January was a really good month for reading. While the stack I made my way through wasn’t towering, the several books I did read (mostly) satisfied my crazily curious soul, delighted my heart and invigorated my creativity. I really couldn’t have hoped for more.
The Books I Read In January
Mystical beliefs and practices have existed for millennia, but why do we still chase the esoteric? From the beginning of human creativity itself, image-makers have been drawn to these unknown spheres and have created curious artworks that transcend time and place – but what is it that attracts artists to these magical realms?
From theosophy and kabbalah, to the zodiac and alchemy; spiritualism and ceremonial magic, to the elements and sacred geometry – The Art of the Occult introduces major occult themes and showcases the artists who have been influenced and led by them. Discover the symbolic and mythical images of the Pre-Raphaelites; the automatic drawing of Hilma af Klint and Madge Gill; Leonora Carrington‘s surrealist interpretation of myth, alchemy and kabbalah; and much more. – Amazon
Me to The Art Of The Occult: Hey, I know I probably shouldn’t say this, because the others might get jealous, but (whispers) you’re the most beautiful book on my shelf.
I love The Art Of The Occult so much I want to scream. From its gorgeous embossed cover featuring the artwork of Hilma af Klint (I won’t admit how long I’ve spent touching it and swooning) to Sarah’s absorbing writing, to the far-reaching sea of meticulously curated art…it’s an absolute treasure of a book.
“Over history, time and again, people turn to spirituality and the study of the occult for self-empowerment during times of uncertainty and chaos.”S. Elizabeth
My favourite bit of the book was Part Three: Practitioners, where I found myself joyously face to face with ‘Songs For The Witch Woman’ by Marjorie Cameron, a piece of art that I first encountered on Pinterest and that’s been hugely influential to my photographic practice in recent months. I was also thrilled to be introduced to ‘Christmastide Divination,’ by Konstantin Makovsky and ‘The Sun Is Passing The Sign Of Virgo’ by M.K. Čiurlionis.
“Losing yourself in the creation and contemplation of a work of art and gaining insights into yourself in the process, is a fine bit of magic on its own, if you ask me.”S. Elizabeth
The Christmas Chronicles is the story of Nigel Slater’s love for winter, the scent of fir and spruce, ghost stories read with a glass of sloe gin, and beeswax candles with shadows dancing on the ceiling. With recipes, decorations, fables and quick fireside suppers, Nigel guides you through the essential preparations for Christmas and the New Year, with everything you need to enjoy the winter months. – Amazon
I’m rarely in the kitchen, so didn’t open The Christmas Chronicles especially for the recipes. Instead, I was drawn in by the promised ‘notes and stories.’ I had an inkling they’d make for worthwhile reading because Nigel Slater is an exceptional writer. (He calls himself ‘a cook who writes.’) But my, this book really was really something special. Winter is Slater’s favourite season and you can feel it through his exquisite detailing:
“The winter sky has a clarity and a gentleness that I find more pleasing than the harsh, screaming colours of summer. Softer tones, those clean, Arctic blues, the whisper-soft greys and pin-sharp paper whites, are the skies I want to live under.”Nigel Slater
I practically inhaled The Christmas Chronicles, and when it was finished, I felt quite bereft. It had been an exceptionally beautiful experience to be in the ‘presence’ of someone whom I felt shared my infatuation with winter.
What inspires you? That’s the simple, but profound question posed to 46 renowned authors in Light The Dark, each one revealing what gets them started and what keeps them going with the creative work they love. Each writer begins with a favorite passage – from a novel, a song, a poem. From there, incredible lessons and stories of life changing encounters with art emerge, like how sneaking a volume of Stephen King stories into his job as a night security guard helped Khaled Hosseini learn that nothing he creates will ever be truly finished. Or how Junot Diaz learned that great art can be a friend to help us feel less alone in the world when he discovered Toni Morrison in college. – Amazon
What. A. Book. I bought Light The Dark a few months prior to reading it. I wasn’t in the right headspace when I initially found it, but I felt that the time was approaching that I would be, and I wanted to be ready.
“I felt that magical alchemy of poetry, the way it acknowledges things we can’t fully understand.”Aimee Bender
I knew, when I read in the preface about the struggles Fassler had to write it, that I was in good hands. And was I. Light The Dark is packed tight with invaluable wisdom from some of the world’s greatest wordsmiths. Not every essay was staggeringly brilliant, a few were a bit, well boring, but the ones that were brilliant more than made up for them.
During winter, dark days of wild storms can give way to the perfect, glistening stillness of frost-encrusted winter landscapes – it is the stuff of wonder and beauty, of nature at its utmost.
In The Nature of Winter, Jim Crumley ventures into our countryside to experience firsthand the chaos and the quiet solitude of nature’s rest period. He bears witness to the lives of remarkable animals such as golden eagles, red deer and even whales as they battle intemperate weather and the turbulence of climate change.
In the snow Jim discovers ancient footsteps that lead him to reflect on the journey of his personal nature-writing life – a journey that takes in mountain legends, dear departed friends and an enduring fascination and deep love for nature. Simply, he evokes winter in all its drama, in all its pathos, in all its glory. – Amazon
I was first introduced to the work of Jim Crumley about ten years ago through his excellent book The Last Wolf. The Nature Of Winter was (almost always) utterly immersive and I found myself thinking, time after time, ‘hell, I wish I’d written that line.’ I did find myself getting a tad bored every now and then, and my mind would wander, but then Crumley would swoop in with something profound and I’d be right back in the wintry wilds of Scotland.
“Mostly, when I do have wolves on my mind, it is midwinter. Winter is the wolf time.”Jim Crumley
Charged with drama and beauty, this memorable collection by a master storyteller weaves a magical world of possibility and power from female myths of physical renewal, creation and change. It is an extraordinary immersion into the bodies and voices, mindscapes and landscapes, of the shapeshifting women of our native folklore.
Drawing on myth and fairy tales found across Europe from Croatia to Sweden, Ireland to Russia, these stories are about coming to terms with our animal natures, exploring the ways in which we might renegotiate our fractured relationship with the natural world, and uncovering the wildness and wilderness within. – Amazon
A few weeks ago, I wrote on social media about how Sharon Blackie’s collection of stories about shapeshifting women had bound themselves to me like a spell, and that feeling hasn’t left, they remain bound to me. I think they always will be. Every single story in the collection is masterfully crafted and deeply infused with wild magick. I could not get enough.
“He carried me into a house he’d built himself, from blocks of grey granite hewn from the wrinkled old mountains to the east. And there I stood, landed now, saltwater to fresh, water to earth I came. Skin white as the roiling sheets on the tidal wave of his bed, hair silver as moonlight striking a quartz stone in a lonely moorland stream.”The Bogman’s Wife – Sharon Blackie
That Blackie shares her gift for tale telling with us is something I’m immensely grateful for. After reading Foxfire, Wolfskin, I felt empowered and invigorated in ways I’d never felt before after finishing a collection of short stories. It was truly, utterly transformative. Every woman should own a copy of this book.
Artificial light is everywhere. Not only is it damaging to humans and to wildlife, disrupting our natural rhythms, but it obliterates the subtler lights that have guided us for millennia. In this beautifully written exploration of the power of light, Matt Gaw ventures forth into darkness to find out exactly what we’re missing: walking by the light of the moon in Suffolk and under the scattered buckshot of starlight in Scotland; braving the darkest depths of Dartmoor; investigating the glare of 24/7 London and the suburban sprawl of Bury St Edmunds; and, finally, rediscovering a sense of the sublime on the Isle of Coll. – Amazon
I thought this was going to be one of those books which would be, well, you know, alright. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. It was exceptional. I enjoyed it so much. The sheer volume of things I learned is god damn remarkable. I don’t think there was one page that didn’t have something highlighted by the time I was done.
“The myth of foxes in Dartmoor is strong. They were once considered ‘devil’s spies’ on the hunt for souls. A fox, a ‘hector’ crossing the path was a bad omen. Yet, I am mightily glad to have seen this one. It has led me out of the woods.”Matt Gaw
Gaw’s writing about the night and darkness is enthralling. It’s lyrical. It’s utterly addictive. There was never a moment I wasn’t with him as he ventured into the natural world and the magic of nighttime.
When asked to talk to students at Broome Community College in upstate New York in the spring of 2011, Austin Kleon wrote a simple list often things he wished he’d heard when he was their age: ‘Steal like an artist; Don’t wait until you know who you are to start making things; Write the book you want to read; Use your hands; Side projects are important; Do good work and put it where people can see it; Geography is no longer our master; Be nice (the world is a small town.); Be boring (it’s the only way to get work done.); and, Creativity is subtraction.’
After giving the speech, he posted the text and slides to his popular blog, where it quickly went viral. Now Kleon has expanded his original manifesto into an illustrated guide to the creative life for writers, artists, entrepreneurs, designers, photographers, musicians, and anyone attempting to make things – art, a career, a life – in the digital age. Brief, direct, and visually interactive, the book includes illustrative anecdotes and mini-exercise sections calling out practical actions readers can take to unleash their own creative spirits. – Amazon
Last year I read Austin Kleon’s book Keep Going: 10 Ways To Stay Creative In Good Times And Bad, and I thought it was brilliant. Since then, I’ve been an avid reader of his newsletter which never fails to inspire. But I was disappointed in Steal Like An Artist. It just felt…I don’t know…like it was lacking a certain ummph, or something. I felt quite flat once I’d finished it. I want to say, ‘read it anyway,’ but really I should tell you to subscribe to his newsletter because it’s great and look at his blog because there’s always something refreshing and motivating to read there.
“You’re ready. Start making stuff.”Austin Kleon
What I Was Listening To While Writing This Post