“Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking” by David Bayles and Ted Orland

This isn’t the book I went to Barnes & Noble to buy.

I visited the store after the rush of Thanksgiving break to use a couple coupons Barnes & Noble tempted me with so I could buy Kassia St. Clair’s The Secret Lives of Color. I’d always wanted a book specifically about color and because the cover of St. Clair’s book appealed to me, I decided to get it. But while searching for that book, I found Art & Fear.

Art & Fear is a book I’ve often seen on lists recommending books to writers and artists. I recall making a mental note to read it back in college, but promptly forgot about it as soon as the note was made. However, that memory came back to me when I saw the book sitting on the shelf. I was pulled toward it. I had no intention of purchasing any additional book to St. Clair’s, yet I found myself leaving the store with Art & Fear in my bag.

I immediately began to read it.

That doesn’t happen often. Usually a book would languish on my shelves for a couple months before I get to them, but it was hard to ignore Art & Fear. I felt a need to read it, and as I read, I realized it was a book I should have read long ago. Art & Fear is a necessary read for all artists and creators no matter what their field or medium or skill or expertise. All levels of artists and creators can benefit from reading this book.

There’s advice for the novice and the master, artists who’re about start on their chosen medium for the first time and those who have engaged in it for years. There’s advice for the working artist and those who haven’t yet entered the industry and those who have retired from it. There’s even advice for getting started and getting work done and how to keep motivated.

It’s amazing how much Bayles and Orland have packed into this little book that amounts to just over 100 pages. As such, it could be a quick read, but I took a week (about 8 days) to get through it because I wanted to pay attention and adopt some of the advice Bayles and Orland shares.

One of my favorite types of bookish occurrences happened while I read this book. I took the book with me while out exploring Washington, D.C., and a young woman saw me reading it and stopped to share with me her experience with the book and how much it means to her. I appreciate such moments. They don’t often happen. I spent some time speaking with the young woman, who happened to be an art student, and I told her that I write and also draw and that I was enjoying reading Art & Fear because of how encouraging it is — which I needed. She told me that the book helped her to believe in herself as an artist. It was a wonderful chat and I was left feeling even more glad that I’d bought and was reading the book.

Now that I’ve completed the book, I can’t help extolling it to everyone I meet who I know are artists and creators of some kind and telling them how much they could benefit from reading the book. Even folks who don’t consider themselves artists and creators could benefit from the positive, encouraging message in it.

I had to add it to my list of favorite books read in 2017. It’s a book I know I’ll return to throughout my life, so I know that I’ll definitely read it again someday.

Overall: ★★★★★

A wonderful, encouraging read that all artists and creators should read no matter their skill level.

Buy | Borrow | Bypass

I think it’s worth owning a copy.

Quotes from the book:

In this section of my reviews, I like to list sentences and passages that appealed to me. However, I’ll just include two from this book. I highlighted many things as I read, so to include them all would be to reproduce the entire book here (well, the entire first section since I connected most with that part).

“Making art provides uncomfortably accurate feedback about the gap that inevitably exists between what you intended to do, and what you did. In fact, if artmaking did not tell you (the maker) so enormously much about yourself, then making art that matters to you would be impossible.”

“Making art is dangerous and revealing. Making art precipitates self-doubt, stirring deep waters that lay between what you know you should be, and what you fear you might be.”

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“No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters” by Ursula Le Guin

No Time to Spare is Le Guin’s book of essays, the majority of which appeared as posts on her blog between 2010 and 2012. Despite the informality of being a blog post, the essays all carry much significance as Le Guin weighs in on a variety of topics – her cat, old age, economics, social issues, etc. There isn’t much on writing or the creative process, so if that’s what you’re looking for, this book isn’t for you.

I had difficulty writing about this one. For some books, it would be better if I did a shorter review post, like some of those posts I see where folks bunch together reviews of books. I do that sometimes, at the end of the month, but I don’t count them as my actually reviews because they don’t include all that I thought of what I read. (Not that my reviews always include all my thoughts on the books, but they come close.)

I had difficulty with this one because though I was engaged in Le Guin’s essays as I read, they didn’t affect me much; so when done, it was easy to forget much of what was said. So basically, not much stuck with me after completing the book and now when I think on it, I draw a blank. The only thing that pops up is that I recall admiring the way Le Guin writes and wishing I could write half as well as her. Also, the essays about Pard, her cat, made me want a pet feline too.

Overall: ★★★☆☆ 1/2

Interesting and great while I read it, but not memorable in retrospect.

Buy | Borrow | Bypass

I think it is worth a read, especially if you are a fan of Le Guin’s.

P.S.: I’ll have to reread this one someday. I just can’t believe that I’m blanking on it.

“The Storm King” by Brendan Duffy

I requested this book for review through NetGalley and was glad when I was granted an e-copy by Ballantine Books. I’d seen the novel mentioned in a Shelf Awareness newsletter and was immediately intrigued because I liked the title. I assumed it would be a paranormal novel and didn’t bother reading the synopsis, so I was surprised when I later realized it’s a thriller/suspense story.

Goodreads summary:

Haunted by dark secrets and an unsolved mystery, a young doctor returns to his isolated Adirondacks hometown in a tense, atmospheric novel in the vein of Michael Koryta and Harlan Coben.

Burying the past only gives it strength — and fury.

Nate McHale has assembled the kind of life most people would envy. After a tumultuous youth marked by his inexplicable survival of a devastating tragedy, Nate left his Adirondack hometown of Greystone Lake and never looked back. Fourteen years later, he’s become a respected New York City surgeon, devoted husband, and loving father.

Then a body is discovered deep in the forests that surround Greystone Lake.

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“Fool’s Errand” by Robin Hobb

It was like visiting an old friend, one I hadn’t seen in a long time. I didn’t realize how much I missed Fitz’s narration until I started Fool’s Errand. I was immediately hooked and so happy to have returned to Fitz and his companion Nighteyes.

Before I get started on this review, let me warn you that if you have not read Hobb’s Farseer trilogy or Liveship Traders trilogy, you will be spoiled for both in the summary portion below. And since it was hard to discuss this book without giving away spoilers, I didn’t bother taking them out of the “My Thoughts” section since I wanted to be specific about some things.

If you are curious about this fantasy trilogy (Fool’s Errand is the first novel in the Tawney Man trilogy), I highly recommend it to you. The trilogies I mentioned above are all part of a larger series called the Realm of the Elderlings series, so I recommend you start with the first set of books (the Farseer trilogy) and work your way through the trilogies if they interest you. I enjoyed them (of course since I’m now on third set of books) and have been buddy reading them with Emily from Embuhlee liest since 2016, I think, and we plan to continue with them through this year. But here’s what Fool’s Errand is all about.

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“The Bear and the Nightingale” by Katherine Arden

This was one of my most anticipated reads of 2017. I was so eager to read it, but for some reason, I delayed doing so until later in the year. I was also convinced I would love it. I’d read/listened to a few interviews with Arden and loved what she said about her book and the books that have inspired her over the years. It all made me excited for The Bear and the Nightingale. But maybe I was too excited and eager because when I did read the novel, I thought it underwhelming and didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would.

Quick summary:

The Bear and the Nightingale is the first novel in a YA fantasy trilogy seeped in Russian history and folklore. It’s about a girl, Vasilia “Vasya” Petrovna, who was born with the fabled powers her grandmother possessed. Vasya can communicate with spirits, fey creatures who protect the hearth and home and help make her father’s lands prosperous.

Vasya’s father is a boyar, a royal who’s similar to a prince, but his lands lay in northern Russia, where winters can be hard and harsh. Though affluent, not many people live on his lands and I got the impression that he oversees a small village of people who help to maintain his lands. Vasya is the youngest of her siblings. Her mother died during childbirth, convinced that finally she has given birth to a child possessing the fabled powers of her maternal line.

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“Little Fires Everywhere” by Celeste Ng

This is one of the many books that surprised me this year. I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did. I received an ARC copy, most likely through a contest, which I requested because the blurb says it’s about “an enigmatic artist” who’s a single mom who has a “mysterious past” and whose “disregard for the status quo” upsets the “carefully ordered community” she moves into with her daughter. All that made me want to find out what exactly happens in the story and now I’m glad I read it because Little Fires Everywhere is one of my favorite books of 2017.

Goodreads summary:

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned — from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren — an enigmatic artist and single mother — who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

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“The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins (re-read)

I love it when I reread a book and enjoy as much as or more than the first time I read it. Such was the case with Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games, which I first read back in 2012, when the first movie came out. Back then, a bookseller at a Barnes & Noble pushed the book in my hands and told me to read it. I did as soon as I bought it and couldn’t stop. I was so hooked.

This time, it was the movie that made me nostalgic and drove me to read it. I saw the movie while on vacation in Mexico – I think it was in Spanish – and when I got home, I grabbed the book and started to read it. Again, I was hooked and couldn’t part with the book for long. My dad saw me reading it and I learned a fun fact about him: The Hunger Games is one of his favorite movies. 🙂

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