I’m in a fight with my writing. We aren’t really speaking at the moment. Since I have no output, I thought I’d share my intake instead. If you’re like me, you’re shocked that we’re already halfway through July, so you won’t mind that this recap of things I read and listened to in June is a little late.
I’d been waiting for Andrew Sean Greer’s Less to come out in paperback since I heard Ann Patchett recommend it in an interview she gave last fall. At her bookstore in Nashville, Patchett is often asked for recommendations for smart fiction that isn’t sad. That is key criteria for me, too. I don’t want depressing books! Since then, I’ve heard many others rave about Less…not to mention that it won the Pulitzer for fiction.
It was worth the wait. Less is hilarious, but also tender and insightful and so very relatable. Greer dances on the sweet side of bittersweet in this novel about a writer past his prime who travels the world to run away from a heartbreak that he’d rather not acknowledge. I was charmed by the romance, but I was floored by the writing and absolutely skewered by Greer’s observations on getting older and feeling like an outsider. It didn’t hurt too much, though, because I laughed through the whole book.
One interesting note: I’m a huge fan of audiobooks but in this case, because I anticipated that I’d want to see the writing with my own eyeballs, I chose to read the book instead of listening to it. Then, my dear friend said the audio version was fantastic, so I bought that, too. I started to listen right after I began reading. It’s the only time I’ve ever tried to consume a book both ways at once. For me, the audiobook was a no-go. As I expected, I did want to linger over certain phrases and passages at my own pace. Also, I found the performance to be a bit too sardonic. While the book certainly pokes a great deal of fun at main character Arthur Less, it’s balanced with an earnestness that makes Arthur a rich character and not a joke. I found that the performance on the audiobook did not convey that balance, and it didn’t seem quite fair to Arthur.
Speaking of audiobooks, in June I also re-listened to one of my favorite audiobooks ever: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. If you haven’t read it, get a copy ASAP. It’s a fantastic book. If you have read it, listen to it too! The performance by Cathleen McCarron is perfect. I can’t believe it didn’t win an Audie. I could listen to that book a hundred times and never get tired of McCarron’s dry, Scottish delivery of this delightful main character and her funny, sad, suspenseful, heartwarming story.
I’m too cheap to buy more than one audiobook a month so I fill in the gaps with podcasts. My current favorite is Happier with Gretchen Ruben. Like her books, the podcast is about habits, human nature and how to be happier. She and her sister, Liz Craft, share tips and hacks to make life easier and happier, along with anecdotes from their own lives and input from their audience. The episodes are about 45 minutes, the perfect length for my commute! They’re light and fun, and they’re also helpful.
I need all the help I can get. One of the best investments I ever made was to join Jennifer Louden’s online community, The Writer’s Oasis. It’s a website full of resources for writers, both on the craft and practice of writing. Each week, Louden records a session that is something between mediation, inspiration and writing practice. I don’t know how to describe it—she softens you up, delivers something soothing and uplifting, and asks you to focus your intentions for the week ahead. There’s something very, very good about those weekly recordings. They’re worth more than therapy to me. They help me get my head on straight. If you’re a creative sort—not necessarily a writer; lots of artists and other creatives participate, too—check out The Writer’s Oasis. It’s both inspiring and grounding.
I’d love to hear what you’re enjoying this summer—post a comment and let me know.