My Name is Asher Lev – Chaim Potok (Fiction)
“… an artist is a person first. He is an individual. If there is no person, there is no artist.”
“Millions of people can draw. Art is whether there is a scream in you wanting to get out in a special way.”
“You can do anything you want to do. What is rare is this actual wanting to do a specific thing: wanting it so much that you are practically blind to all other things, that nothing else will satisfy you.”
This book is a portrait of Asher Lev, born a Hasidic Jew with a gift for painting. The story shows him navigating those identities and his struggle in becoming who he was meant to be.
I found this to be an incredibly powerful story, the emotions cut deep, I could identify with all the characters and Asher’s internal struggle. But I was also so inspired by the way he spoke about art, his inability not to draw, his willingness to do whatever and give up whatever was necessary to become the painter he wanted to be. It isn’t a light read, but for some deep insights on creativity, identity and inspiration I would definitely recommend this book!
Stephen King – On writing (Memoir)
“Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.”
“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”
“Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.”
“You can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will.”
Okay, so, “On Writing”, which is half biography, half advice on writing, was the first Stephen King book I read. I have read a couple since, and although I find them entertaining, he’s not one of my favourites writers. But “On writing” is a really important book for anyone serious about writing, not only because Stephen King’s rise to fame is really hopeful (he writes about having an evergrowing rejection-slip collection pinned to his wall), but also because his advice is really good. This book inspired me to keep reading, keep writing, keep getting rejected, until one day you get accepted. It also inspired me to write whatever the fuck you wanna write. He talks about being looked down upon for writing pulp, but it is what he enjoyed doing most. And look at him now! So, his story is one that reminds me to keep on keeping on and do what makes me happy. And then the second half is full of good advice, so what’s not to love!
Letters to a young poet – Rainer Maria Rilke (Non-fiction)
“Works of art are of an infinite solitude, and no means of approach is so useless as criticism. Only love can touch and hold them and be fair to them. Always trust yourself and your own feeling, as opposed to argumentation, [..] if it turns out that you are wrong, the natural growth of your inner life will eventually guide you to other insights.”
A young poet, Kappus, wrote to Rainer Maria Rilke in 1903, which started a correspondence. Letters to a young poet are ten letters written by Rilke, advising him on poetry and life. It is full of insights on creativity, beautiful words and timeless advice on the process of creation and dealing with the moments in between creativity. Whenever I doubt my abilities as an artist, it’s this book that lifts me up.
Journal of a novel – John Steinbeck (Non-fiction)
“The craft or art of writing is the clumsy attempt to find symbols for the wordlessness.”
Disclaimer: I love John Steinbeck. I can imagine this is much less inspirational when you don’t love John Steinbeck.
When he wrote East of Eden he started every writing day with a “warm-up” letter to his editor. This collection of those letters reads a little like a diary, showing his day-to-day mood shifts, his thoughts about the book as he was writing it, and whatever else he was doing in his life. I loved reading a “making-of” documentary of a great novel, the doubts he meets along the way, the lapses in energy, but also his mannerisms in writing. It’s interspersed with technical writing tips and the processes he used to keep his mindset right. I find it encouraging to read an established writer meeting the same insecurities and doubts as anyone else – makes me think that maybe I’m not crazy after all.
Living to tell the tale – Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Auto-biography)
“I soaked the conversations up like a sponge, pulled them apart, rearranged them to make their origins disappear, and when I told them to the same people who had told the stories earlier, they were bewildered by the coincidence between what I said and what they were thinking.”
“Each thing, just by looking at it, aroused in me an irresistible longing to write so I would not die. I had suffered this on other occasions, but only on that morning did I recognize it as a crisis of inspiration, that word, abominable but so real, that demolishes everything in its path in order to reach its ashes in time.”
Again, disclaimer: I love “Gabito”.
This book reads like his other chronicles, the interweaved stories and the portraits of the people in his life go down easy and always invoke sharp, colourful pictures of the places and people he describes. He planned to write an autobiographical trilogy, this is the first part, talking about his childhood, his job as a journalist and his life as a beginning writer. He gives us an incredible amount of detail on everything that shaped him into the man and writer he became but also paints an interesting picture of the political and economical situation of Colombia between 1927 and 1950.
I find his urgency and energy to write very inspiring, the decisions he made and the sense of freedom and opportunity he describes help me feel that way too. I love a good origin story, and if you are into his work and need to be inspired, this is one of the better ones.