Monday, February 22, 2016

"The Giver": A classic dystopia

My daughter Raina and I started our own two person book club.  On Friday, we had our first meeting at Marzano's, a wood fired pizza place, to discuss our first selection, Lois Lowry's Newbery Medal winner, 'The Giver.'

Raina reads just as much if not more than I do.  Most nights my husband and I need to repeatedly ask her to close her book and get to sleep.  Sometimes after we have gone to bed, she gets back up, and takes her book under her covers to finish it.  When the Book Fairs come to school, she is in heaven; she plans her purchases and after she has reached the limit I set, she dips into her own precious savings and goes on her class "buy day" and purchases every other book she was unable to get.

I knew all this, but I still wasn't prepared for how amazing it was to have a real adult conversation about a complex book with my 11 year old.

She's smart, analytical and quizzical.

Her analysis of the complex topics presented in the book were spot on.

If you are one of the few people who has never heard of "The Giver" or you haven't read it, it follows a boy named Jonas who lives in a utopia.  Everything is fair.  No one feels pain.  No one fights.  No one needs to make any choices because everything is decided for you.  There are special, all inclusive ceremonies for age groups.  All 9 year olds have a bike ceremony, and all 12 year olds have a special ceremony where they are given their assignments (jobs) in the society.  At the assigning ceremony, Jonas is named the new Receiver and needs to attend special top secret meetings with the current Receiver.  It is there, he begins to learn the truth about his world.  And the truth isn't pretty.

Raina and I discussed topics in the book ranging from euthanasia to what it means to be a family.  We talked about euphemisms and why people use them and we discussed the ambiguous ending of the book.  Raina blew me away when we talked about language being controlled and about the nature of love and why a society might want to take away the power to love.

It was an amazing conversation and it made me appreciate my daughter as the unique and intelligent young lady that she is; I am so proud to be her mom.

Choosing 'The Giver' as our first book to discuss was perfect.  At first when Raina started reading it, she told me, "Mommy, this book is a real snoozer." I told her to stick with it because it picks up and gets very interesting at chapter 7. She stuck it out and just as I suspected when she got to chapter 7, she was hooked.  We even talked about how some books that have slow starts can still be awesome to read and the pay off can be even better than books that are quick to get through.

'The Giver' is a classic YA dystopia that even reluctant readers would enjoy (especially after they get through the first 6 chapters), but even more importantly, it presents so many important discussion points about the ways societies are run and individual rights, the importance of memories - good ones and bad ones, and why love can save us.

I highly recommend not only reading 'The Giver' but also reading the books that your kids are reading so you can talk to them on a literary level.  I loved my first book club outing with my daughter.  I can't wait for the next one.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

"Big Magic": A Beautiful Reminder To Create

And while the paths and outcomes of creative living will vary wildly from person to person, I can guarantee you this: A creative life is an amplified life.  It's a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life.  Living in this manner - continually and stubbornly bringing forth the jewels that are hidden within you - is fine art, in and of itself. 

Because creative living is where Big Magic will always abide. - Elizabeth Gilbert

Sometimes so many people recommend a book to me that my only choice is to read it.

Elizabeth Gilbert's "Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear" is one such book.  When I saw that it was featured as a signed book at Barnes and Noble for Christmas, I gently suggested to my husband that it might be a book that I would love to see under the tree on Christmas morning.  He listened and it was mine.

Unlike most books that I get for Christmas, I waited to read this one until I was ready to fully take it in.  I read it with a pencil in my hand to underline important passages and to let Elizabeth Gilbert's message really sink in and resonate with my soul.

My reader relationship with Elizabeth Gilbert is hot and cold.  The book that propelled her to success, "Eat, Pray, Love" was good, but definitely not one of my favorite memoirs.  At times her story of self discovery during her world travels really mattered to me, but at other times I felt completely disconnected to her journey.  I felt the same thing with "The Signature of All Things."  I really, really loved parts of it, but other times I found myself flipping pages to just get it done.

Regardless of this relationship with Elizabeth Gilbert, her Ted Talk titled Your Elusive Creative Genius is one of my favorites of all time.

So I figured that an entire book dealing with the same subject matter would speak to me.  

And it did. 

Gilbert's conversational tone throughout the book drew me in immediately.  It was as if she was talking to me as a friend, a confidant, a fellow creator on this planet who has a voice and a message and doesn't always know how to use it.  She tells stories of her own creative process, her failures and her successes.  

My favorite part of the book was when she explained that ideas are living entities that are waiting to find a medium to bring them into the world.  "Remember: All it [an idea] wants is to be realized.  It's trying its best.  It seriously has to knock on every door it can." She illustrated this point by recounting a book idea she had.  It was set in the Amazon and included an adventure for a reluctant heroine named Evelyn whose ordinary life gets overturned when she travels to Brazil to recover a missing young man.  Gilbert had to side track this idea even though it was bought by her publisher. 

Life happened and she neglected this book idea, and then several months later, she attended a panel discussion about libraries and met Ann Patchett.  They formed a strong friendship that was forged mostly through old fashioned letter writing.  In one letter, Ann mentioned her new book idea which was about an adventure in the Amazon jungle.  When they met for lunch a few weeks later, Ann told her more about the book idea which was so similar to her own that she got chills.  She realized that her idea got impatient and jumped to Ann who could realize the idea's full potential.  Ann wrote the widely renowned book "State of Wonder" which essentially was Elizabeth's idea.  Sometimes if we wait too long, an idea will do what it needs to do in order to be brought to fruition.  

From this story, Gilbert goes on to talk about her own journey with writing- how she was persistent even when she didn't feel like she was any good at writing.  When she got rejections, she would work harder, and she never quit her day job nor did she go through a fancy MFA program.  She worked hard and listened to ideas as they came to her.  

At times Gilbert does get a little preachy, but overall, she remains true to her message that creativity is a beautiful gift and that all of us need to create, even if it's just for ourselves.  Even more she says that if you create with only your audience in mind, you are doing yourself a disservice.  Create because you can and then maybe your message will reach others in ways that you don't even anticipate just like her success with "Eat, Pray, Love" which she really wrote in order to work through her own emotional turbulence.  

For anyone that ever wanted to create but was afraid to do it, and for anyone who lost their way as a writer but still feels like they have something to say - pick up this book which is a beautiful reminder of why we should uncover the jewels within us and bring them to life.