A few years ago, on Christmas week (my favourite time of the year for excessive, indulgent reading), I caught myself in the act of choosing my next Kindle read based on length, so I could dispatch it quickly and add it to my ambitious Goodreads Challenge.
That’s no way to live, so I re-thought my relationship with Goodreads Challenges.
I also realised that, although I’d read an unprecedented number of new books that year, I remembered very little about them. I’m a very fast reader and (possibly as a result of this) I read every book twice, unless I hate it. But I hadn’t been counting re-reads towards my challenge, so they became superfluous.
That’s also no way to live.
I’ve made a few changes to how I record books on Goodreads. I now count re-reads but not comfort re-reads – I know Tiffany Reisz’s Original Sinners series almost by heart (Nora Sutherlin is my problematic patronus), so I never count those, but I realised this year that I couldn’t remember the name of the love interest in one of Sarra Manning’s Fashionistas books, so I counted that. I wish I could count the books I beta-read for talented friends, but I am so confident that they’ll make their way out into the world that I consider them “banked” against future challenges.
As you can tell, I take all of this box-ticky stuff quite seriously. I have an honour code.
All of which comes in handy when I want to post a round-up of what I read in 2018. Coming soon!
This is a dote of a book, lads. It starts and ends there.
I will read almost any variety of YA fiction, but I have a special fondness for romances. My YA gateway drug was Sarra Manning’s Diary of a Crush series, which was full of wisecracks and pop culture references and joy and kisses and sleeping security guards in the Louvre and vintage dresses (I thought all vintage dresses would be so beautiful after reading Edie’s adventures – I didn’t anticipate so many years of wading through puffed sleeves and polyester) and ice cream and paddling pools in the backyard and music festivals and summer jobs in cafes and and and and and….
But so many lovely YA romances have one thing in common. Boy meets Girl. Rarely Boy meets Boy, and even less often, Girl meets Girl.
The Summer of Jordi Perez is Abby meets Jordi – two smart, talented, creative and likeable teen girls are chosen for a summer internship that leads to a coveted senior-year part-time job. They both want the job, but they also both want each other. It’s summer, it’s LA, Abby doesn’t know how to drive, Jordi has a passion for photography and wears too much black, Abby is a plus-size fashion blogger and Jordi is Mexican-American. And everything unfolds just as you hope it would.
Abby’s identity as a plus-size young woman and her relationship with her mother (a health food guru) is depicted well, but for me the novel had two strengths. One was that it is the f/f summer romance of my dreams, and the other is that it handles the nature of change really well. Abby’s sister has left for college and hasn’t returned for the summer (she’s also interning), her best friend is in her first serious relationship and disapproves of Jordi, and she knows that the sea-change of graduation is only a year away.
If some of this brings to mind Leah on the Offbeat, it’s different enough to feel fresh – in spite of a few similarities, Abby and Leah are very different girls – but I suspect fans of one will enjoy the other. A few elements of the ending felt a little anti-climactic to me, but not enough to dent my enjoyment of this. Looking forward to more from Amy Spalding.
Confession time: I have never completed The Artist’s Way. I have read it all, but I’ve never sat down and done all of the exercises. I can’t pretend I have a smart reason for this – the truth is that I do all of the exercises up to Week 3 in a single weekend and then forget about it for six months. It’s probably fair to assume that I’m never going to take over the world.
But I’ve always quite liked Cameron’s approach and her methods. The one element of The Artist’s Way that has resonated with me is morning pages – the practice of completing three pages of free writing every morning. Again, it’s not something I do consistently (blame working a full-time job with flexi time, and who I am as a person), but it has worked for me in the past.
There was a lot to like about Floor Sample – subtitled ‘A Creative Memoir’, there’s probably less salacious stuff about Martin Scorsese (Cameron’s ex-husband and the father of her daughter) than some readers might like, as the focus remains firmly on her writing with a slight detour into her history of addiction (Cameron is a long-term sober alcoholic). There is a lovely feeling of joy about Cameron’s writing – whether she’s hustling for stories for the Washington Post or shooting indie movies with her toddler and neighbour in the local park, you sense that this woman has fun with her work. In fact, against the backdrop of her alcoholism and later mental illnesses, you sense that there were times that creative work was one of the most pure sources of happiness she had.
However, it’s also quite clear that in her creative life, Julia Cameron has been astoundingly fortunate. Since graduating from college, she has never worked at anything that was not writing, or teaching writing, or filmmaking. If you are hoping for the tale of how a writing guru kept the faith while waiting tables and selling books, then I’d suggest Natalie Goldberg (or Tiffany Reisz, who sadly hasn’t written a book about her writing methods yet, but the FAQ on her website and her answers to writing questions on Goodreads have some solid advice. She wrote her first novel while working in a book shop and now writes full-time, free of student loan debt). Throughout her memoir, Cameron seems to have a network of ever-helpful friends to draw on for work, cheap rent, and crash space, but she doesn’t explicitly acknowledge – or explain how she came by – that privilege.
Which, for me, throws a somewhat different light on her earlier work on The Artist’s Way. I suspect that it’s probably quite easy to preach how great the creative life is when you’ve never had to balance it with making enough money to eat. Not that Cameron didn’t face, and overcome, other astonishing challenges – if she writes a memoir of her addiction and recovery, I’ll be first in line to read it. And I am not suggesting that The Artist’s Way lacks value because Julia Cameron never had to work a lunch shift in Eddie Rockets on South Anne Street – it’s helped millions of people (TAW, not Eddie’s).
But I am suggesting that the environment which enabled you to create your art cannot be separated from the art itself – if you position yourself as a teacher or a guide.
Interestingly, Cameron and her ex-husband Mark Bryan co-authored a book on money addiction. I may need to dig that out to see if it sheds any light on what I learned from Floor Sample.