Tag Archive for Lynda Barry

The Stack of Books on My Night Table: Summer Reading

Many of us have a big stack of books that we hope to read. Sometimes there’s a plan, often it’s a spur of the moment grab. Here’s some of the titles I currently hope to get to — soon, someday, maybe never.

STORY by Robert McKee — a book on the craft of writing, the dynamics of story.

PAUL IS UNDEAD by Alan Goldsher — the Beatles as flesh-eating zombies, naturally.

LEGENDARY SESSIONS: BOB DYLAN, HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED by Colin Irwin — the great artists always make me want to know more; and alas, with so many of today’s celebrities, we just want to know less. Much, much less. Charlie Sheen, I’m looking at you (and I don’t want to).

CRUDDY by Lynda Barry — found this in a used bookstore. Lynda Barry is completely awesome, I revere her. A true artist.

THE UNNAMED by Joshua Ferris — I enjoyed his previous book, Then We Came to the End.

TO THE LIGHTHOUSE by Virginia Woolf — a classic that has slipped through the cracks. Okay, not cracks. The gaping holes in my education.

HOW TO WRITE YOUR LIFE STORY by Ralph Fletcher — I loved Boy Writers, and really respect this man and all that he works to achieve.

BEST NEW ZOMBIE TALES, VOL. 1 — a collection of stories, old and new, about zombies. I’m kind of maybe looking for inspiration here, ideas. No, I’m not writing a zombie book, exactly.

FREEDOM: A NOVEL by Jonathan Franzen — feels like a mandatory read, a divisive book that people seem to either love or hate. No idea in which camp I’ll be.

LET US NOW PRAISE FAMOUS MEN by James Agee — I just finished A Death in the Family and it blew me away. One of the best things I’ve read. Ever.

SLOB by Ellen Potter — this book just keeps coming up on lists, over and over again. At a certain point, I take that as a sign: Somebody’s trying to tell me something.

SUMMERTIME by J.M. Coetze — it’s been a while since I’ve read anything by Coetze, and this book fell into my hands. We’ll see.

WAR DANCES by Sherman Alexie — curious about this one, the rag-tag format, the voice, the awards.

POINT OMEGA by Don DeLillo — a great writer and a book I didn’t know about until I had it in my hands. I love, love, love a short book!

THE MEMBER OF THE WEDDING by Carson McCullers — another used bookshop buy, a classic I haven’t read yet.

LIFE by Keith Richards — should be a lot of fun, waiting for the right moment. I asked for this for my birthday and . . . got it!

What birthday? The one that happened back on February 1st.

Calvin & Hobbes & Self-Taught Artists

Unconfirmed info states that the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip below, by the great Bill Watterson, was produced more than 15 years ago. It still resonates today, a little bit, don’t you think? (Click on the strip to see it larger.)

As a child, I learned to draw by copying the comic strips. I’d fill pages with my own renditions of Andy Capp, Beetle Bailey, and Charlie Brown. It was relaxing, soothing, almost meditative, that physical/mental activity of drawing. Somehow as we get older, we stop. We learn that there’s “good art” and “bad art,” and decide that it’s best to leave it to the professionals. We get the message and the message is: Don’t. Just don’t.

Our loss.

When it comes to art — and we could easily be talking about writing here — the most dangerous questions revolve around quality. Is it “good?” Is it “bad?” Because the unspoken question is: Can I continue, or would it be best for everybody if I just stop? Because if I’m making bad art, then I’m probably a bad person, and this is absolutely a bad idea. So I better quit now.

I’ve always been uncomfortable when it comes to teaching creative writing. It’s such a fragile thing, the courage it takes to dare make something. The artist is exposed, vulnerable. The last thing I ever want to do — as the so-called expert, the professional — is to kill it. And it’s so easy to do. With just a few ill-advised comments, we can suck the joy out of just about anything. At the same time, it’s why I have such respect for people like Ralph Fletcher, and the insights of Lynda Barry, or the impressive bloggers, Stacey and Ruth, at Two Writing Teachers who work with such dedication to keep kids motivated and involved in the act of writing. All I know to do is say, “Great job, keep going, you’re fantastic.” And maybe — maybe — there’s a point where artists of any age need a little more help than that, though I have my doubts.

I remember being asked to interview Mark Teague very early in his career, late 1980s. In my preparation, I kept coming across information that stressed he was a “self-taught” artist. And I puzzled over that. Because, like, who cares? Why was that significant? What did it matter?

The conclusion I reached was that for most of us, we need permission to draw (or paint, or sculpt, or write). Sort of like going down to City Hall to pick up a fishing permit. You can’t be an artist unless you go to art school. Everybody else: Put the crayons down and please step away from the table.

The thing with self-taught artists is that somehow they manage to persevere without a license. They keep on making pictures, hand and mind in unison, and it seems to me like such a healthy, wholesome activity (in which we are made, figuratively, whole and at one, ommmmmm). Today my daughter Maggie still loves to draw pictures. We’ll sit down at the kitchen table, divide up the Sunday comics, markers and paper strewn everywhere, and recreate our favorite characters, music playing in the background. I hope she never stops. Because somehow the act of stopping is like a little death in all of us. An end of innocence, of participation, of creative joy, of play. We lose something very dear when we surrender our art (and our artistic selves) to the professionals.

FINAL COMMENT: Looking at the comic strip above, and how it reflects today’s financial climate, you are either struck by Bill Watterson’s amazing prescience . . . or by how little things have changed over the years. Given what we’re learning daily about the big corporations: The surprise in it is that anyone could find it the least bit surprising.

Lynda Barry, Part Duex

Hey, it’s a Lynda Barry Rock Block. Two posts in a row! I found a great link to a Lynda Barry audio slide show at Julie Fortenberry’s Picture Book Illustration blog.

Go here for the Barry link. Great stuff, under three minutes. You have the time.

And how’s this for a concluding thought:

“As adults we have it backwards. We think that we need to have an experience in order to write about it. And I’ve found from teaching this class that actually it’s the opposite: We’re writing in order to have an experience.”

Holy Wow.

What It Is: The Lynda Barry “Distraction”

I think it’s time we talked about the supreme awesomeness of Lynda Barry . . .

. . . and maybe a little bit about why I love her most recent book, What It Is.

I’m not practiced at writing reviews, but fortunately there’s already a ton of great material out there. I’ll bust out the links as we go, and you can get distracted just like me.

Let me back up for a minute. Here I am, okay, it’s Monday and I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me. I’m trying to figure out a new book, so I started the day determined to FOCUS and CONCENTRATE (two excellent candidates for 2009 OLWs, if you haven’t grabbed one already). But here am I, DISTRACTED by Lynda Barry. Rather than resist it, however, I’m thinking maybe that’s the entire point of her book, of creativity itself. Or at least an aspect of it: That you can’t always direct creativity. And that maybe it’s absolutely the worst thing you could do, like attempting to “master” nature, when what you need to do is ride that wave.

If I had a motto, it would be this: Follow Your Enthusiasms. Take that walk into the deep dark woods. And trust your instincts, even if you don’t know where you are going. So today it’s Lynda Barry. I can’t shake her out of my mind and I’m thinking that it’s wrong to try, like trying to push away a dream.

My distraction — this impulse I have today to “deal” with Lynda Barry’s work — to read her, watch her on youtube (genius clip beow!), to think and read and write about her, may be feeding my soul. It might even be, strangely, helping me work on this unwritten book. It may be exactly what I need, because really, who knows what we need? Or how “work” works? We only know what we want, or think we need, and often that may be the opposite of Need.

I mean to ask, is this UNPRODUCTIVE?

All I know is that I have to answer it, this tug. I am compelled to respond. I can’t and won’t push it away. And at the same time, I know that by doing this, writing about it, I will be able to get back to where I once belonged, start doing what I “need” to do.

It is a dance between conscious motivation and the wellspring of unconsciousness. No matter how busy you are, it’s seriously bad Mojo to push away the things that inspire you.

So I’m loving Lynda Barry’s most recent book, What It Is. Douglas Wolk wrote an excellent review of it at Salon. Here’s an excerpt:

Every page of Lynda Barry’s book demands to be stared at lingeringly and lovingly. What It Is is nominally a book about writing rather than cartooning; it’s jumbled and digressive, occasionally vague on the details. Even so, it’s likely to be useful and even inspiring to anyone who wants to make comics, or any kind of narrative art, for that matter, because what it’s meant to serve isn’t the mechanics of creative work but the creative impulse itself.

To give you a feeling for the book, check out these screen captures (some of these borrowed from the Pop Candy blog):

And on and on it goes. One amazing page after another. (Visually, it reminds me of what Vera B. Williams did with More More More Said the Baby, the way she felt compelled to fill each inch of every page with paint, had to pour everything into it.)

As a reader, and a writer, I’ve often sought out books that will feed my imagination. Books that inspire me. Books that I can use. And at the same time, when I’m writing, there are so many books that could get in the way, could stop me cold. Which is why a lot of writers don’t read novels when they are deep into working on a book. For example, I’m writing a school based-story, so I absolutely can’t go near anything by Andrew Clements.

But this book, What It Is, well, that’s just food. It sustains me, urges me forward. It is not a “how to” book but, come to think of it, a “Do” book (which aligns nicely with my OLW for 2009). A book you want to close after reading dreaming through a few pages. A book that goads you into action.

Lynda Barry also teaches workshops, “Writing the Unthinkable.” Her Myspace page is a revelation, staggeringly good. I’m stunned by how much I don’t know about this woman, though I’ve read her comics, it seems, all my life:

Now check out this three-minute clip from a bookstore talk. Isn’t she great? Don’t you love her? Aren’t you distracted and inspired and happy? I am.

You need to a flashplayer enabled browser to view this YouTube video

POSTSCRIPT: For more Lynda Barry goodness, click like crazy right here!