Friday, January 23, 2015

Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon

Looking for a new book to read, I saw this at the library and added it to the small stack of books I checked out. It looks like dozens of other books I've seen, inspirational and self-help-y. After seeing so many over the years (ten years working at Barns and Noble gave me a lot of exposure to a lot of books), I might be a little jaded.

But this one I like.


Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered is for creative people who hate self-promotion. I'm a writer, and while I was working on a book, one of the things I heard a lot about was the necessity of self-promotion. I love to write. Self promotion? Not so much. Promoting myself and my work felt like a daunting, never-ending chore. In the past I've been told to build a network, to use social media to my professional advantage. Bleah. Hard. Exhausting.

Austin Kleon offers a reframe on how I've looked at - and felt about - self-promotion. He talks about sharing our work, talking about and posting online about what we're doing, what we're thinking, what we're working on. Instead of the "lone genius" paradigm that many of us still think of when we think of creative people (I know I do), he offers the new idea of putting our stuff out there, even before there is an end "product". This inviting people to see, comment, add ideas and thoughts is not only helpful for gaining an audience, it also helps us with our own creative process and work.

The way Kleon describes it, it sounds like fun. And helpful. Even liberating.

Kleon also talked about ways to honor your own creativity and personality. One chapter I liked was the one about having no guilty pleasures. Like what you like, he says, don't be ashamed or even think of them as guilty pleasures. Me? I like pop music. I like other kinds of music too (she hurriedly qualifies), and sometimes I admit that I've been embarrassed about liking pop music. So all right, I'll say it again. I like pop music.

Kleon is saying to put yourself out there. Give attention and validity to what you do, what you like, what and how you create. And don't work in a vacuum. Excellent advice.

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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

Geek Love opens with a father telling his children a story. He's telling them the story of how he met their mother. The children love this story, and listen to it eagerly.

A lovely beginning, right? Well...Al met their mother, Crystal Lil, when she was geeking, that is, biting the heads off of live chickens for show.

With this skewed storytelling scene, we are brought into the Binewski family, Al and Crystal Lil, the creators of Fabulon, and their children who are also the main attractions of the traveling carnival.

The Binewski's lives revolve around the carnival, Al and Crystal Lil literally creating their children to be attractions for Fabulon. There are the gentle Siamese twins, there is megalomaniac Aqua Boy, and there is Olympia, the humpbacked, albino dwarf, who narrates.

We see Oly's family and carnival life through her eyes, the eyes of what is her normal. The Binewskis are a family, and as families do, they deal with sibling rivalry, struggle with parents, with living together in close quarters, with growing up.

They are also a family of freaks, and proudly so.

I had a lot of different reactions while I was reading Geek Love. Revulsion, recognition, fascination...What is freakish? What is normal? Who's to say? I couldn't put this down.


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Monday, January 12, 2015

The Circle by Dave Eggers

Not only is The Circle a good read, it is also a cautionary tale. Eggers tells a story that could easily reflect a possible online future. (A friend of mine said..."possible? or inevitable?")

As the story opens, Mae Holland is just starting her job at The Circle, a company that has created a unified online community. The Circle isn't an online community, it is THE online community. Everyone has one online identity. There is no more identity theft. No one has to remember dozens of passwords for different websites. Online, everyone is who they truly are.

As Mae learns more about her job at The Circle, she is encouraged to become more and more involved in The Circle community. She is expected to attend events and "zing" about them. She is expected to share her opinions about products. She is expected to wear a bracelet that tracks her physical activities. She is expected to develop an extensive online network. Mae is drawn in, and so are we.

How far can this go? As it happens, pretty far. In the end though, the question for me wasn't how far can this go, but how far should this go? How far do we want it to go?

I think there are books that come along that are important to read. Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security, and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance by Julia Angwin is one, as she writes about how invasive the internet is now*.

The Circle is another. While fiction (Dragnet Nation is non-fiction), The Circle's portrayal of what online community could look like is insightful and (perhaps) prescient enough to give pause. Big pause. Both books have made me reevaluate my own online presence in a big way.

*Read my review of Dragnet Nation here:

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Friday, January 9, 2015

Watership Down

This last holiday season at Whole Foods, we sold some stuffed plush animals. One of them was a beautiful, wild looking rabbit. One of my coworkers bought him as a gift for a friend's baby. She bought him because he reminded her of Hazel.

Ah, Hazel! And Fiver and Pipkin and Bigwig! It had been so long since I read Watership Down! It was great to reminisce about reading this great book.

I told my coworker/friend that it's such a hard book to describe. I told her that after I'd read it in high school and my mom asked what it was about, I told her (inadequately) that it was about a bunch of rabbits.

"Oh, but it's about so much more! Bravery and friendship and much!"


And of course she was right right. I decided it was time to read Watership Down again. And so I am. A good way to start the year.

What are you reading to start 2015?

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Sunday, January 4, 2015

Case Histories

I've decided to try something a little different on the blog. In the past, I've written blog posts that included several small reviews of books I've read. They've often been titled "Notes on Some Books" or something similar. That's been fine, but what I think might work better (better in terms of people searching for reviews) is to write a blog post for each book individually. So that's what I'm trying this year. Let me know what you think!

Case Histories: A Novel by Kate Atkinson

The first three chapters of Case Histories: A Novel are three separate tragedy vignettes, all with unrelated characters. A small child disappears in the night with her stuffed blue mouse. A young woman is gunned down at her father's workplace. There is domestic violence.

We then meet Jackson, a detective, and events and players gradually come together and relationships and mysteries come clear. Atkinson keep the tension high as she gradually brings us details of each situation and character. A very good read.

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