Friday, March 25, 2016

B is for Birthday, Browsings, and Big Magic

In honor of my Birthday this coming Sunday, I thought I would tell you of two books I finished recently with titles beginning with the letter B.

One book I looked forward to falling into but ended up being a tad disappointed. The other one I was leery of and yet I ended up being pleasantly surprised. 

Just goes to show, you can never tell with books!

Let me start by declaring that I adore Michael Dirda. I have read and enjoyed many of his books about books - Bound to Please, Book by Book, and Classics for Pleasure - and his entertaining book reviews for The Washington Post.

So I was excited when Joan over at Planet Joan alerted me to the publication of Browsings, a collection of a year's worth of Mr. Dirda's online essays for The American Scholar. I quickly put the book on reserve at the library but it was quite a while before my name made it to the top of the list. After I had read several of the offerings - there are 52 in all - I realized I was not relishing my time with the book. I was expecting all the essays to be only about books but there are other musings about politics, an unpleasant experience at a national park, and accounts about the different literary clubs he belongs to that I didn't find particularly engaging.

Yes, there are stories about his book buying and hoarding and buying more books. I could identify with those, but most of the books he writes of - bought and read - are of genres that don't appeal to me: Gothic horror, fantasy, and science fiction. I enjoyed his forays into used book shops and charity books sales but the books he bought with such glee were ones I had never heard of. Very few of them sounded like any that I would like to read.

I think I will go back and revisit Mr. Dirda's other books where he writes just about books.

A neighbor and a few of her friends started a Creative Book Club and she asked me to the first meeting. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear is the book they started with. Of course I had heard of Elizabeth Gilbert, although I had not read her Eat, Pray, Love. It was a phenomenal success as a book and a movie. For some reason I was a little hesitant to read this one thinking it would be fluff.

Actually it is full of encouragement and inspiration. What I especially like is the fact that there is No Whining. She writes that yes, being a writer or painter, poet or sculptor is difficult and there are many fears to be acknowledged and overcome, but so what? If you are committed to your art and its practice (as she is), then just get on with it. I found her writing and her advice based on her own experiences to be refreshing.

Who wouldn't want this:

A creative life is an amplified life. It is a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life. It is a fine art in and of itself. It is a life driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.

And this:

You might spend your whole life following your curiosity and have absolutely nothing to show for it at the end - except one thing. You will have the satisfaction of knowing that you passed your entire existence in devotion to the noble human virtue of inquisitiveness. And that should be more than enough for anyone to say that they lived a rich and splendid life.

The women who showed up for the first gathering are already successful in many areas and incorporate creativity into their lives in various ways. One is an interior designer, another is a retired art teacher, one is putting together a book based on her years of business travel and journal keeping, another just completed her first novel.

And me? Well, I just enjoy being around creative people. I look for inspiration for my writing and my art in many places. If you are searching for Big Magic in your life, this is your book.

So there you have the B Books. I am off now to celebrate my Birthday. I hope there will be cake.


  1. First, a very Happy Birthday! You and one of my step-granddaughters share the day. And Happy Easter, as well! May the Easter Bunny be good to you.
    I'm sorry you didn't especially like Dirda's book. It wasn't more of his writings about and highbrow, classics, and I think that's what I liked about it. I agree that it was a mixed bag. I don't enjoy all of the genres he writes about, but I made a list of some of the books that sounded interesting or fun.
    You know how subjective books are. I think Dirda seemed more like a literary Bill Bryson in this book.

    1. Hi, Joan, and thank you for the birthday and Easter wishes. I had a very festive day and there was cake!

      I thought that Mr. Dirda's writing was a little to casual and flip. May a little bit self-aggrandizing? I can't quite put my finger on what irritated me...Perhaps I am becoming too sensitive to an author's voice. This seems to be happening a lot lately. And perhaps one writes differently for online publication vs. print.

  2. Happy Birthday!

    I actually haven't read much about the new Michael Dirda, but enjoy his reviews and have reads some of his books. I do think I can skip the stuff on politics. And I have read him on the P. G. Wodehouse society, if that's one of his offerings. Somehow that seems very boyish, though I do like Wodehouse's books.

    1. Thanks for the birthday wishes, Kat. I think I will stick with Mr. Dirda's earlier books. He does seem to belong to an awful lot of literary societies. And, like you, I do love Wodehouse!

  3. Happy birthday, Belle! I hope there is cake and every other good thing you enjoy. I loved Big Magic--it felt to me like having an encouraging conversation with a friend. I borrowed my copy from the library, but wouldn't mind having my own. And I think I would agree with your take on the Dirda book, even though I have liked the previous books I've read by him.

    1. Thanks, Kathy. I had a fine celebration and there was cake and cherry cobbler crumble. Can't beat that!

      I borrowed the library's copy of Big Magic too. I am on the lookout for my own copy to buy. I did take a lot of notes which is not something I normally do. Have you seen Ms. Gilbert's TED talk 'Your Elusive Creative Genius?'It is about 20 minutes long and covers some of the points in the book. Very entertaining.

    2. Yes, I, have seen her TED talk, and thought it was quite interesting. She's entertaining to listen to.

  4. Oh, and I meant to say you are plenty creative yourself, between your blog and your art!