Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert | Book Report

Even though I couldn't relate to being a freshly-divorced woman gallivanting around the world to find myself, I was still one of the millions of readers who found themselves charmed and inspired by Elizabeth Gilbert's best-selling memoir Eat, Pray, Loveof which more than 10 million copies were sold worldwide. 

I sympathized with the longing and curiosity that she gave herself permission to explore as she ventured to Italy, India, and Indonesia. I mean, haven't we all longed to truly know ourselves through international adventure?  

Gilbert's way of communicating, so authentic and friendly, has a way of gently holding your attention. And so, after swiping the book off of my mother's bookshelf, I read through it with delight.   

However, though certainly a memorable introduction to Gilbert's work, this report is not about Eat, Pray, Love but, rather, on her latest release titled, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fearby which I've found myself charmed once again.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari | Book Report

Zooming out from our place and time in the planet's history is both terrifying and refreshing. Terrifying in the sense that we're faced with the reality of our species' minuscule nature – how we're merely a part, not the centerpiece, of a host of other living organisms and ecosystems at play around us. Refreshing in the sense that we can stop taking ourselves so seriously – even though we may persist in conditioning ourselves to think we are the masters of our fate...captains of our souls...etc.

In reality, we're quite biologically vulnerable and genetically manipulable.

Sun After Dark by Pico Iyer | Book Report

The sound of Pico Iyer’s voice resonated with the spiritual wanderlust longing inside of me before his writings ever did. I’d encountered his conversation on the art of stillness with Krista Tippet on her podcast, On Being, last year, and found myself drawn into the effortlessly elegant way he spoke. It turns out that Iyer’s writing comes across the same way.

If newspapers dedicated a column to the existential wanderings that accompany travel, then Iyer would be its founding Editor in Chief. In this collection of travel essays, Sun After Dark, Iyer is a tour guide of the human experience en transit. In addition to conversations with the likes of Leonard Cohen and the Dalai Lama, he takes you into conversations with Cambodians post-genocide and Yemenis pre-9/11. He’s equal parts journalist, poet, and explorer.

How Proust Can Change Your Life by Alain de Botton | Book Report

I have no plans to read Marcel Proust’s (1871-1922) gargantuan 7-volumed magnum opus In Search of Lost Time any time soon. That 4,215-paged behemoth would require a commitment of time and energy that I’m not ready to give at this juncture of my reading career. So, instead, this last week I sampled a gateway drug of sorts, Alain de Botton’s How Proust Can Change Your Life.

After finishing this much more manageable 197-paged overview of Proust’s life and work by de Botton, I found myself wanting more Proust…and more de Botton. The book reads like a witty and sophisticated self-help book, where Proust’s life and work are mined for insights on how we might better navigate relationships, endure pain, read books, and love with greater attention. Reading it made me eager to get in touch with the teachings’ primary source.

Look at me by Jennifer Egan | Book Report

Appearance.

Our relationship to the image of self that we diligently maintain and project.

The digital personas we create, curate, and/or fabricate.

The alluring illusions of industrialized wealth and the subsequent havoc they have brought upon society, self, and our environments. 

Oh, and the dastardly intentions set by a more-distant kind of extremism bent on obliterating shallow obsessions by bathing them in violence.

These were not topics I expected to encounter when I picked up this book. But, what I found within its pages were a handful of characters – worlds apart in their hopes and dreams, yet lives intersected by blood, lust, and greed – burdened by the relationship fate would have them endure with their identity.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki by Haruki Murakami | Book Report

I once read an essay by Haruki Murakami in which he confessed to starting his novels by first typing out his sentences in English. (This is worth noting because he is a native Japanese speaker.) As a result of his limited dexterity with the English language, he found himself producing simple and concise prose that provided him a contextual foundation on which to build out his novels. I’d learned this about Murakami while in the midst of reading his fantastic and otherworldly novel 1Q84. Being made aware of this writing tactic helped me understand just how I had been so unknowingly convinced of parallel realities and mysterious “Little People” born out of communes in mountainous villages in Japan. His simplistic writing style serves to make the extraordinarily unbelievable entirely plausible.

In America by Susan Sontag | Book Report

Susan Sontag’s name has been consistently popping up in my email’s inbox by way of the weekly newsletter dispatched from Brain Pickings. The frequent exposure to her name, and excerpts from her novels, had begun to lend her a legendary status in my mind – she was one of those (many) writers of whom I hear, and know are influential in some way or another through their life and work, but have yet to engage with personally.

Not wanting to only be a reader of memes and snippets, I grabbed her novel, In America, off the shelf at one of my favorite used bookstores. Blindly, I trusted that, because there was a National Book Award Winner medallion on the cover, and because Maria Popova (creator of Brain Pickings) celebrates Sontag’s work so much, I would be captivated by the book. And I was...kind of.

Wind, Sand & Stars by Antoine Saint-Exupéry | Book Report

Though the writer and aviator, Antoine Saint-Exupéry (1900-1944), had forever found a beloved place in my heart through his book The Little Prince – a book that can change the way you choose to see – I hadn't been compelled to read any of his other works. It was only while reading last week’s book, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, that I came across Wind, Sand and Stars – it was mentioned as an escape in which Tartt’s main character, and narrator of the book, Theo Decker, found solace during a particularly troubled time in his fictional life. Having it cited in a novel that I am still processing with love and awe was all the excuse I needed to explore another book by a man who, with The Little Prince, had made clear his extraordinary knack for a storytelling style that puts flesh and blood on the mystical.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt | Book Report

I first heard of this book in the spring of 2014 when a writing mentor of mine, who serves as a book reviewer for the New York Times, lauded it as one of Donna Tartt’s greatest works. The book, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2014, took 11 years to write. 

As I read, my attention was effortlessly pulled into the downward-spiraling life of its narrator, Theo Decker. Tartt was able to give his voice as much authenticity as if she had been reading his journal pages, presenting his narrative in a harrowing quality reminiscent of Karl Ove's autobiographical series.

Dubliners by James Joyce | Book Report

It seems that every Irish person I've met possesses the gift of gab. Perhaps it's their endearingly playful accent, with the ending of every phrase punctuated by an inviting rise in tone, or the way in which even their most simple recollections are orated like epic tales. In poetry, song, and novel, they are a nation of storytellers and mystics. And being that I've always been intrigued by Irish culture, in which I have some ancestry, I have been meaning to read more from its own writers, both past and present.

To begin, I dusted off James Joyce's Dubliners and dove right in.

In My Own Way by Alan Watts | Book Report

Watts' way of storytelling and philosophizing is hilarious and smart. He discusses noetic ideas in a lighthearted way that invites everyone, from all walks of life, to feel welcomed into a conversation. His playful inquisitiveness allowed me to sift through some major existential questions from a posture like that of a curious child rather than a serious intellect.

In reading this autobiography, it's clear that Watts' life was driven by relentless introspection paired with an indulgent quest after the essence of existence – he was an Anglican priest, a professor, a prolific writer and lecturer on Zen Buddhism, and a self-proclaimed shaman – yet as he recalled the many characters who played major roles in his own formation – many of whom were famous artists, writers, and philosophers, like Aldous Huxley, Krishnamurti, and Carl Jung – I was reminded that the journey into love and an expansive understanding of existence is always informed by our relationship with others.