Reviewing The Artist’s Way: Weeks 7 and 8

After examining some major creative blocks over several weeks, week 7 shifts the discourse by looking into the kind of mindset we should embrace for creativity. With these insights in mind, Cameron returns to dissecting creative blocks associated with time in week 8. Much like week 4, week 8 represents a turning point as we begin to look at healing our artistic wounds.

Week 7: Recovering a Sense of Connection

Listening

Providing a welcome respite from reconsidering our negative conditioning, week 7 focuses on practicing what Cameron defines as the right attitudes for creativity, beginning with listening. Cameron reminds us that we’re strengthening our listening skills with morning pages and the artist’s date, which respectively helps us hear past our inner censor and tap into inspiration. Describing inspiration as “getting something down” instead of “doing”, she asserts that another party (God, the universe) accomplishes the “doing”. Connecting inspiration to listening, Cameron states that artists are actually listening when we are “getting something down”. When artists are “in the zone”, they are listening for the next artistic step.

How do think you receive your inspiration? I rather like the idea of tuning in with an old-fashioned A.M. radio. (Image by Lubos Houska from Pixabay.)

Cameron likens such listening to delving below “the surface of our normal consciousness”[*] or dialing into a “stream of inspiration” like a radio. Artists use these ideas but, as Cameron emphasizes, it’s more like “taking dictation than anything fancy having to do with art”[†] as artists are “more conduit than the creator of what we express”. Cameron supports this concept by quoting several expressions (“the brush takes the next stroke”) and artists (eg, Michelangelo) who share her view that guiding force(s) assist us with creating art. Whether this interpretation suits you or not, Cameron’s clearly intends to alleviate any stress we might be feeling about finding our inspiration. For her, it’s important that we’re in the moment listening as we create, knowing that universe will help us.

Embracing the Imperfect

Perfectionism is not a quest for the best.

Perfectionism, as Cameron quickly makes plain, is a wrong approach to art, one that diverts artists from “getting it down” to “getting it right”. In doing so, perfectionism slows a project’s momentum and dampens the joy of creating. It also sets unrealistic expectations for both early drafts (which should be unpolished) and finished pieces (as perfect is impossible). Trapped in a perfectionist cycle, an artist might never reach the project’s close. Cameron’s tough love attitude makes an appearance here, as she castigates perfectionists for claiming humility instead of the egotism that she believes inspires them. This comment should be taken with a grain of salt: fear, not pride, seems to drive unhealthy perfectionism, and perfectionism itself may be associated with mental health disorders.

Taking Risks

We deny in order to do something well we must first be willing to do it badly.

Taking risks may seem like a gamble, but they have a potential to payoff, particularly in our artistic lives. (Image by Joachim Kirchner from Pixabay.)

Artistic recovery requires us transform our wish to be creative into being creative, something that involves risk. As Cameron observes, we excel at avoiding risk. Lingering at past triumphs, we claim we can’t try new things given our limitations. But, as she tartly retorts, we’re really unwilling to try without being assured that our efforts will be perfect. If we want to become proficient at our craft or expand our artistic range, we must accept that our initial undertakings will be imperfect. Cameron, therefore, recommends we drop this unrealistic expectation. Furthermore, she endorses taking risks for their own sake, because they let us redefine our limits and make it easier to continue taking more risks that may work out. Cameron provides a brief exercise here to encourage us to think about what we might attempt if we were unworried about being “good” at them.

Jealousy: An Indicator of Artistic Desire

Much like anger in week 3, jealous is not a “right attitude” for creativity but an emotion that covers other feelings. Unmasked, however, jealousy offers powerful insights into what we desire as artists—knowledge that we can utilize to live more creatively. As Cameron explains, jealousy hides our fear and resulting frustration when we watch other artists doing or being admired for things that haven’t yet mustered the courage to do. As a “stingy” emotion, it falsely persuades us that only an artist can be the “best” when there’s space for everyone. It similarly blinds us to our alternatives, namely that we can escape this cycle by acting on our desires. Cameron provides two exercises to help us conquer our jealousy by taking “antidote” actions (The Jealousy Map) or find ways to soothe and encourage our inner artist child (Archaeology).

Cameron calls jealousy a “tough-love friend”. While it may provoke some thornier feelings, it also reveals our artistic desires. (Image by Lenka Marková from Pixabay.)

Week 8: Recovering a Sense of Strength

Most would agree that time is a major creative block. Cameron has at least indirectly dealt with issues of time management when she urged us to explore how we occupy ourselves.[‡] In this week, she intends to address other time-related issues as they also serve as creative blocks. Relating heavily to some “wrong attitudes” and unrealistic expectations that week 7 illustrated (notably, perfectionism), this week seeks to unpack these attitudes as we concurrently move past artistic wounds.

Artistic Wounds and Survival

Cameron investigates artistic losses from the perspective of survival. In an artist’s career, both personal as well as artistic setbacks will occur. Cameron points out the danger of turning such moments into “secret losses” that, left unprocessed, could become artistic blocks. Before we attempt to convert these “losses into gains” (see below), they need recognition and time to be mourned. By respecting our losses, we protect our future as artists.

Mourning our losses is an important first step to surviving artistic losses and preventing them from becoming artistic blocks. (Image by Richard Mcall from Pixabay.)

Meditating further on artist’s wounds, Cameron reiterates that bad criticism (weeks 3 and 2) is among the worst wounds because such critiques imply the work or artist somehow is faulty without evidence. She also briefly discusses self-inflicted wounds. Such wounds, caused when artists refuse artistic opportunities, typically become sources of regret. Promising to further review this topic in week 9, Cameron recommends that we, for now, mourn these losses.

Malevolent Mentors

Alongside bad criticism, Cameron also condemns those who carelessly wield their critical powers. She strongly believes that mentors act as authority/ parental figures to young artists who place their trust in these guides’ judgement, with significant harm done when these teachers fail to fulfill their duty.[§] Lacking resilience, support or the experience to seek other mentors and/or opinions, some surrender their artistic aspirations altogether while others become shadow artists (week 1).

Universities, however venerable, can host their share of misguided mentors. (Image by Bonnie Taylor, EdD from Pixabay.)

Cameron, having detailed how such poor mentoring occurs in childhood, takes pains to provide examples of how unwary young artists may encounter harmful mentors in the university setting and beyond (The Ivory Power). Sandwiched between her illustrative examples, however, are her sweeping generalizations about academia and intellectualism that lean into overstatement.[**] Her larger point—that academics should nurture young artists at their level—however, is indisputable.

Gain Disguised as Loss

The key here is action.

Artistic losses, however, are more than wounds from which we need to heal. They are also lessons. Cameron assures us that we can use such losses to guide us when deciding how we should proceed after a loss. Asking how losses help us and our craft can reveal new directions and approaches that we might have otherwise neglected. Drawing from her own experiences, she emphasizes the importance of eschewing self-pity (“Why me?”) that leads to artistic blocks or setbacks in favor of determining the next move. Searching for alternatives is a sure path to developing a diverse artistic career.

Age, Time, and the Creative Process

I’m “too old” is an evasive tactic. It is always used to avoid facing fear.

As blocked artist, we often believe there’s a “right” age to be creative—one must be either young and crazy or old and eccentric enough to take up art. Citing “crazy” as the precondition for creative excursions reveals the truth. Age is less problematic than our egos, as we dislike revealing our inexperience or fear looking foolish. This same fear also causes us to question the time we invest in learning new skills or spend working on art.

Cameron indicates that our worries about how much time creativity takes represents an “ego-saving…trick” to prevent us from taking artistic journeys. (Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay.)

Time is a touchy subject because we want results that justify our efforts. Focused on product, we might bypass the pleasures of exploring artistic sidelines or new skills, which misses the point of creating. Creativity, Cameron explains, is about “doing” not being “done”. There is always more to learn about practicing our craft. Even when we complete projects, they will suggest further avenues to study. Viewed properly, the artistic process is a continuous one of creating and learning.

Filling out the Form

Large changes occur in tiny increments.

Cameron’s emphasis on centering the creative process includes some practical advice on getting started. Aware that recovering artists often rush towards their goals or impulsively yield to subconscious beliefs that their lives must significantly alter before they embrace their creativity, Cameron advocates that we take some baby steps. By now, Cameron exhortations to pace ourselves as we work through creative blocks/limitations should be familiar. Here, she details her reasons for taking one’s time.

Filling out the form serves as a great metaphor for how we can (line by line) accomplish something for our creativity every day. (Image by Esa Riutta from Pixabay.)

Filling the form is shorthand for breaking our loftier goals (however ambitious they may be) into small, daily tasks. In addition to being a means to manage projects, performing incremental “next available steps” affords us immediate success that sustains our progress. In contrast, “big picture” thinking fuels our anxiety about achieving results, leading to procrastination and discontent with our constraints. Similarly, dramatic lifestyle changes and their attendant difficulties distract us from creative work. By filling the form, we employ our current resources and move forward steadily. Cameron closes the chapter with an activity that again scrutinizes (Early Patternings) how earlier conditioning may continue to block us.

Some Closing Thoughts

Given the motivational nature of weeks 7 and 8, it’s unsurprising to see familiar themes emerge. Perceived through Cameron’s unique lens, some fresh perspectives and original ideas pop up, which make repeating the advice bearable however discursive her material may be.

Notably, Cameron’s right attitudes weave these familiar elements into the means for reframing our thinking about creativity that’s often actionable.[††] Helpfully, these ideas also build on each other. For example, perfectionism—the section that contains the most conventional thinking—becomes a thread that runs through week 7 into week 8 as she identifies how it interferes with inspiration’s flow to how adopting anti-perfectionism grants us the humility to be a beginner at any age. Ideally, I would have been preferred reading the perfectionism section couched in more positive terms, as we’re advised on what to avoid in lieu of what we should do (my headers in week 7 indicates how that might look). Particularly praiseworthy, though, is how she turns jealousy, a hateful little emotion, into a tool that detects our unrealized artistic dreams, one that points out the risks we need to take.

I enjoyed making some imperfect pottery during one of my artist’s dates.

Week 8’s return to deconstructing our negative conditioning is a bit drearier, as it pokes at our artistic wounds (to heal them!) and revisits how we earned a few of those wounds. Least successful is the section on academia, which could’ve been more concise and far more nuanced. This week shines, though, when Cameron shares how to both mourn and learn from our artistic wounds. Filling in the form, as part of her discussion on embracing the artistic process, illuminates a concrete plan for moving on past losses that help us reach larger creative breakthroughs. While I still have quibbles with some of Cameron’s ideas (see the footnotes), these weeks provide the solid reasoning that should persuade us to question why we aren’t creating.

Are you working on improving your creativity with The Artist’s Way? How far have you gotten? If not, would you try it? I’d love to hear why or why not.

NOTES


[*]Potentially, the collective unconsciousness or an individual’s subconscious (as Jackson Pollock, an artist referenced in week 7, claimed about his work).

[†]I dislike how this comparison diminishes the artist’s role to that of an amanuensis, given the skillsets artists cultivate.

[‡]Cameron cites multiple ways in which we squander time (week 2’s crazymakers, week 4’s media deprivation and week 5’s obligations) that could be otherwise used to create art.

[§]I appreciate Cameron’s desire to highlight both the betrayal and insidious emotional abuse wreaked by these teachers, but I wish she hadn’t linked this to sexual abuses (particularly incest) given the other abuses they bring to mind.

[**]Universities aren’t for everyone, as both brilliant self-taught artists and other instructional venues for artists exist. However, I’m not persuaded that universities are ill-equipped to support artists so much as they, too, possess some bad apples on staff.

[††]Bonus points for shoeing in how indispensable her own tools, morning pages and the artist’s date, are to creativity.

Reviewing The Artist’s Way: Weeks 5 & 6

Ready f

After the tribulations of week 4, weeks 5 and 6 moves into less difficult though still thought-provoking material as Cameron continues to unpack our negative conditioning when it comes to art. With week 4 being something of a turning point, Cameron digs deeper into her subject, making connections among her themes in a way that brings greater depth to the original material while relating it to topics under review.

Week 5: Recovering a Sense of Possibility

Limits and Possibilities

“What dream are you discounting as impossible given your resources?”

Week 5 investigates how our own thinking (the product of “negative patterning”) interferes with our creative life. In the Limits and Find the River, Cameron aims to change how we view our so-called limitations. She notes that we serve as gatekeepers to our artistic possibilities, because we assume there are limits to what we can accomplish. These beliefs may manifest as dismissing inspiration as overly impractical/ambitious or feelings guilty for the bounty we possess or receive.

Cameron indicates such beliefs may be shaped by scarcity thinking (more commonly called scarcity mindset or mentality). The Artist’s Way doesn’t explore this concept further, but I feel it is worth reviewing given the associated negatives. Scarcity mentality results from an excessive focus on what an individual lacks (typically, time, money or connection), which absorbs too much of their “mental bandwidth” and makes it difficult for them to make good choices (eg, eating healthier, exercise, and, here, delving into artistic interests). In Cameron’s eyes, however scarcity thinking causes blocked artists to view God/the universe as a “capricious parent figure”, effectively making the divine the scapegoat for our artistic underachieving.

Cameron observes that we often reject our dreams by dismissing them as impractical. Listening to our internal creative guide instead can help us finding our path and achieve our artistic visions. (Image by jiao tang from Pixabay.)

Rejecting this notion, she suggests that we listen to our internal creative guide/intuition to find our path instead. Morning pages may be helpful here: Cameron recommends asking questions in the evening and listening for answers while writing on the following morning. However, we first need to believe that we can make progress towards our vision. Such progress occurs by continuing to work through artistic blocks, taking meaningful steps to achieve these goals (“doing the footwork”), and being open to opportunities from diverse sources.

Problematic “Virtue”

“The urge toward respectability and maturity can be stultifying, even fatal.”

Seemingly switching topics abruptly halfway through the chapter, Cameron revisits a theme first mentioned in week 2 (recovering a sense of identity). Week 2 largely focused on how others (fellow blocked creatives, crazymakers[*]) may fuel our self-doubt or otherwise sabotage our creative recovery and lead us into self-destructive behavior.[†] Reexamining this theme from the opposite viewpoint, this section looks at how “obligations” to others block artists creatively. The perhaps understated connection here is that this form of self-sabotage serves to limit to our artistic possibilities when we get caught up in “virtuous production”.

Cameron begins with observing that artists require both time and space alone to create and heal/recharge. After sharing some longish if relatable scenarios, she reveals that many of us prioritize the needs of others, giving up our time and/or money to satisfy their wants at tremendous personal and artistic cost. Dubbing this the virtue trap, Cameron claims we’re afraid to decline requests or prioritize our needs and desires because we enjoy our positive reputation.[‡] Referring back to week 2 reveals some likely reasons (eg, guilt at disappointing loved ones seemed to be spot on for me) as to why artists continue “making nice” instead of “nurturing” a “sense of self”. Also similar to week 2, Cameron’s “telling it as it is” approach here can seem harsh (she equivocates this behavior with embracing a “martyr’s cross”), but her concerns are valid ones. An important takeaway is that we need to consider whether our generous impulses are genuine or are rooted in feeling obliged.

We might appear to be angels to those benefitting from our generosity, but are we actually suffering from the strain of unwanted obligations? (Image by Pexels from Pixabay.)

Cameron doesn’t offer suggestions for negotiating with the people in our lives, although I imagine “the footwork” here may entail require some honesty about our needs, establishing boundaries and counselling for some. However, she recommends that we embrace our creativity, continue to discover who we truly are, and trust in God/the universe. The tasks for this week are designed to assess whether we’re caught in the virtue trap as well as help us suss out our personal desires, something Cameron believes will help remove barriers to investigating these interests. I would also add that embracing an abundance mindset, which dovetails with Cameron’s advice, might be useful as there are instances where real scarcity requires tradeoffs.

Week 6: Recovering a Sense of Abundance

Faith and Finances

Creativity is not and never has been sensible.

Week 6 builds off week 5’s examination of limitations, as it launches into a related (though meandering) conversation on issues surrounding finances. In The Great Creator, Cameron points out a panoply of negative ideas we have about the divine/higher power, money, work, virtue, and art. For example, money can be viewed as the only “true” source of security, the proverbial root of all evil, and a necessity that must be amassed in sufficient quantities before one can safely (if ever) practice art. By these standards, artistic pursuits seem foolish and likely to make our lives unpleasant as though we might be defying either God’s will or acting recklessly. Attributing such beliefs (much like week 5) to toxic ideas about God, Cameron recommends revising one’s concept of the divine in morning pages, an exercise that likely won’t appeal to some nonbelievers.

According to Cameron, our beliefs that we should be sensible (garnered from what others’ think “is sensible for us”) spurs us to be a “cheapskate” to ourselves while blaming the divine because we dismissed our opportunities. From her perspective, there’s little evidence that God/the universe or creativity is particularly sensible. Therefore, we should expect support from our higher power. Art, too, should involve enjoyment and generosity to ourselves in the form of breaks and treats, which in turn will helps us accept gifts from the God/the universe (as first suggested in week 3). Finally, we should pursue our interests as they are what we’re meant to do and doing what we’re intended to do will lead to us opportunities, money, and relationships. Here, Cameron seems to be making the case that abandoning our artistic dreams is the less practical choice.

Luxury

“Art requires us to empower ourselves with choice.”

Completing the week is Cameron’s discussion on luxury, which loosely continues her thoughts on artistic needs from week 5 (The Virtue Trap). Explaining that our ideas about money affect our ideas about creativity, she observes that we might blame our financial limitations when we feel blocked instead of realizing that we’re actually feeling powerless or constrained. Art, she explains, requires expansion and the belief that we have sufficient supply[§] from God/the creative force.

Authentic luxury is more about the joy it brings than its price point. (Image by Aline Ponce from Pixabay.)

To experience this abundance, we should practice self-care (at a minimum) and pamper our inner artist child by indulging in what Cameron labels as authentic luxury. What constitutes self-care or luxury, of course, varies among individuals. But it’s less about lavish spending (as her case of the famous artist illustrates) and more about enjoying things that bring us joy. Cameron’s examples center on small, typically inexpensive luxuries like watercolors sets, fresh fruit, or a flower. Luxury, too, may represent time to relax and recharge or spend time with loved ones.

These examples also illustrate several ways in which we deny ourselves creative joys, such as undervaluing ourselves (one artist tellingly indicated her reasonably priced luxury was “more than I thought I was worth”), perfectionism, or feeling obliged to work when they have a moment to relax (a recipe for burnout, creative or otherwise). As “serious adults”, we’re likely to deliver “wet blanket messages” about how we “should be working” or how we should deny ourselves simple pleasures as they’re unnecessary or “silly”. But, as Cameron indicates, this is the entire point: “serious art is born from serious play”. The chapter closes with an accounting task, which should reveal whether our spending on ourselves matches our priorities.

Some Final Thoughts

“Pray to catch the bus, then run as fast as you can.”

Weeks 5 and 6 cover similar ground[**] in their discussions about our (often unconsciously held) beliefs that interfere with our creative lives. Strikingly though, I found it more helpful to embrace being more openminded about my artistic prospects when Cameron exposed how contradictory and conflicting (not to mention miserable) these so-called sensible beliefs can be than to lean more into spiritual dependence. Perhaps the reason why The Artist’s Way works for people regardless of their stance on spiritual matters relates to its ability to plainly show us what we need to consider (and reconsider) in our lives.

I found Cameron’s firm push towards some personal accountability in weeks 5 and 6 to be particularly vital, as we should be aware that we (not our circumstance or higher powers) get in our own way when we “responsibly” say no to ourselves and yes to obligations and hardship that we resent undertaking. Such accountability also necessitates voicing our needs to the people in our lives, as it’s unlikely that anyone else will say carve out free time for our artistic practice or notice we’re struggling if we say nothing.

Cameron’s more practical suggestions also provide solid advice. For example, she effectively recommends utilizing project management tactics (ie, breaking our artistic projects into manageable chunks) to work through our blocks or around our more immediate difficulties or limitations. With this approach, it seems less reasonable to dismiss a potentially intimidating project, because we genuinely don’t know what might be capable of achieving without giving it a trial. And, frankly, Cameron’s ideas that we should enjoy a creative life (sprinkled with rewards and rest) sounds far more appealing than the alternatives. Given that many of her ideas about adding enjoyment to our lives seem fairly attainable, one might argue that giving them a try would be the sensible thing to do.

The flowers I bought today were by no means necessary, but they do make me happy.

NOTES:


[*] In week 2, Cameron states that our ongoing involvement with crazymakers occurs as an attempt to avoid a creative life (thusly using their abuser to block their creativity, the veracity of which depends on the situation) and claims that such blocked artists may be codependent. Codependency represents an unhealthy relationship dynamic in which one party is a giver and the other a taker, with varying causes. Since Cameron terms this abuse and mentions potentially abusive situations, it’s important to understand that some mental health professionals would not consider an abused individual to be codependent. The concept of codependency has evolved much since this book’s publication, which means Cameron’s discussion and advice may not be current. For those experiencing abuse (US), you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline (https://www.thehotline.org/) for assistance.

[†] This term, first used week 2, likely should have been defined there, as I took it to mean some more obvious forms of self-destruction (eg, self-harm, substance abuse) versus the subtler ones (eg, clinging to relationships with a disinterested partner, maladaptive behaviors like avoidance and procrastination) eluded to here in week 5.

[‡] For anyone interested in nuance here, “positive reputation” applies both to situations where an individual is praised for their (reluctant) deeds and to situations where their actions let them escape criticism because they choose to meet others’/societal expectations. In the latter scenario, praise tends to be in short supply (people assume your generosity constitutes a duty or feel entitled to your assistance) but criticism is quick to follow should you buck conventions.

[§] This term is not specifically explained, but in the context of week 5 it refers to artistic inspiration, friends, lovers, homes, etc.

[**] Understandably, there’s some overlap as week 6 is a more in-depth discussion of a specific limit (finances). In fairness, though, Cameron’s discursive presentation may bear some responsibility, too.

Reviewing The Artist’s Way: A Challenging Week 4

Recently, I posted a review on my first three weeks working on The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, a self-help book aimed at teaching its readers to embrace their creativity. Week 4, which I’m discussing here, proved to be challenging enough that I felt it needed its own post. Because it contains an exercise that many find difficult (something Cameron also acknowledges), I want to emphasize that there’s always something valuable to learn in such cases—but patience and perseverance are attributes you might want on hand as well.

Allow me to explain.

Getting to Know Me

The snowflake pattern of your soul is emerging.

Julia Cameron

Week 4 focuses on reflection, specifically considering how previous lessons help us become our more authentic selves. While it runs a tad long, this discussion notes how these changes may manifest and affect us before reminding us to use our affirmations to deal with these feelings as we work through our various artistic blocks. The two main exercises focus on learning more about that authentic self and its preferences. “Buried Dreams” explores past interests to provide some activities to try during the second exercise. While the connection between tasks was clear, restating how they relate to the chapter’s theme would be a useful addition.

The second and more challenging exercise is called reading deprivation (now renamed media deprivation). For one week, participants must not read, watch television, or go online—similar to digital or social media detoxes. In The Artist’s Way, Cameron argues that reading and other media distract artists from self-examination. Removing such distractions let us (1) get in touch with our feelings and thoughts (introspection); (2) connect with our inner voice (inspiration); and (3) refill the artist’s well by experiencing the sensory world. With our time freed up, Cameron first predicts we’ll become productive but eventually will shift to playing once we run of busywork. Play is important, because it lets creative grow (eg, the artist’s date). With this tool improving our understanding of ourselves, our creativity should increase as blocks dissipate.

According to Cameron, too much media negatively impacts an artist’s creativity. (Image [designed using Canva), by R. E. Gould)

Understanding the Challenges

Problems with Persuasion

This lesson unfortunately includes some elements I found counterproductive to getting onboard with media deprivation. As observed in my previous review, Cameron occasionally hints at a topic before she talks about it. Week 4’s introductory page contains one of these spoilers, as it urges readers to use the “reading deprivation” tool. Inserting this brief admonition before the lesson, detrimentally shifted my focus onto this alarming development. If preparing readers for this concept is a must, it’d be better to mention that we’ll later encounter a tool that assesses media’s impact on creativity where reading blocks are first mentioned in conjunction with filling the artist’s well (“Basic Tools,” p. 23 in the 2020 edition).

But the commentary itself also creates some barriers to reader buy-in. It’s difficult to summon enthusiasm for using this tool when the essay first characterizes words—my artistic medium—as a cross between tranquilizers and junk food. Some claims made here also seemed questionable (eg, that artists are “addicted” to reading[*]). Beyond the rhetoric lies the real problem: people eschew the hard work of examining their feelings and thoughts, using media as a shield. Starting with this point and connecting it to reflecting on our authentic selves could avoid creating more resistance to an already challenging exercise.

Creative Concerns

Turning to those challenges, there’s the matter of motivation. Usually, people who limit their media consumption (as I generally do) voluntarily do so, placing Cameron in the unenviable position of warding off her students’ displeasure[†] while encouraging them to undertake an unwanted challenge. Others understandably worry about how they’ll manage their obligations with such restrictions. These are the prime reasons some find this assignment frustrating. I also identified some other potential obstacles. The introspective among us might not need more time for self-scrutiny. Others who find media inspiring may find it puzzling/upsetting to be deprived of that inspiration. With these latter points, clearly stated goals[‡] might diffuse some resistance here, as these persons could focus instead on other goals such as exploring alternate sources of inspiration.

Getting Some (Online) Guidance

Cameron does respond to the more obvious concerns involving reading deprivation in The Artist’s Way but provides minimal instruction. Being told to procrastinate when it came to work or school struck me as unhelpful, as that’s not always possible. Because I previously found an online resource for this book, I consulted it and discovered that Cameron had been calling this tool media deprivation since at least 2012, which made me wonder why my book from 2020 didn’t reflect this. Regardless, Cameron’s website does advise her students to limit their inflow of media as much as possible without being irresponsible or getting fired. Her online description of media deprivation as a form of “conscious unplugging” also appealed to me more, convincing me that checking my media consumption couldn’t hurt.

It is a paradox that by emptying our lives of distractions we are actually filling the [artist’s] well.

Julia Cameron

Mixed Results

Less Internet, More Doing

With my plans in place and the household informed, I grumpily undertook the requisite week of media deprivation. I quickly discovered my mobile phone was a problem. For a device I spend half my life trying to find when I need it, it felt uncomfortably handy when I didn’t want it. While I couldn’t switch it off,[§] I could relocate it to a nearby room (something I plan to continue doing). With my phone out of reach and apps keeping me focused, my time on my computer was more productive. I also zipped through my to-do list efficiently and finished some projects lingering in my backlog.

Bookless and Bored

Not all my results were rosy. For example, I felt left out when my spouse and child watched television while I tidied up again (apparently, that supply IS inexhaustible). While I hardly missed games and television, losing some family time due to an undesired obligation was difficult. I also missed my reading time. Putting aside a great book (Lulu Allison’s The Salt Lick) was tough but receiving THREE more books in the mail that I also wanted to read (including Sarah Tinsley’s just released debut novel, The Shadows We Cast) felt unfair. The occasional boredom here wasn’t great, nor was having the time to dwell on it helpful. But I have to say, heading to bed instead of fuming was a good solution.

An Unexpected Twist

Ultimately, the promised boost in creativity never occurred, because my grudging efforts ended with deprivation. I could not summon any enthusiasm for hobbies, new or old. Afterwards, I struggled with understanding why I’d been so angry, given that I’ve chosen on numerous occasions to put aside books and other media for weeks with far less difficulty. The Artist’s Way, as it may surprise you, did help here.

In week 3, Cameron explains that we should pay attention to our anger, because it tells us something. My subsequent interrogation here was illuminating. I realized that this assignment unwittingly resurfaced memories of being too exhausted to read while caring for my then newborn, which was a painful instance where I briefly lost “me” in motherhood. This contributed to my resistance, as lacking sufficient reason to set aside books kept me unmotivated. Exploring the source of this reaction or looking for some way to make this exercise meaningful to me might have produced different results. Putting in a more since effort with the other activities, too, may have helped.

Conclusion

One of bigger takeaways of this week is that The Artist’s Way might benefit from an update that modernizes it in general and specifically brings it in line with Cameron’s current thinking. I found the more recent descriptions of media deprivation more appealing as they avoided hyperbole and provide more guidance. As for me, media deprivation proved to be more of trade off than a trade up, but I still learned things about myself (eg, buy-in is critical for me). Knowing what I do now, I’m seriously considering giving this another try, as I’d like to see whether I finally reap those rewards.

TLDR: Trying new things is hard, especially with a bad attitude. Staying positive and finding purpose in doing things differently might help.

Further Reading

For a more positive take on media deprivation, read Ben Kassoy’s article here. While I disagree that Cameron’s goal involves understanding our media consumption (it’s always bolstering creativity), he makes some great points on why media deprivation/detoxes aids mental health and makes us more mindful about our time online.

NOTES:


[*] I suspect that Cameron means reading blocks instead of a reading-based behavioral addiction, which apparently is a compulsion to read that negatively impacts on one’s life and mental health.

[†] Understandably, no one enjoys bad news (or tough love, as the case may be here), but some of what Cameron endures seems uncalled for.

[‡] The Artist’s Way might’ve benefited here by using tactics seen in traditional textbooks (eg, enumerating goals with bullet points, objective statements) so that main points are easy to locate and understand.

[§] It’s a must for someone with a school-aged child who seems to be an injury magnet this year.

The Artist’s Way: A Review of the First Three Weeks

Cameron doesn’t teach creativity per se, so much as she encourages her readers to allow themselves to be creative.

Towards the end of 2021, a writer friend shared that she planned to work with The Artist’s Way. I’d never heard of Julia Cameron or this book before, so I was curious about it. Since we were discussing how we both wanted to write more going forward, I decided it might be worthwhile to see if this book would help me achieve that end. When in a pandemic and dealing with another surge and some unpleasant life stuff, jumping feet first into a new endeavor sounds fun—especially if it helps your writing life. So, without further ado (that is, reading up on it), I ordered it and planned to get underway in January.

Nothing like leaping before you look, right?

What is The Artist’s Way?

It’s a self-help book based on classes that Julia Cameron teaches on creativity. Meant to be used by any artist (from the hobbyist to the professional), it does not focus on a specific art form, although writing does feature in it (more on that shortly). Cameron doesn’t teach creativity per se, so much as she encourages her readers to allow themselves to be creative. For this reason, the book works on what undermines people from embracing their creativity and provides various techniques to encourage/explore creativity.

People who study certain subjects (psychology, philosophy/religion), attend therapy, or belong to 12-step programs (the course is 12 weeks, which I doubt is coincidental) may recognize some techniques from these disciplines. The benefit here is that these various ideas are specifically aimed at living a more artistic lifestyle. Spirituality is heavily emphasized, as is the belief that all of us are meant to be creative (a central tenet). Overall, this book focuses on helping its readers to live a more artistic life.

The Good: Tools for Growing as an Artist

Morning Pages

The Artist’s Way provides two tools (meant to work together) to use throughout the 12-week course and, ideally, going forward: morning pages and the artist’s date. Morning pages, as the name suggests, should be completed every morning upon awakening.[*] Whether the reader happens to be a pianist or a sculptor, they must sit down and write three sides of paper (that is, 1.5 pages) of text by hand every morning. Generally, no one should look at them—not even their composer initially.

Caffeine is a must for morning pages.

The purpose of these pages is a more difficult to explain. Their job, much like a first draft, is to exist. They don’t have to be about anything specific or planned, just what comes to mind. By getting them done early, it allows you to express yourself less critically, regardless of your mood. They may reveal problematic patterns in your life, provide inspiration, or be an outlet for your complaints, but primarily they help you clear your mind.[†] Cameron describes them alternately as meditation or prayer.

The Artist’s Date

If morning pages are a freewheeling process designed to get your thoughts on the page, the artist’s date is about doing. Much like morning pages, the second tool should not be missed but be performed weekly (around two hours, although a specific time is not required). The artist’s date requires you to go on something like a solo playdate. The idea is to experiment with things that interest you, which don’t have to be especially artistic.

I was well-prepared with some herbal tea and warm outerwear for taking a walk on my first (chilly) artist’s date.

While what you do on the date varies (this depends on the reader’s tastes but there are exercises that provide inspiration), the goal is to help you refill your artistic well (that is, replenishing your source for creativity) by observing and experiencing. Some examples of artist’s date can include taking a walk, cooking a new dish, visiting a museum, etc. Cameron notes that artist’s dates can provide solutions to concerns that come up during morning pages.

Benefits of These Tools

Both tools have the potential to help readers working on their artistic recovery (that is, embracing their creativity). Arguably, we all have artistic blocks that prevent us from creating, whether it’s holding us back in our artistic expression or preventing us from being creative at all. Using these tools can help expose those blocks (morning pages) and work through them by allowing yourself to do fun things (artist’s dates).

Potential Challenges

In the introduction, Cameron announces that she uses the term God throughout (accurately), but the reader can interpret “God” however they choose. She is clear that she does not want or expect people to believe in God if they don’t or aren’t sure about that concept (she suggests the workaround of viewing God as short for “good orderly flow”). I would’ve preferred that she more liberally used generic terms (eg, the universe or even higher power) to be inclusive and more neutral, but the burden is really on the reader to work around the terminology if it makes them uncomfortable. Although she insists her version of God is benevolent, I doubt her assurance erases the reader’s constructs of God, religion, and spirituality that term evokes, for better or worse. Week 3, which involves a more in-depth discussion of God, may prove challenging for some.

Some Minor Difficulties

The Artist’s Way is meant to be used creatively, with readers having a lot of freedom to use Cameron’s suggestions as works best for them. As such, it was not designed to operate as a traditional textbook, but there are areas where I wished there was more guidance present. I ran into a few minor difficulties trying to find information and instructions.

What’s the fuss about paper? Cameron assures there’s “no wrong way to do morning pages”, but some tasks seemed to suggest otherwise.

Cameron states in an early chapter called “The Basic Tools” that there’s “no wrong way to do morning pages” and suggests writing on loose pages and storing them in an envelope or using a spiral notebook .[‡] With the idea that any approach would work, I initially decided to use a comparably sized composition notebook as that works better for me. However, the first two tasks in week 1—when you presumably get underway with these pages—specifically refer to loose paper stored in an envelope. Fearing I misunderstood, I went hunting for the instructions on morning pages, which took some time to find as I forgot that they were in the aforementioned chapter (the index eventually led me back). But better instructions here would have saved me the bother. If the paper choice isn’t set in stone, the associated tasks should reflect that freedom (eg, it could state the notebook cover or envelope could get a star for task 2 of week 1).

Cameron recommends using larger notebooks and paper (left), because she feels they let your thoughts be more expansive—unlike smaller journals (right).

Admittedly, this is a mild quibble, but there are other instances where more detail would be helpful. When you encounter tasks for the first time, there are no instructions provided about how to do them, because this was again discussed previously in the chapter called “Spiritual Electricity: The Basic Principles”. Here, referring to that chapter (as is done elsewhere: tasks 1 and 5 refer in week 2 refers you back to week 1’s affirmations) or just restating the instructions would be useful. With that in mind, the reader might need to be more diligent about taking notes or highlighting specific instructions.

I should also note there are some potential areas of confusion when it comes to some ideas and topics. Morning pages, as discussed above, are hard to describe, because potential use cases and benefits may vary depending on the person and their specific blocks or challenges—which is fair. However, Cameron does occasionally hint at topics that will be discussed in more depth later. Flagging such instances as future topics would be ideal, as I found myself wondering what she meant or whether this was an important practice.[§] Again, it might be best to be patient with the process or just look up items in the index if you want the description immediately.

My Own Journey with Artist’s Way Up to Week 3

Having made the plunge and purchased the book without investigating what it offered, I likely expected something more focused on writing than artistic recovery. I also missed the “spiritual path” part, which normally I would hesitate to buy. As a rule, I avoid discussing various religious or spiritual belief/disbelief systems for various reasons that include weariness with such discussions.

Since I made the commitment to try something new,[**] I decided to continue onward despite my trepidation. As soon as I began reading the prefatory chapters, this book turned up in numerous places online—and another writer friend also started working with it. It seemed like a sign I should give it a chance. As with many self-help books, it’s useful to have a read, learn from what works, and ignore what doesn’t. So far, the morning pages seem helpful when it comes to meeting my goal to write regularly, although I’m not sure I’ve had enough artist’s dates to comment on their effect.

Going forward, I will continue to skip reading ahead as it’s a bit more adventurous this way—plus it allows me fewer opportunities to avoid anything else that’s challenging but negotiable. And, having just completed week 4, this choice already proved to be a good one, as this particular lesson was sufficiently challenging (though negotiable) to merit its own post, which I’ll link to when I finish writing it.

NOTES:


[*] Acquiring caffeine first is permitted and is, in my opinion, mandatory. Under the tasks for week 1, she also suggests getting up half hour earlier to do your morning pages, which I cheerfully ignored as I’m a night owl.

[†] For writers, there is the additional benefit of establishing a daily writing practice, which potentially could extend into establishing a more regular creative writing practice. This is one reason I’m interested in continuing onward with this course.

[‡] Her website offers clearer, perhaps more prescriptive suggestions about morning pages that you can find here and here. For the artist’s date, some more information can be found here.

[§] The most intriguing instance of this (thus far) involves a task in week 4, which asks you to create an altar. Here, it states the altar reminds us creativity is a spiritual versus ego issue. Using an altar and its purpose were not mentioned let alone discussed in any detail previously, which made this task seem out of place. However, the index suggests this conversation will occur in about 100 more pages, so I assume their relevance will become clearer then.

[**] Yes, I’m familiar with the sunk cost fallacy, but I think a trial in such cases can be worthwhile before you decide whether it’s prudent to cut your losses.

The 2021 Reading Review

In which I discuss some of the amazing books I read last year.

I often think that the “new year, new me” vibe asks a lot of January. It feels unfair that, with a flick of the calendar, we switch from merriment to self-improvement (surely, a yearlong project) just when winter blasts into its stride. But given that change has been something of the new normal,[*] perhaps some introspection is warranted.

Certainly, this changeability influenced my reading last year. I read a respectable 45 books in 2021, mostly fiction (heavily leaning towards literary fiction and mysteries) mixed with a few memoirs. While I thoughtfully chose some books, I spent a lot of time reading on a whim. After the last few years, being flexible felt like the right approach. Many books I read also dwelled on serious and/or dark themes, perhaps another side effect of these difficult times. But what hasn’t changed is how reading connects us to ideas, places and people, both familiar and beyond our reach. Below, in no special order, are some of the books that made my reading year memorable.

Journeys: Traveling in Words

While travel stayed limited to nonexistent for many in 2021, books continued to let us explore worlds. Many of these journeys were physical, but they also could be spiritual. Although the characters in these books might be unsure of where they’re headed or if they’re ready to undertake the attendant trials, such trips often prove to be both worthwhile and, indeed, necessary.

Band on the Run

Black and white photo taken of Kindle showing the book cover for The Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia. Photo taken by Rita E. Gould
Kindle view of The Bellweather Rhapsody.

The Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia focuses on a single (somewhat wild) weekend where hundreds of high school musicians gather for an annual state festival, which happens to coincide with the anniversary of a murder-suicide that occurred in the hotel. The past is on a collision course in many ways in this ostensibly YA novel (there’s plenty for adults here), as old lovers meet, new affairs begin, a witness to the murder comes to confront her past, and a musical prodigy disappears from the room where the murder occurred. In addition to giving me serious high school music department nostalgia, it’s poignant to see these teens negotiating their encroaching adulthood while sorting out new friends and being snowbound in a creaky hotel that might have a murderer on the loose. The resolution comes with a few bangs but is satisfying in its messy, glorious finish.

Cats on the Go

Curling up with The Traveling Cat Chronicles

Up next is The Traveling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa (translated by Philip Gabriel).[†] This novel explores the bond of “pet” and their person as Nana and his human, Sakura, undertake a journey through Japan. Street cat Nana decides to live with the kindly Sakura after Sakura rescues this self-reliant feline from a serious injury. Several years later, Sakura decides that both should visit his closest friends from important times and places in his life. As Nana discovers, Sakura wants one of these dear friends to take in his cat, as a situation arises where he feels he can no longer live with Nana. Nana politely thwarts Sakura’s intentions, choosing to be at Sakura’s side through his challenges. Sakura, however, doesn’t leave his friends emptyhanded, as he continues to touch their lives and Nana learns about the events that shaped this remarkable man. While The Traveling Cat Chronicles leans sentimental in places, Sakura and Nana are a heartwarming pair dealing gracefully with life’s hardest moments.

Dreams for the Future

Photo (taken by Rita E. Gould) of Kindle screen showing the cover of We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson.
Mother of Floods offers hope, connection, and kinder Internet.

Rounding out this group is Madeleine F. White’s cli-fi speculative novel, Mother of Floods, which centers around the encroaching apocalypse. While the end of the world should be grim (and there’s certainly dark, difficult moments in this novel), here it proves to be an opportunity for hope. White draws on both spirituality and mythology across continents, weaving a multicultural cast of characters (the majority of whom are women) from different traditions, walks of life, and incomes. Set initially in present day with our world’s too familiar and seemingly intractable problems, Martha (England), Fatima, Badenan (both Iraq), Mercy, Chipo (both Zimbabwe), and Anjani (Indonesia) all struggle, whether it’s with a brutal marriage undertaken for survival, widowhood and debt, physical incapacitation, limited prospects, or lack of fulfilment. The common thread among them is spiritual awakening and connection. Meeting both online and off, in dreams and visions, these mostly ordinary women,[‡] with the aid of the newly ensouled Internet (a clever approach to a “ghost in machine” that gives a conscience to the information highway), these women help reshape the world into one of freedom and plenty. Unlike anything you’ve read and deeply fascinating, White’s novel envisions a better future where smalls acts lead to big change.

Glamor with a Side of Secrets

Wealth is not without its burdens and that includes secrets, both scandalous and terrible, they’d rather keep quiet. Whether it’s a character study of the woman with a façade designed to appeal to her adoring public or a high society affair turned thorny mystery, these novels let us peek behind the scenes and learn what they’re hiding.

Murder on the Island

Kindle view of The Guest List.

In The Guest List by Lucy Foley, power couple Will and Jules’s spare no expense on making their society wedding a perfect, private event by choosing a seemingly charming but remote island (accessible only by boat) off Ireland’s west coast as the site for their nuptials. But, as Foley reveals, both guests and the brooding island are harboring secrets as a storm threatens. Careful to conceal the murder victim’s identity for most of the book (no spoilers here), Foley weaves in the various narrators’ impressions of events from rehearsal dinner through wedding night, revealing pasts best forgotten—and the reasons that might mark them as victim or murderer. Foley scatters numerous clues through her story, many which lead to false trails that keep readers guessing. While I did guess the victim’s identity before the reveal (after a few false starts), the killer was quite the shock. The Guest List is a well-paced, tense read that reveals guilt and hidden sins, mends families while renting others, and, arguably, serves a sort of justice.

A Star with Something to Hide

In The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, Taylor Jenkins Reid’s portrayal of a film legend is so successful you could swear that the titular character stepped out of a magazine spread, which (as it happens) is the ruse she uses to meet with relatively unknown magazine reporter, Monique Grant. Hugo, in fact, wants Monique (who she recognizes as a talented writer) to pen her biography. With both career and love life stalled, an intrigued Monique can’t refuse what may be an opportunity of a lifetime, particularly when Hugo mentions they share some mysterious connection. And Evelyn has plenty of other secrets she’s ready to air about her time in Hollywood.

Kindle view of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

As a character, Hugo intrigues on every page, because she’s an unabashedly sexual woman who remains unashamed of her desires (however discreet she must be about them; this novel involves same sex romances) and unafraid to use that sexuality as a tool to get what she wants. Evelyn’s naked ambition is a refreshing thing to see in a female character, particularly as Jenkins Reid explores the dual nature of such ambition that both helps Evelyn escape her abusive childhood and propels her to fame but also costs her identity and even love. Hollywood often put it stars through the wringer (and on the casting couch), and Evelyn is no exception. Her resilience and path back to herself and love is extraordinary. Monique, too, grows through the novel (taking more than just notes about Evelyn’s history) and finds herself inspired to demand more from her own life and prospects. As Monique becomes increasing fond of her subject, Evelyn reveals regrets, which, of course, risks this regard. A story reflecting on the price of fame, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo manages to give us a complicated portrayal of woman living behind the glamorous mask

The Dark Side of Sisterhood

Literature has its fair share of loving sisters who persevere through hardships (eg, the March sisters from Alcott’s Little Women), some who unwaveringly support each other as they survive challenging upbringings (as Jeannette Walls recounts in her memoir, The Glass Castle).[§] However, the books I’ll be sharing do not belong to their numbers. Reminiscent of Oyinkan Braithwhite’s novel My Sister, the Serial Killer (from last year’s review), these sisters are more inclined towards mischief, malice, complicity, and some unhealthy co-dependence. Each reveals a fascinating though upsetting look at sisterly love.

The Recluses

Photo (taken by Rita E. Gould) of the Kindle book cover for We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson.
Kindle view of We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

In We Have Always Lived at the Castle by Shirley Jackson, we meet the reclusive Blackwood sisters, Constance and Merricat, six years after most of their wealthy family perished by poisoning that both avoided. Living with the now handicapped sole survivor of the poisoning, their Uncle Julian, the group ekes out a happy enough existence. Only the unusual Merricat (the book’s narrator and a clever young woman who seems rather immature for her age) ventures into the nearby village when she fetches books and supplies. The family, once quietly resented for their wealth, is now openly ostracized after Constance’s acquittal for their family’s murder, with Merricat often being tormented by the angry villagers.

Merricat, who lists sister Constance among her favorites despite her being the likely murderer,[**] is dismayed when her sister suddenly shows signs of wanting to rejoin society at the behest of loyal family friends. To make matters worse, their cousin Charles drops in for a visit. Merricat resents Charles’s intrusion, as he clearly wants to curb her wildness and expresses far too much interest in the family money. Without giving more away, the ending is both dramatic and near perilous for the sisters who nonetheless choose each other and their solitude, right or wrong, as Charles leaves emptyhanded, and the villagers end up repenting their misdeeds.

An Inseparable Pair

Kindle view of Sisters.

Sisters, by Daisy Johnson, is a dark, disturbing look at sisterhood. Fleeing from Oxford after some harrowing school incident involving sisters July (the primary narrator) and September, the girls and their mother, Sheela (the secondary narrator), arrive at Settle House in North Yorkshire. Located by both the moors and the sea, the aptly named Settle House adds a gothic element, as the dilapidated structure provides little respite as it reluctantly shelters the troubled family. The girls, born 10 months apart, share a suffocating, with elder sister September ruling the pair.

Throughout the novel, Johnson slowly parses out the puzzle pieces that reveal why the family left home so abruptly. Their backstory involves both violence and abandonment. September and July respectively resemble parents Peter and Sheela, both in looks and character. Peter proves to be a controlling man who was violent with both his own sister (Settle House’s owner) and wife, and who left the family long before he died. The more fragile Sheela is a single, working parent who suffers from crushing depression—a combination that often forces the children to shift for themselves (Sheela, in the throes of depression, rarely leaves her room during the novel). Johnson’s pacing allows the tension to increase in pitch, with each revelation hinting that the truth to come is worse yet. However, the revelations by no means spoil the shocking twist, as July’s devastating choices prove the ties that bind are inescapable in this novel.

Reading Resolutions

While I may not be a huge fan of January resolutions for myself, I mind them less for my yearlong reading goals. I am continuing to work on both my writing projects and my writing process, which is an ongoing process. Since November/December, I’ve been working through The Artist’s Way (first sampling the text, and now, in January, going through the lessons) to see what insights I might glean. I’ve also put together a few books that I’d like to read by the year’s end in addition to the six(!) books I already finished this year. While my list is shorter than it has been in the past (keeping last year’s flexibility in place), it includes books I’ve meant to read already (again), ones from indie authors, and even poetry. As always, I look forward to the year in reading and wish you many good reads as well!

2021 Reading List[††]
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
Take Off Your Pants! Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing by Libbie Hawkes
The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien
Bestiary by K-Ming Chang
The String Games by Gail Aldwin
Dear Blacksmith by Beverley Ward
The Salt Lick by Lulu  Allison
Cajoncito by Elizabeth M Castillo
Photo (by Rita E. Gould) of 4 books on a grey and white striped background. The books are The Salt Lick by Lulu Allsion, Cajoncito by Elizabeth M. Castillo, Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien, and Bestiary by K-Ming Chang.
Some books from my 2022 reading list: Lulu Allison’s The Salt Lick, Elizabeth M. Castillo’s Cajoncito, K-Ming Chang’s Bestiary, and Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing

What are reading in the new year? Share in the comments below!

NOTES


[*] The resolve to stay safe but separate in 2020 turned into the hope of Spring vaccinations. But, as more variants emerged, we’re reminded we’re not quite through this storm.

[†] This book, written by a woman in translation, was recommended to me during #WITmonth. And…it’s about a cat.

[‡] Billionaire entrepreneur Anjani might have humble roots, but her life story is extraordinary in many ways.

[§] Walls’s memoir recounts the unusual, difficult upbringing her parents gave their children (including Jeanette, her sister, and brother) who worked as a team to make better lives for themselves and, when permitted, their beloved parents.

[**]Guests, unlike Merricat, are appalled when Constance offers her cooking.

[††] You can find previous years reading reviews from 2017, 2018, and 2019 by clicking the links.

Reading Partners: The Relationship Edition

For my spouse and I, being on different pages when it comes to our reading preferences can be an advantage.

When I’m ready to curl up on a comfy sofa with a good book, I rarely browse through my spouse’s books. Ignoring our professional tomes or old schoolbooks that survived the Konmari purge, there’s limited overlap between our bookcases. Our common ground appears to be Stephen King’s books[*] interspersed with fantasy or science fiction selections and a smattering of literary fiction. My spouse’s tastes center around the said genres and nonfiction, while I wander freely through many genres. We may read together in the same room, but we’re still reading miles apart.

But, as it happens, being on different pages when it comes to our reading preferences can be an advantage. Allow me to explain.

Reading together. Image designed in Canva by R. Gould

Unexpected Common Ground

As most bibliophiles know, there’s no greater pleasure than unexpectedly finding common reading interests with another person. Early in our relationship, my spouse and I discovered several books and authors we mutually liked, which led us to recommend books the other hadn’t yet read from our shared authors.

But even years later, we still surprise each other when we discover a reading connection that allows us to share new authors/titles with each other. When my husband recommended Good Omens co-authored by one of his favorite authors, Neil Gaiman, I knew I wanted to read it because I already was a fan of its other author, Terry Pratchett. I enjoyed it as much as he did, and we discussed it for ages afterwards. As a result, I ended up delving into a few other books by Gaiman (Coraline, The Ocean at the End of the Lane), while my spouse read Terry Pratchett’s The Colour of Magic.

The Book Finder

Some time ago, my husband purchased Helene Tursten’s short story collection, An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good (translated by Marlaine Delargy). Initially intrigued by the cross-stitch cover and its premise, he purchased this book as he felt like it was one that I’d like (crime/detection fiction is a favorite of mine but not necessarily one of his). I loved it so much I’ve written about it here, as well as pretty much re-shelved it to my bookshelf.[†] But I wasn’t the only one who loved Maud. He’s also a huge fan, and both of us couldn’t wait to tell each other the next Maud collection would be released soon.[‡] Similarly, I’ve found several books that match his interest in science fiction (eg, Arthur C. Clarke winner Anne Charnock’s Dreams Before the Start of Time) or travel (eg, Raynor Winn’s The Salt Path) because I spend more time on book Twitter than he does.

In some ways, our situation is akin to having a personal book shopper who gets what you really want and isn’t afraid to suggest some more eclectic choices. Beyond this, I’ve discovered that our different interests and approaches to finding books often lead us to find authors and books for each other that we individually might not have discovered.

The Influencer

To be honest, I read more nonfiction now than I would have without my spouse’s intervention. Sometimes, his reading features how-to books, tomes on self-improvement, and deep dives into history. Over the years, he’s suggested a few books from these categories when he thought they might be mutually relevant so that we could read or listen[§] to them together (eg, Nuture Shock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman when our kiddo was young as well as Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up when we wanted to declutter).

But some books more related to his career caught his attention, and and my spouse later referred to them me as they touch upon my interests (eg, Sara Wachter-Boettcher’s Technically Wrong: Sexist Apps, Biased Algorithms, and Other Threats of Toxic Tech corresponds with interests in feminism and science). For my part, I’ve gently nudged him to read more detective fiction (eg, anything Agatha Christie) and literary fiction than he might have otherwise considered reading (eg, Kindred by Octavia Butler, which has elements of speculative fiction).

While having someone (again) introduce you to new book is fantastic, the larger victory is that we both found ourselves more willing (albeit selectively) to read from categories that we might not otherwise given a chance. In short, we’re both a bit more openminded when we peruse books, because we now know that there are great books even in categories that don’t spark joy for us.

Here’s a sample of some of the books that my spouse and I’ve recommended to each other. (Photo by Rita E. Gould)

The Seller

Ever read a book so good that you tell everyone you know about it? My spouse and I both are susceptible to this phenomenon. We’re both well aware that a particular book might not be something the other would standardly enjoy (or even close to it), but we recommend it because it’s that good. I know literary fiction (particularly the grimmer sort) isn’t something my spouse runs toward, but Han Kang’s The Vegetarian (trans. Deborah Smith) is a masterpiece. Similarly, my limited interest in science fiction hasn’t stopped him from insisting that I also read This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone. I can’t say that time traveling enemy agents is my thing, but I’ll give it a whirl because its epistolary format interests me. If nothing else, we’ll have plenty of opportunities to discuss why we didn’t like each other’s suggestions.

The Wrap Up: Reading Couple Goals

As two people who love reading and writing, we often do want to talk about the amazing books we’ve read—even if one of us will never read that book. But we’ve found that that our differences worked well to expand our individual reading horizons. While it’s great having a book buddy when it comes to chatting about favorite reads, being able to discuss any book with your reading partner is amazing.[**] And who better to do start that conversation with than your significant other?


Do you and your significant other read together or separately? Let me know in the comments section if you recommend books for each other.


NOTES:

[*] He’s his own genre by now, right?

[†] In the writing of this essay, I’ve discovered I’m something of a book thief. I promised to return…most of them.

[‡] We actually put it on our Goodreads to-read lists within 5 days of each other.

[§] As a rule, I rarely listen to audiobooks, as I read much faster than the book can be spoken. But it’s an ideal way to jointly go through a book, particularly if you’re stuck in a car for a few hours.

[**] Of course, you don’t need to be in a romantic relationship to form your own miniature book club or salon, but it is a bonus if you and your significant other can do so.

Writing Connections: DIY and Writing Part 2

Replacing a broken refrigerator kicked off a mini-makeover for my kitchen. What’s that got to do with writing? As it happens, quite a lot. (Feature image by 955169 from Pixabay.)

Although we felt like we mostly “solved” the refrigerator issue, some additional updates were necessary (primarily to the wiring[*] but we needed a plumbing line, too). Underneath the old fridge hid another mess: the old fridge leaked then cooked water onto our avocado linoleum, making it looked like fruit gone to rot.[†] Behind the fridge lurked yellowing plaster walls, gobbed with fossilized glue[‡] that abruptly gave way to the brick backsplash. There was some good news, though. With the warmer days and strict quarantine ending, we could throw open the windows and invite the contractors in to install the new floors, pipes, and wires.

Unfortunate kitchen capers: behind my old fridge lurked thick layers of wall adhesive, while below it lurked the damage to the 1970s-era avocado flooring caused by old fridge cooking off the water it leaked. Writing Connections: DIY and Writing Part 2. Text and image by R. E. Gould
Unfortunate kitchen capers: my old fridge hid both the thick layers of wall adhesive and the damage it inflicted on our 1970s-era avocado linoleum. (Photo credit: Rita E. Gould)

Another Change in Plans, or, as My Spouse Calls It, Project Creep

Realizing we had a month before the refrigerator delivery, my spouse uncharacteristically suggested that we paint the walls—meaning we would be free of (most of) the clashing wall décor.[§] Before he could change his mind, I set to work peeling off the layers of old wallpaper. Matters took a turn for the worse, however, when he pulled down the paneling. In addition to even thicker layers of old wall glue, we discovered crumbling plaster surrounding an actual hole in the wall—remnants of a past flood—and another problem for us to solve.

Kitchen wall, before demolition. Writing Connections: DIY and Writing Part 2. Text and image by Rita E. Gould
The kichen cover-up: before my spouse removed the paneling, we’d no idea what it hid. (Photo credit: Rita E. Gould)

More unfortunate kitchen capers. When my spouse pulled off the paneling, we found a literal hole in the wall, likely caused by a long ago flood. It looks like the former DIYers went with a cover up instead of repair! Writing Connections: DIY and Writing Part 2. Text by Rita E. Gould. Image by Jeremy Henderson
After my spouse pulled off the panel-ing, we found a literal hole in the wall, likely from a flood that pre-dated our residency. (Photo credit: Rita E. Gould) nstead of repair!

Drafting

When it comes to home construction in general and do-it-yourself (DIY) projects in particular, all budgets, plans and timelines are viable—that is, until you open a wall and make discoveries. Similar surprises abound during the writing process. Whether you have a detailed outline or a rough mental sketch about what you want to write, pre-writing planning represents a great beginning that’s likely to include some changes (possibly, many) during the drafting process.

Early drafts, particularly the first, exist to get the ideas on the page. For this reason, they are great places to experiment with a story, whether it’s adding or subtracting different elements. Drafting, too, is where writers find various problems in the narrative. In my latest story, I ultimately cut a driving scene when I realized the story really began when the main character arrived at their destination. Regardless of how long I spent writing it, the unnecessary exposition could lose my reader’s attention. And while no one is happy to find flaws in their home’s structure or their tales, the goal is improvement. As such, drafting is an important part of the writing process.

Filling in the Finish

In the end, we replaced the damaged drywall.[**] Between contractors, we painted the walls and cheered when the new refrigerator finally arrived.[††] My spouse also surprised me with a great solution for the empty space where a fridge no longer resided: using his pandemic-acquired carpentry skills, he and a friend would build a much-needed pantry cabinet. But, for now, we were done and could admire our handiwork.

Writing Connections: DIY and Writing Part 2. Text and image by Rita E. Gould
The new refrigerator is so shiny! (Photo credit: Rita E. Gould)
Photo of my refreshed kitchen. Writing Connections: DIY and Writing Part 2. Text by Rita E. Gould
Only a few things left to do here, but a fresh coat of paint and new floor makes a huge difference. (Photo credit: Jeremy Henderson)

What to Do with a Void

So, how does a story end? What gaps are left? For my kitchen, it was straightforward: what would we do with the area where the old fridge once lived? Another project is in the offing (yay, pantry), but we’re loving our better looking, more functional kitchen right now. For writing, drafting is usually followed by many readthroughs and edits before the work is ready to be shared with the world. My current projects aren’t quite there yet, but I’m looking forward to completing them. In the meantime, it’s back to drafting.

Happy writing, all!


TL;DR: Replacing my broken refrigerator led to changing the kitchen layout, the floors, and repainting. Parallels to writing exist. Have a read—you’ll see what I mean.

NOTES:


[*]Because celebrating Christmas needn’t involve half the house’s lights shutting off when we run the dishwasher while the oven and microwave are also in use. Since the circa 195o wiring tends to get overloaded by modern appliances, the electrician (per code) put each on their own circuit.

[†] Theoretically, that spot might’ve scrubbed off—but no one liked the floor enough to save it.

[‡] Our original walling was a laminate similar to the one seen here.  

[§] My spouse likes projects to have specific, limited goals to avoid project creep, while I prefer to get everything done. But neither of us wanted to sort out the built-in cabinetry during a pandemic, so we skipped doing anything near them to avoid more unplanned projects. Looks likes we’ll be living with that faux brick backsplash a bit longer!

[**] My asthmatic lungs nixed the sanding/patching approach, which tends to be time consuming when you’ve loads of material to sand away.

[††] And we only had to rip off the door trim to get it into the room! Pro tip: never trust the manufacturer’s dimensions and measure the actual unit—unless there’s a pandemic preventing you from doing so!

The 2020 Reading Review: the Books that Made the Pandemic More Bearable

Without a doubt, 2020 was a challenging year. For some, coping with these harrowing events meant finding solace in books and reading voraciously. Others, despite time freed up by social distancing, could barely turn a page. I found myself seesawing between both states. Although I didn’t meet my reading goals, I’m still happy to say that I read many books that expanded my horizons while remaining home. Even the more intense books (perhaps not the best choices for difficult times) continue to challenge me long after I closed their covers and shelved them. This year’s list, therefore, is not a “best of” list so much as a tribute to those memorable books that made pandemic reading a bit more bearable.

High Hopes: Inspirational Reads

Elsewhere, I discussed Michelle Obama’s memoir, Becoming, and why I felt it was a great inspirational book to read during the pandemic. It remains among my favorites reads for 2020, because she points out the choice that we all have when it comes to viewing our circumstances. This, of course, isn’t the full extent of what Becoming brings to its audience (her life story is fascinating in its own right), but it’s something I ponder often on dark days. How does my perspective control my story? How could it be reconsidered?

But there was another book that I read in 2020 that I found quite inspirational: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s tiny tome, We Should All Be Feminists. Adichie’s book is an approachable, occasionally irreverent, and oft poignant consideration of why we, as the title states, should become feminists. Using a conversational tone (this book sprang from her 2012 TED talk), she makes the case for feminism by addressing both its baggage and the counterproductive effects of clinging to patriarchy—for both men and women. It’s difficult not to see how we’d all be happier if we strove toward gender equality.[*]

The Slowpoke Read: The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart

Disclaimer: If alcohol isn’t your thing, feel free to skip ahead. If you like the occasional tipple and/or enjoy science, read on.

Of all the books I finished this year, The Drunken Botanist: The Plants that Make the World’s Great Drinks took the longest to read. But here’s the twist: I think it’s a feature that this book can be read over long periods. Using the familiar plant field guide format, most chapters focus on a single plant, making it easy to read a section, put the book aside, and return when you like. It proved to be an engaging way to absorb material through 2020, when I wanted to read just a bit or found myself unable to focus on reading for long stretches.

Photo of the book The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart. Photo taken Rita E. Gould

Format aside (the book, for the record, boasts a beautiful layout), Amy Stewart’s efforts to better educate her readers about the plants that give rise to the world’s favorite drinks are enlightening as they are entertaining, The Drunken Botanist does its best to give a broad, near encyclopedic view of the various plants (around 160, I believe) and the alcohols they produce. Often, I found myself focused more on the fascinating details involved in the research (eg, cloves are closed flower buds), not to mention the diverse disciplines she references (eg, coprolites shed information on alcohol consumption of the ancients). And did I mention the drink recipes? Stewart’s how-to, however, also extends to gardening and brewing (when feasible for folks at home), making this a rather complete approach to her topic. A careful scientist, Stewart also elucidates what’s unverifiable tales/myths, distillations best left to experts, dangerous look-alike plants, and the tragic history behind some crops and their beverages (eg, slavery, colonization). All in all, a deep, rewarding dive into botany that makes you appreciate the plants behind the bottle.

Lived up to the Hype, or Never Underestimate a Pretty Woman

I decided to read both My Sister, the Serial Killer and Mexican Gothic, because of the well-deserved buzz surrounding these novels. Both allowed me to escape the confines of my home, while I pondered their various heroine’s difficulties. They also shared a common feature: beautiful young women who people misjudge as harmless, albeit in different ways. However, both novels deftly touch on serious topics as they captivate you. I can’t recommend either enough.

Hidden Depths

In Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, the heroine, Noemí Taboada, may seem like a frivolous socialite, but this good-time girl has hidden depths. For one thing, she’s keen on earning her master’s degree in anthropology despite her family’s disapproval. The promise of furthering her studies is the carrot her father uses to persuades Noemí to travel to a remote mining town to check up on her beloved cousin, Catalina, who has sent some disturbing letters regarding her new husband, Virgil Doyle. While gothic literature isn’t traditionally set in Mexico, the transplanted Doyle family brough the requisite gloomy atmosphere from England with them. Before long, Noemí realizes something is very wrong in the Doyle’s manor and that she is becoming ensnared by it. Without giving away too much, Mexican Gothic sneaks into literary fiction as Moreno-Garcia masterfully blends serious topics (eg, racism, colonialism,) into the undercurrents of its disturbing narrative, creating an immersive, intense horror story that is difficult to stop reading.[†]

Beauty Is Only Skin Deep

After reading My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite, never has the platitude about the depths of beauty seemed so true. This darkly comic novel (murder shouldn’t be a laughing matter) grabbed my attention from the title through its conclusion, as I inched closer to learning what makes a beautiful woman (Ayoola) turns murderous. It’s the second mystery (I’ll get to that), however, that made me eager to turn the pages.

Through the older and less lovely sister, Korede, we learn about Ayoola’s unconventional method for managing her man problems. Korede, long made responsible for her sister’s action and well-being, seethes as her sister’s looks let her escape Nigerian cultural expectations of women (eg, cooking[‡]) and the consequences of her actions. Ayoola, long accustomed to deference, expects her older sister to clean up her messes, murder included. Korede, of course, does just that with her usual competence. Work is nurse Korede’s only refuge, where she longs after a handsome doctor, Tade Otumu. Here, too, is her only confidant: a comatose patient in whom she confesses the truth about Ayoola’s exploits. But her sanctuary soon evaporates when Ayoola pays a visit. Before long, Tade is dating Ayoola and her patient, once expected to die, awakens. Korede, in a quandary between two loves, needs to make a choice.

Braithwhite’s searing commentary, focused on female beauty, exposes the misogynistic undercurrents of how societies value women. Korede, the more compassionate and competent sister, is often overlooked, and she can’t even criticize Ayoola without being dismissed as jealous. But Braithwhite carefully shows how beauty isn’t always a blessing. Ayoola’s enjoyment of her halo effect doesn’t hide how the emphasis placed on her looks has damaged her, as she lacks empathy, fails to grasp proper behavior on serious occasions, and holds an understandably cynical view of men (“…a pretty face. That’s all they ever want”) who value her looks but know nothing of her interests or talents. Considering the good fortune showered on Ayoola for existing while beautiful, there is some mystery behind her evolution into a literal mankiller. But the more compelling question is why Korede continues to helps her, given her resentment and horror. The answer to both questions lies in their shared history and bond as sisters.

The Reading Year Wrap Up

This year’s reading, whether disturbing (We Need to Talk About Kevin, The Perfect Nanny [alternative title, Lullaby]) or comforting (all the Rick Riordan books I read with my kiddo), often served as a connection point with the outside world, one that patiently waited for me when the current events left me too tired to read. While it might seem activities like reading should be a lower priority during troubling times, I can’t help but think how much art, music, books, television, etc., served as a balm whether I needed mindless distraction or a reminder that were bigger things besides my own cares. Art matters, particularly when life is difficult. As 2021 will continue (at least for now) where 2020 left off, I plan to stock up on few books (in addition to this year’s Christmas haul). Whether the coming year brings good news or not, I hope to have a good book on hand.

Happy reading, all!

NOTES


[*]I would be remiss to ignore Adichie’s controversial remarks about transwomen, even though they do not appear this book. While she later clarified her statement, it’s important to understand why her remarks missed the mark so that we do a better job of making feminism more intersectional.

[†] I stayed up to the early hours to finish this book, and it did not disappoint. Read here for a more in-depth analysis of the book and interview with the author, Silvia Moreno-Garcia.

[‡]And, you know, letting boyfriends live.

Writing Connections: Home Improvement and Writing Part 1

This wasn’t the year I intended to tackle my kitchen’s issues.[*] Travel was on my family’s agenda, and maybe some small home improvement projects—like giving our addition (and more importantly, my office) a long overdue refresh. Our unlovely kitchen, born in 1955 and afflicted with a bad 70s update, could continue waiting its turn for a potentially expensive redo while we pursued more affordable projects.[†] But this year, people…well, it’s not been a good one for plans. Once the pandemic hit, we had to pivot and adjust, then do it again. And this very need to reconsider and revise has a lot do with how my refrigerator’s malfunction led to both a partial kitchen upgrade and some observations about the writing process.

My kitchen (or, at least 3/4 of it). An unholy combination of the 1950s worn cabinetry, a 70s (bad) makeover (see floor), weird choices (brick/paneling), and colors that won’t coordinate. Also, the star of this story, the 1980s fridge.

Appliance Amok

Every story begins with a problem. Ours was a broken refrigerator, an elderly appliance that one day began keeping its contents at decidedly balmy temperatures for bacteria. After some investigation, we decided that it was beyond repair. Thanks to our “garage refrigerator”—a secondhand unit passed along to us by kind relatives in case we needed it—we had some time to find a new one, though we didn’t want to wait too long as this spare was also geriatric. Before the pandemic, we would have researched features and brands, purchased a replacement, and waited for it to be delivered within a week or so. Going from replacing a refrigerator to redoing half the kitchen, however, was something of a plot twist.

Prewriting

Writing, too, starts with a situation in need of resolution. Stemming from “what if” scenarios, intriguing character studies, tidbits of overheard conversations, and various other sources of inspiration teeming in the imagination, these musings coalesce into a story-shaped idea. In this nebulous stage, the story is malleable as its writer grapples with the its viability, characters, plot, and so forth. My own experience with a recent story[‡] required a character to arrive in a place where she used to live but hadn’t visited for some time. Over time, my plan to “get her there” changed from her having some sort of business meeting to GPS rerouting her around traffic. But these changes, driven by a desire to streamline the story and the character’s evolving backstory, were significant. Small details can change everything in the initial plan—such as the size of a refrigerator.

The Kitchen Conundrum

Over the years, my tiny 1950s kitchen only suffered mostly cosmetic (if unfortunate) changes.[§] Touted as an eat-in kitchen, it could just squeeze in a table for two.[**] However, that ill-used space became prime refrigerator real estate once we established that the deceased refrigerator’s alcove limited our options to smaller units—the kind people might panic buy as a spare unit for stocking up extra food for the pandemic. Many of of refrigerators this size (regardless of availability) boasted larger dimensions than our little alcove. We either needed to search more diligently, perhaps in person,[††] or we needed to buy something bigger—with better features—and move it across the room. We decided to abandon our original plan (and floor plan) and found a refrigerator that worked.

And it’s a good thing that we were up to the challenge of revising our plans, because that was just the beginning. But that’s a story for another time.


TL;DR: My refrigerator broke, leading us to change the kitchen layout and (ultimately) update half the room. There are parallels to writing. Go read the whole thing to see the connections.

Updates: On 7 November 2020, I fixed the links for the references. Theoretically, they should work now. On 4 February 2022, photos were re-insterted after they mysteriously disappeared.

NOTES:


[*]So. Many. Issues.

[†]Since we took residence in 2006, we tackled several large projects in our fixer upper, and it seemed like a good time to tackle something smaller. Apparently, we were wrong.

[‡]Currently, I’m working on short stories for this year’s NaNoWriMo.

[§]Arguably the only true improvement to the kitchen was swapping a cabinet for a dishwasher, which we replaced some time ago.

[**]It was mostly wasted space, eventually occupied by waste bins.

[††] Hahaha, no. Although we were in a less restricted phase, we weren’t that keen on going out.

Reading Women in Translation 2020: Finding Connection

More seriously, though, reading women in translation is yet another way in which we can find our common humanity and build our empathy for each other. I think this is the year we can truly use that connection.

Over the last few years, I made a point of including books by women in translation—that is, once I discovered this gap in my reading habits. As I discussed earlier, it’s a tremendous loss to be unaware of these amazing women writing excellent books—a compounded loss, when we consider how many women’s books don’t get translated in the first place. WITMonth[*] goes some ways towards changing that trend as each year passes, which is why I like to remind folks about this event. After all, it’s always a great idea to support women writers. Speaking personally, reading these works has enriched my life, and I’m glad that these books and writers are getting their deserved attention.

WITmonth 2020

This year, however, I found myself looking forward to WITMonth a bit more than I previously did.[†] On Twitter, I enjoyed conversations where people shared their recommendations for books they recently read or favorites they felt everyone should read. There was the joy of discovering people who liked books that I liked as well as the thrill that someone was going to read a book I suggested. It was a stimulating experience that made me ransack my bookshelves and download a few new books.[‡] Perhaps this represents my passion for books or the pleasure of an uncomplicated conversation in a tumultuous year, but I think there’s more to it that I may have overlooked at a different time.

Connection and Community

WITMonth is a connector, both through books and social media. I chatted with folks from England, Australia, and distant parts of my own country about books and why they or I must read them. The act of reading these books, too, forges connections. When I picked up books written by writers from distant times and places, people who speak and live differently than I do, I travel through these experiences—something for which I’m grateful as my opportunities to travel and meet people are limited at present. More seriously, though, reading women in translation is yet another way in which we can find our common humanity and build our empathy for each other. I think this is the year we can truly use that connection.[§]

WITMonth both celebrates women writers we might otherwise miss without an annual event to bring these books more attention and creates community. And it’s not limited to just one month: we can read these books and continue discussing them online throughout the year.

RESOURCES

If you’re looking for great titles to add to your reading list, check out Meytal Radzinki’s web site. As the founder of #WITmonth, her suggestions span the globe.

NOTES:


[*] Held in August each year since being founded by Meytal Radzinki in 2014, Women in Translation month (#WITmonth) celebrates books by women translated into English.

[†] Though, I confess I read less than I hoped to do. Covid-19’s effect on my reading is to allow time to read in great gulps or not at all. Also, I undertook reading The Tale of Genji, and it is massive.

[‡] My local library had The Perfect Nanny (in England, Lullaby) by Leïla Slimani (translated by Sam Taylor), a haunting, tragic novel exploring class, race, and parenting. (Warning for violence against children/death and suicide.)

[§] More on this point in an upcoming post, as 2020, also has been a time of unrest and protest for social justice.