I have such a love-hate for Elizabeth Gilbert. On one hand, she’s so sunny, lucid, and wise. On the other, she’s blithe and oblivious. Big Magic, her treatise on creativity and living the creative life, is all those things. I find some of her ideas incredibly inspiring, such as not making your creativity pay for itself–it’s okay to work a “real” job so you don’t put that kind of pressure on being creative. Or, inspiration will find another person to make it manifest if you don’t grab it when it arises (kooky, but I like it). But her claims of always, wisely, having avoided some of the most common pitfalls of the creative life (expecting to make a living from one’s work, expecting success, the idea that creativity only comes through suffering, etc) sometimes come off as shallow at best and insincere and privileged at worst. In the end, I found a several bits of wisdom to take from the book and run with. Now if I could leave my irritation behind.
I had never heard of this book until I began reading blogs. Carter published these retellings of well-known fairy tales in 1970s. Her language and imagery are lush and exotic. Stories sparkle with tears, thorns, jewels, fur, cobwebs, snow, crystals, velvet, roses, and so on. They are both reminiscent of the classic tales and utterly original, infused with strange undercurrents dark sexuality and sometimes outright bawdiness. These are wonderful stories–my favorites were the feline tales, especially her version of Puss in Boots. Read these even if you are not a huge fan of short stories, and especially if you like fairy tales.
Sometimes I am both drawn and repelled by the subject matter of a book. Even after I started the Round House, the story of the brutal rape of a native American woman and her family’s search for justice, and found that I could “handle” the way she tells of such horror, I still hesitated a bit every time I picked it back up. The story is narrated by the woman’s son, just 12 years old, who grows up quickly as he takes the search for the rapists identity into his own hands. The search for justice is complicated by issues of jurisdiction; depending on whether the crime happened on or off the reservation boundary influences the likelihood of the perpetrator being caught, let alone brought to justice. In the end, justice is realized, but it is not traditional or comfortable, and for that reason, it is also a story of very complex morality. I loved the way Erdrich blends the old lore and ways of the native people into modern life on the rez. This is my second book by Erdrich, and I must read more.