Book Review: How to Be an Artist by Jerry Saltz

Jerry Saltz is one of the most straight forward writers I have read in a while. He does not mince words in writing about art, artists, and the capacity that each individual has to create. “How to Be an Artist” acts as an inspirational guide and a kick in the ass for any aspiring artist who has doubts about their ability or worth. There are moments, throughout, where Saltz gets a little bit harsh, but being a critic himself, this is to be expected.

The book is not a blueprint for how to be an artist, but it does act as motivation to become a maker. “How to Be an Artist” is an expansion of the New York magazine article of the same name, which won Saltz an Ellie award in 2018, and continues to ruminate on the ideas presented within a larger (book format) frame. Adding to each section and step reveals more about the ideas that Saltz originally presented and allows the reader to delve deeper into personal creativity. Exercises provide direction for the reader and give artists the license to try out new techniques in a controlled fashion.

The ultimate theme of the book is one of action. For each individual to ‘do the work’. Stop thinking about it, mulling it over, letting those negative thoughts (demon voices) get the best of you and just DO IT. If you need someone to give you that push to create, I highly recommend picking up this book and then getting to work!

Book Review: Buy Yourself the F*cking Lilies And Other Rituals to Fix Your Life from Someone Who’s Been There by Tara Schuster

From the very first chapter of Buy Yourself the F*cking Lilies, Tara Schuster takes you on a wild ride through her childhood and re-parenting adventure. This is the kind of self-help book that I can get behind 100%. Rather than the stodgy “here is what I have done to become perfect and you should do as well” self-help book, Schuster’s work reflects her own struggle as a demonstration for how to rise above the past and move forward into a better and more well-adjusted future.

I enjoyed taking this journey with the author, even when it was painful. By sharing her deepest, darkest regrets and her practiced ways of coping, the author reaches to the heart of what a self-help book should be. She shares her ups and downs and allows the reader to feel good about the fact that we actually aren’t all perfect. We may craft rituals around ways of becoming better humans, but being human means we will fall down on the job at times. The true self-help journey requires commitment and the ability to pick yourself up and get on with it by not wallowing in the past but using it to inform a better future for yourself and others.

The book had a few moments of privilege that the author could have self-reflected on a bit, but overall she does a good job of seeing her bias and framing the suggestions in a way that most people can get on board with. I really enjoyed Schuster’s humour but would expect nothing less from the vice president of Talent and Development at Comedy Central. Her ability to view herself critically in order to better craft her outcomes was more than admirable.

Overall, I enjoyed this book more than the average self-help tome that I have read in the past few years and think it would be particularly good for people that have had a rough time coping with less than perfect childhood experiences or poor mid-life relationships. Schuster focuses squarely on the ability to ‘do the work’ oneself and craft rituals as a way to cope with anything that comes one’s way. A truly enjoyable and informative read!

End of 2019 Reading Recap

Happy 2020! I am happy to be moving into a new year with new possibilities and a new TBR. Well, some of the old stuff made it to the new TBR, but still, a refresh for the new year is here. But before we can get started on the 2020 reading journey, we need to look back on the final 3 months of reading activity. So, here, for your enjoyment, is the 2019, end of year reading recap.

Book Club

In my last update, I mentioned that I skipped The Book Report two months in a row and I was not sure if I wanted to return, but in October I decided to attend a meeting and it was just what I needed. I made a couple new GoodReads friends and got a slew of great new book recommendations at the meeting. I skipped November (birthday month) and then December was cancelled (potential ice storm in Northern Alabama) and I will not be attending in January, but am planning to return full force with a pile of books to discuss, in February! There is also another project I am working on that might result in a book club, but it is top secret. I love reading and it is even better with the accountability of book groups to keep me on task.

Book Challenges

During the Fall of 2019, I cut back on my book challenge involvement. It was fun to participate in the summer, but I needed a bit of break from the stress of finishing books on such a heightened timeline. At the end of the year I continued to attempt reading books from the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge but also failed pretty miserably as you can see below. In 2020, I am going to try again to read a few books from the Read Harder Challenge and hopefully do a bit better this time around.

End of Year Reads

24. Saga, Volume 3 by Brian K. Vaughan
Completed on 10 October 2019
Rating = ***
Read Harder Challenge Category = n/a

25. Recollections of My Nonexistence by Rebecca Solnit (review here)
Completed on 23 October 2019
Rating = ****
Read Harder Challenge Category = n/a

26. This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America by Morgan Jerkins
Completed on 5 November 2019
Rating = *****
Read Harder Challenge Category = n/a

27. The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
Completed on 5 November 2019
Rating = *****
Read Harder Challenge Category = n/a

28. Paper Girls, Volume 3 by Brian K. Vaughan
Completed on 7 November 2019
Rating = ****
Read Harder Challenge Category = n/a

29. Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion by Jia Tolentino
Completed on 23 November 2019
Rating = ****
Read Harder Challenge Category = n/a

2020 Reading Plan

GoodReads

This year I have set my GoodReads book challenge total at 36. That puts me at approximately 3 books per month and with the pace I read in 2019, I think this year’s number is more than possible. It is already the 13th of January and I’m at 0 completed for the month, but I am about 2/3 of the way through a book I started in December and have a couple other digital books that are close as well. One of my big goals this year is to finish all the books on my kindle that I started in previous years (some are as old as 3 or 4 years) or DNF them.

TBR List and Book Riot Read Harder Challenge

My TBR list for this year will be listed on GoodReads at my 2020-reading-list shelf, but here is a sampling of books that I am hoping to read that also fulfill a category in the Read Harder Challenge (BR#)…

  • BR1. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
  • BR2. Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
  • BR4. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
  • BR8. Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
  • BR10. Dress Codes for Small Towns by Courtney C. Stevens
  • BR11. How We Fight For Our Lives by Saeed Jones
  • BR13. Notes from a Young Black Chef by Kwame Onwuachi
  • BR15. Wilder Girls by Rory Power

Reading Reviews

I will still be doing a number of Net Galley reviews in 2020, so keep an eye out for those. Next up is Buy Yourself the Fucking Lilies by Tara Schuster, which should be up by mid-January. In February I will be reviewing How to be An Artist by Jerry Saltz and in March, Think Like a Rocket Scientist by Ozan Varol. In April I will be taking a reviewer hiatus and then starting up again in May with We Are Not Free by Traci Chee. Reviewing new books is a rewarding experience and I highly recommend joining Net Galley if you are looking to become a reviewer as well.

That is about it for this update, but that sure is a lot! Happy reading and see you in the next update.

Peace, Chantale aka hippiegrrl

Currently reading…

How Sassy Changed My Life: A Love Letter to the Greatest Teen Magazine of All Time
The Art of Memoir
Living a Feminist Life
Thick: And Other Essays
Girl, Woman, Other
Buy Yourself the F*cking Lilies: And Other Rituals to Fix Your Life, from Someone Who's Been There

Book Review: Recollections of My Nonexistence by Rebecca Solnit

The focus that it takes to write a compelling memoir is fascinating and Rebecca Solnit has not disappointed with her, “Recollections of My Nonexistence”. Beginning with snippets from her childhood in the Bay Area and returning to that time throughout the work, Solnit paints a picture of San Francisco through the eyes of a female author, struggling for recognition during the slow gentrification of the 1970s, 80s, and 90s.

A large part of the work deals with the fear that women face simply walking down the street, but more so on their own in metropolitan places in America. This fear can carry over into the rural and suburban areas of the country just as easily, but there is something to be said for the distinct levels of anxiety that come along with being a solo, woman dweller in an urban area. This feeling of fear is not unique to living in America, as women all over the world deal with fear of place on a daily basis, but Solnit eloquently shows the depths of which this fear manifests in her own daily life, from the perspective of a middle-aged American woman.

But it isn’t all about fear. Solnit crafts a lovely history of her writing and the challenges she faced in the early days of learning to be a journalist and eventually moving over to the non-fiction (and later creative non-fiction) areas of composition. She weaves through her research on her early works and shows us the unique difficulties she faced to be taken seriously and to feel like she was on the right path. As she writes at the desk a friend gifted her after Solnit helped her release herself from a bad (to say the least) relationship, she allows her anxieties to inform her work in a way that is ever-engaging. Memoirs are so often rollercoaster rides of semi-good writing, but with this work, the prose often takes over in a way that transports you directly into the room where Solnit is writing. It allows the reader to come along for the journey, rather than to simply watch it unfold.

Overall, this memoir is well worth the read and I would recommend it to anyone that is interested in San Francisco history, memoirs of artists and/or authors, feminist scholars, or anyone that enjoys reading about the history of place through the lens of an individual lived life. I suppose that, in the end, is what a memoir should be and Solnit delivers fully with this work.

Autumn Reading Update

Updates are now quarterly

Yes – I missed August and September, so I have decided to go quarterly with the updates. Since I am now writing reviews for NetGalley, I have trailed off in my overall reading updates. However, there have been some great things happening, overall, for me in recent months that I want to share.

Book club

I skipped The Book Report, again, in August (I didn’t have anything to discuss) and in September (I was in California) and I’m not so sure I will be returning in October either. For the past 3 months I have been attending a workshop at Lowe Mill that centers around The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron and that has fed my need for interaction and community. So much so, that I was extremely sad upon leaving Lowe Mill Saturday because it was our final meeting. I’m hopeful that we will continue to get together, but you know how things go. People are busy, but we need to make time for sharing. Humans need connection and if that connection comes through books or art, so much the better.

Book challenges

In July, I participated in The Reading Rush, which I tried really hard to work through. I ended up not finishing any of the books I set out to read in the timeframe allotted (I mean – seven books in seven days – who was I fooling?) but I did complete George Orwell’s 1984, two days after the reading rush completed, which I started during the challenge. So – I feel like it was a great success because it forced me through a book I have always wanted to read. Also – oh my goodness – if you haven’t read 1984, or read it back in the day (high school for most) you NEED to read it again. Orwell was a prophet, unfortunately. But really – pick it up and read it again. The parallels with 2019 are uncanny.

For the month of August, I decided to participate in a more laid back book challenge. One that ran the full month, rather than just a week. For this I chose the Mythathon, run by Jesse at Bowties and Books on YouTube (BookTube) and joined Team Hades (team captain: Cindy from Read With Cindy.) The reason I knew I could complete the challenge is that Cindy was gracious enough to pick a book that covered all the prompts except one, which meant I only had to read 2 books in one month to be successful. And I DID! A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer and Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi were my two reads for this book challenge and they marked the first book challenge I have completed in 2019. I enjoy a good challenge, but finishing one is an even better outcome!! Bonus – the books were really good.

Books completed since my last update with ratings and Read Harder Challenge results:

15. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde
Completed on 6 August 2019
Rating = *****
Read Harder Challenge Category = n/a

16. Moving Forward: A Story of Hope, Hard Work, and the Promise of America by Karine Jean-Pierre (review here)
Completed on 17 August 2019
Rating = ****
Read Harder Challenge Category = n/a

17. A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer
Completed on 25 August 2019
Rating = ***
Read Harder Challenge Category = n/a

18. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Completed on 28 August 2019
Rating = ****
Read Harder Challenge Category = 10. A translated book written by and/or translated by a woman

19. Saga, Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan (writer)
Completed on 19 September 2019
Rating = ****
Read Harder Challenge Category = n/a

20. Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl: A Memoir by Carrie Brownstein (audio)
Completed on 15 September 2019
Rating = ***
Read Harder Challenge Category = n/a

21. Saga, Volume 2 by Brian K. Vaughan (writer)
Completed on 21 September 2019
Rating = ***
Read Harder Challenge Category = n/a

22. How to Build a Heart by Maria Padian (review here)
Completed on 25 September 2019
Rating = ****
Read Harder Challenge Category = n/a

I think that reading 8 books in 2 months certainly removes the disappointment I was feeling on my last reading update. I realize that three of the eight were graphic novels and one was an audio book, but it is still absorbing content. I enjoyed everything that I read in the past 2 months and I am currently on track to finish out my GoodReads book challenge total (24 books in a year) early! I only need to finish one more book to complete it! 2019 has certainly been a good reading year for me. Now I just need to keep up the momentum going forward.

In case you are not familiar with the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge, here is my initial post (this year) on it, which includes the list and here is the official post on the Book Riot site! This challenge is SERIOUS and I have only been able to cover 3 of the 24 categories so far this year, but I love making the effort and reading outside my usual zone of interest.

I hope that your season of reading is going as wonderfully as mine is! Keep on readin’ on!

Peace, love, and books,

Chantale (aka hippiegrrl)

 

Currently Reading…

1984
Living a Feminist Life
Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches
The Artist's Way


Chantale Onesi-Gonzalez’s favorite books »

Book Review: How to Build a Heart by Maria Padian

In “How to Build a Heart’, Maria Padian offers a tale of youth that is interesting and, at times, heartbreaking. Told from the first person perspective of Izzy (Isabella Crawford) this story portrays the struggles of a teenage girl trying to reconcile her need to be friends with everyone against her future life. Her mother, a fierce Puerto Rican woman, is hard working and wise and continuously encourages Izzy to be better than the circumstances that she (and their family) are in. Izzy’s best friend, Roz, is a character we have seen in many other teen stories, but with a few added twists that you don’t see coming, particularly in the last 2 chapters.

At times, “How to Build a Heart” reminded me of the movie “Pretty in Pink” so vividly that it was difficult for me to fully concentrate on Izzy as my mind would wander to Andi and Duckie, but that story is merely the bones of a more interesting and contemporary plot laid out by Padian. Here, we see a young girl that is trying to navigate school, work, friends, and family, while also following her heart when it takes her in new directions. There are moments of chaos in Izzy’s life and Padian does a good job of depicting the irrational way in which Izzy reacts to these moments of difficulty.

There are multiple ways in which Izzy grapples with her Puerto Rican identity and her realizations about her paternal grandmother (White, Southern, Racist) that are moving, but I was hoping for even more discussion on race, and specifically being multi-ethnic, than what the author offers to the reader. The characters often dance around their feelings on race in a way that feels realistic, though, reinforcing what most readers already see in their day to day interactions. The book tries to show some of that struggle through Izzy’s interactions with her family and through flashbacks, but it could have gone farther when dealing with present day interactions.

Overall, “How to Build a Heart” was a quick and satisfying read and I recommend it for anyone that is interested in YA stories about growing up today and the ways in which teens navigate their worlds in order to become whole adults.

Book Review: Moving Forward by Karine Jean-Pierre

As my first review on Net Galley, I am feeling a great deal of pressure to get this right, but Karine Jean-Pierre has made my job much less difficult with her lovely memoir. Moving Forward focuses on her childhood in Queens and the daily work that is required of the eldest child of an immigrant couple, her own journey to naturalized citizenship, and her subsequent lively political and media career.

Sharing the same birth year I felt at one with Jean-Pierre as she traced her youth and early adulthood in the 1980s and 90s. She has a wonderful way with words and although our experiences are vastly different I was quite drawn in by the narrative. Her writing style helped me feel closer to her and the people in her universe. This is exactly what a good memoir should do.

Jean-Pierre’s retelling of aspects of her time in government, on various political campaigns and, ultimately, in the White House on the staff of President Obama, offers a clear and concise window into both the inner-workings of a campaign and the funny, sad, heart-wrenching, and joyous things that can happen along the way. It is by no means a comprehensive look at any one campaign, but the details she provided gave me just enough information to hold my continued interest.

I also greatly appreciated the additional information she provided on media awareness and specific news sources, pundits, and reporters that she feels are worthy of a readers time. Jean-Pierre has written this book to be used as somewhat of a manual for future politicos, explaining how she navigated that space through a successful career, but it is still quite a wonderful read for those of us that want to be involved at a more local level or just participate through our votes.

If you are looking for an interesting political memoir, Moving Forward is most definitely the book for you.

July Reading Update

 

Happy July!

Book club

This month I skipped my book club meeting because I had 3 books in progress and zero new books (since the last meeting) completed. The great thing about the book club I am a member of, besides the fact that we meet at a brewery, is that we don’t all read the same book. I know that many people like that style of club, but it is not for me. I like the social aspect of the club more than the reading discussion, so The Book Report is more my speed. Since I skipped the July meeting, and I am currently on track to complete 3 books, August should give me a lot to discuss.

Book challenges

This week (22-28 July) is The Reading Rush! Formerly booktubeathon, this book challenge week has been going on each July for several years. The old challenge was simpy to read 7 books in 7days (RIGHT!), but this year they have added some individual book and social media challenges. Each member can earn badges for books read and challenges completed. I have chosen 5 books to use for the week, but I’ll be happy if I can just complete 3 of the 5. That would be huge for me considering I am struggling with the 2 per month challenge I set for myself at the beginning of 2019.

TBR list for the reading rush week:

1984 by George Orwell (aka Eric Blair)
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E.K. Johnston
This Will Be My Undoing by Morgan Jerkins
Cinder by Mariss Meyer

Books completed since my last update with ratings and Read Harder Challenge results:

12. The Universe Has Your BackTransform Fear to Faith by Gabrielle Bernstein
Rating = ***
Book Riot Read Harder Challenge = n/a

13. Paper Girls, Vol. 2 by Brian K. Vaughan
Rating = ****
Book Riot Read Harder Challenge = n/a

14. The Will Only Hurt a Little by Busy Philipps
Rating = ****
Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: n/a

I am slightly disappointed in myself at this point in the year since I have only met 2 of the Read Harder Challenges, but I have also been really enjoying what I’m reading, so there is something to be said for that! And in case you are not familiar with the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge, here is my initial post (this year) on it, which includes the list and here is the official post on the Book Riot site!

What I am feeling really GOOD about is the fact that I have completed 14 books and we are in the 7th month. And, in fact, I believe that I will be AHEAD by the end of July. If the reading rush pushes me a month ahead, numbers-wise, it will have been worth it. 

I hope that your month of reading is going as wonderfully as mine is! Reading is power!

Peace and happy learning,

Chantale (aka hippiegrrl)

Currently Reading…

1984
Living a Feminist Life
Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches
The Artist's Way


Chantale Onesi-Gonzalez’s favorite books »

June Reading Update

Happy June! I have been doing really well on my reading this year. In fact, I have surpassed my 2018 TOTAL already and it is only June! My goal for 2019 was 24 books read and I am keeping pace – currently at 11 read – at just 1 book behind. The book I am reading now is almost done which will get me to 12 books completed by the end of June.

In the meantime – I wanted to update my list of read books to see if it is aligning at all with the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge. I love doing this challenge each year, even though I rarely complete it. It is fun to read books in genres that I never would have considered otherwise and it has actually brought me back into the Adult Fiction fold. Prior to doing this challenge the only fiction I enjoyed reading was in the Young Adult category, but I’m opening back up to the New Adult and Adult Fiction categories as well.

So – without further ado – here are the updates for mid-2019…

Books I have completed so far, with ratings and challenge #:

  1. The Four Tendenices: The Indispensible Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better by Gretchen Rubin
    • Rating = ****
    • Challenge = n/a
  2. Women & Power: A Manifesto by Mary Beard
    • Rating = ****
    • Challenge = n/a
  3. An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green
    • Rating = ****
    • Challenge = n/a
  4. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
    • Rating = *****
    • Challenge = 3. A book by a woman and/or AOC that won a literary award in 2018
  5. Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu
    • Rating = ****
    • Challenge = n/a
  6. The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing
    • Rating = ****
    • Challenge = n/a
  7. Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution by Sara Marcus
    • Rating = ****
    • Challenge = n/a
  8. Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
    • Rating = ****
    • Challenge = 13. A book by or about someone that identifies as neurodiverse
  9. Era of Ignition: Coming of Age in a Time of Rage and Revolution by Amber Tamblyn
    • Rating = ****
    • Challenge = n/a
  10. The Latte Factor: Why You Don’t Have to Be Rich to Live Rich by David Bach
    • Rating = ***
    • Challenge = n/a
  11. Paper Girls, Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang, Matthew Wilson
    • Rating = ****
    • Challenge = n/a

And in case you are not familiar with the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge, here is my initial post (this year) on it, which includes the list and here is the official post on the Book Riot site!

Read Harder Challenge 2019

So we are back where we started again, with this blog! I created this space to keep track of coffee and books and so far I have been pretty good at updating the books side of the blog (not so much with the coffee, but I’ll do that soon, I promise).

Now that 2019 is here, we have a new Book Riot Read Harder Challenge to contend with. I didn’t do great on the 2018 version of this, but I’m hoping to do better this year. My goal for books, in general, is to read 24 titles in 2019. The genres are varied and we will see if I can fit my reading habits into the book challenge list. So, without further ado, here is the 2019 Read Harder Challenge list!

  1. An epistolary novel or collection of letters
  2. An alternate history novel
  3. A book by a woman and/or AOC (Author of Color) that won a literary award in 2018
  4. A humor book
  5. A book by a journalist or about journalism
  6. A book by an AOC set in or about space
  7. An #ownvoices book set in Mexico or Central America
  8. An #ownvoices book set in Oceania
  9. A book published prior to January 1, 2019, with fewer than 100 reviews on Goodreads
  10. A translated book written by and/or translated by a woman
  11. A book of manga
  12. A book in which an animal or inanimate object is a point-of-view character
  13. A book by or about someone that identifies as neurodiverse
  14. A cozy mystery
  15. A book of mythology or folklore
  16. An historical romance by an AOC
  17. A business book
  18. A novel by a trans or nonbinary author
  19. A book of nonviolent true crime
  20. A book written in prison
  21. A comic by an LGBTQIA creator
  22. A children’s or middle grade book (not YA) that has won a diversity award since 2009
  23. A self-published book
  24. A collection of poetry published since 2014

I will keep you updated on my ability to work through this list, but also any books I read outside of these categories (I’m already done with 2 books for 2019 and neither fit in these categories, so yeah, good start!)

Peace and happy reading,Chantale