Your New Summer Reading List

dolls

I’ve always loved reading in general, but there is just something about summer and sitting down with a good book. Even as a kid, I was always so pumped to join the summer reading challenge at the library. If you read x number of pages by the end of the summer, you got a free book, and there was always a really cool treasure map you could color in to track your progress! Back then, my reading list looked something like this.

As I am trying to decide what books to pile onto my “to read” list for this summer, I figured I might as well pass on some of my lesser-known personal favorites to you: life-changers if you will, or at the least very much worth reading.

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace – If nothing else encourages you to read this book, a film titled The End Of The Tour just came out last year chronicling a famous 5 day interview between the author and a Rolling Stone reporter. So basically, DFW is pretty important in the literary world. I knew nothing about his work until I by chance picked up this book at the local library, his explosion of fame having taken place after its completion in the 90s, when I was still reading picture books. This book takes place alternately between a tennis academy and a rehab facility, and hosts a strange casts of characters. It is an odd comedy at the same time as it is a philosophical meditation on addiction, the powerful role of entertainment, and what the pleasures we choose say about who we are. Don’t go looking for a cut and dry interpretation, though. For there is still much speculation about what certain parts of this book really mean or what truly happened. This is not a book of answers but of questions, and I think that is why I love it.

The Girls by Lori Lansens – This book follows the life of 29-year-old conjoined twins Rose and Ruby. It puts a totally new kind of character in the spotlight. Readers will be surprised by the girls’ independence and the unexpected differences in their personalities and the separateness of their lives. The novel is written from the perspective of Rose, an aspiring writer, as she pens her autobiography. These unique main characters are treated with respect, awe, hilarity, and tenderness.

Good Kings Bad Kings by Susan Nussbaum – This novel chronicles the triumphs and trials of a group of adolescents. Only – these adolescents happen to live in an institution for juveniles with disabilities. It confronts important issues such as abuse and neglect within institutions and group homes, disability activism, and the infantalizing of individuals with disabilities.  It also shows that disability does not define the individual’s hopes, desires, emotions, and dreams.

The Memory Artists by Jeffrey Moore – This novel revolves around a cast of characters who are all involved or affected in some way by the neurology of memory, from an Alzheimer’s patient to a neuropsychologist to a young woman suffering from blackouts and a young man with synesthesia. It is a moving and uplifting story that celebrates the power of relationships within struggle.

The Marriage Artist by Andrew Winer – I swear I don’t only read books with the word “artist” in the title. This moving, detailed story deals with loss, family secrets, inherited beliefs, societal prejudice and oppression specifically of the Jewish people during the Holocaust, and how our ancestors’ passions, perspectives, and experiences shape our own search for meaning. It is one of the most fascinating historical novels (which also branches into present day) that I’ve ever come across.

Requiem by Francis Itani – This book revolves around our need as human beings to revisit the places and people who shaped us, and confronts the harsh reality of the displacement of Japanese-Canadian and Japanese-American citizens after Pearl Harbor. It is also a sobering look at how easy it is for us as a society to turn our friends and neighbors into enemies simply because of their country of origin.

Darkmans by Nicola Barker – Nicola Barker’s favorite subject matter is described as eccentric or damaged people in mundane situations. I love heavily character-driven works as you can see from this list so far, and when I think about it, I hardly read anything that only has one central figure at the action’s center. This book is filled with strange people linked only loosely by a myriad of intertwining webs. It is strange and surreal, and I can’t really describe the plot outright. But, I promise while reading you will be tickled, emotionally moved, astonished, and entertained.

The Interestings by Megan Wolitzer  – This book follows a group of four friends who meet at summer camp as their relationships grow and change far into adulthood. I may have found this story particularly interesting as one who is nearing 30 and still maintains my core group of high school friends, some of whom I have known since 1st grade or earlier! It explores how as people grow older, talent, success, money, achievements, and social class can affect one’s long term relationships. It is a fascinating character study, and highly relatable to anyone with long term friendships and connections.

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami – Murakami is another writer who favors more surreal, philosophical, complex stories. However, this novel is one of his most straightforward with no strange, unexplained dream-sequence-like descriptions or complicated metaphysical symbolism. It is a story about young love and coming of age, the loneliness of beginning collegiate life, and the life altering experience of dealing with a good friend’s suicide. I normally am not one for either romantic based plots or books I know are going to be sob stories revolving around dying. I also am not one to be moved to tears during books or movies usually. I absolutely loved this book, read it multiple times, and cried.

What books do you recommend I attack this summer? Help! I need suggestions! 🙂

Advertisements

Stories As Inspiration

Remember what I said about myself and movies … I haven’t had even basic cable in years, and television shows generally don’t hold my interest, but I can’t get enough of books and movies. When I last talked about films, I was discussing movies that had visually inspired me as an artist. Those I chose to include in the list were chosen for visuals only, having nothing to do with the story line.

Awhile ago, I happened upon an article online as I traveled down the rabbit hole that is the internet … you know how it goes. The article was something like “10 Questions To Ask Yourself In Your 20s”, meant to help us young adults find ourselves and figure out what the heck we’re doing by percolating on the answers we came up with (I use the word “percolate” rather than “meditate” intentionally, because I have far too active an inner thought life to ever even attempt tranquil inner peace. I’ve come to terms with this fact.). One of the questions was, “What are your favorite stories, what do they say to you, and what does this say about you?” It’s an interesting thing to think about, especially for creative people since stories whether in film or print are an art of their own. I’ve shared my list here. These books and movies are not all necessarily the most mind-blowing, best written, or most awarded in their genre – that isn’t the point. These are the stories that my mind has continued to wander to from time to time since I first experienced them, or that I’ve found myself watching/reading over and over for whatever reason. The fun part after you make your own list is to figure out why that is.

What are my favorite stories?

Benny and Joon (film) – I swear I did not pick this because it has Johnny Depp in it, though that is what first prompted me to rent it back in the day ;).

  • No one is unlovable. We all have difficulties that we deal with, it is just that some come with a label and some don’t.
  • People are capable of becoming so much more than we’d ever imagine when given the chance.

Wristcutters: A Love Story (novel, later film) – Don’t let the title turn you off, this is actually a whimsical, heartwarming story (with some dark bits) that I remain glad a friend recommended.

  • Don’t despise where you are at in your life right now, or wish it away; there will come a time when you will miss it.
  • Sometimes what you are chasing after, what you think you need and want, will distract you from the opportunity for true happiness right in front of you.

The Sound of Music (film) – I was listening to this soundtrack on my parents record player and dancing to it in the basement playroom as a little kid long before I saw the movie for the first time. I’m sure many of you have seen it at least once as well, because Julie Andrews is basically the Queen of Everything.

  • Don’t try to force yourself into a life plan that doesn’t fit you; it never will. You have a right to change your mind at any moment.
  • People don’t change by having anger or reproach directed at them, being insulted or accused. They change when someone is willing to love them where they’re at, but also respectfully challenges their ideals and pushes them out of their comfort zone in a kind but spirited way.

The Picture of Dorian Gray (novel) -This book made me an Oscar Wilde fan for life.

  • Don’t discount small choices, each decision we make shapes who we will become.
  • Be aware of who you allow influence over what you believe and what is important to you.

The Curious Incident of the Dog In the Night-time (novel) – I heard this book has become a play now, and I hope to see it someday. This story is told from the point of view of a young boy with autism, and for perspective alone I would recommend you give it a try.

  • Again, people are so much more than we let them be. Don’t box someone in and limit your view of their capabilities simply because of a label they’ve been given, or because their struggles are different from yours.

Middlesex (novel) – Certainly one of the most complex and interesting character-driven stories I’ve ever read, by one of my favorite authors.

  • Don’t be so quick to judge who someone is or what has made them the way that they are. Everyone has a rest of the story.
  • Oftentimes, the most courageous and subversive thing one can be is who they already are.

Howl’s Moving Castle (film) –

  • Again, always remember that everyone has a story, you only see a part.

I was actually surprised that many of the core takeaways from each very different story often overlapped (Though I shouldn’t have been – it makes sense I’d be attracted to the same theme that I value again and again represented in different ways). I can see my draw towards the celebration of idiosyncrasies, and the affirmation of individual human lives as intricate and full of possibility, in my surreal portraits that I’ve fallen in love with creating. I can even see evidence of living out the themes found in these stories in my career choice, not only opening up people’s capabilities through teaching art, but in working with people with disabilities, a group that is often unjustly marginalized and discounted. Stories are important. For creators of all types, our stories come out in what we create. But, even those who view themselves as the least creative individuals on the planet still tell a story in how they interact day to day with other people and with the world around them. So, what are some of your favorite stories?

Inspiration From The Bookshelf

The Artisan Soul, Erwin Raphael McManus

I’ve been so busy lately I am still finishing up books I received as Christmas gifts! For anyone who knows me, you know how shocking this is as I tend to devour books. I’ve really been enjoying this latest one, The Artisan Soul. What’s great about it is it can apply to any passion, not simply the arts. I suppose I should say, it also applies to everything outside of what is “traditionally” viewed as art, since one of the major themes from the very beginning is the fact that everyone is an artist! Everyone has something they do that they love, that when they are engaging with it their creativity freely flows – yes yes yes!

The journaling prompts for each chapter in the back of the book are so helpful in synthesizing what you’ve just read and allowing you to apply it to your own personal journey. This is not one of those lame self help books, or else trust me, there is no way in hell I would be reading it. I’d like to share the latest journal, in which I was asked to write about what kind of world I will create through my work, choices, and actions – a manifesto of sorts. This is not at all polished and total stream of consciousness, but I’d like to include it: I will create a world in which everyone has the confidence to see themselves as creators. People are not afraid to express themselves creatively and stop shutting themselves off from the world due to fear or anxiety. No one will feel purposeless, and no one will feel isolated. Those who were once ignored, mistreated, or shut out will shine and show others their true worth. “Sameness” and monotony will vanish and people will be free to live as they truly are without persecution. All will have the power of fearlessness. We will not need to cling to what is “standard” or precedent, but know that we are responsible for creating the society and world in which we wish to live in, and all of us have the power to make the space around us more inspiring. We will no longer live dull, unfulfilled-seeming lives simply because we are afraid to risk new things, to be strange, to have fun, to engage in childlike moments of joy: go to a park, make masks and wear costumes, invent our own board game, build a tree fort, be undignified … make a mess, laugh more – worry what others will think or say less. It is our life and no one else has to live in it but ourselves. Those who are “different” (for we all are, truly) will be valued for those characteristics that make them unique, not criticized for them. Different will never again mean broken. We will realize in this new world that each person brings something vital to the table, that single piece of the grand puzzle that we cannot complete without them.

Some other awesome books relevant to creativity I’d like to recommend are:

Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo, by Hayden Herrera – An interesting, close look at the life of an iconic artist whose work was the most intimate form of self expression. After an accident that left her with severe health problems and a lot of time in and out of hospital beds throughout the rest of her life, she used art as a therapy in the purest sense. I read this before Express Yourself Artshop even existed, let alone I began working there. Still, I was always moved by the idea of art as a refuge for the wounded, and a voice for the stifled.

The Crowd, The Critic, and The Muse, by Michael Gungor – The ideas for this book started with a blog Gungor wrote entitled “Zombies, Wine, and Christian Music” (I’m sure I’m not the only one dissapointed his book bared not the same title, but ah well…). Gungor, a musician whose work is faith influenced, discusses how a creator must balance all the noise coming in from the voices of critics, fans, and one’s own internal voice. He cautions against creating only to please one or the other, especially giving fans and critics precedent in what we put out into the world over our own creative soul. Given that he is a faith inspired artist, he works in a genre filled with restrictions, expectations, and plenty of red tape that usually dominated by sappy pop music for middle aged suburban folks (He does not himself enjoy making sappy pop music, for the record). Because of this struggle, his personal stories give wise counsel for navigating the treacherous terrain of making a living in a creative field while still creating work you are passionate about, and also holds all creatives in this day and age to a higher standard of being not just well liked but world changing .

The Art of Asking, by Amanda Palmer – Love or hate this musician (and people tend to either feel one way or the other), this book holds fantastic insight about getting your craft out into the world from the bottom up. The stories within are told like a personal conversation with your best friend, but with lessons that can apply to anyone. There is no blatant advice or “Hey, you need to do this” included in these pages, just “Hello, this is my story, take from it what you will”. This book especially meant a lot to me, because I am one of those people who, like her, wants to do everything myself – especially with art. I have time and time again experienced her fear of the imaginary “fraud police” (That anxiety bubbling up form the fear that you only think you are a competent artist/musician/actress/teacher/chemist/whatever and will soon be discovered for the talentless charlatan you truly are). I also have at times experienced guilt over my chosen path, especially when it is not going as successfully as I’d hoped (What right do I have to try and pursue a field I actually enjoy, when so many others trudge off to jobs they hate day in and day out? Why do I think I deserve to be so happy? How dare I have the audacity to attempt to live out my dreams?) Seriously, life changing stuff here. This book even inspired my starting of this blog :).

So, what kind of world do you want to create? Be honest, we all think about it – what changes, either physically or in mentality, would make the world suck a little less? And of course, have any of you read any awesome books that inspired you creatively? I’m always looking for book suggestions – as I mentioned before, total bibliophile. Chatting is fun, don’t be shy!