At the end of 2021, I jotted down a few notes on readings from the year – they draw a circle around themes of spirit, the body, art-making – the mystery and complications in how these things hang together:
This year, I indulged in a lot of re-reads. I think it was a combination of comfort-seeking and realizing that my memory was actually kind of hazy on some of the books I tell people are “favorites”.
Contemplative Prayer by Thomas Merton and Agnes Martin: Making Space for the Sacred by Joanna Weber feel like inverses to me. The first is about spirituality, but written in a way that made me think about practicing art – and the second is about art that clears a ground for spirituality. Can art be a devotion made physical?
Nightbitch byRachel Yoder is one of those books I was bound to read: the woman, the artist, the existential angst. (lol) It explored motherhood and artistry and embodiedness in a way that was unexpected and unsettlingly (as in, activated my gag reflex a few times) memorable.
I took Getting to Center by Marlee Grace as a sort of workbook to kick off my year, which is a nice way to engage it.
After seeing Lucille Clifton poems here and there, I finally read a collection of her work – which was so worth the deep dive. The introduction (by Toni Morrison) described her work this way, “for Clifton there’s no split between the body, the spirit, and the intellect: no ideas but in the body.”
The stereotype of bookish people being homebodies always seemed true, except that after a year with nearly 10 months worth of home-bodying what really strikes me when typing this list are the visceral memories I have of the places (not at home) that I read the first seven or so books of 2020: Now, Now, Louison at The Commons Chelsea – drinking a latte from a mug, indoors in a tiny cafe around the corner from work on a break. How Should a Person Be? in a mostly-empty afternoon pub on a day I got off early after working an event late early in the week, where I stopped for lunch on the way to my studio. The food was bad but the bartender was nice. Say Nothing sitting or standing in the subway, drawing me in so much that I hardly noticed packed and noisy train cars on my commute.
Little Woman was a book I read (and loved) multiple times in elementary school but hadn’t read since. Like many others, I re-visited it in advance of Greta Gerwig’s film retelling which I then went to see/cry through by myself in a movie theater at a matinee showing, which was the last time I was in a movie theater at this point. (Little Women bonus content: this podcast episode, and this one built around theseessays)
In the peak of early spring anxiety and non-stop sirens outside, I turned to poetry when my attention span couldn’t handle more than a line at a time – Mary Oliver, paying attention as liturgy – and novels or memoirs written staccato-like with short chapters or shorter paragraphs that kept things moving briskly along (Dept. of Speculation, Ongoingness). Scriptorium was my favorite poetry collection I read this year.
I am a visual artist who makes paintings and drawings, and enjoys playing around in other mediums when given the opportunity. I have been keeping journals and sketchbooks since I was a child, and consider daily writing or sketching to be a crucial part of my practice. My work uses observation of patterns as a framework for considering attention, embodiment, and communion.
What is art for you?
Art is learning to see more clearly, and responding in a generative way. I think about “learning to see” in the senses of honing my skills of observation, growing in the ability to remain connected to the present moment, and of paying attention to reality in the world and in myself, even (particularly!) when it’s difficult. For me, this is a spiritual practice.
What/Who/Where inspires or motivates you for your artistic practice?
This week, I’ve found inspiration in: cherry tomatoes ripening in our container garden, the book “Enduring Lives: Portraits of Women and Faith in Action” by Carol Lee Flinders, colleagues across the museum field who continue to call leaders to account for institutional racism and unfair labor practices, writings on pregnancy by Amy Bornman and Caitlin Metz, and conversations with a dear friend about the false divide between art and craft.
I’ve been thinking about what I read and why. Maybe this at its broadest: I am trying to understand the world, and myself, and the ways everything overlaps and intersects. Right now, though, it feels sort of difficult to focus on reading. I’ve been turning to poetry more than usual which feels manageable and grounding (midway through a Jane Kenyon collection currently), and am also finally getting around to posting my list of books read last year.
In mid-2019, went through a several month period of not reading much of anything but decided to let it happen and not try to cram in a ton of books at the end of the year to meet my GoodReads goal. Similarly, I only sort-of kept up with the “write something about every book you read” practice, and that’s fine. It’s back in progress for 2020, though! I missed having it to look back through at the end of the year.
Something else which feels significant in reflecting back on the year-in-books is that both Mary Oliver and Rachel Held Evans died in 2019. This interview (“Listening to the World“) with Mary Oliver from the On Being podcast has held up to multiple re-listens for me, and I returned to previously read books by both them (Searching for Sunday, Why I Wake Early). These women helped shift and expand my vision in meaningful ways and I am grateful for that. ♡
It’s mid-February which means I’m overdue for my year-in-books post. It’s been about five years now since I started keeping track of each book I read, after a friend recommended GoodReads to me. This year, instead of just keeping a list of titles, I had a goal to practice writing about what I’m reading. I set out to write something, at least one sentence, about each book I read in 2018, and now have a google doc 30+ pages long with notes, observations, etc. I do think it helped with remembering the books I read; I can read a bit manically at times, and this practice served to counter and calm that a bit.
Another reading goal for last year was to read more poetry, and serendipitously an acquaintance introduced me to Pome*– a daily newsletter by Matthew Ogle that contains just one poem in your inbox, at the start of each day. (Which helped me to read many more poems!)
And finally: for the first time in my (adult) life, I read as many books written by women as by men, and they surely did not disappoint me. So crucial, so obvious. I feel like I’m catching up, stocking up on women’s voices to return to and recommend and reference moving forward.
The list of books I read in 2018 is below, with some that I particularly enjoyed and learned from in bold. (Past reading lists here: 2017, 2016, 2015)