Intrepid book friends.
I am behind on posting.
Now, I shall attempt to catch up.
1. January Theme Book! 1984 by George Orwell, actually completed on February 2 but we're all going to be gentle about deadlines here.
Laura, I must sincerely apologize. The reason this book was unavailable at the library was because I had it. I also returned it two days late, like some kind of garbage citizen.
But Laura, on the other hand I do not sincerely apologize because I saved you the agony of reading 1984, a book that lives strong on curricula everywhere in spite of being utterly pointless outside its position as "influential". I think it just stays on there because no high school teacher has actually reread it since they were in high school. This book should be universally replaced by The Handmaid's Tale, no question. Or almost anything else, frankly. I was desperate to get to the parts where Winston was tortured, which seems like the wrong feeling. Fellow readers, those among you who have read 1984 - let's discuss. I hated it with a passionate hate but really would love to find some value in my experience. Maybe I am giving George Orwell less credit than he deserves, and many of the things I found loathsome (i.e. the entire character of Julia) were part of his commentary. I have to say, though, that it didn't feel that way. Ultimately, in 2016, I am ready to read fictional dystopian insights more relevant than the tragic oppression of a middle aged British white guy.
2. The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp
I love reading books about the creative process. Love, love, love. And while I find myself more in the warm and gentle Liz Gilbert camp (Big Magic!), there were definitely insights to steal from Grand Dame Tharp. She keeps a special box for every project she works on! Full of inspiration and research and artifacts of the process! I'm stealing that for sure! Other insights - like, change your name to something interesting because she has always felt creative as a Twyla - feel less valuable. She's also a little bit "there's a right way and a wrong way" in her approach to creativity, which connects less to my little Montessori heart.
3. Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull
I bought this book for my artistic soulmate, Christian Libonati, for his February birthday. But he is a slow reader and I am a selfish gift-giver, so naturally I read the whole thing in its entirety before bequeathing it unto him. What a useful book to have read at this exact moment of my life, where Filament is transitioning into a full-time gig and we are working hard to lay the foundation of our artistic culture and processes. I've read management books, and I've read books about the creative process, but never before have I read a book about management in business where your chief output is a creative product.
I so admired the book's openness with the successes as well as the struggles of building Pixar, and while Pixar is obviously operating on a very different scale than my little theater company, a good deal of the insights were very relevant. The balance of financial and artistic leadership is a very challenging line to negotiate, and having a little peek into someone else's world was very helpful and inspiring. Erika, is Pixar really as dreamy as Creativity, Inc. makes it seem?
4. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
Bel Canto was an unexpectedly beautiful portrait of waiting, and of tedium in the most extreme of circumstances. Surprisingly funny, surprisingly tense, it's not a flashy novel but kinda gets inside your bones and works its way out. Here is a passage that I loved unequivocally:
What a sense of humor one would need to believe that the woman you love
is not in Tokyo or Paris or New York or Athens. The woman you love is a
girl who dresses as a boy and she lives in a village in a jungle, the
name of which you are not allowed to know, not that knowing the name
would be particularly helpful in trying to find it. The woman you love
puts her gun beside a blue gravy boat at night so that you can teach her
to read. She came into your life through an air-conditioner vent and
how she will leave is the question that keeps you awake in the few free
moments you have to sleep.
The novel is inspired by a real life hostage crisis in Peru in the mid-90s, where a terrorist group held a group of diplomats and other dignitaries hostage for over four months, although the circumstances of Bel Canto are different, and the country in which it takes place is never named. Patchett explores the relationships between the terrorists and hostages, and the little world they build together during their four months in a sort of shared captivity. Published in 2001 before 9/11, I definitely found my brain wandering to how the implications of the word "terrorist" have evolved in the last 15 years.
Bel Canto is a novel I would recommend without reservation, while simultaneously recognizing that it wasn't a novel that I loved with my whole heart. I think that, on some fundamental level, it just wasn't for me. But I can see how it absolutely would be a beloved favorite for somebody with slightly different aesthetic sensibilities. It made me very glad to be doing this 50 books project, where I can commit to lovely gems like Bel Canto that might not have made it on my shortlist otherwise.