Books Read in April


“A Story Larger Than My Own- Women Writers Look Back on their Lives and Careers.” Edited by Janet Burroway

At difficult times in my writing life, I tell myself certain stories to remind myself of things I mustn’t forget, information which can only be encoded in story form or it won’t get where it’s going.

What do you get when you compile essays and poems by nineteen remarkable women who also happen to be remarkable writers? This gem of collection. Each woman is over sixty and they reflect on their careers as writers, editors, reporters and teachers, offering sage, humorous and hard won advice to writers at any stage of their career.

Some favorite lines:

Jane Smiley on writing her first novel:

“…what I got from it was important—confidence, familiarity, discipline.”

Judith Ortiz Coffer quoting Virgina Woolf:

“A woman writing thinks back through her mothers,” and adds, “forward through her daughters.”

Hilda Raz was asked this question:

“As a poet, are you writing from a place of aging? Or from the place of all you’ve experienced, witnessed, lost, discovered, understood, not understood? Doesn’t this mean that being over sixty or seventy is almost irrelevant?”

What I learned: As I approach fifty, I found myself really drawn in by this collection. I learned that our lives are rich tapestries that we can weave throughout our stories, owning all parts of our lives.

“Steal Like an Artist- 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative” by Austin Kleon

It’s one of my theories that when people give you advice, they’re really just talking to themselves in the past.

Okay, confession.

I think this guy is my latest creative crush.

You know, one of those people who just light you up and make you want to go out and create something, anything as long as you’re immersed in the process. I love his ideas, the design of the book, the structure, the graphics and illustrations. I just loved it all.

It’s a small square book that you’ll probably devour in one sitting but one that you’ll turn to again and again for hits of inspiration. He makes you feel not just less isolated but that we are all part of a big crazy tribe of artists.

What I learned: To not take it all so seriously. Creating is fun, yo!

“Show your Work- 10 Ways to share Your Creativity and Get Discovered” by Austin Kleon

I hate talking about self-promotion.

In this digital age of social media and platform building, the process can get a little tedious and perhaps a tad overwhelming. Well, not in the hands of this guy. He makes it all seem like it could actually be (gasp!) fun!

Everything I loved about his first book (see above) I loved in this one. He just makes the whole process of creating and sharing your work so doable.

What I learned: Much of the time I consider social media to be a drain and a distraction (which it totally can be). But now I see it as just another tool to create work, share work allowing me to be part of a larger community of creators.

“The Signature of All Things” a novel by Elizabeth Gilbert

Alma Whittaker, born with the century, slid into our world on the fifth of January, 1800.

Caution: serious gushing ahead.

You’ve been warned.

I admit, when I first heard about this book I was less than intrigued. I mean, a spinster botanist who studies moss? Not exactly my cup of tea. But then it was offered online one day for a crazy low price so I bought it. It sat in my stack of TBR books for several months. My plan was to read it in the spring. You know because of the whole plant theme.

Well. Once I picked it up, I just could not put it down. It’s been a long time since a novel drew me into its world so completely. I alternated between greedily reading through it, needing to know what happened next and slowing way, way down because I didn’t want it to end.

And then.

I got to the passage where the title comes from and I got chills. Seriously. Chills.

The love, passion and devotion that Gilbert poured into her characters, story and research is evident on every page of this delectable novel.

Okay. The gushing has ended.

Except to say that the morning after I finished the book I walked around the house feeling a little melancholy and realized that I missed Alma.

What I learned: That if you love the characters and story, that love shines out through every sentence. And be passionate and meticulous in your research. It makes all the difference.