Now Arriving from: Seattle

Hello Fellow Challenge Readers!

How did Seattle treat you – did you find something especially good to read this month?

I read a great book this month, Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple and I loved it. Told via emails, memos, letters, text messages and narrative, the story of Bernadette and her unraveling comes together bit by bit. A brilliant architect, a petty argument nearly destroys her and she withdraws with her husband and daughter to Seattle. Bernadette’s acerbic observations of the people and world around her are very funny and her slow descent into madness is heartbreaking. Misunderstandings and missed communications spiral events into a madcap comedy-of-errors until Bernadette’s only choice, she believes, is to disappear. However Bee, her teenage daughter, will not give up on her and goes looking for her, piecing together Bernadette’s story both past and present.

Bee makes a lovely narrator. She’s as scrappy and observant and brilliant as her mother. That Bernadette is able to return and reunite with her husband and daughter is due in large part to Bee’s determination and love. I got a lot out of this book, about how lack of communication can destroy, how forgiveness can heal, how love can overcome many things, but most of all, I felt this book was about being true to yourself. When Bernadette denies her creativity and tries to be someone she’s not, she nearly kills herself and puts her family in turmoil. Despite the seemingly heavy themes, the book is laugh out loud funny and sometimes just this side of absurd – a fun read that quickly captures your attention.

Seattle plays a big part in this book, especially the first half (interestingly – and somewhat oddly (although it works) – the second half takes place mostly in Antarctica!). Some of the characters love Seattle and some hate it, so you get a pretty balanced view of both the good and the bad. Lots of rain, of course, but also lots of descriptions of the neighborhoods and traffic and businesses that keep the city running. A fun, quirky city that makes the perfect backdrop to a fun, quirky book.

What about you – did you find a great Seattle read this month? Let us know in the comments!

 

Sketchbook Challenge by Sue Bleiweiss

sketchbook challengeHave you ever bought a new sketchbook, opened to the first page, and thought, “Now what do I do?” Sue Bleiweiss and the talented minds behind The Sketchbook Challenge are here to help. Imagine a supportive community of artists sharing the innermost pages of their sketchbooks and offering you tips and techniques for overcoming creative blocks. That’s what The Sketchbook Challenge is all about, and the popular blog of the same name has already inspired thousands.

Inside this book, you’ll find: · Themes that will motivate you to start your sketchbook–and, more important, keep at it · Tutorials spotlighting such mixed-media techniques as thread sketching, painted papers for collage, digital printing, and much more · Strategies to get off the sketchbook page and start creating inspired art–whether you’re into painting, collage, fiber art, or beyond. · In-depth profiles of artists who have taken the Sketchbook Challenge and used it as a launching pad for their own meaningful artwork. (description from publisher)

Imagine all the people…sharing a bathroom.

You may have heard about the recent controversy surrounding the author John Lehrer and his book Imagine: How Creativity Works in which he has recently admitted to being creative with a few of the quotes attributed to Bob Dylan. Publisher Houghton Mifflin has stopped shipping the book and has asked bookstores to pull it from the shelves. However, the book is still available for check-out at the library if you would like to take a look and see what the fuss is about. Here is my review of the book which I wrote just a few weeks before the controversy broke:

Yup, a bathroom is the key to all great creative achievements. According to Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer, Steve Jobs specifically designed the Pixar Building with one central restroom location so that all employees would find themselves in unexpected interactions throughout the day, and it is these random and often irrelevant conversations that occasionally led to the breakthroughs that have made Pixar one of the most creative and successful animation studios of all time.

Of course, there is much much more to Pixar’s creativity and success than just a bathroom, and there is much more to say about creativity than just Pixar’s way of achieving it. In Imagine, Jonah Lehrer divides his research into two parts: creative individuals and creative groups. I had chosen to read the book with hopes that the first part would inspire me to pick up my paintbrushes that I haven’t touched since college, but it was actually the second part of the book that really shook up my brains and excited me about the possibility of enacting on new creative practices in the library. A creative person can write a play, but a creative environment can create a William Shakespeare. (Lehrer’s section on how William Shakespeare never could have produced his work if he had been born in any other time or place, due to the support of theater and lax copyright enforcement, is absolutely fascinating.)

Overall, the book constantly enforces that every person is creative, but it can sometimes take drugs, mood changes, travel or even disease to get our creativity to bubble up and show itself. I highly recommend Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer to artists, writers, crafters, inventors, managers, business owners, and everyone interested in the science and magic behind mankind’s creative spirit.

Talk about Being Amazing…

Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's JourneyBeing Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey is the fantastic new film that celebrates the determination and talent of puppeteer Kevin Clash, aka, the man who turned a furry red monster into the loving & curious Elmo and then into an International Icon. While the rest of us were watching Sesame Street to learn our colors and letters, Kevin was studying the Muppets and how they were made. One day, he snuck into his parents’ room and ripped out his dad’s furry raincoat lining to make a monkey puppet. From that moment on, puppetry became his passion and working for the Muppet studios became his goal. How driven was Kevin? Well, he was invited to play Cookie Monster in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade while he was still in High School! Whaaaat? That’s crazy! And yet, Kevin Clash’s genius is very humbled. He still sounds slightly awestruck as he gives the cameras a tour of the Muppet Studios (despite currently being the Sesame Street’s Senior Puppet Coordinator and Muppet Captain as well as Sesame Workshop’s Senior Creative Consultant) and tells a great story about repeatedly forgetting his line while working on his first project with Frank Oz and Jim Henson. He is also not afraid to be honest about how his demanding job has affected his family life and time spent with his teenage daughter. I just really want to give him and everyone else a hug now.

Now, I know some people roll their eyes when they hear the voice of little sweet Elmo and so the thought of watching a whole documentary about Elmo is making them cringe. But I am feeling pretty confident that anyone who watches this movie will develop at least a little soft spot for the lovable red monster after watching Kevin hang out with Make-a-Wish kids and explain his reasoning behind why Elmo gives so many hugs. This is an amazing film for all ages of Muppet fans, but also for any fans of the creative, hardworking human spirit. And remember: Elmo loves you!