What I’m Reading: Big Magic

I won’t lie to you: 2016 was one of the least¬†creative years of my life.

I wrote less, read less, and created less than I have in years. There were a lot of factors as to why but I’m trying to shed some of that baggage and make 2017 my most creative year yet.

So I decided to start the year off with Elizabeth Gilbert’s 2016 hit,¬†Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. It’s been an easy, if not surprising, read.


Maybe I did not read enough reviews but the book is (or feels) much more metaphysical and otherworldly than I expected. Gilbert’s view is that creativity and inspiration and ideas are all things that are out of our control. They exist outside us and find us whether or not the time is right. We cannot control what artistic thought finds us – just how or when we run with it.

It’s in discussing creative practice and craft where I enjoy Gilbert’s advice the most. She felt like my wise older sister who had survived ¬†overbearing parents, bad boyfriends, and friendship break-ups, and was ensuring you didn’t make the same mistakes. Gilbert offers a lovely anecdote about a famous poet named Jack Gilbert (no relation) who asked all his students to be brave in the pursuit of their poetry.

To one student who told Jack Gilbert that she wanted to be a writer, he said:

“Do you have the courage? Do you have the courage to bring forth this work? The treasures that are¬†hidden inside you are hoping you will say yes.”

Isn’t that just lovely?

Despite the sometimes quasi-spiritual tone, there have been a few moments when I felt myself completely on-board myself with Gilbert’s philosophy. One was when she was describing the way to stay sane while pursuing and living a creative life: to deeply care about your work while also not caring about it at all.¬†Gilbert writes:

¬†It matters./It doesn’t matter.

Build space in your head for this paradox. Build as much space for it as you can.

Build even more space. 

You will need it. 

I don’t think I realized how uptight I’ve been about my lack of creative living lately; how much pressure I’ve been putting on my creation (or lack there of). I have to build more space for myself and that’s a major goal for this year.


What I’m Reading: IQ84 and Crazy Rich Asians

Sometimes I go through reading cycles. I will tear through 3 short print books in a row, or I will juggle a print book and an e-book, or I will read a print book and listen to an audio book. I’m very much a mood reader, so my type of reading always changes. Lately, I’ve been back on simultaneously reading a long print book and listening to an audiobook.
18641982I just finished listening to Emma Straub’s The Vacationers in an effort to make it feel like it’s summer and I am on a beach in Mallorca. The story was fun and quick. I understand the mass appeal and why people gobbled it up last summer. I think I listened to it in under a week–usually to and from the subway, on the train, and for the last 30 minutes or so, while running on the treadmill. The plot was fine, the characters morally ambiguous and annoying enough to feel real, and the setting provided a tropical prison that the characters, as well as myself, felt lucky to have been locked into. Straub’s writing was just okay, but there were pockets of wonderful observant prose. Here are two:

They had chosen to make the leap and, having leapt, were delighted to find that the world was even more beautiful than they‚Äôd hoped.”

“‚ÄúA good swimming pool could do that‚ÄĒmake the rest of the world seem impossibly insignificant, as far away as the surface of the moon.‚ÄĚ

Currently, I’m making my way through the absolutely mammoth, but stunningly beautiful, IQ84 by Haruki Murakami. Clocking in at 1157, my paperback copy has made my bag much heavier this week. It’s my first Murakami book and it absolutely won’t be my last. His writing is breathtaking yet clinical; intimate yet distant; inquisitive yet withholding. Murakami feels like a conductor leading an orchestra of words–hitting all the right notes, hiding the majority of the effort, leaving the ending a beautiful enigma. I’ve been annotating my book like crazy–trying to unravel the mystery he’s woven–and I am always excited to return to it, even when my eyelids feel impossibly heavy. It will probably take me another two weeks to finally finish IQ84, but I’m not really in a rush. I’m enjoying the dual narrative and the slowly unfolding dystopia and just the experience of reading this book. Here’s to already planning what Murakami book I’ll read next.

16085481And this morning I started listening to Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians, which I’ve heard pretty great things about. I’ve gotten through barely anything–just the prologue and a little bit of chapter 1–but I am really enjoying the story already. The writing is fun and has already caused me to smile/half-laugh in public a few times. Crazy Rich Asians is also about the culture (or, really, a subset of a culture) that I am more or less ignorant of. I’m hoping to listen to more on my subway ride home, because I’m already hooked like crazy.

*          *          *

What are you reading? Do you prefer print, e, or audio books? Do you ever read a combination of the two or three? Have you read any of the above books? Did you like or dislike them? Let me know in the comments!

What I’ve Been Reading (er, What I Read) – A Feast for Crows (Pt. 1)

Editor’s note: Sorry for being MIA these past few weeks. NaNoWriMo has stolen all of my free time. Also, I should have posted this “review” a few months ago, but a las I did not. Anyway, here’s your next installment of “Carolyn reads Game of Thrones.”


So I probably should have written about A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons while I was reading them, but I didn’t. Oops.

I could barely stop reading the books, never mind form a coherent thought about it. However, here I am. Almost two week after finishing A Dance with Dragons and over a month since finishing A Feast for Crows, and I have one thought: I almost wish I wasn’t caught up with the books.

Honestly, I have NO idea how the people who have been reading the series since the beginning have coped. Do you all attend group meetings? Do you mourn each Game of Thrones-less year together? Do you pray to George R. R. Martin’s author photo each night?


It’s bad enough waiting months (fingers crossed) for The Winds of Winter, but for the people who have waited years (decades even), I give you so much credit.

I suppose I’ll start where everyone starts when they review these two books. For those of your who don’t know, these books (particularly A Feast for Crows) caused a bit of a controversy when they were published (and, quite frankly, to this very day). The two books run chronologically parallel (for the most part), but feature the perspectives of a different set of characters.

In other words, the books occur at the same time (save for the last quarter of A Dance with Dragons, which extends past the fourth book’s timeline). And A Feast for Crows features none of the fan favorites like Tyrion, Jon, or Daenyres–which caused people to sort of despise the book. Well, that and the fact that they said it was “boring” and “slow” following the whirlwind that was A Storm of Swords.

But I gotta say, I absolutely LOVED A Feast for Crows. The world of Westeros and beyond (and beyond-beyond) simultaneously became larger and smaller. We were introduced (truly introduced) to more families, armies, and lands. We learned secrets and saw betrayals and unknowingly watched important plot points be woven together.

So the character perspectives we get in AFFC include: Pate (poor Pate), Cersei, Jaime, Brienne, Sansa, Ayra, Samwell Tarly, Aeron Greyjoy, Asha Greyjoy, Victarion Greyjoy, Areo Hotah, Arys Oakheart, and Arienne Martell.

feast4Maybe I’m just sick of the core three characters, but it was really refreshing to get new perspectives. Yes, I liked some chapters more than other (Arienne! Asha!¬†Brienne! <3) and disliked other (Aeron and Victorian and Arys !!). Mostly, I loved hearing about Dorne and the Sand Snakes. There’s something wonderful about women who are so strong that they have to be locked in a tower to be stopped from starting a war avenging their father’s death. Frankly, I want a book solely about them. (It’s a shame the show won’t be exploring Arienne’s¬†character in the way it¬†deserves to be explored).

Other things we discover in A Feast for Crows:

– King’s Landing is in shambles. The crown is drowning in debt; the stink of Tywin’s decomposing body is assaulting everyone; and Cersei is strictly making terrible, horrible, awful decisions concerning herself and her kingdom.

– Samwell, Master Aemon, and Gilly go on a mission that leads to all sorts of deaths, revelations, and adventures in (and around) Braavos.

– Also in Braavos, Arya finds herself now named “Cat of the Canals” and an apprentice of the House of Black and White, the temple of the Many-Faced God.

– Brienne finds herself on a mission to find Lady Sansa with her companion, Podrick Payne. She encounters many familiar and unfriendly faces including the Brave Companions. As well as Biter and Lady Stoneheart. Her cliffhanger is almost painful.

And if George R. R. Martin can keep us waiting for years between books, I’ll let you wait a bit for Part 2 of my Game of Thrones pseduo-review.