|Colin Meloy's Wildwood in a bookstore window|
One of the great perks of vacation is having extra time for reading - Patti Smith's Just Kids and Shann Ray's American Masculine were wonderful companions on this trip. I devoured most of Just Kids (Ecco, 2010) on the airplane - relished this fascinating and unvarnished glimpse into the lives of the artists, writers, and musicians of New York's Chelsea hotel scene in the late 1960's/early 1970's and especially Patti Smith's remarkable and unconventional relationship with the artist and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. While her life was hard in the material and physical sense, it was extremely rich in inspiration. The reader catches glimpses of such iconic characters as Andy Warhol, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Allen Ginsberg and many others, all of whom influenced and encouraged Smith's own creative journey. Smith's memoir often challenged me: I found myself sometimes questioning her choices, and tired a bit of her obsession with Rimbaud (chalking that one up to my own lack of familiarity with his charms), but I must say it captured my attention from start to finish, and gave me a lot to ponder with regard to creativity, and how we find our voices as artists, writers, musicians, etc.
American Masculine (Graywolf Press, 2011) is an intimate and moving short story collection by debut author Shann Ray, and winner of the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference Bakeless Prize. Set in the Western United States, Ray's stories deeply explore love and loss through the eyes of characters that are alienated from family or society, out of sync, or emotionally lost. Whether they are Native Americans in a predominantly white culture, struggling spouses, children of flawed parents, or flawed parents themselves, Ray lays bare their fears and faults and vulnerabilites with lovely, tender and heartbreaking prose. According to his bio, Ray spent part of his childhood on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation and, in addition to being a writer, holds a PhD in psychology. These influences combine poetically in Ray's writing, and if you are the kind of reader who finds beauty in sad stories, I cannot recommend this collection highly enough.
In case you are in need of a little creative inspiration of your own, I bring to you a lovely muse from the Vatican Museum. I believe she is Erato, the muse of epic poetry:
What creative endeavors are you pursuing these days? Share in the comments!
Happy reading, writing, and creating!