Good Books: December 2015 Newsletter

Big Magic
Big Magic:
Creative Living Beyond Fear

by Elizabeth Gilbert
Riverhead Books / Penguin Random House, 2015
hardcover, $24.95

“So this, I believe, is the central question upon which all creative living hinges:  Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures which are hidden within you? The hunt to uncover those jewels—that’s creative living. The courage to go on that hunt in the first place—that’s what separates a mundane existence from a more enchanted one. The often surprising results of that hunt—that’s what I call Big Magic.” -Elizabeth Gilbert

In the last issue of the newsletter, I mentioned Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book Big Magic, scheduled for release last September.  Within weeks, I was running into people who were reading the book and wanted to know if I’d read it yet, which I hadn’t. Without exception, their responses were wholeheartedly enthusiastic. When I inquired, some had also read and loved Gilbert’s 2006 hugely successful bestseller Eat Pray Love; not one person mentioned the two books which followed: Committed: A Love Story or The Signature of All Things.

Big Magic is an exciting book, a gift of encouragement and inspiration. Gilbert generously shares her perspective on a fascinating range of life experiences hoping to nudge/touch/spark/awaken what is true and waiting within readers. It really is about creative living every day—with and without creative inspiration—with and without success.

“I believe that curiosity is the secret. Curiosity is the truth and the way of creative living. Curiosity is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. Furthermore, curiosity is accessible to everyone. Passion can seem intimidatingly out of reach at times… The stakes of curiosity are also far lower than the stakes of passion… Curiosity doesn’t ask nearly so much of you.”

Big Magic is clustered around six themes: courage, enchantment, permission, persistence, trust, and divinity. Within each section, you’ll find an intriguing collection of essays that swirl around the theme, as they flow from one to another to another. It was difficult for me to pause in my reading and put the book down, but Gilbert’s ideas / language beg for attention and thoughtful reflection.

I loved the exquisitely magical story that unfolds when Elizabeth Gilbert meets novelist Ann Patchett. This story alone is reason enough to begin the book; decide later if you want to finish it.

The following are among my favorite essays: Why It’s Worth It, A Dazzled Heart, Your Permission Slip, Your Day Job, Devotion to Inquisitiveness, and In Conclusion (printed on the back of the dust jacket for the book). “Creativity is sacred, and it is not sacred. What we make matters enormously, and it doesn’t matter at all…”

Vital Signs:
The Nature and Nurture of Passion

by Gregg Levoy
Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2014
hardcover, $28.95

“I know this reflects a substantial failure of some kind, but at the core of the human soul, I think, is not just a chewy nougat of kumbaya but also an emptiness. And yet, this thing we’ve devoted our lives to and cannot possibly do—lifting ourselves up from our fallen grace—is part of our pure sadness and whining that may draw us toward home.” -Gregg Levoy

Gregg Levoy’s book Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life was published in 1997; it easily became a bestseller and has remained a favorite for many who have discovered it in the years since. When I learned that Levoy had written another book, I couldn’t wait to read it. “IT” turned out to be a huge volume: 466 pages covering continents.

This is a mammoth work, by a former reporter, “drawing from centuries of history, art, science, psychology, and philosophy, as well as in-depth interviews with people who rediscovered and reignited passion in their own lives.” Levoy’s stories are compelling, his insights powerful, and his prose lovely. He writes from a vibrant sense of living and a desire to awaken readers to their own wonder and aliveness. In a book this size, you’ll appreciate the extensive bibliography and index when you want to locate important half-remembered references.

At one point in my reading I was convinced Vital Signs should have been published as two or three books, rather than one. I wondered whether readers would stay with such a lengthy book or consider reading it in the first place. I’ve since changed my mind on this and now look at Vital Signs as Levoy’s incredible gift to his readers.

The book is organized into six sections; each one felt as though it was my favorite, until I read the next. 1) Eyes Wide Open: Cultivating Wonder, 2) Questing: The Happiness of Pursuit, 3) Call Of The Wild, 4) A Spark Needs A Gap: Love and Passion, 5) The Freedoms Of Expression, and 6) The Passion Is In The Risk.

Two of my favorite Gregg Levoy quotes:

“The Declaration of Independence promises the pursuit of happiness, not the achievement of it or even the enjoyment of it.”

“You’re probably better off not even thinking in terms like failure and success. Rather, think like a scientist. Life is an experiment and there are only results.”

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