Tuesday, April 12, 2011

What Writers & Artists Read

The Strand Book Store in New York has begun a sort of literary biography of writers and artists they like. Their website incorporates book recommendations from famous authors and artists under the heading Curated Collections. As of this post, Art Spiegelman and Maira Kalman list approximately 50 favorites, with John Waters, Nora Ephron, Gary Shteyngart, Jennifer Egan, and Chuck Palahniuk next up and ready at the bookcase with happy pointing fingers.

Why should I be interested in a well-known person's choices? Since I am already a fan of Maira Kalman's books I suppose I am interested in what inspires her, what she thinks about, and what potentially sparks her creative process.

I started feeling validated as I compared notes with Art and Maira and recognized books on their lists. Spiegelman includes a book by Saul Steinberg; I love Steinberg. I'm interested in reading most of the books that Kalman suggests if I haven't already. Her tastes are varied: plays, children's books, classics, photography books and more.

When I think about the mixed bag of books I've read voluntarily and finished in the past six months, I wonder if any of these will settle into the groove of favorites. I find I am still carrying around characters, plots, images, sounds, and phrases from these books and wonder how long that will last. As it turns out, about half of these were recommended by friends or teachers, and the fact that I finished them tells me that the recommendations were useful to me.

For recommendations of books that merge art and writing, see a blog called Book By Its Cover. Julia Rothman, an illustrator and pattern designer, collects books and posts reviews falling into the categories of Children's, Comics, Design, Fine Art, Handmade, Other (this category spans from a photography book about apples to an illustrated dictionary), Sketchbooks, The Exquisite Book, and Interviews. It's worth looking through all the categories since some books fit more than one classification.

Books are fine creative inspirations. Strange how you can carry a book around in your head when you are in the middle of it, and how it lingers there even after you've finished. The book can be a daylong obsession or a weeks-long, partial vacation as you experience another world and a new set of circumstances. It can haunt you in the middle of the night and filter into your dreams. If you choose to respond to it, you might find your work heading in a new direction, perhaps ready to inspire another person and to continue the sequence of creative events.

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