Review: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

“I don’t know what I think until I write about it.”― Joan Didion

I was in need of a Nonfiction read to compel me from the start when I came upon Big Magic. Elizabeth Gilbert starts off this very book by writing about a reclusive poet she’s passionate about (“I loved him dearly from a respectful distance”), and I became swept up in the accessible, talkative writing tone. It’s the classic case of ‘I should’ve been bored me but instead, I was fascinated.’ The author has an eye for telling stories and introducing people, as I noticed the further I read on.

I was officially won over when she exposed her earlier years riddled with fear. Unlike a lot of self-help books I read in the past, the author in here actually offered up a lot of specific advice and dared to venture into her easily scared childhood to give examples of things that petrified her, so that we could see that she wasn’t all talk and no show.

“My fear was a song with only one note—only one word, actually—and that word was “STOP!” My fear never had anything more interesting or subtle to offer than that one emphatic word, repeated at full volume on an endless loop: “STOP, STOP, STOP, STOP!”
Which means that my fear always made predictably boring decisions, like a choose-your-own-ending book that always had the same ending: nothingness.
I also realized that my fear was boring because it was identical to everyone else’s fear. I figured out that everyone’s song of fear has exactly that same tedious lyric: “STOP, STOP, STOP, STOP!” True, the volume may vary from person to person, but the song itself never changes, because all of us humans were equipped with the same basic fear package when we were being knitted in our mothers’ wombs.”

Her honest and raw take on such a close topic to my heart made me bond with her.

And this fearsome line thrown at fear was utterly exquisite to read:

“There’s plenty of room in this vehicle for all of us, so make yourself at home, but understand this: Creativity and I are the only ones who will be making any decisions along the way. I recognize and respect that you are part of this family, and so I will never exclude you from our activities, but still—your suggestions will never be followed. You’re allowed to have a seat, and you’re allowed to have a voice, but you are not allowed to have a vote.”

But I considered Big Magic a truly successful read for me when I was finally moved to open up a new document and release over 1K words in a sitting before I’d even finished reading. The author really has a way with words so that I can give “this creative endeavor my wholehearted effort.”

Also, her recalling the “exhilarating encounter between a human being and divine creative inspiration” by showing the story behind Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder and her subtle connection to it was something else entirely.

“There’s no logical explanation for why this occurs. How can two people who have never heard of each other’s work both arrive at the same scientific conclusions at the same historical moment? Yet it happens more often than you might imagine. When the nineteenth-century Hungarian mathematician János Bolyai invented non-Euclidean geometry, his father urged him to publish his findings immediately, before someone else landed on the same idea, saying, “When the time is ripe for certain things, they appear at different places, in the manner of violets coming to light in early spring.”

The kick in the butt I need because I keep thinking I have all the time in the world to write.

As well as this next passage that touches on putting her work out there and her subsequent rejection letters:

“I knew that nobody was ever going to knock on my apartment door and say, “We understand that a very talented unpublished young writer lives here, and we would like to help her advance her career.” No, I would have to announce myself, and so I did announce myself. Repeatedly. I remember having the distinct sense that I might never wear them down—those faceless, nameless guardians of the gate that I was tirelessly besieging. They might never give in to me. They might never let me in. It might never work.
It didn’t matter.”

“Recognizing this reality—that the reaction doesn’t belong to you—is the only sane way to create. ”

I will admit, however, that there were a couple of minor hindrances to my overall enjoyment of the book. It mostly turned out to be so when the advice wasn’t applicable to my current situation or when it was an argument already repeated numerous times before.

If anything, the most cherished lesson I took from Big Magic was to pay closer attention to all the noise in my head. Sometimes taking a step back and listening intuitively to my thought process was the solution to releasing myself from a burden. Simply put, the author reassured me to trust myself in “following the trail of curiosity”.

One of the most exciting moments, however, came when I finally found the mastermind behind one of my favorite sayings shared online that I couldn’t trace back. It goes as follows:

“Long ago, when I was in my insecure twenties, I met a clever, independent, creative, and powerful woman in her mid-seventies, who offered me a superb piece of life wisdom.
She said: “We all spend our twenties and thirties trying so hard to be perfect, because we’re so worried about what people will think of us. Then we get into our forties and fifties, and we finally start to be free, because we decide that we don’t give a damn what anyone thinks of us. But you won’t be completely free until you reach your sixties and seventies, when you finally realize this liberating truth—nobody was ever thinking about you, anyhow.”

I’ve repeated this last line one too many times in the past year, so it was worth coming across this read just to make the connection!

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Review: Rookie on​ Love by Tavi Gevinson

“My memory of men is never lit up and illuminated like my memory of women.”Marguerite Duras

A single-subject anthology about the heart’s most powerful emotion, edited by Tavi Gevinson. Touching upon love in all its different variations, from “a devotional to dogs” (Durga Chew-Bose) to unrequited love to accepting your self-worth to experiencing intimate friendships with women.

“Love is all around, but its holding place is not always another person. Sometimes you find the best companion in yourself, or the fun of worshipping a teen idol, or the challenge of trying to understand love in its various forms. ”

Before starting, I casually browsed through the table of contents and saw a stellar piece titled “Do Sisters Actually Love Each Other?” by Jazmine Hughes, which I hurried on to read because it was something I really needed. And it was just as spectacular as the title conveys, featuring a group text between a bunch of sisters.

JAVONNE I came back to, like, eighty messages to read and I will not.
Someone fill me in if you want an answer from me.”

When I then saw that Tavi Gevinson had shared a live reading of this hilarious and touching piece, I was over-the-moon:

All I need now is the return of the Rookie podcast, which I raved about back in April of 2017.

Rookie on Love, however, didn’t quite embody the expectations I had in mind before starting. More than once I experienced the feeling of really enjoying how a story builds up but then, almost without fail, it would veer off downhill, destroying what it had created in its small space, and end on a completely unsatisfying note. And because of the short length, there wasn’t even a redeeming moment that could’ve saved the narrative.

It also didn’t help the collection of hitting a rough patch in the middle, where none of the essays held my attention and consequently failed to raise any emotion out of me (I mean, other than bitter rage at a certain line in Collier Meyerson’s piece I landed upon while randomly flipping through the collection)… Thankfully though, when I finally reached Victoria Chiu’s written piece, which came in to save the day, as she touches upon her choice to abstain from “(penetrative) sex.” As well as other standout pieces in here that I’d like to feature, such as:

  • Fwd: Letter to Leyb by Tova Benjamin, talking about relationships in the digital age:

“Sometimes I think, I will never forget that I felt this way. And then I do. It seems horribly scary to invest so much time and energy and emotion into something that will eventually wind down to the end of its life, be it 44 days or two years and nine months. And then what?”

  • The Most Exciting Moment of Alma’s Life by Etgar Keret. A quick story on life after experiencing your highest high.

Though for Alma, it’s not really just a question. Sometimes she actually dreams about what happened at the Biblical Zoo. She with her braids and the lion standing so close to her that she could feel his warm breath on her face. In some of the dreams, the lion rubs up against her in a friendly way, in others, he opens his mouth and roars, and then she usually wakes up terrified. So one can say that as long as she keeps dreaming, that moment hasn’t completely passed. But dreaming, with all due respect, is not exactly living.”Rookie on Love 1-- bookspoils

  • Beyond Self-Respect by Jenny Zhang. One of the most important pieces, talking about how love and respect need to go hand in hand, which I also heard a lecture on a few months back and it completely changed my viewpoint.

“The way we talk about respect and teenage girls needs to change. I want girls to learn how to disrespect the men in their lives who cause them harm and violence, I want them to learn how to disrespect patriarchal values that bind and demean. Looking back on my past relationships, I can pinpoint the very moment when I lost respect for the person I was dating. Often, it happened early on—a casually offensive remark that betrayed deeper levels of racism, an unfunny joke that revealed how much he feared and hated women, or even just a delusional comment that showed zero self-awareness—but always, when I was younger, I would continue to date that person, doubling down on my commitment, all the while losing respect for him. That’s the most disturbing part, that I thought I could love someone I didn’t even respect.”

  • Super Into a Person’s Person-ness a conversation between Rainbow Rowell and John Green, “YA powerhouses on writing epic—yet real—teen love.” I can listen to Rainbow Rowell for eternity, as you can tell by my extensive review of my all-time favorite book of hers, Fangirl.

RAINBOW When I’m writing love stories (which I can’t help but do, it’s always a love story for me), I really don’t want to be writing a story that makes it worse for the people reading it. That perpetuates all the lies about love and attraction.
JOHN Right.
RAINBOW But also, if I’m writing about teenagers, I don’t want them to be somehow magically above this bullshit. They can’t be wizened 40-year-olds who know from experience that it’s garbage.
JOHN Well, but also, I don’t think you ever get magically above this bullshit. We’re talking like this is all in our past, but of course inherited ideas about beauty and attractiveness affect adult life, too.
RAINBOW Yes.
JOHN Hopefully over time you develop an awareness that, e.g., your obsession with the perfect nose is completely ludicrous, but it’s not like it all goes away.
RAINBOW You’re still a nose man?
JOHN God, no. I am a PERSON MAN. I am super into a person’s person-ness.”

  • Before I Started Writing These Things Directly to You by Tavi Gevinson, on trying to capture the feelings as they occur.

“I just don’t trust words a whole lot, and wonder if writing this, too, takes the air out of the whole thing, like in the Chekhov story “The Kiss,” where the sad loner shares the story of an improbable romantic encounter with his male colleagues and, upon hearing it out loud, experiences the whole thing as woefully insignificant.”

I wholeheartedly enjoyed this piece by Tavi, wherein she managed to create a solid grip on her relationship with this goofy grinning guy in just one page.Rookie on Love 2-- bookspoils


Overall, I’d say I came to appreciate most of all the pieces that exposed my innermost feelings so successfully that it made me reflect a lot. So even though the collection as a whole was mainly a hit or miss with its forty-something stories, I still came to cherish a handful of pieces.

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Review: Writing for Bliss by Diana Raab

I’ve savored this read for quite a while now, waiting for that moment of inspiration to strike and start my writing process. And I realized that while I was waiting ever so patiently, I might as well start reading about the writing process. Which is where Writing for Bliss steps in. Though some advice was a bit vague to work with it, I still found this book to be a great starting point to get my writing journey on a roll. I especially appreciated the prompts shared at the end of Writing for Bliss:

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ARC kindly provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Publication Date: September 1st, 2017

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Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying Writing for Bliss, just click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!