RWB January Book Club

We met on a dank winter afternoon in the warm, well-lit lobby of the Pickford Film Center, the smell of popcorn wafting. Our January theme, fittingly: New Beginnings, Fresh Starts.

The Red Wheelbarrow Writers  are poets and seekers, philosophers and haiku writers, memoir writers, and mystery writers. Their sense of Fresh Starts goes far afield from the classic sorts of books I think of. As a novelist, and given my historical backgrounds, time travel novels like The Time Machine come to mind, classic novels: Les Misérables, Great Expectations, Huck Finn.

A poet brought in her own Fresh Starts, an intuitive journal, the sort of book that in the 18th century would have been called a Commonplace Book, full of bits and pieces, shards of poetry, post cards, scrawled notes, small paintings. Not a diary but a book of fresh ephemera, each bit testifying to some small burst of inspiration, some new beginning.

She also brought in several small elegant books guaranteed to ignite inspiration. Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, David Bayles and Ted Orland, 1993, focuses on the artistic process, and strategies for keeping the process going. And she mentioned Wabi Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers, by Leonard Koren, 2008: the beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, modest, incomplete.

Other seekers and artists brought books that described in archetypal, fairy tale terms, finding one’s creativity. Women Who Run with the Wolves (1992), by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. Estes describes the inner predator, stopping artists from achieving their full creative life, and how to outrun, or outsmart, or possibly even maul, best and eat up those predators.   Estes has also written a book about crones asking us to think beyond the stories and into the inner psyches of women.

Two other writers cited works of fiction, both classic and contemporary:  Much Ado about Nothing, and Jane Austen’s Persuasion, both about second chances (and fresh starts) in love. Kate Atkinson’s Life after Life asks the question: what if you had the chance to live your life over and over again until you got it right. And Atkinson’s new book, A God in Ruins, which our reviewer said had the best description ever of living through the Blitz in London. And Peter Ferry’s novel, Old Heart that insists you’re never too old to start again. One writer mentioned my novel These Latter Days about a Mormon wife in frontier Idaho who takes the extraordinary step of leaving her husband, and taking her five children with her to begin a new life in St. Elmo, California.

The best travel writers are always writing about new beginnings, seeing things afresh. Bill Bryson got special notice,his Notes From a Small Island, about his having moved from America and starting afresh in the UK.   And then, on returning to the USA, Notes from a Big Country, as well as his latest, The Road to Little Dribbling. Phil Cousineau’s The Art of the Pilgrimage: The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred. Another travel book of fresh experiences is Conversations on the Hudson, by Nick Hand, 2014. An Englishman bicycles five hundred miles through the Hudson Valley meeting and having conversations with craftspeople along the way.

The philosophical among us noted Hilary Mantel’s early novel of the French Revolution, A Place of Greater Safety, a fresh start that descended into chaos and a bloodbath. And the work of David Mitchell, best known for Cloud Atlas and The Bone Clocks, his 2010 novel The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, about a Dutch clerk in Japan in 1799.

Another sort of Fresh Start got tagged in Jennifer Finley Boylan’s book She’s Not There, about her transition to a woman. (And along those lines, we should also mention the travel writer, Jan Morris’s early Conundrum, about becoming Jan having been born James. )

The Woman Who Fell from the Sky by Jennifer Steil chronicles the life of journalist who is asked to go to Yemen for six weeks to teach a quick course to journalists there, and who ends up staying for life-changing years. The Art of Fielding, the 2011 best seller about a kid who is an amazing short stop whose talents change the course of his trajectory. Another classic brought forth was Animal Farm by the great George Orwell.

By the time we’d polished off the bottle of wine, and the last of the Christmas snacks, we had a stack of great new titles to explore. And one of our number went over to the Limelight theatre to see a film about the proverbial Fresh Start, The Danish Girl.

We agreed that our February theme would be Love. Some wanted to make it lost love, or thwarted love, but we left it just the great undifferentiated Love. Join us, 4 pm at the Pickford on Valentine’s Day to see what great new swath of insight the Red Wheelbarrow Writers bring to Love.

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