Tag Archives: creating

Three of Maroon’s Must-Read Books

31 Mar
Robert Mapplethorpe & Patti Smith

Robert Mapplethorpe & Patti Smith

Dear Yolo,

I tend to go through periods where I read voraciously, annihilating stacks of books, sometimes waking up in the middle of the night to read. This is usually followed by a month or two where I read nothing at all aside from the plays I’m required to read for scenes in class.

These are my 3 favorite books of the last 6 months: Just Kids by Patti Smith, Lessons in Becoming Myself by Ellen Burstyn and The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson.

I didn’t realize it until I put this list together and I didn’t read them back-to-back, but not surprisingly (considering my current state of mind and my personal pursuits) these books share many, many similarities. All three books are about artists and about making art.They are all the sorts of books that make your heart bigger and make life seem richer. One of the books is fiction while the other two are autobiographical but all three lifted my heart and inspired me, expanding my sense of the world and my own personal strength and potential as an artist.

Are you still with me after that last sentence? Ok, good. The two non-fiction works were especially poignant to me. Ostensibly, Ellen Burstyn and Patti Smith couldn’t be more different, yet they are both incredibly powerful and unique artists and women. I hope you get a chance to read these too if you haven’t already. It will fortify your own sense of badass-ness.

1. My favorite of the three is Just Kids by Patti Smith. It’s easily one of the top three most important books I’ve read in the last 10 years. I knew beforehand of Robert Mapplethorpe’s photography and I knew that he died of AIDS, but I knew of Patti Smith was that she was a rocker-type lady?

It’s the late 60’s when a teenage Smith moves to New York from a small town in Pennsylvania, living on the street briefly before finally getting a job at a bookstore and meeting a young Mapplethorpe. The story is theirs, of artist and muse, of lovers, life-long friends, and a love and mutual respect deeper than I think most of us are ever priviledged to know on this earth. Their paths cross and intertwine with so many other artists, musicians and writers that define the era. William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsburg, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Sam Shepard (and many more notables) make cameos in Smith’s tale.

And while the narrative is incredible, I was even more affected by Smith’s poetic prose and intimidating literacy and skill as a writer. The writing is painfully beautiful, and there is such purity in her words and it leaves trailing behind it such a gorgeous and gallant suggestion of  now, and of mortality.

Just Kids is a work of art. I’m hardly the only one who feels this way;  Smith has a was named a Commander of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture in 2005 and received a National Book Award for Just Kids.

NPR Books Logo  Click here to listen to Patti Smith’s 2010 NPR interview.

Lessons In Becoming Myself by Ellen Burstyn2. I also adored Ellen Burstyn’s Lessons in Becoming Myself.  I feel so grateful to both Burstyn and Smith that they bare so much of themselves in these books. They are both so inspiring and so strong and so different. Born in Detroit, Burstyn arrives in New York in the early 60s to study theater after making stops in Texas where she worked as a model and Montreal where she was a chorus girl. That’s just the very beginning. I don’t think anyone in history would be able to accuse Ellen Burstyn of not living a full life.

Burstyn struggled a lot early on, often depending on the kindness of others or going hungry unless she had a date. But even after there was significant momentum behind her trajectory in becoming one of the most respected and successful actresses in the business, her struggle was a spiritual one to find herself.

Born a Catholic, Burstyn eventually converts to Sufism.  The spiritual aspect of her story was especially fascinating to me. She falls in love with a Sufi monk, she experiences a catharsis at a spiritual retreat in the French Alps and spiritual exploration and her search for herself take her to the Middle East. She produces (though she failed to claim the credit, she ruefully explains) a movie called Resurrection, (you’ve probably never heard of it but it’s very good, and I recommend watching it) in which she also starred as a woman in the rural midwest who has the power to heal people. Sam Shepard (both Ellen and Patti have great taste)  is handpicked by Burstyn to play opposite her… the list goes on.

Tons of luminaries of the stage and screen make appearances in her story and whether or not you are familiar with her work, are an actor, artist or interested in spirituality (though at least ONE of those has to sound sort of interesting if you’re warm-blooded), I think you’ll still find the story of her life’s triumphs and tragedies fascinating and inspirational.

The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson

3. Ever wondered life would have been like if your parents were performance artists? Then this book is for you! The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson is totally one of the most enjoyable, quirkiest, and funniest books I’ve ever read.

Performance artists Caleb and Camille Fang have two children Annie and Buster, also known as Child A and Child B. They video tape “happenings” that they create as a family. Growing up in the Fang household, Buster and Annie are assigned parts in creating these “happenings”, but they rarely know what their parents are really up to. The “happenings” are… AMAZING. So funny.

The story alternates between the present where Annie and Buster, now both adults are struggling in their lives. Annie has become a successful actress in Hollywood but she has started drinking excessively to address her apathy and dislike of mostly everything in her life. Buster is struggling freelance writer working on a feature for Esquire about potato guns. They both still live in the shadow of their parent’s creations. In between episodes from Annie and Buster’s adult lives we learn about their childhood through vignettes titled with the names of Camille and Caleb’s art.

It’s a hilarious story, but touched with the pain we all bear discovering the mortality and fallibility of one’s parents and coming into your own right as an adult and a creator. I feel like I’m not doing it justice with that last sentence. It’s lovely. I couldn’t put it down and read it in a day.

(There are rumors The Family Fang is being adapted into a film with Nicole Kidman attached to the project.  Nicole Kidman is kind of like brussel sprouts. (What? You’ve thought that before too? Let’s be friends!!!)  People either love or detest her. I’m a fan, but if you’re not– don’t hold it against the book.)

Love,

Maroon

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