Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

“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. So please calm down now and get back to work, okay? The treasures that are hidden inside you are hoping you will say yes.” 
Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

So I should start this post by stating a fact: I love Elizabeth Gilbert's writing. If you don't love Elizabeth Gilbert's writing, you'll dislike this book. But also, if you hate Elizabeth Gilbert's writing, maybe you just hate wonderful writing? Is my guess.

I've read four books by Gilbert, all that I'd rate above-average; this one is no exception. And I think I read it at the exact perfect time in my life, because I've been pretty all-consumed over the last 7 months or so with this little smiley being that we created last year. Which is wonderful. But lack of sleep and time does not, I've found, lend itself well to feeling creatively fulfilled. And I, for one, am someone who sort of needs to be creatively fulfilled, even if it's in the form of just writing my silly blog a few times per week.

So, one of my goals for the coming months is to find a space for this again. HOWEVER, if you're like "oh my God, gag me. This sounds way to drippy and creative-y for my taste" then DON'T STOP READING. Because it's not. Gilbert has a beautiful way of eloquently putting into words what most people cannot (including me, apparently, judging by this review so far) and then giving it to you straight and being like "Quit complaining and blaming everything else for why you're not the creative person you know yourself to be. And just go be that person already, whiner." (I'm paraphrasing). Or, to put it into someone else's words entirely:

“Big Magic is a celebration of a creative life…Gilbert’s love of creativity is infectious, and there’s a lot of great advice in this sunny book…Gilbert doesn’t just call for aspiring artists to speak their truth, however daffy that may appear to others; she is showing them how.” —Washington Post

And no, I don't think of myself as an aspiring artist, though Gilbert would likely word-slap me for saying so - I'm just...someone who likes to create, feels better when I'm creating something, small or large, and loves to feel inspired about it again! I actually think everyone in the family will like this book. With the watercolor classes, woodblock classes, and various writing ventures, I think it may resonate with all of you!

Gould's Book of Fish by Richard Flanagan

 Richard Flanagan has been in the blog once before in "The Narrow Road to the Deep North." That Man Booker Prize winning book contained graphic and intimate scenes of a prisoner of war camp run by the Japanese in WWII.  "Gould's Book of Fish" is an earlier novel set mostly in an Australian prison run by the colonial English in the first part of the 19th century.  It too is a prize winning effort (Commonwealth Prize) but one that almost defies description.
   The main character is a petty thief and forger who moves out of England to America and ultimately to Australia, where his latest run-in with the law gets him to an island prison off the coast of Australia.  In one way the story runs mostly in a straight line from getting on the island to his end (death?).  In another way, so many parts are so surreal, what with his name changes combined with the bizarre behavior of the prison staff, that you come away wondering how much is real and how much is in his head.  Since a novel by definition is a fabricated story, you may wonder what is the point of asking what is real.
   Well, a story can seem more real than true events or sometimes be almost dream-like yet get at some other truth.  I believe the latter is Mr. Flanagan's intent. It is an extremely ambitious attempt at story telling on multiple levels that succeeds in an astounding fashion.  Among the truths are the capricious nature and brutality of the English penal system of the time, the many forms of love, art is in the eye of the beholder, the strong write history, and much more.
   Normally citing someone else's book blurb just isn't done, but the Glasgow Herald nailed it "When we put it down, we'll either feel exposed to one of the greatest literary hoaxes in history or that we've just read what some are already describing as the first great book of the twenty-first century.  Or who knows? Maybe both?"

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Red Notice by Bill Browder

The author comes from a communist heritage (grandpa ran for the U.S. Presidency as the head of the Communist Party in 1936) but became wealthy by plunging into the wide-open stocks available in Eastern Europe and Russia after the disintegration of the USSR.  When one of the oligarchs, who snatched up the properties that were government- owned industries, manipulated the market to decrease the value of Mr Browder's holding, Mr. Putin stepped in on the side of Mr. Browder.  Mr. Browder figured Mr. Putin would make Russia a nation of laws. Sound like the guy we know?
   Soon Mr. Browder's holdings were under attack by what appeared to be government-backed actions and his company eventually had to get out of Russia. One of his associates stayed (he thought the legal system was fair), was arrested, tortured, and eventually died.
   If it sounds like the plot has been revealed and what's the reason for reading, this description doesn't do it justice.  The suspense and plot twists and turns are worth the reading. It is an interesting story, not just for the actions but also for the author's increased focus away from his business and toward justice for his brave associate.  A story we all should know.