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5 Most Inspirational Books I’ve Ever Read

One of my 100 Things for this year is to make a list of the 5 most inspirational books I’ve ever read. This could change in the future, but this is my current list in random order. Another Thing I want to do is to convince somebody to read one of these books, so if you do read one after seeing my recommendation, please let me know!

  • Girl Seeks Bliss: Zen and the Art of Modern Life Maintenance by Nicole Beland
    I already posted a book review, but let me sum it up: Buddhism made accessible for modern women. You don’t have to be Buddhist to benefit from lessons on mindfulness and simplicity. I’m going to reread this book this year because there’s too many juicy tidbits for me to take in after one read through. My 2016 Word of the Year is Simplify, so I know this book will be a helpful tool as I work on simplifying my home and my life.
  • The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
    Another book I reviewed on my blog. Actually, I have several posts about this book, and it even has its own category. I am a perfectionist Aries, and I grew up thinking I wasn’t a good artist because I couldn’t paint or sculpt or otherwise create things that looked “real.” This book helped me learn that art is about a lot more than trying to create realistic things, and it has opened me up to allow myself to be more creative all around.
  • Ish by Peter H. Reynolds
    Even before reading The Artist’s Way, Ish opened my mind to the freedom of imperfection. I read this book and saw myself. It’s about a boy who loves to draw until he is told that he is not good at it. So he throws out everything he’s ever drawn. Then his sister takes his art out of the garbage and hangs it up in her room, because she loves it, and she says that while his picture might not look exactly like a tree, it looks tree-ish. And that’s beautiful to her. What a great message! (This is the second book in the author/illustrator’s “Creatrilogy” the starts with The Dot and ends with Sky Color. I highly recommend all three, but for my list I had to go with the one that means the most to me.)
  • Dangerous Angels by Francesca Lia Block
    My introduction to FLB was Girl Goddess #9, a collection of short stories, and I fell in love with her. But it was Dangerous Angels that inspired me. It’s a collection of five novellas previously published separately, but I can’t imagine reading them as stand-alones. Weetzie Bat lives in a world of magic realism, a term I had never heard before which basically means it’s the real world but magical stuff happens. So she goes to high school and has a gay best friend and loves her grandmother, except then this lamp turns out to have a genie in it that grants her wishes. She wishes for “My secret agent lover man” and then meets a guy who says his name is My Secret Agent Lover Man, and while she does think it’s a strange name, she goes with it and that’s what everyone calls him. I want to believe that magic and the real world are not mutually exclusive – maybe not literally, but the world doesn’t have to be gloom and doom, it can be rainbows and unicorns and glitter and genies and witch babies and ghosts that sing be-bop… Come to think of it, I want to reread this too.
  • No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty
    The man behind National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo, which itself revolutionized my life, wrote a handbook to the month. I read it as I was gearing up for my first NaNo in 2007, and reread it the next couple years. By now I know everything in the book and don’t need pep talks to keep me going during November – I know I can write 50,000 words in one month. I have had a quote from this book on my bulletin board at work for years: “A deadline is, simply put, optimism in its most ass-kicking form.” This is why college students stay up all night cranking out papers that are due the next day, even though it was assigned at the beginning of the semester. When you know you have to get something done, like REALLY have to get it done… you do it. When it matters to you, you do everything in your power to hit your deadline. And sometimes that means making time (which usually means not doing procrastination things, but can also mean putting off chores if necessary). I don’t know if I would have won NaNo that first year if it weren’t for this book, and I encourage everyone who wants to try writing a novel for NaNo to read this book first.

So there’s my list. What books have inspired you?

Book Review: Belly Laughs

McCarthy, Jenny. Belly Laughs. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2004.

From the former host of MTV’s “Singled Out” comes a no-holds-barred account of what you can “really expect when you’re expecting.”Oh, the joys of pregnancy! There’s the gasiness, constipation, queasiness, and exhaustion; the forgetfulness, crankiness, and the constant worry. Of course, no woman is spared these discomforts and humiliations, but most are too polite to complain or too embarrassed to talk about them. Not Jenny McCarthy! In Belly Laughs, the actress and new mother reveals the naked truth about the tremendous mood swings, the excruciating pains, and the unseemly disfigurement that go along with pregnancy. Never shy, frequently crude, and always laugh-out-loud funny, McCarthy covers it all in the grittiest of girlfriend detail. With tips and hilarious musings on morning sickness and hormonal rage, hemorrhoids, pregnant sex, and the torture and sweet relief that is delivery, Belly Laughs is must-read comic relief for anyone who is pregnant, who has ever been pregnant, is trying to get pregnant or indeed, has ever been born!

I first heard of this book a few years ago when I was working at a Borders book store. At the time I was surprised that she was anything more than an airhead blonde (come on, you know that’s how she potrayed herself on Singled Out), and judged that it must not be very good. Yes, I know, never judge a book by its perfectly airbrushed cover.

In looking at books about pregnancy, it seems that a lot of them aim to be the be-all and end-all, the only book you will ever need to read on the topic. Which is all well and good, except that sometimes it can be overkill to read the same things over and over because this one has a slightly different slant than that one, and this other one is slightly different from the other two. It can make your head spin. And maybe I don’t want to read a book that dense, especially when I’m not pregnant and just want a more light preview.

This book is perfect if you’re looking for short, funny snippets (no more than four or five pages long) that give a heads up without going into too much depth. In fact, I think I might need to pass this book along to my husband so he can see what to prepare for. His knowledge of pregnancy is limited to strange night-time cravings (which will inevitably turn into his having to go to a grocery store for me a 2am) and screaming during labor. Not that I would call myself an expert, but I’m learning. Oh, and THE Jenny McCarthy is the author, as well as the gorgeous cover model, so that will probably make this book a quick sell to him.

When I do get pregnant, I can see myself picking this up again and again for a quick laugh, especially as I experience each thing she talks about so I can remember that I’m not the only one who has been through it! McCarthy has also written follow-ups Baby Laughs and Life Laughs, which I also intend to get.

This entry was posted on May 2, 2011, in AdultBook.

Book Review: The Artist’s Way

Cameron, Julia. The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. 10th anniversary ed. New York: J.P. Tarcher/Putnam, 2002.

With the basic principle that creative expression is the natural direction of life, Julia Cameron and Mark Bryan lead you through a comprehensive twelve-week program to recover your creativity from a variety of blocks, including limiting beliefs, fear, self-sabotage, jealousy, guilt, addictions, and other inhibiting forces, replacing them with artistic confidence and productivity.

This book links creativity to spirituality by showing how to connect with the creative energies of the universe, and has, in the years since its publication, spawned a remarkable number of support groups for artists dedicated to practicing the exercises it contains.

I can not even begin to tell you what an amazing journey this book has been for me. At first I resisted… a lot. I wanted to snap my fingers and be “cured” of my creative blocks. That was not possible, however, or I would have done it years ago, and TAW would not be a twelve week program. I had heard of this book many times over the years, but what finally started me on the path to creative recovery is a group I’m in online, with a group of us deciding to work through it together. I don’t think I would have completed the course were it not for the women I was doing it with.

So yes, resisting. The biggest thing I wanted to skip was doing Morning Pages, three handwritten pages that should be done in the morning, before doing anything else. In the end, I completed the twelve weeks being able to count on one hand the number of days I skipped. And since the last day, it has now been exactly four weeks and I have not missed a single day (though I don’t always write first thing in the morning). HOLY MOLY! If you told me in January that this habit was going to stick around, I would never have believed you. But I very quickly learned how helpful it is in clearing the clutter from my mind and helping me sort out my feelings and thoughts about things.

Morning Pages are a tool Cameron says is important for any “recovering creative.” She also recommends a weekly Artist Date. This is a scheduled weekly event that can be anything that nourishes and supports the artist within you — who she says is a child, and loves the same things you loved as a child. An Artist Date can be almost anything, like a hike with a camera, coloring in a coloring book, or spending an hour browsing an art supply store. The Artist Date does not have to involve doing art. It simply keeps your inner artist happy and inspired. I have not been keeping up with these officially, but I have been thinking of starting an Artist Date log to track them, which will help me to ensure that I do them every week.

Each chapter encompasses one week and includes essays to read and tasks to do. You can pick and choose which tasks you do, but Cameron suggests that you do whatever you most want to do, and whatever you least want to do, because if you have a strong urge against it then you probably have a very good reason to avoid it, therefore it would be most beneficial to actually do it. In the beginning I tried to do as many tasks as possible. By the end I was getting a bit lazy and skipped more, but I did read every essay and do at least some of the tasks every week.

Not all of the essays made sense to me. In fact, my book group and I spent much of the course struggling with things that Cameron says. While she says early on that when she says God you can feel free to substitute whatever deity you choose to believe in, it doesn’t work so easily once you get to the actual essays sometimes. Many of us found it hard to connect our personal spirituality to the apparently Judeo-Christian God/Great Creator that she speaks of. There were many things she seemed to be saying about ALL recovering creatives that we just didn’t agree with, like that the only reason artists are ever “struggling” is that they aren’t trying hard enough or putting enough belief in their desires. (If you loved The Secret by Rhonda Byrne or have otherwise encountered the Law of Attraction, you will have no problems with this aspect of TAW.)

The proof of the method is in the pudding. For me, I can say for a fact that I have been more creative in the past four months than I had been for the previous four years. I have another blog where I post things I do creatively, and the other day I posted some Recent Art. I don’t think I would have created any of these pieces were it not for TAW. I am still walking the path to creative recovery, and I can say for certain that this book has changed my life (as dramatic as that sounds, it’s true). I look forward to working through more of Cameron’s books in the future.

Book Review: The Creative Fire

Estes, Clarissa Pinkola. The Creative Fire. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2001.

Clarissa guides us through the dark labyrinths of the psyche in search of la chispa-the ember that is the elemental source of all creative work. Learn about the hidden aspects of creativity, including the negative complexes that prey upon our energy, as you discover an abundance of insights to spark the creative fire in you. discover an abundance of insights to spark the creative fire in you.

This is only available as an audiobook, which was actually a good thing because had I read it myself, I would have missed out on Dr. Estes’ amazing storytelling voice, which greatly enhanced the stories themselves. I heard about this shortly before I began The Artist’s Way, and listened to it a few months ago. I will definitely listen again some time.

The Creative Fire was a perfect companion to TAW because it talks about some of the same things. One such topic is lack of creation. Julia Cameron says that a lack of creation means that the artist’s well has run dry, and the artist needs to “refill the well.” Dr. Estes points to the Persephone and Demeter mythology, agreeing with Cameron that cycles of productivity and rest are natural, and even encouraged. She tells the story of the myth and analyzes every aspect of it, relating each one to the creative cycle. I learned from both women that instead of feeling bad about periods of rest from creation, I should see it as a chance to recharge my batteries and prepare for the intensely creative time that will follow if I allow myself to be open to it.

Estes goes through several different stories, using each one to teach ways to break out of creative blockages, and about the creative cycle, and about ways that people either nurture or are consumed by the creative fire within. I highly recommend this to anyone who is struggling to understand their creativity, or who thinks they are not creative, or who is working through TAW and would like some more insight to supplement what they are learning in the course. And at just about 3 hours long, in 3 parts, it’s not very long at all — though I do suggest you take some time to digest in between, as there are a lot of juicy bits here.

This entry was posted on April 27, 2011, in AdultBook.

Book Review: My Little Red Book

I read this book a few months ago on my Kindle, but now I have the hardcover (free, won in a contest on a blog). I love it, and will give it to my (future, hopefully) daughter when it’s time to start talking about puberty.

Nalebuff, Rachel Kauder. My Little Red Book. New York, NY: Twelve, 2009.

My Little Red Book

Whatever a girl experiences or expects, she’ll find stories that speak to her thoughts and feelings. My Little Red Book aims to provide support, entertainment, and a starting point for discussion for mothers and daughters everywhere. Royalties from sales of the book are being donated to charities promoting women’s health and education. Let the dialog begin! -Rachel Kauder Nalebuff, Editor (from http://www.mylittleredbook.net/)

This book is a gem that I wish I’d had when I was at that tender age that all girls experience: waiting for (and then getting) my first period. The editor compiled stories of women of all ages, from the 1930s through 2008, recalling their first period. Most of the women come from the United States, but there are also stories from Australia, Canada, China, Ghana, India, Kenya, and Turkey. Some are famous women, like Gloria Steinam, Judy Blume, and Meg Cabot. Some are teens of today. Women around the world and of all ages are very different, but one unifying element is menstruation. It’s amazing how this book shows this universal aspect of womanhood.
 
Do you remember your first period? Many women will never forget. Pride, shame, joy, sadness, confusion… if all women menstruate, why don’t we talk about it? I like how that new Kotex ad is making fun of the fact that ads for tampons and pads are so abstract (you know the ad I’m taking about: “Commercials for pads are so helpful, showing that blue liquid… so that’s what’s supposed to happen!”), but we need to be even more proactive. I hate how when I’m talking about my period with friends, there is almost always someone who says something like, “I’m sorry if this is TMI” or “I know this is gross, but…” Why do we need to preface it like that? Why can’t we just accept the fact that we all know what you’re saying, and we’ve probably experienced the same thing ourselves?
 
The point of this book is to open the doors to communication. It’s great for girls who are expecting or experiencing their first periods, because it gives them some idea of what to REALLY expect (“I awoke to a sticky feeling in my pajama bottoms” recalls one woman, page 25; another woman remembers the color: “it was the rust color that confused me. It wasn’t red. In books it’s always red,” page 146-7). It’s also a great jumping off point to start a dialog. When I read this book, I immediately got curious about other women in my life. I talked to my mother about the book and we shared our memories of our first periods.
 
I think it would be amazing for mothers to read My Little Red Book with their daughters so they can field questions and discuss it. Instead of mothers trying to tell their daughters about what it’s like for them now, a time in life that the daughters won’t reach for many years, the mother’s relating her first period brings everything down to her daughter’s experience level. This would definitely lead to a more helpful conversation.
 
There is a website for My Little Red Book, and among other things there is a page that invites women to submit their own stories. In this spirit, here’s my own story.
 
I don’t remember a lot about my first period. What sticks out in my mind is what happened a few months before. I was 12 years old and having a routine checkup with my Pediatrician, and he asked if I’d gotten my period. I said no, and he said that because of my size (now full-grown I’m just 5’1) it might not happen until I was 16. I don’t even remember who of my friends had gotten it, we might not have even talked about it. I was embarassed at the thought of having to wait four more years, and tired of waiting for it when it had been at least a year or two since I’d first been told about puberty.
 
Later that night my mom asked my dad, who had taken me to the doctor, what had happened. My dad didn’t even say the words. He said, “he asked her if she had started to end her sentences yet.” I had to think about that before I realized what he meant: many sentences end in a period. That may have been because he didn’t want my brother and sister to know what he was saying, but to me it felt like menstruation was shameful. He didn’t even say the words.
 
I didn’t have to wait until I was 16. I got my period the day before I started sixth grade. I was 12 years and 5 months old. Now instead of just having a new school to deal with, I had my period too. I told my mom and said she could tell my dad, but not to make a big deal out of it.

This entry was posted on May 19, 2010, in AdultBook.