The 2019 Nonfiction Challenge Part XI: Creators and Creativity in November

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The 2019 Nonfiction Challenge Part XI: Creators and Creativity in November

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Nov 1, 2019, 1:33pm

We've done this one before. Pick a book about anyone who creates stuff -- preferably arts, since there's an earlier category dedicated to scientific and technological innovation. Dance; music; writing; painting; photography, etc. etc. The act of creation; any controversies that ensue; collectors of art, patrons of art, what does creativity mean? (I think Nicholas Delbanco has written on this), etc.

And of course, the results of the creativity. Books, Art, Music, etc.


Editado: Nov 10, 2019, 4:40pm

What we're reading:

Nov 1, 2019, 1:42pm

Looking ahead:

To help you plan the end to your non-fiction reading year...

December: I’ve Always Been Curious About…
A wide open category, pretty much. Your favorite category isn't here? Well, find a way to squeeze a book about it into December. Bummed that there isn't a category about the great outdoors? Well, read a book, and say you've always been curious about hiking the Pacific Coast trail, for instance. Or sailing. As long as you can complete the sentence with the topic of the book, you're good to go.

And looking ahead to 2020! My tentative lineup:

Prizewinners & Nominees

Heroes and Villains

Food, Glorious Food!

Migration, Nationalism and Identity: New category dealing with emigration, immigration, nationalism, refugees, national identities, etc.

Books by Journalists

Science & Technology: From medicine to Galileo. History or current breakthroughs/research.

The Long 18th Century (1688-1815) (anywhere in the world...): The term is a British one, stretching out the 18th century to cover the period from the Glorious Revolution (which brought William & Mary to the throne but also sealed a new balance of power between the crown and Parliament) and the battle of Waterloo. The period saw the birth of capitalism as a concept, of colonialism, the end of China's status as an independent empire (ahead of the 19th century wars), the collapse of the Moghul empire, the birth of "reason", revolutions and the birth of the concept of the rights of man.

Books About Books (and Words, and Language, and Libraries)

The Byzantines, the Ottomans and their empire(s): The Ottomans took over from the Byzantines in 1453, and the former's empire collapsed circa 1915/1918, after WW1. Read anything set in this era, and about the region covered. So, you can read about Byron at Missalonghi, or the attempts to push the Turks back from Vienna. But not about Crete or Athens during the classical era (pre-Byzantine.)

Group Biography: you can read about a family, about a mother/daughter relationship, about a literary group, etc.), about siblings or a family.

Comfort Reading

As you like it… A catch-all category for the end of the year.

* -- a new category this year!

Nov 1, 2019, 1:43pm

Fictional side-dishes:

Irving Stone's biographical novels about Michelangelo and van Gogh.

Editado: Nov 1, 2019, 2:18pm

My planned reading:

The Europeans by Orlando Figes (a look at the circle that formed around Turgenev, opera singer Pauline Viardot and the latter's husband, a noted art critic.)

The Making of Poetry by Adam Nicolson (the author's latest, focusing on a crucial year in the lives of key romantic poets.)

Rogues’ Gallery: The Rise (and Occasional Fall) of Art Dealers, the Hidden Players in the History of Art by Philip Hook

Picasso and the Painting That Shocked the World by Miles Unger

Of Arms and Artists: The American Revolution Through Painters' Eyes by Paul Staiti

Chopin's Piano: In Search of the Instrument that Transformed Music by Paul Kildea

Well, I may finish some of this...

Editado: Nov 1, 2019, 3:34pm

I'm going to read Patti Smith's Year of the Monkey, musician, writer, memoirist, photographer, pilgrimager - I love her work.

I have The Making of Poetry too, so will aim to get started on that by month's end as well.

Nov 1, 2019, 7:11pm

I'm reading DEFIANT SPIRITS, featuring the history and story of the Canadian Group of Seven.

Nov 1, 2019, 7:31pm

I may read Francine Prose's Reading Like a Writer as it's been on my shelf for eons. And/or Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher, Timothy Eagan's book about Edward Curtis which has been sitting on my Kindle for a considerable length of time.

Nov 2, 2019, 7:36pm

I'm first on the wait list at the library for Frida: The Story of Her Life by Vanna Vinci so as soon as the person who has it checked out returns it I'll be reading that for this month.

Nov 5, 2019, 6:12pm

I've started reading the books about Chopin's piano (fascinating and a lot of new stuff to me...) and Picasso (intriguing)...

Editado: Nov 5, 2019, 7:03pm

I will read Vermeer by Roberta D'Adda. I got it at a recent library sale, withdrawn from circulation. For some reason, the touchstone isn't working for me. When I clicked to change it, it took me to the correct book but not back to this post. I had to start from scratch and after 3 tries, I am going to just leave it. Here is the one I tried to link to:

It looks interesting, combining full colour reprints of some of Vermeer's more famous as well as lesser known paintings, with text of their background and his own.

I have a couple of others but realistically, I doubt I'll get to them since I have a few library books yet to complete and return as well as a book club book to finish.

Nov 5, 2019, 7:05pm

>5 Chatterbox: - Lust for Life was on our high school curriculum when I was in grade 10 and our wonderful teacher brought us a book of his prints as well as the film starring Kirk Douglas. That was back in the day before videos, and computers. It was my first intro to Van Gogh and I was hooked.

Nov 5, 2019, 8:43pm

>13 jessibud2: Whereas I got hooked on The Agony and the Ecstasy when I read it the Easter vacation we went to Italy! I was only ten, but was already reading "adult" books (my mother had to give special permission for me to buy them from the book department at Harrod's, although I still couldn't borrow any from the library) and this one was long and detailed (crucial, to a maniacal over-reader) and all about history and art and the stuff I was seeing all around me....

Editado: Nov 7, 2019, 7:05pm

I used to read a lot of Irving Stone and James Michener because of their attention to so much detail in their narratives. I loved fat books and was always sad to finish. These days, especially this year, I have the attention span of an ant and am happy to finish thin volumes. Oh well....

Nov 6, 2019, 5:12pm

I'm reading Stephen King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft and absolutely loving it. Although in all honesty, as a complete and utter literary wimp, it's the only Stephen King book I'll ever read. Even his descriptions of some of the situations in his fiction are giving me the heeby-jeebies.

Nov 7, 2019, 1:41am

>16 Jackie_K: King's book about writing is wonderful, Jackie. I don't read his fiction either, can't take it, but that book is really good.

Nov 7, 2019, 10:33am

>16 Jackie_K: I really enjoyed that too Jackie. Read it years ago, and loved the lists of course.

Nov 7, 2019, 1:16pm

>17 Familyhistorian: >18 Caroline_McElwee: Yes, it's terrific.

I just finished On Writing this afternoon, and will be dipping in and out of it often, I suspect. It was wonderful.

Nov 7, 2019, 3:37pm

I am reading Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?: Larry Norman and the Perils of Christian Rock by Gregory Thornbury. This one is a biography about the founder of Christian Rock music. I got it through Inter-Library Loan and I have to have it back November 10. Went to renew it, as we get one renewal, and was refused. So I have less than a 100 pages to read in this one and will need get it finished by Sunday.

I am also going to read Personality Brokers: The Strange History of Myers-Briggs and the Birth of Personality Testing by Merve Emre or Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling by Ross King. I haven't decided which one it will be.

Nov 7, 2019, 3:43pm

I also loved the books by James Michener and have yet to read an Irving Stone book. I recently picked up Agony and the Ectasy at a used book sale and told a friend how excited I was to get it. She that I had wasted my dollar. She said that once-upon-a-time she loved his books, but thought that they had not aged well and were very dated. "Little better than a Sidney Sheldon potboiler." Since it is a lengthy book perhaps I will take it home during the Christmas break and see if it is dated.

I also have a the complete set of James Clavell books that I intend to read someday.

Nov 7, 2019, 7:06pm

>21 benitastrnad: - Try Stone's book about Van Gogh Lust for Life. True, I haven't read it since high school but I did love it then.

Editado: Nov 7, 2019, 10:25pm

Nov 8, 2019, 12:08am

>23 The_Hibernator: To me, at 70, the "From Harry Potter to The Hunger Games" is like a millimeter.

Nov 8, 2019, 7:30am

>21 benitastrnad: Shogun is fantastic. I have read it several times.

>1 Chatterbox: Would an author be enough of a creator for this category? I was thinking of reading Jon Katz' first Bedlam Farm book
A Dog Year: Twelve Months, Four Dogs, and Me. He writes about his farm and his animals.

Nov 8, 2019, 10:22am

>22 jessibud2: Adding a nod for Lust for Life.

Nov 8, 2019, 10:26am

>24 quondame: Lol. I don't think it was meant as a timeline. It's a study of how race is portrayed in current YA fantasy / science fiction. HP and HG both fit in that category. :)

Nov 8, 2019, 5:54pm

Year of the Monkey (Patti Smith) (08/11/19) ****

Another enjoyable memoir from Patti Smith, read in one sitting this evening. I like her voice. She is a pilgrimager. She loves people. Writing about 2015 as two of her friends, including Sam Shepard, are dying, she goes solo travelling and tells us of her thoughts and dreams and the people she meets, as she approaches her 70th birthday.

Nov 9, 2019, 8:22pm

>25 fuzzi: If there is an emphasis on creating something beyond just the book that he happens to be writing, yes. Because under the latter definition, any memoir (perhaps even every book!) would qualify... Does that make sense?

Nov 10, 2019, 4:47pm

So, I have finished Chopin's Piano and found it very interesting, although I have some reservations about it, so it's only a 4-star book. It purports to cover the history of a specific musical instrument, one used by Chopin in Majorca to compose many of his Preludes. The author makes a big deal about this -- but then ends up varying significantly from that central theme, with the piano of the title disappearing from scores of pages at a time as Kildea writes about the evolution of the piano, Chopin's affection for Pleyel pianos, how Chopin interpretation evolved, etc. (including a very long section on Wanda Landowska, last known owner of the Majorca piano.) I'd be fine with that had the author had a different introduction and title, but it sets up expectations that aren't fulfilled and left me feeling as if I were lurching from one narrative thread to another. Moreover, for anyone who hasn't had a musical education or who doesn't know something about classical music, there are chunks of this book that will be tough to follow -- for instance, a long digression about various modes of tuning a piano and how that affects the sound, and how piano design evolved. Meanwhile, while Kildea argues that he'll be exploring romanticism in music, that's something that only comes up from time to time. (It's also a term he never defines... assuming knowledge on the part of readers once again, esp. given that readers may well differ in their understanding of what's meant.) I would say that while it's intriguing, it may not be a perfect book for a general, curious reader without a knowledge of mid-19th century France and Poland, and of the evolution of music and technical issues surrounding that. I'm somewhat familiar with both (from 35% to 55% of this was a new perspective on events or issues I knew), but some flew right over my head in spite of decades as a fan of classical music. If you've had lessons on music theory, composition, etc., you'll get a lot more out of this.

Nov 11, 2019, 9:41am

DEFIANT SPIRITS is a meticulously researched story of The Group of Seven, painting men who wanted to change both internal and external
perceptions of Canada as culturally backward: "to awaken artistic consciousness in Canadians"
and to create audiences of collectors and the public for their own highly charged landscapes.

Unfortunately, they pretty much ignored a Missing Link - the fact that the United States, the UK, and European countries had a long time
for both critics and general viewers to make the transition from the tamer traditions of landscape painting to the wilder challenges of modern art.

Thus, with the notable exception of a few forward thinking Canadian Galleries, The Seven remained disappointed in both acceptance and
sales from their exhibitions.

It would have been welcome if the book had been shortened by a third (way too many repetitive canoe trips) and, for contrast and comparison,
had included examples of the tamer works that The Seven found repulsive enough for their strong reactions.

As well, the inclusion of the many, many sketches mentioned would have enhanced the beautiful and evocative paintings shown.

Editado: Nov 11, 2019, 12:35pm

I finished Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music? Larry Norman and the Perils of Christian Rock by Gregory Alan Thornbury. I had intended to read this title for the October theme but I had to get the book through InterLibrary Loan and it did not come in time. However, since it was about the rise of Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) and about one of the founding godfathers of that genre, Larry Norman, it works here. Larry Norman was a rising rock star who looked and acted the part - at first. He was a virtuoso guitar player and poet. He counted among his friends Bono and Cliff Richard. His work was admired by Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. (All of these were his contemporaries as well as musical voyagers of the same era.) He grew up a Christian and his early work, while secular, was heavily influenced by his faith. However, he was determined to make it as a Rock Star. He had the rugged good looks needed for the part, and a striking mane of long white blond hair - naturally that color. He looked like the quintessential California surfer boy rock star. However, a conversion experience led him to a life as the founder of a new kind of music - Christian rock. The title for the book comes from one of his Christian rock anthems for which he became famous. He was also the person who trademarked the "One Way" sign of the single finger pointing upwards that became associated with the Jesus movement.

In his early days it was very hard to get a contract to produce Christian rock and the established Christian recording companies didn't know what to do with Christian rock. For that reason Norman started his own recording company. He also started his own booking agency and became not only the first star of the Christian rock scene, but also one of its founding executives. This sounds like a success story. It wasn't. Norman had a difficult personality and two difficult marriages that devolved into scandal. There were sex scandals, drug scandals, and business scandals that followed him throughout his career. He spent large chunks of his life in Britain and found a following in Europe, particularly in Britain and the Scandinavian countries and he felt like it was a case of a prophet in his own country syndrome. He died in the early 2000's from congestive heart failure in his early 60's. Bono and Paul McCartney sent flowers to his funeral.

The book covered and area of the music industry that tends to not be taken seriously even though sales are now through the roof and CCM is a big, and still growing, part of the music industry. That meant that the subject was of interest. However, there were times, when the writing just wasn't that scintillating. The author is a reporter who covers the CCM part of music, and he admitted in the first pages of the book that he was a Larry Norman fan. Even so, there were parts of the book that were mundane when the life of Larry Norman was very exciting and cutting edge. In short, this book could have been more, but it was still a good 250 page introduction with endnotes and references.

Nov 12, 2019, 7:33pm

Completed The Dark Fantastic, which is explores how readers respond to people of color in fantasy / science fiction / horror popular culture. She describes how many readers visualize characters as white, even when they are described as black. How even children of color have difficulty relating to characters of color, and root for the white characters (who are usually the protagonists).

Nov 14, 2019, 1:22pm

I'm still first on the wait list at the library for Frida Kahlo: The Story of Her Life by Vanna Vinci but the person who has the only copy is now 4 days past the due date in returning it. I'm still hoping to get it before the end of the month.

In the meantime I stopped at the library and browsed their nonfiction comics section and picked up Monet: Itinerant of Light by Salva Rubio. I flipped through it and it's lovely so I'm hoping the it's as good as it is pretty.

Nov 14, 2019, 4:51pm

>33 The_Hibernator: love the cover.

Nov 15, 2019, 3:37am

Self-Portrait (Celia Paul) (12/11/19) ****1/2


A wonderful flavour of the life of artist Celia Paul. She has a quiet yet firm voice. She includes quotes from the Diaries of her youth, but does not judge that young woman. A young woman who stands in the shadow of a great man, Lucien Freud. A young woman who grows out of that shadow. They separate a few years after the birth of their son Freddie.

As well as sinking into Celia's voice and art, what surprised me was the relatively gentle portrait of Freud. Incapable of monogamy, (the last guess at potential children was in the thirties), but despite his lack of faithfulness, she portrays some vulnerability, and loyalty, and kindness. And they remained friends until his death.

Sisters in Mourning (for their mother)

The Bronte Parsonage

View from her fourth floor studio

I find this portrait of her mother, who she painted often, very touching.

She only paints people she knows and loves.

I love her muted palate.

Editado: Nov 15, 2019, 12:20pm

I finished reading my second book for October's theme. My review of Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University by Kevin Roose is on the October thread for this group.

Suzanne was correct this is a good book. Well written, informative, and entertaining. Here is part of my review of that book. You can read the entire review on the October thread. I highly recommend this book.

Roose was inspired to attend Liberty University by his mentor and former employer, A. J. Jacobs, (he of the Year of Living Biblically, and other shock reality books fame.) Roose thought that living and going to school among fundamentalist Christians would be as much foreign territory as would living in Europe for a semester. He convinced the Brown University administration to go along with this experiment and so enrolled in Liberty and had it count as his Semester Abroad at Brown. Roose, was not a fundamentalist Christian. He was raised in the Quaker faith, and his family was somewhat diligent in attending Quaker Meeting, so the concept of having a faith and religious forms was not unknown to him. However, the idea of a more charismatic fundamentalist style of faith was very much outside of his norm.

The book kept my interest throughout and in the end Roose, and I, as a reader, came to the conclusion that college students are the same all over the country. The strict rules of Liberty do add limits and tend to curtail the "Animal House" type of activities that happen at secular universities. Roose maintained an objective and balanced tone throughout the book, even when that caused him to confront his personal ethics and morals. This was a very interesting look at this aspect of fundamentalist christianity as it manifests in modern American life.

Nov 15, 2019, 12:31pm

I have a good start on Personality Brokers and now that I finished Unlikely Disciple I will have more time to spend with Myers-Briggs. Personality Brokers is turning out to be a fairly standard biography - at this point.

Nov 16, 2019, 12:52pm

>36 Caroline_McElwee: Wow, thanks for posting all the images of Celia Paul's work! I LOVE them, and she's an artist I know relatively little about... Interesting range of styles, too. You can see the impact of Freud (or at least, their shared approach...) in the portrait of her mother, which reminds me of many of Freud's portraits, although this work by Paul is more intimate and personal.

I've just launched into The Europeans by Orlando Figes, and it's starting out as a brilliant book. I've read a few of his Russia-focused books before, and this one starts out with Pauline Viardot, the famous mid-19th century soprano, fetching up in St. Petersburg in the early 1840s to be greeted rapturously. His argument is that the development of the train helped create a kind of common European culture (although it was pushed back against by nationalist elements in a variety of countries) that meant by the outbreak of WW1, an educated/sophisticated member of any nation could find himself/herself at home almost anywhere, given the common framework of knowledge & cultural references. What people read, what music they listened to and (to some extent) what art they saw had become a universal "European" heritage, and less specific to a particular nation. For instance, Racine was defiantly French in a way that Turgenev (another focus of this book), while writing about Russia, wasn't "Russian" in the same way. (I'll be interested to see how he addresses Tolstoy in the context of this argument.

Editado: Nov 26, 2019, 1:23pm

I am about half done with Personality Brokers and am now into WWII and its aftermath. I hope to get this book read this week while I am doing some of my holiday baking. So far, I have discovered that neither Myers or Briggs had any kind of training in psychology. Briggs did exchange some letters with Jung but that is the extent of their training. Well, I guess both had college degrees, so that counts, but not in psychology. It is proving to be fascinating reading how both of these women were able to convince men in high places that they knew what they were doing. I am not sure that has anything to do with personality, but plenty to do with perseverance.

Editado: Nov 30, 2019, 10:25am

I finally got Frida: The Story of Her Life by Vanna Vinci from the library and read it. I thought it was very good. I knew of her but didn’t know that much about her.

I’m also going to finish up Monet: Itinerant of Light by Salva Rubio today. It’s also a good one.

Nov 30, 2019, 8:51pm

I haven't finished Personality Brokers yet. I am about a 100 pages from doing so and will go ahead and finish it in December.

Dic 1, 2019, 8:29pm

I started reading Literary Trips: Volume 2 about various authors and their trips to different places in the world. I haven't gotten very far in this essay cum travelogue book because I have been inundated with library holds, most of which are nonfiction.

I thought that surely, in all those books, there must have been one that fit this month's theme. There was. Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee was not just about the crime that Harper Lee wanted to cover but also focused on Lee and her struggles to write a second book after the phenomenal success of her first. It was very interesting although I found the true crime part a lot more enthralling than the part about Harper Lee.

Dic 1, 2019, 11:28pm

December challenge is finally up... Apologies! I think I literally lost track of time.

Hope to see you over there!

Ene 13, 2020, 10:33am

I finally finished reading Personality Brokers by Merve Emre. This was a biography of the two women who designed the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator - MBTI. The author essentially debunks the validity of the test and lays bare the fact that this test is just another feel-good test that doesn't really test for anything. It was interesting reading and makes you wonder how so many people could fall for this test and think that it really does tell you who you are. I do have to admire the determination of Isabel Myers and Katherine Briggs in designing and marketing this test and in persuading millions that it works.