Thanks so much for reading my reviews and bookish banter. Looking forward to another fun year here together in 2016!

Thoughts on Big Magic: Creative Living Through Fear, by Elizabeth Gilbert

Pittsburgh’s literary community is a vibrant one. Besides being home to several MFA programs, there’s a creative and innovative undercurrent in this town that is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced anywhere else.

Recently, I spent an entire Saturday with many of our region’s finest writers. They’re some of the most talented and accomplished people I’ve ever met and I’m honored to call several of them friends.

But this writing thing we share — it’s a crazy, crazy thing. I can’t think of many other pursuits that summon feelings of joy and inadequacy at the same time.

Big MagicElizabeth Gilbert has a few things to say about that in her new book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. I happened to be reading this that same weekend and it resonated with me (whether because of the workshop or because I needed to hear its message, I don’t know).

“Creativity is sacred, and it is not sacred.

What we make matters enormously, and it doesn’t matter at all. 

We toil alone, and we are accompanied by spirits. 

We are terrified, and we are brave. 

Art is a crushing chore and a wonderful privilege. 

Only when we are at our most playful can divinity finally get serious with us. 

Make space for all these paradoxes to be equally true inside your soul, and I promise — you can make anything.” 

Big Magic is part memoir, part writing manual, and part motivational kick in the ass.

“If you’re alive, you’re a creative person. You and I and everyone you know are descended from tens of thousands of years of makers. Decorators, tinkerers, storytellers, dancers, explorers, fiddlers, drummers, builders, growers, problem-solvers, and embellishers — these are our common ancestors.

The guardians of high culture will try to convince you that the arts belong only to a chosen few, but they are wrong and they are also annoying. We are all the chosen few. We are all makers by design.” (pg. 89)”

You may be thinking that Big Magic is just another gimmicky book about creativity and following your passion, the likes of which you’ve probably read before. And you would be wrong. Elizabeth Gilbert isn’t advocating that we creative types go into the office tomorrow and quit our jobs or commit to waking up every morning at 3 a.m. to write The Best Novel Ever or build a wing onto our house for the studio of our dreams. If you are able to do those things, more power to you. That’s not reality for most of us, however. And if we’re looking to our creativity to solve those questions, we might be missing the point altogether.

“Perhaps creativity’s greatest mercy is this: By completely absorbing our attention for a short and magical spell, it can relieve us temporarily from the dreadful burden of being who we are. Best of all, at the end of your creative adventure, you have a souvenir — something that you made, something to remind you forever of your brief but transformative encounter with inspiration.” (pg. 172)

I really enjoyed this book and Elizabeth Gilbert’s direct and down-to-earth approach to creativity was exactly what I needed at the time.  Highly recommended.

 

sunday salon: my week of bookish events

The Sunday Salon.com

October in the ‘Burgh seems to bring a burst of literary events to our town. I think that is because of the growing visibility, strength and supportive nature of Pittsburgh’s literary community which is fueled by the various writing programs at our local universities and the creative mojo that powers this region.

I’ve written previously  about how Pittsburgh’s vibrant literary scene has been one of my surprises about living here. I don’t think many cities have what we have. It’s very special.

On Thursday evening, Rainbow Rowell appeared at the library for a talk and book signing.  I haven’t read any of her books yet, but The Girl is a big fan.  When she heard that Ms. Rowell was going to be in town, she pleaded with me for several weeks to get tickets. Despite this being a school night, I acquiesced. Seeing her unrestrained excitement made me glad I did.

Yesterday, the great folks from Barrelhouse brought their fantastic Conversations and Connections writing conference back to Chatham University. This was my second year attending and once again, this conference was outstanding. It lives up to its name: you get the chance to have wonderful conversations with authors and make connections with small press publishers and editors of journals. As a writer, it gives you validation with a kick in the ass.

I’m planning separate posts recapping each of these happenings, but today I’m flat-out exhausted. I slept for 12 hours last night and needed every minute. Managing life on the homefront is taking a tremendous amount of mental energy lately and by the end of the week, I am depleted. (This week, I felt like I’d reached that point by lunchtime on Monday.)

The John Cheever Audio CollectionOn the reading front, not too much to report. I finally finished listening to The John Cheever Audio Collection. I’ll likely read more of his short stories at some point, but this collection served my purpose of getting acquainted with his work. Among these 12 stories, my favorites were “The Enormous Radio,” “The Five Forty-Eight,” “Christmas is a Sad Season for the Poor,” and “The Brigadier and the Golf Widow.”  There are a few others that I listened to while somewhat distracted (always a good state of mind for driving)  and that I need to revisit in print.

Big MagicMy current read is Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert. I’m not necessarily an Elizabeth Gilbert fan — I have no inclination to read Eat Pray Love and The Signature of All Things was a DNF for me — but I am liking this book a lot. Most creativity books I’ve read tend to give overused and simplistic suggestions for discovering your creativity and making time to pursue your passion. That’s all fine and well and good. For me, Big Magic is a little different: it’s about addressing the fear that holds us back, the spirituality that’s such a big part of the ideas we have, and the work of capturing them and nurturing them into life.

Hope you are having a great weekend!

What is the Sunday Salon? Imagine some university library’s vast reading room. It’s filled with people–students and faculty and strangers who’ve wandered in. They’re seated at great oaken desks, books piled all around them, and they’re all feverishly reading and jotting notes in their leather-bound journals as they go. Later they’ll mill around the open dictionaries and compare their thoughts on the afternoon’s literary intake….

That’s what happens at the Sunday Salon, except it’s all virtual. Every Sunday the bloggers participating in that week’s Salon get together–at their separate desks, in their own particular time zones–and read. And blog about their reading. And comment on one another’s blogs. Think of it as an informal, weekly, mini read-a-thon, an excuse to put aside one’s earthly responsibilities and fall into a good book.

 

 

The Sunday Salon: Go Fourth and Read

The Sunday Salon

It has been a spectacularly gorgeous Fourth of July weekend here in Pittsburgh, one that lent itself to some quality time spent reading on the deck … which is exactly where I’ve been most of the last three days. Part of me feels a bit guilty for not partaking in all that Pittsburgh had to offer during this weekend (the regatta, fireworks, etc.) but the reality is that we don’t particularly like huge crowds and the kids are outside and active all day during the week with their day camp. Reading on the deck and watching baseball games suits us just fine.

The Signature of All Things

Last night I started reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things. I haven’t read anything of hers before (I never bought into the whole Eat, Pray, Love hype) and frankly, Signature just wasn’t on my radar until I heard that a) there was a Philadelphia aspect to this one and b) Elizabeth Gilbert will be part of the upcoming Monday Night Lectures series with Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures this season. I’m on the fence about whether to get tickets for Elizabeth Gilbert, but in the meantime, I’m trying to read as many of the PAL authors as I can.

Big Book Summer Reading ChallengeThis is a chunkster and thus qualifies as my book of choice for the 2014 Big Book Summer Challenge, hosted by Sue at Book by Book. I love this reading challenge and I try to participate every summer. It’s easy; all you have to do is commit to reading one book of at least 400 pages. There’s still plenty of summer left to participate, as this one goes to Labor Day. (This post counts as my official “I’m signing up to participate.”)

Some other reading recaps from the week:

My audiobook of the week was French Lessons by Ellen Sussman, a new writer friend of mine. If you happen to find yourself on a beach this week and in need of a light, fun, escapism, sexytimes sort of read, French Lessons is it. I’ll admit, this strayed a bit into the romance/chick lit realm for my typical taste, but whether it was the fact that I was just getting back from vacation, this was a fun listen during my daily commute to and from work.

On Friday, I finished reading Paul Monette’s extraordinary memoir Borrowed Time, which I reviewed here yesterday. This is likely going to be one of the best books I will read this year. It left me speechless.

And speaking of this year, can you believe we’re already halfway through 2014? As of June 30, I’ve read 33 books this year, with exactly 1/3 of those being audiobooks. My goal is 75 books total by the end of the year, so I’m pleased with that.  Interestingly, this happens to be exactly where I was this time last year. I’ve read more female authors (23) than male (10), which is typical for me.

Of the books I’ve read, 10 were fiction; nine were memoirs; six were nonfiction; three were short story collections and three were poetry. The other two were historical fiction. My average rating for a book is 3.6.

My picks, then, for The Best Books I’ve Read During the First Half of 2014:

Fiction:
Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It, Stories by Maile Meloy
Frances and Bernard, by Carlene Bauer
Transatlantic, by Colum McCann
Perfect, by Rachel Joyce
Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, by Chris Bohjalian (to be published 7/8/2014)

Memoir:
Nest. Flight. Sky, by Beth Kephart
Glitter and Glue, by Kelly Corrigan
In the Body of the World, by Eve Ensler
Hope for a Sea Change, by Elizabeth Aquino
Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir, by Beth Kephart

Finally, I’d like to take this opportunity to send out get-well wishes to one of my very favorite authors,  Colum McCann. It’s a holiday weekend, so some may have missed the news that Colum McCann was attacked in New Haven, Connecticut while trying to assist a woman involved in an apparent domestic violence incident. (“An Author Known For Empathy Has None for His Attacker,” NYT, July 3, 2014). I was horrified to hear this (although not surprised to hear that he intervened, because that’s the sort of person Mr. McCann seems to be). I’m glad to hear that it seems that Mr. McCann is going be all right, as this could have been much, much worse. Not that I think he reads this blog or anything (but, hey, you never know) but I hope Mr. McCann makes a full recovery and that his attacker is caught and brought to justice for both incidents.

I also hope that the woman involved in the incident seeks support, for on Independence Day and every day, everyone deserves to be free from that type of abuse in their lives. Next time there might not be someone to come help.

Hope all of you who were celebrating had a happy – and safe – Fourth of July.