Inspiration seems to be the theme of the past week. At my Breastfeeding Counselling Course tutorial yesterday, we were asked to share with each other what is currently inspiring us about breastfeeding. What came up were people, and for me, as s chronic 'book worm', books. But I've also been thinking about what inspires me generally, as a writer and human being.
I've assigned 'homework' to the Mothers Writing Group, of writing down some of the books that have inspired us most over the years. By sharing our inspiration, I hope that we can open new doors for each other into areas we might not have gone before, as well as discover our common ground.
So without further ado, here are my top ten inspiring books. I would love to hear from others, what some of your inspiring books are. Please use the comment function to share.
1) The Women's Room - Marilyn French (novel). I think I was still in school when I read this, though it could have been my gap year before university. It was the first book to awaken me to feminism, not as a dry theoretical concept, but as living, breathing reality - how it could transform everyday women's lives. I read it about three times and carried the characters with me, drawing from their strength and courage and learning to allow my own confusion at times.
2) The Artist's Way - Julia Cameron (non-fiction). I did this twelve-week course in uncovering and re-covering your creativity, in my early twenties when I'd just finished university. It was a year full of life-changing indulgence: doing drawing, 'free painting' and dance courses as well as a course on the 'feminine divine', as my brain was finally freed up from academic concerns and allowed to roam once again. My creativity had suffered hugely from years of academic essay writing and a discouraging poetry course at university, and this book was what got me writing regularly again - and never stopping in the seven years since! And it's not just for writers - it's for anyone who wants to be more creative, in any field.
3) Katharine Kerr - All the books in the Deverry series (fiction: fantasy). Katharine Kerr has succeeded in creating, in my opinion, one of those fantasy worlds that you never want to leave, with characters you really care about, as well as effortlessly weaving deep spiritual concepts like reincarnation into the story. Ever since I was a child, I loved magic, and these books have inspired me both to write and to keep my connection with the Celtic world (a key influence in my novel).
4) The Power of Now - Eckart Tolle (non-fiction). This is one I go back to again and again. Its wisdom is simple but profound: the present moment is the only moment there ever is - all else is illusion. Taking this concept deep into one's being is a way out of suffering and into joy and peace.
5) Writing Down the Bones - Natalie Goldberg (non-fiction). Natalie Goldberg, a Buddhist, novelist and creative writing 'guru', explains how to generate the creative process and get past your blocks, with simple exercises and inspiring examples from real life. It is more her own style than anything else that just makes me ache to write, and I love the way she incorporates Buddhist ideas into writing practice without even mentioning them.
6) The Whole Story and Other Stories - Ali Smith (fiction). I've read this twice - it's a phenomenal collection of short stories, where the writer uses the very concept of story to investigate what we tell ourselves. It got me into the short story form, when previously I'd mainly read novels.
7) Written on the Body - Jeanette Winterson (fiction). I first came across this when I was 19 and worked in a CD shop. I remember reading it at work (even with my ogre boss) because I couldn't put it down. It explores love from the point of view of a person of indeterminate gender (in true Jeanette Winterson style), and the language is so poetically beautiful and apt that the pages almost breathe. I've read it again since then, and it had lost none of its impact. If I could write like this...
8) Emmanuel's Book: A Manual for Living Comfortably in the Cosmos - Ram Dass (non-fiction). This is a precious book on my shelf. Spiritual teacher Ram Dass's channelled messages from Emmanuel, on many different areas of life from creation to illness to karma to duality, are what I like to read in the bath when treating myself to some uplifting 'me time'.
9) Anne Michaels - Poems: The Weight of Oranges, and Miner's Pond and Skin Divers (poetry). This compilation of three of Anne Michael's poetry collections, made a huge impact on me as a budding poet several years ago. I still have quotes from her poems written in my little 'inspiration notebook' that I've been writing in since I was 17! Here is a quote: "Everything we touch burns away, whether we give ourselves or not, the same April day spreads to thinness, the same winter afternoon thickens to dark" (The Second Search). Wow!
10) Succulent Wild Woman - Sark (non-fiction). It's a near tie between this and Clarissa Pinkola Estes' Women Who Run with the Wolves. Sark, a creative living mentor, is so bare with the truth about what it is to allow yourself to be fully human, that it just makes you want to run out and eat mangoes naked immediately (one of her pet metaphors). I remember reading this in Newlands Forest in Cape Town and feeling inspired to create and dance and simply be in a way I never had before.
11) The Golden Notebook - Doris Lessing (fiction). This seminal author explores issues of the alienation of our times and the rather close-to-home topic of artist's block. The book is brilliantly written and left a lasting impression on me. Here is a quote from it: "I tell you, there are a great line of women stretching out behind you into the past, and you have to seek them out and find them in yourself and be conscious of them".
12) Margaret Atwood - The Handmaid's Tale (fiction). This feminist dystopian novel left me reeling. Margaret Atwood is one of my favourite writers (poetry and fiction) and a huge inspiration to me. You really need to read it yourself!
13) Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves: Transforming parent-child relationships from reaction and struggle to freedom, power and joy - Naomi Aldort (non-fiction). I've been hearing about this book for a while,and finally got a copy myself. I'm reading it at the moment, and it totally delivers on its promise. I'm already enjoying motherhood a lot more since delving into it, and my connection with J is reaching a new level. I will share more about it in a future blog!
There are probably loads more, but I could go on all night. I look forward to being inspired by your inspiration!