Recommended reading, with bears

Once upon a time, with bears

The White Bear by Jackie Morris

Recent items of interest...

* If you're not already reading Maria Popova's excellent Brain Pickings blog, these two pieces resonate with our discussion of perfectionism and creative confidence here last week: "How We Become Who We Are" and "The Pleasures of Practicing."

* Longreads (another excellent site) has asked several authors and editors for their favorite online essays of 2014. I recommend Rebecca Solnit's "The Art of Arrival" in particular, which relates to themes we talk about here on Myth & Moor, but all the other pieces listed are thought-provoking and beautifully crafted as well. Taken together, they provide a masterclass in the art of the literary essay.

Drawing by Kay Nielsen* In "Why we need fairy tales now more than ever," Rowan Williams (theological scholar and former Archbishop of Canterbury) discusses three new books on the subject by Marina Warner, Jack Zipes, and Malcolm C. Lyons (The New Statesman).

* The Goblin Fruit poetry journal has posted its delicious winter issue, with a fine "Handless Maiden" poem by Mari Ness and other magical offerings.

* The new issue of Interfiction Online was published back in November, and I've been remiss in not mentioning it until now.  I particularly recommend "Open Spine, Turn Page" (nonfiction) by Carrie Sessarego. "This is the true story of how I journeyed through an interstitial world," she writes, "and how that journey transformed me. It’s also the story of how fiction saved me. Some of these memories are confused and some may be entirely false, but they are the memories I carry, and so I call them true."

* A few good books for winter reading (or re-reading): Arctic Dreams, nonfiction by Barry Lopez; This Cold Heaven, The Future of Ice, and In the Empire of Ice, nonfiction by Gretel Ehrlich; The Reindeer People and Wolf's Brother, novels by Megan Lindholm (a.k.a. Robin Hobb); and The Ice Bear, a picture book by Jackie Morris, whose "White Bear" painting is above.

Bear Mates

Dreaming of Artic Dreams by Barry LopezArt above: "The White Bear" by Jackie Morris and an illustration from ''East of the Sun, West of the Moon" by Kay Nielsen (1886-1957). Photographs: Polar Bear Mother & Cubs and Polar Bear Mates (from wildlife information sites, photographers uncredited, fairy tale words in the former added by me), and Tilly contemplating polar bears with the help of Arctic Dreams. Previous posts on winter and bears: "Following the Bear" and "Embracing the Bear."

Gentle Readers,


I am still a bit under the weather. The hound and I will be back in the studio on Monday.

In the meantime, some reading recommendations:

Songbirds, Truffles, & Wolves by Gary Paul Nabhan

Durians Are Not the Only Fruit by Wong Yoon Wah

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey

Feral by George Monbiot

And two highly recommended works of fiction, in gorgeously designed editions: Glimmerglass by Marly Youmans and The Bitterwood Bible by Angela Slatter.

Have a good weekend.

Angela Slatter, Marly Youmans, and TillySee the picture captions (by running your cursor over the photographs) for quotes from the first four books.

Recommended Reading

Children's Books I by Holly Farrell

I'm heading into London to visit with publishing colleagues and won't be back in the office again until Wednesday, August 20. Here are a few good articles I've found, here and there, to peruse in the meantime....

Especially recommened:

* "Ghosts in the Sunlight," a gorgeous commencement speech by Hilton Als (The New York Review of Books).

* "How Not to Write Your First Novel," a cautionary tale from the wonderful Lev Grossman (BuzzFeed Books).

* "Stories are Waves" by Michelle Nijhuis, discussing Bilbo Baggins as a girl and re-imagining classic texts (Aeon Magazine).

* An interview with novelist, critic, and mythographer Marina Warner, discussing fairy tales, feminisim, and other things (Prospect).

* "Diary: In the Day of the Postman,"  an excellent essay on letters, email, and time by Rebecca Solnit (London Review of Books).

Plus four good articles related to the subject of Solnit's essay:  Jacob Burak's "Escape from the Matrix" (Aeon Magazine), Mark Edmondson's Pay Attention! (The Hedgehog Review), Andrew Leonard's review of Dan Hoyle's one-man show,"Each and Every Thing" (Salon), and Maria Popova's lovely piece on "Staying Present and Grounded in the Age of Information Overland"  (99U).

Gardening Books by Holly Farrell

Cookbooks by Holly Farrell

Other good reads:

* Cécile Eluard, the daughter of poet Paul Eluard, discusses growing up among the Surrealists (The Guardian).

* Olivia Laing, author of To the River, discusses writers and alcohol (The Guardian).

* "Chasing Orwell's Ghost" by Matthew Bremner, text and photographs from the remote Scottish island where George Orwell finished writing 1984 (Roads & Kingdoms).

* "Virginia Woolf's Idea of Privacy"  by Joshua Rothman (The New Yorker).

* "Tove Jansson, Queen of the Moomins" by John Garth (The Daily Beast).

*  "Adriaen Coenen's Fish Book, 1580" (The Public Domain Review, via Rima Staines).

* "If a Cat Could Talk" by David Wood (Aeon Magazine).

* "Top Ten Literary Rodents" by Kate DiCamillo (The Guardian).

* "Secrets of the Stacks" by Phyllis Rose, on how libraries decide which books to keep, and which to weed out (Medium).

Children's Books II by Holly Farrell

The beautiful still life paintings here are by Toronto artist Holly Farell. Please visit her website to see more of her work.

Recommended Reading

woman reading

Four pieces I particularly recommend:

1. The Julliard School of Music's 109th Commencement Speech by mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato (CMuse) -- a passionate, inspiring speech that applies to all of us in the arts. DiDonato presents the graduates with lessons from her own experience, including this:

"It's not about you. This can be a particularly hard, and humbling, lesson to face – and it’s one I’ve had to continue to learn at every stage of my own journey – but this is a freeing and empowering truth. You may not yet realize it, but you haven’t signed up for a life of glory and have signed up for a life of service by going into the Arts. And the life-altering results of that service in other people’s lives will never disappear as fame unquestionably will. You are here to serve the words, the director, the melody, the author, When Apples Were Golden and Songs Were Sweet by John Melhuish Strudwickthe chord progression, the choreographer -- but above all and most importantly, with every breath, step, and stroke of the keyboard, you are here to serve humanity.

"You, as alumni of the 109th graduating class of The Juilliard School are now servants to the ear that needs quiet solace, and the eye that needs the consolation of beauty, servants to the mind that needs desperate repose or pointed inquiry, to the heart that needs invitation to flight or silent understanding, and to the soul that needs safe landing, or fearless, relentless enlightenment. You are a servant to the sick one who needs healing through the beauty and peace of the symphony you will compose through blood-shot eyes and sleepless nights. You are an attendant to the lost one who needs saving through the comforting, probing words you will conjure up from the ether, as well as from your own heroic moments of strife and triumph. You are a steward to the closed and blocked one who needs to feel that vital, electric, joyful pulse of life that eludes them as they witness you stop time as you pirouette and jettè across the stage on your tired legs and bleeding toes. You are a vessel to the angry and confused one who needs a protected place to release their rage as they watch your eyes on the screen silently weep in pain as you relive your own private hell. You are a servant to the eager, naïve, optimistic ones who will come behind you with wide eyes and wild dreams, reminding you of yourself, as you teach and shape and mold them, even though you may be plagued with haunting doubts yourself, just as your teachers likely were -- and you will reach out to them and generously invite them to soar and thrive, because we are called to share this thing called Art."


Five Little Pigs by Elizabeth Shippen Green

2. "Storytelling is a Magical, Ruthless Discipline" by Zadie Smith (Medium)

"[T]he truth," says Smith, "is something happened when I had kids. I went from not being able to think of a single story to being unable to stop seeing stories pretty much every place I looked. Now, before anybody raises a hand to object, I am not a biological essentialist, nor one of these people who believe a gift for empathy arrives along with the placenta. The explanation, in my opinion, is less dramatic: storybooks. For the first time since childhood I am back in the realm of stories and storybooks -- three stories read out loud to a four year old, every night, on pain of death -- and this practice has reawakened in me something I thought I’d misplaced a long time ago, on book tour, perhaps, or in the back row of a university lecture hall. This feeling of narrative possibility and wonder — this idea that every person is a world. How could I have forgotten that? Did I really almost drift away, down that anemic, intellectual path where storytelling is considered vulgar and characters a stain on the purity of a sentence? Dear Lord --  almost."

A detail from the Unicorn Tapestries

3. An interview with Rebecca Solnit, author of The Faraway Nearby, Wanderlust, etc. (The White Review)

"I loved stories before I could read," Solnit recalls. "I had a huge appetite for narrative, and my mother said I learnt how to read in the first week or two of first grade, and then I was off and running. Books were these boxes of treasure, and reading gave me the key to them. I was just astounded that all of this was available, and that I could access it was so exciting. It was the only thing that I had, and the librarians loved me, because I spent a lot of time reading in libraries. At first I wanted to be a librarian because they live around books all day -- that was the first semester of first grade -- and then I realised that I wanted to be a writer, because that’s an even more intimate relationship with books. But just that discovery that books are these treasure boxes that you can open and be anyone and go anywhere and know everything -- that was amazing. There are book people and then there’s everybody else. There are people who might read books and then there are people who are so enchanted by books and who live in that other world in which books exist."

Alice illustrations by Iain McCaig

4. An interview with Iain McCaig, illustrator, film designer, storyteller (John Barleycorn Must Die)

"My higher calling," says Iain, "is to serve the story. I never just make images, the images are always there to tell stories. So the calling is to serve the story and you will serve the story no matter how you feel, or what you’re doing, or whether you’re sleepy, tired, inhibited -- that's all irrelevant. The show must go on. It must. Otherwise, get off the stage."

Fairies by Iain McCaig

Also recommended:

* "The Book of Miracles" by Marina Warner (The New York Review of Books)

* An interview with Marina Warner (Prospect)

* "Slaying Monsters: Tolkien's 'Beowulf'" by Joan Acocella (The New Yorker)

* "What Muriel Sparks Saw" by Parul Sehgal (The New Yorker)

* "The Quiet Greatness of Eudora Welty" by Danny Heitman (The Humanities)

Mouse drawing by Iain McCain* "The Legend of Vera Nabokov: Why Writers Pine for a Do-It-All Spouse" by Koa Beck (The Atlantic)

* "MFA vs. POC" by Junot Diaz (The New Yorker)

* "E.B. White's Beautiful Letter to a Man Who Had Lost Faith in Humanity" (Brain Pickings, audio)

* An interview with Dani Shapiro, author of Still Writing (Brain Pickings)

* "La bella vite: Friedrich Schiller and Beauty" by John Armstrong (Aeon Magazine)

* "Drip, Drip, Drip by Day and Night: The Literature of Rain" by Alexandra Harris (The Guardian)

With love from me and Tilly.

On the studio bench Images above: a Butterick poster from the early 20th century (I believe the artist remains unknown, but do correct me if I'm wrong); "When Apples Were Golden and Songs Were Sweet" by John Melhuish Strudwick (1849-1947); "Five Little Pigs" by Elizabeth Shippen Green (1871-1954); a detail from the Unicorn Tapestries (15th century); "Alice in Wonderland" illustrations, fairies, and a charming little mouse from Shadowline: The Art of Iain McCaig; and Tilly on the bench outside the studio. Many thanks to Beckie Kravetz for the Joyce DiDonato speech, and to Ellen Kushner for both the Zadie Smith and E.B. White links.

Recommended Reading

Photograph by Katerina Plotnikova

Grace Nuth alerted me to this beautiful post: "Dirt-Sense, Animal-Speak and Origin" by Aleah Sato. If you can get through the entire text with dry eyes, you're a better man than I.

"I grew up surrounded by magic," writes Sato. "As a little girl...I’d spend hours conversing with trees, an old mare, feral cats, birds, spiders and the moon that took me in like a lullaby, like a poem I could believe. It never occurred to me that there was something strange about wishing over weeds, speaking to the setting sun. As a child of field and wildflower, I loved the freedom of communicating in ways that stretched the impulse and ideal of communication, of the human alphabet. I believed in possibility and transcendence. I still do."

Sato had me from the very beginning (with quotes from two of my favorite writers), and the piece just gets better from there....

Photograph by Katerina Plotnikova

Other recommendations:

* "Mythically Speaking" by John Patrick Pazdziora, on his blog The Paradoxes of Mr. Pond; and a follow-up post, "Mythically Thinking," by Jane Yolen and John on the Unsettling Wonders blog.

* "Joy" by Zadie Smith, published in The New York Review of Books, back in January. It's somehow taken me all this time to read it, and it's a delight. A follow-up: "Happiness" by Jane Kenyon, in Poetry Magazine.

* "Virtues of Madness and Vices," a beautiful interview with poet Mary Ruefle by David Andrew King, in The Kenyon Review.

* "What I Learned from Thomas Edison and Steven Soderbergh and How it Applies to Novelists" by Julianna Baggott, on the Writer Unboxed blog.

The magical images above are by Russian surrealist photographer Katerina Plotnikova, based in Moscow.

Recommended Reading


The great mythic fiction writer Alan Garner discusses inspiration, the mythic landscape, living with bi-polar disease, and his new book, Boneland, in "Alan Garner: A Life in Books" (Alison Flood, The Guardian) and "There is Light at the End of the Tunnel" (Robert Chalmers, The Independent).

I also recommend a 2008 video of Garner, made on the 50th anniversary of The Weirdstone of Brisingamen; and Garner's fascinating collection of essays: The Voice That Thunders (Havrill Press, 2003).

Recommended Reading:

Little Red Riding Hood by Gustave Dore

Please don't miss "Chamber of Secrets: The Sorcery of Angela Carter" by fairy tale scholar Marina Warner, which is over on the Paris Review site.

Warner writes: "Angela Carter...refused to join in rejecting or denouncing fairy tales, but instead embraced the whole stigmatized genre, its stock characters and well-known plots, and with wonderful verve and invention, perverse grace and wicked fun, soaked them in a new fiery liquor that brought them leaping back to life. From her childhood, through her English degree at the University of Bristol where she specialised in Medieval Literature, and her experiences as a young woman on the folk-music circuit in the West Country, Angela Carter was steeped in English and Celtic faerie, in romances of chivalry and the grail, Chaucerian storytelling and Spenserian allegory, and she was to become fairy tale’s rescuer, the form’s own knight errant, who seized hold of it in its moribund state and plunged it into the fontaine de jouvence itself."

So very true. In the mythic arts field we owe an enormous debt to Angela Carter, whose influence on contemporary fairy tale literature remains unsurpassed to this day.

Art above: "Little Red Riding Hood" by Gustave Doré (1832-1883)

Recommended Reading:

Art by Carl Larsson

A quick post to recommend Philip Hensher's lovely paean to the handwritten word, "Why Handwriting Matters."

"I've come to the conclusion," he says, "that handwriting is good for us. It involves us in a relationship with the written word that is sensuous, immediate and individual. It opens our personality out to the world, and gives us a means of reading other people. It gives pleasure when you communicate with it. No one is ever going to recommend that we surrender the convenience and speed of electronic communications to pen and paper. Though it would make no sense to give up the clarity and authority of print which is available to anyone with a keyboard, to continue to diminish the place of the handwritten in our lives is to diminish, in a small but real way, our humanity."

I agree. I love handwriting so much that it drifts from my letters and notebook pages into my drawings, paintings,  collages...and then onto the walls of houses and studios...a gentle scattering of poems, quotes, half-legible tales, slipping into and out of our dreams....

Fairies in the Meadow

Art above: Carl Larsson's painting of his diningroom at "Little Hyttnäs,"  and my "Fairies in the Meadow" (a detail from a larger collage)

Recommended Reading

Cinderella by Edmund DulacCinderella by Edmund Dulac (1882-1953)

The Los Angeles Review of Books has launched a series of essays called Fairy Tales Revisited, looking at fairy tale re-tellings past and present. The first essay is "The Nature of Cinderella" by Marie Rutkoski.

"Fairy tales are rife with transformation," write Rutkoski, "from beast to handsome prince, from dirty scullery maid to well-dressed princess. It is perhaps no coincidence that nature in the Cinderella stories facilitates transformation, for nature itself is a changeable thing, from season to season, from a sunny day to rain, from an egg to a flying bird in a matter of weeks."

Also, on the same site you'll find an interview with one of my favorite authors of the subjects of trees and forests, Robert Pogue Harrison, discussing "Deforestation in a Civilized World."

"When I'm critical of modern approaches to ecology," says Harrison, "I'm really trying to remind my reader of the long relationship that Western civilization has had to these forests that define the fringe of its place of habitation, and that this relationship is one that has a rich history of symbolism and imagination and myth and literature. So much of the Western imagination has projected itself into this space that when you lose a forest, you're losing more than just the natural phenomenon or biodiversity; you're also losing the great strongholds of cultural memory."


Tilly and the treeTilly communes with a Tree Elder

I should also note that the Moveable Feast on Creative Inspiration continues to grow. You'll find the full listing (so far) on the Moveable Feast page...and do let me know if you have a new dish to add. All contributions welcome.