December was not an easy month to say the least. I struggled to stay positive at work, filled my days with just routine, and totally neglected my own writing. Still, I had some pretty fantastic books to help bring some light and joy into my days!
I read both non-fiction and poetry this month. This is probably the first time in a while that I have branched out beyond just collections of poetry. Thank goodness too because I walked away with some great advice from writers like Elizabeth Gilbert and Lewis Buzbee.
Overall, December ended on a positive note too. I had a great Christmas with my S.O., made some leaps and bounds at work, and am leaving the month feeling a lot lighter. I hope you are too.
Now, without further ado, here’s a little recap of the books I read that month. Check it out:
‘Big Magic’ by Elizabeth Gilbert
I read ‘Big Magic’ over the course of my New York trip. I ripped through it in just three days in between work, sight-seeing, and travel arrangements. It is definitely a page-turner.
Yet, it’s not a beach read to take lightly. Instead, ‘Big Magic’ helped me reframe my own creative mindset.
I walked away with a few key lessons:
Creativity shouldn’t be such a serious thing. Instead, it should just be fun and enjoyable. As Gilbert writes,
“Let inspiration lead you wherever it wants to lead you. Keep in mind that for most of history people just made things, and they didn’t make such a big freaking deal out of it. We make things because we like making things.”
Continuing to be creative can be frustrating. For sure! Mostly because whatever we do at first isn’t any good. But we just have to keep trying and trying until it improves. The same goes for working with drafts.
Creativity is essential. Gilbert points out that we have been creating art as human beings for over forty thousand years. Art appeared on cave walls, carvings, and in the form of clay statuettes. We have had art, as Gilbert points out, for longer than we have agriculture. It is one of the oldest parts of our history!
We should be living the “trickster” lifestyle! As in, we should treat life as just a game. With that mindset, we can work to trick life - to find the fun and enjoyable among all the routine and mundane surrounding us. That will help us become more creative and just enjoy ourselves more. Sounds great, right?
We should feel brave enough to pursue whatever interests us. We can be poets and non-fiction writers. Fiction authors and screenplay writers. We just need to follow our interests bravely and not look back.
‘Lit’ by Mary Karr
‘Time’ wrote that “Karr seems to have been born with the inability to write a dishonest-or boring-sentence.” That is so goddamn true!
Mary Karr grew up in East Texas and the crazy metaphors, exuberant language, and a lack of giving a fuck, totally comes out in her memoir. She just has a strong voice and it works really well in “Lit.”
My first copy of ‘Lit’ is still packed away in Texas from when I lived in San Antonio. I was unable to pack all my books in a Subaru on my way to Portland. So, in lieu of getting those sent to me, I had to buy another copy of the memoir. It is my favorite book, hands down.
In the memoir, you at first follow Mary as she leaves her hometown in Texas (Note: read ‘The Liar’s Club to learn more about that time of her life). Then, you see Mary get set off for college, begin her literary career, get married, have a child, and struggle with alcoholism all throughout.
What stands out to me is that she sets out to accomplish three main things. She wants to create the idyllic family that she never had, she wants to become a reputable poet, and she seeks to outrun her mother’s own destiny. As she writes,
“I was seventeen, thin, and malleable as coast hanger wire, and Mother was the silky shadow stitched to my feet that I nonetheless believed I could outrun.”
I think what I love most about “Lit” is Karr’s brutal honesty. She depicts herself as objectively as a human being can without completely destroying their own sense of self worth. I can’t even imagine how painful some of her stories were to recount. Yet, she gets them all down on the page in a way that tears at your heart strings.
‘Splitting an Order’ by Ted Kooser
I’ve read two of Ted Kooser’s collections now. They floor me.
I started with ‘Sure Signs’. Right away, I noticed that he takes care in his life to notice all the little things that shape who we are, our experiences, and bring color to a moment or memory.
I had to have more, so I picked up ‘Delights and Shadows’ and discovered a poem titled, ‘Mother’ that about made me cry one fall morning while reading at the park.
Long story short, I am hooked. Plus, I’m amazed that someone can manage to work at an insurance company and become the U.S. Poet Laureate. What, even?!
It turns out that Kooser starter writing as a teenager and then became a high-school teacher after graduating from Iowa State. He then got into the Iowa writing program but flunked out.
It didn’t matter though because he still continued to write. Except, he had to take a job to pay the bills while writing from 5:30 to 7:00 each morning.
As someone doing much the same (working a day job and writing in the morning), I am completely inspired. Plus, reading
‘To Split an Order’ was a joyful experience. The poems are a bit more serious in tone than the other collections I’ve mentioned here, but equally melodic and nostalgic.
The thing I appreciate the most about all of his works is that he takes simple moments and is able to convey how they effect him. For example, how a swirl of leaves in the wind can remind him of all his loved ones gently touching him and showing him a bit of color unexpectedly.
He just gets what it means to be human in this life and can explain it so well for his readers. It makes you slow down and learn how to take in the sunrise on your way to work or the way the knit blanket on your lap feels and how it may remind you of being a kid wrapped up in the winter on your mother’s lap.
My favorite poems in the collection: Awakening, Hands in the Wind, New Moon, A Morning in Early Spring, Barn Swallows, The Woman Whose Husband was Dying, A Meeting After Many Years
‘The Yellow Lighted Bookshop’ by Lewis Buzbee
Reading Lewis Buzbee’s memoir was like meeting up with a new friend and realizing they share one of the same passions as you.
Buzbee loves books and bookstores. He will go on his honeymoon and spend it looking for a certain shop that is sure to have a surprising paperback in store for him. He loves that bookstores are like living breathing cities. He loves the origin of the book and it’s life cycle from the publisher to the shelf and back.
I mean geeze, just read this quote:
“Books, I knew then and now, give body to our ideas and imaginations, make them flesh in the world; a bookstore is the city where our fleshed-out inner selves reside.”
My favorite part in Buzbee’s novel is when he describes the excitement book lovers feel when they walk into a bookstore. It feels just like each time I walk into a Powell’s location, Elliot Bay Bookstore, or when I was traveling with my mom in London and could wander in to any cute little bookstore we found along our way.
You feel as if there is infinite possibilities. You could find a non-fiction that is so relatable it changes your though processes (I’ve so been there!).
Better yet, you could find a poetry collection that inspires you to take more time to enjoy your surroundings or the people you love. I’ve even found seemingly random books that have opened me up to whole new areas of interests.
Being in a bookstore is my favorite way to spend a weekend morning. Buzbee nails the feeling on the head when he explains that the feeling is like being both alone but connected to others - other readers (and other writers if you ask me).
I know you guys are readers, so if you want to spend hours connecting with a friend who shares your passion, definitely check out ‘The Yellow Lighted Bookshop.’
‘Ariel’ by Sylvia Plath
I read ‘The Bell Jar’ by Sylvia Plath back in August. From there, I was hooked! I went to the Powell’s on Cedar Hills here and grabbed two different collections of poetry by Plath as well.
I read ‘Ariel’ first in September. I then re-read it this month, giving me the chance to revisit her superb use of repetition, dark imagery, beautiful vocabulary, and radical enjambment.
Her collection is not just a bound book. It is her own heart laid out, stitched into signatures, and bound into a paperback.
She writes about the struggle involved in living. If you’ve ever experienced depression or dark thoughts, you will relate and leave this collection in awe of her ability to succinctly describe her feelings and in such a gorgeous way. I know I was in awe at least.
My favorite poems in the collection: Lady Lazarus, Elm, Lesbos, Medusa, a Birthday Present, The Munich Mannequins, Contusion
Now that December is coming to an end, I’m hoping to pick up some more collections of poetry for sure. Beyond that, I’m at a small loss for what to read. Do you guys have any recommendations? I would love to hear some in the comments! Thanks for reading guys.