Category Archives: Dusty Shelves

Big Magic

Creative Living Beyond Fear
Elizabeth Gilbert  | Non-fiction


I decided to wait to write my blog on Big Magic until after book club, and I am really glad I did!  My perspectives and insights are now much broader.

Some members of book club, including one well-trained and highly competent artist, loved Big Magic.  They found it inspiring, intriguing, and useful.  One member was going to read it a third time!

Others of us found the content to be valuable; we took exception to Gilbert's writing. Much like our reaction to Eat, Pray, Love, we experienced the style of her writing as shallow or condescending --- different assessments from different ones of us.

I did appreciate her passion and commitment to the entire creative process... The ENTIRE process.... All the failed attempts, the trials and tribulations, as well as the occasional winning success.  I thought of my students at The Coaches Training Institute frequently, and how her words could inspire them in the early and difficult stages of building a business.  For example, she writes on page 118, “I started telling myself that I enjoyed every aspect of my work. I proclaimed that I enjoyed every single aspect of my creative endeavors – the agony and the ecstasy, the success and the failure, the joy and the embarrassment, the dry spells and the grind and the stumble and the confusion and the stupidity of it all.  I even dared to say this aloud.”

On the other hand, I thought Gilbert did a very poor job of translating her learning about creativity as a writer to other modalities, such as painting, performance art, music, or the creativity with which we do our work.  I find that to be the major shortcoming of this book.  The creative reader has to do all the translation themselves.

Gilbert tells a very intriguing story about her belief that ideas come to visit, and if you are ready, willing and able, you will be inspired by the idea and you get to develop it. And if you are not ready, the idea will go visit someone else, to take up its cause.  If you read nothing else, read her story about her new friendship with the writer Ann Patchett, pages 47-54.

All in all, while I will not rave about Big Magic nor Elizabeth Gilbert, I find this book to be worth reading.  You will likely glean at least a few new perspectives for yourself  ... And maybe, like Jan and Louise in book club, many of Gilbert’s words will inspire you.

Life Reimagined

Subtitle:  The Science, Art and Opportunity of Midlife

by Barbara Bradley Hagerty |  Non-fiction


I began this book the weekend before Beryl died, and finished it the weekend after.  An odd choice perhaps for the time surrounding his death (which, of course, I didn’t know when I began it ...) however the title alone, Life Reimagined, gave me hope, perspective and a sense of, well, life.

I read the whole book, cover to cover. I expected it to be a self-help book and was very pleased – it is not!  It is all about the science of midlife … about our brains, about relationships, the power of our thoughts, the need for purpose.  This wonderful former NPR reporter doesn’t tell us how to do it … but she does educate us on what is important; what is vital.

Two messages I want to pass along.  When the author interviewed Robert Waldinger, the current Director of the lifelong study of Harvard men, she asked him, “What are the one or two or three big insights that predicts fulfillment at the end of life?”  His answer, which surprised Ms. Hagerty and many readers:  “Engagement,” he said instantly.  “Maintaining engagement with the world.” (page 42).

And, of extreme importance, page 30 and 388.  “Happiness is love.  Full stop.”

Read this book if you are in midlife, or planning to be in midlife, or have recently left midlife.  It will inspire you.


Start with Why

Subtitle: How Great Leaders Inspire Action

by Simon Sinek |  Non-fiction


Start with Why was making the rounds of Opportunity Knocks (a local non-profit that supports the growth and development of entrepreneurs) and I was excited to read it.  The timing was perfect, as I was about to design and launch my new website and this book blog.  Knowing “why" seemed imperative!

Sinek did convince me that having a strong "why" for the work you do in the world inspires others, attracts them to you, and creates loyalty.  Fantastic!  Figure out the "why" before the "what" and the "how."  A great idea!  He talks about Apple as a company with a clear "why" that inspires real brand loyalty.  Apple's "why” is "to challenge the status quo" and "to empower the individual."   I am hooked and raring to go!  How do I do that?

And then we go nowhere.  What a disappointment. First and foremost, Sinek never guides you in how to discover your "why."  He tells you in the last couple of pages to look backward.  Hmmm.  Second, he speaks almost exclusively to big companies .... About breeding trust among employees.  I was looking for a great resource for entrepreneurs.  Not this tome.

Third, he is very repetitive.  He stretched and stretched a short article into a book ... Like making pizza dough and pushing it the edges of your pan.  Fourth, I wonder if he was funded by Apple.  I was so tired or reading about Apple, with the same examples used over and over again, I wondered if I could abide typing up this posting on my iPad.

Simon Sinek held my interest for a while.  I give it two hearts because it didn't put me to sleep.  But if you read the title, and really take it in, you can stop there.  Find something else to incite your creative thinking.

Dead Wake

Subtitle: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

by Erik Larson  |  Non-fiction  


On Saturday, May 8, 1915, a father receives a telegram from his son ... "Am saved.  Looking for Cliff."  Five minutes later another telegram arrives from his other son, "Am saved.  Looking for Leslie."  Dad knew what his sons didn't ... They both survived the sinking of the Lusitania.

I just discovered Erik Larson this year, with my good friends Jan and Mary recommending The Devil in the White City and then Dead Wake.  Ever since I was mesmerized by Katherine Boo who wrote Beyond the Beautiful Forevers, I have learned to appreciate the great skill of an author who can write non-fiction in such a compelling manner, it reads like a page-turner fiction.

Dead Wake was a page turner for me.  Larson explores the lives of a few passengers on the Lusitania, the global environment as WW1 heats up, the hard to imagine decisions of the British Admiralty as the German U-boats indiscriminately target merchant as well as military ships, and the personal sorrows and fears of Woodrow Wilson.  But what will stick with me the longest is how Larson sketches the captain of the u-boat, Walther Schwieger, who makes an independent decision to torpedo this luxury liner.

I happened to finish this book on the exact day, 99 years later, when Wilson signed the resolution for America to enter the war, April 6, 1917.   If you haven't read Dead Wake yet, it would be an excellent addition to your list before April 6, 2017.

I heartily recommend this book ... 4 hearts out of 4.