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Posts Tagged ‘inspiration’

Who are your favorite authors? A few of mine

In art, beauty, behavior, books, culture, education, entertainment, journalism on May 5, 2013 at 2:55 am

By Caitlin Kelly

The stack of books I’ve brought with me for a week’s rural vacation is nine high, from Joseph Stiglitz’ The Price of Inequality to Michel de Montaigne’s Travel Journal, from September 1580, during which the Pope greets him warmly and helps him become a Roman citizen.

On this journey, we are nestled at friends’ cottage in a cove on the Northern Neck of Virginia.

Time to read for pure pleasure!

I recently decided to finally read the Patrick Melrose novels by British writer Edward St. Aubyn. I’d heard and read so much about them and thought they just couldn’t be that great. But acerbic, cold-eyed, tart-tongued — they absolutely are.

They are not books for everyone! If you like shiny, happy stories about people deeply in love, optimistic and fulfilled, move on! His main character — a heroin-addicted hero, if you will in one of the novellas — is Patrick Melrose, wealthy, aristocratic, caustic. Sounds horrible. But so not.

This author knows his stuff inside out — the bitter, odd, deeply private behaviors of people with a lot of money and very deep secrets. Here’s an interview with him from 2006 from the British newspaper The Independent. And a Q and A from this year from The New York Times Book Review.

I also saw The English Patient, from 1996, on television again and felt in love once more with its creator, Canadian-Sri Lankan author Michael Ondaatje. His writing is exquisite, like entering a dream, so that when you put down the book again you almost have to shake yourself back into the room, here and now. I’ve so far only read two of his books, but loved both, In The Skin of a Lion, set in my home city of Toronto, and Divisadero, set in rural California. He has also written many books of poetry.

Michael Ondaatje, author of "The English ...

Michael Ondaatje, author of “The English Patient” speaks for the Tulane Great Writer Series presented by the Creative Writing Fund of the Department of English. Dixon Hall; October 25, 2010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s an excerpt of an interview with Michael Ondaatje from Gulf Coast magazine.

I liked Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, (hated the next one), and Monica Ali‘s Brick Lane and Claire Messud‘s first book, The Last Life, (loathed The Emperor’s Children.)

If you have never read Alexandra Fuller, run! Don’t Lets Go To The Dogs Tonight is a beautifully written account of her growing up in Zimbabwe — as is Peter Godwin‘s When A Crocodile Eats The Sun.

Alexandra Fuller - We gaan niet naar de hel va...

Alexandra Fuller – We gaan niet naar de hel vannacht (Photo credit: Djumbo)

I realize my list is already heavily loaded with writers who are either British or partly educated there; many years ago, I loved the novels of Margaret Drabble and Nadine Gordimer as well.

I usually prefer non-fiction, and some of my favorites include the brutal but incredible war accounts, The Good Soldiers, by Pulitzer Prize winning American writer David Finkel and My War Gone By, I Miss It So, by Anthony Loyd; from amazon:

It is the story of the unspeakable terror and the visceral, ecstatic thrill of combat, and the lives and dreams laid to waste by the bloodiest conflict that Europe has witnessed since the Second World War.

Born into a distinguished military family, Loyd was raised on the stories of his ancestors’ exploits and grew up fascinated with war. Unsatisfied by a brief career in the British Army, he set out for the killing fields in Bosnia. It was there–in the midst of the roar of battle and the life-and-death struggle among the Serbs, Croatians, and Bosnian Muslims–that he would discover humanity at its worst and best. Profoundly shocking, poetic, and ultimately redemptive, this is an uncompromising look at the brutality of war and its terrifyingly seductive power.

Cover of "My War Gone By, I Miss it So"

Cover of My War Gone By, I Miss it So’

Here’s a longer list of my faves, from my website, with both fiction and non-fiction.

I don’t read chick lit, celebrity stuff, romance, horror or science fiction but am always on the hunt for great, lesser-known fiction, memoir, biography, history and belles lettres — maybe from 50 or 150 years ago.

Any suggestions from your bookshelf?

Who inspires you?

In art, beauty, behavior, blogging, books, culture, journalism, life, nature, work on February 6, 2013 at 12:08 am

I’m lucky enough, for now, that the basics are covered: income, savings, health, good marriage, interesting work, a few new and intriguing projects, good friends.

It’s a lot, I know, and it’s come after a few years of fairly terrifying hanging on by the fingernails as the recession hit — my third in 20 years in New York.

What I crave now, possibly more than anything, is inspiration.

It’s been a word in use since 1300 and, technically, means to draw breath into one’s lungs — something I’ve been doing with difficulty for three weeks due to bronchitis. So I do badly want to breathe deeply and easily, but I also want the other sort, seeing something great in others and finding a way to incorporate it or emulate it in my own life.

Over the past week, I’ve been reading some books about the craft of writing. I was really looking forward to learning something so cool and compelling it would re-new my excitement about writing. Something, (forgive how arrogant this sounds), I didn’t already know after 30 years of writing for a living.

Meh.

It’s like trying to appreciate the exquisite beauty of Satie or Chopin or Couperin by practicing scales. Yes, all the notes are there, but they’re not making you sigh in appreciation and awe at what someone has done with them.

So I picked up a book written in 1986, “Arctic Dreams”, by Barry Lopez, which won the National Book Award.

Topography of the Beaufort Sea area

Topography of the Beaufort Sea area (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now that’s inspiration!

He writes with tremendous delicacy and insight and I’ve already learned a slew of new-to-me words, like crang and flensing and saxifrages. I never read books about nature or natural history, so I wasn’t sure I’d like it, but I do love the Arctic, a place I visited for a mere 24 hours, on assignment for the Montreal Gazette, in December 1987.

I’ve never experienced anything so alien, beautiful and mysterious and have been dying ever since to return.

Lopez so skilfully limns this place, with observations both simple and profound.

On the tiny, stunted trees one finds so far north:

Much of the tundra, of course, appears to be treeless when, in many places, it is actually covered with trees — a thick matting of short, ancient willows and birches. You realize suddenly that you are wandering around on top of a forest.

I love the naked delight he shares with us, the startled realization he felt and wants us to feel as well.

Or this:

Imagine your ear against the loom of a kayak paddle in the Beaufort Sea, hearing the long, quivering tremolo voice of the bearded seal. Or feeling the surgical sharpness of an Eskimo’s obsidian tool under the stroke of your finger.

These sentences are, to my ear, exquisite. They make me want to read and re-read them. They make me want to close the book so I can savor them and think about them.

His word choices are deliciously specific: tremolo, the alliteration of “surgical sharpness”, the naming of obsidian (gorgeous word!), not the vaguer “stone”. And the “stroke of your finger” — not the pad of your finger (which I think he might have written.)

It’s been a long time since I’ve read such good writing it makes me want to de-construct it so see why it moves so smoothly and efficiently. So much of what I read is a broken-down jalopy — Lopez opens the door to a smooth, seductive ride in a literary Bentley.

Arctic whaling in the eighteenth century. The ...

Arctic whaling in the eighteenth century. The ships are Dutch and the animals depicted are Bowhead Whales. Beerenburg on Jan Mayen Land can be seen in the background. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m envious of his skill — but also (yay!) inspired to try to whatever I can, whenever possible, to reach this level of excellence. (I was also amused, and delighted, to read the name of a friend’s husband on the very first page of Lopez’ acknowledgements, Kerry Finley, a Canadian expert in bowhead whales.)

In your personal life or your professional life, who inspires you and why?

Is it someone you know personally or someone you admire from a distance?

Caine’s Arcade: A little LA boy creates a cardboard world

In art, beauty, behavior, blogging, cars, children, cities, culture, entertainment, film, Media, news on April 14, 2012 at 12:09 am
Taipei Arcade Games

Taipei Arcade Games (Photo credit: Michael Kwan (Freelancer))

Have you heard — surely, yes, by now if you live in the U.S. — about Caine’s Arcade?

Here’s the link.

In one of those unlikely fairy tales, a nine-year-old boy named Caine Monroy decided to build an entire amusement arcade out of cardboard boxes and packing tape. He created “fun passes” and used calculators to make sure each pass was legit. His arcade had every variety of game but the place, at the back of his father’s east Los Angeles auto body shop, lacked the crucial element — customers. Most people now buy auto parts on the Internet.

Until Nirvan Mullick, a film-maker, needed one for his old car.

He found Caine, played in his arcade, made a film — and asked everyone he knew to come and play there. They did. The event made NBC Nightly News and a college scholarship (and college prep tutoring) fund has topped $145,000 for Caine, a sweet-faced kid in a bright blue T-shirt.

Although — as someone not wild about traditional college education — I wonder where his amazing imagination would flourish best. Cal Arts?

It’s an astonishing video and I hope you’ll make the time, 10 minutes, to watch it.

It embodies everything I love:

Having a dream

Being persistent enough to make it into something real, even when no one is looking

Finding the tools to build your imagined world

Making stuff up from scratch

Finding someone who believes in you

Having that someone believe in you so much they want to do whatever they can to help you succeed.

I suspect for some people Caine’s win is that he’s now “famous”. It’s not.

The grin on his face when he saw how many people had finally shown up to play in his world was one of the sweetest sights you can imagine.

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Approaching Your Idol: Ray Bradbury Wrote To Somerset Maugham (Who Replied), And I Wrote To Bradbury (Who Replied)

In Media on April 1, 2010 at 11:15 am
Photo of Ray Bradbury.

Ray Brabdbury, one of my idols. Image via Wikipedia

If you ever dreamed of entering a specific profession, you might have found someone, even you were very young, who inspired you. If you were bold, and lucky, and wrote to them, they might have written you back:

Contact! Connection! Inspiration!

Ray Bradbury, whose work I discovered when I was 12 — and which so made me want to become a writer — did this when he discovered the work of British author Somerset Maugham.

From a recent story in The Wall Street Journal:

On an upstairs-corridor wall, for instance, hangs a sepia-tinted photograph of the English author W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965). “He was a big influence,” says a white-thatched Mr. Bradbury, seated nearby like a benevolent wizard. “I loved his short stories, and I wrote him when I was 39 years old; I wrote a fan letter, and sent him my first book of stories. And Somerset Maugham wrote back and said: ‘I think Edgar Allan Poe would have liked some of these stories.’ Isn’t that a great thing for him to say?”

I was at summer camp way up north in Ontario when I wrote to Ray Bradbury, begging him to not stop writing, I so loved his work. I was 12, and hopefully mailed my letter to his Manhattan publisher, Ballantine. To my delighted shock, within a week or two, I received a blue paper personalized postcard from him (with his return address) with his felt-tip-pen signature — and his typewritten reassurance that he would, indeed, keep writing.

I treasured his card then, as I still do today. I wrote, twice, in my 20s, to John Cheever — whose former home lies about a 2o-minute drive north of mine — and he, graciously, wrote me back both times, also on personal stationery.

I simply couldn’t imagine writers of their stature and skill taking the time to read and answer, but they did. And that left an enormous impression on me. I was touched by their graciousness and, since then, have realized that the life of a writer — certainly pre-Internet and email! — can be an isolated one. Even though millions of readers enjoy your printed, published work, depending what you write and for whom, it’s rare for some to reach out and let you know that, and a treasured moment.

Every writer shares this: you put your bum in the chair (as Margaret Atwood told me, when I was the editor of our high school paper and she, a graduate of that school, became my first Big Name interview) — and write. It’s what we choose to do, but lonely. Hearing back from someone so insanely accomplished I remember the plot-lines of several of his short stories decades after reading them made me realize he, too, appreciated being appreciated.

Have you ever reached out, in gratitude and admiration, to someone well-known and accomplished whose work you distantly admire?

What happened?

Seeding the Clouds: When One Passionate Writer Begets Another

In culture on July 21, 2009 at 10:37 am
Frank McCourt

Image by Irish Philadelphia Photo Essays via Flickr

Frank McCourt, the Pulitzer Prize winning best-selling memoirist who died two days ago, taught at Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan for 15 years. Today’s New York Times has a nice piece about the many successful writers he taught and how he inspired them.

“Frank had us sing salacious folk songs, he had us write courtroom defenses of inanimate objects and recite recipes as poetry,” said Susan Jane Gilman, a former student who has published two memoirs. She describes his English class as “intellectual freefall.”

Fortunate indeed are students who find a teacher, of English (or history or math or computer science) who so inspires them, opens their eye and may start them on a career path they might never otherwise have considered. For many of us, high school wasn’t a hotbed of innovative thinking. Kwana Jackson, who now writes romance novels, wrote on her blog that his class “was where I really started to love the written word and started to crave the writer’s life.”

Other students of his quoted in this piece, now successful non-fiction authors, include Alissa Quart and National Magazine Award winner David Lipsky, whose book about West Point, “Absolutely American,” captured the Holy Grail of criticism, a rave front page review in The New York Times Book Review. It’s a terrific book, and it took enormous talent and hard work to achieve that; a few years ago, his editor told a room full of writers attending the annual conference of the American Society of Journalists and Authors it still required multiple, detailed revisions to get it to where he, the editor, wanted it. For a would-be writer, a wild-eyed, passionate, cage-rattling kind of teacher can be your dreams’ launching pad. A great editor, or several, your booster rocket.

Who inspired your young dreams? How did they turn out?

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