Writing Down The Bones

I promised you must-read writing books. Let’s start with Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. It has been a beacon to scribes and wannabes for over 30 years. I discovered it late and have compensated by reading it two or three times a year since.

Goldberg’s fundamental principle is just write. If you want to be a writer, write. That’s been sound advice since Epictetus dished it a couple of thousand years ago. Goldberg picks up the Stoic philosopher’s thread with brief, punchy chapters that are so elegantly written as to make writing seem infinitely appealing, even when she’s telling you how hard it is.

My feeble descriptive capacity does Natalie no justice so, with respect, I’ll let a few snippets speak for themselves.

Writing Down The Bones

“It is important to have a way worked out to begin your writing; otherwise, washing the dishes becomes the most important thing on earth — anything that will divert you from writing. Finally, one just has to shut up, sit down, and write. That is painful.” p26

“Our lives are at once ordinary and mythical. We live and die, age beautifully or full of wrinkles. We wake in the morning, buy yellow cheese, and hope we have enough money to pay for it. At the same instant we have these magnificent hearts that pump through all sorrow and all winters we are alive on the earth.” p47

“Be specific. Don’t say “fruit.” Tell what kind of fruit — “It is a pomegranate.” Give things the dignity of their names.” p77

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Sunrise, Ibiza

“Another friend told me about her father who left the family suddenly when she was twelve and became a born-again Christian and embezzled money from the churches of three states. It was her personal tragedy. I told her it was a great story. Her face lit up. She realized she could transform her life in a new way — as material for writing.” p85

“Push yourself beyond when you think you are done with what you  have to say. Go a little further. Sometimes when you think you are done, it is just the edge of beginning. Probably that’s why we decide we’re done. It’s getting too scary. We are touching down onto something real.” p112

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Penn campus, West Philadelphia

“Continue under all circumstances. Don’t be rigid, though. If one day you have to take your kids to the dentist when it is your time to write, write in the dentist’s office or don’t write. Just stay in touch underneath with your commitment for this wild, silly, and wonderful writing practice. Always stay friendly toward it. It’s easier to come back to a good friend than an enemy.” p145

“When I reread my notebooks it never fails to remind me that I have a life, that I felt and thought and saw. It is very reaffirm, because sometimes writing seems useless and a waste of time. Suddenly you are sitting in your chair fascinated by your own mundane life. That’s the great value of art — making the ordinary extraordinary.” p172

Visit Natalie’s website. She has a new book out soon in paperback!

Really, you have to read it for yourself. Get it!

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Above the clouds

 

 

 

 

Writing like a pilot

Glorious clear days mean flying.

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Cessna 172 Skyhawk

Chris is building pilot-in-command hours. There is a ridiculous number of categories and designations of flying privileges, starting with private pilot. The common denominator is each level requires more time in the air, so he gravitates towards Cessna 172s whenever winds are calm and visibility good.

He bought me a Bose noise-cancelling aviation headset to match his. It’s the sweetest and least-likely gift I’ve ever received, and the most useful. Without it, I’d be as deaf as a newel.

The first time we flew together was in Ann Arbor. Bouncing around in the choppy air, I kept reminding myself that at least we’d die together.

I’m braver now, though it still takes real effort to not grip his arm in panic when we hit a bump. Don’t mess with the hand that controls the trim wheel.

The last two days we logged five hours and I’m starting to get a teensy bit hooked on it. Chris is patient with my incessant (in-Cessnant?) questions: What’s that gauge? What does it mean when the controller says that? What happens if you push that button?

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Ready for take-off

Piloting is intensive, but not in the ways I thought. Most of the Cessna 172s at the rural Mississippi airport Chris flies out of date from the 70s. They remind me of VW Bugs. The instruments are basic. Some of them run off gyroscopes which whir away after the engine is off, like bees running out of buzz. Flying a single-engine plane is mechanics and talking. Before we even get in he does a full circuit, checking the fuel, oil, tyres, struts, air intake, and assorted bits of which I have yet to learn the names.

Once we’re buckled in and have our headsets on he reviews the controls, oil pressure, engine heat, fuel mix, lights and so forth. Laminated checklists guide every step from pre-flight to taxi to take-off to flying to landing. Chris also carries a little clipboard with notepaper to scribble down weather information and radio frequencies. These are the single most important thing once the engine kicks over. Radio navigation is the fundamental tool for getting from point to point; it’s what keeps planes from colliding in midair; it’s how lost pilots get found, and planes come safely through clouds.

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Flight charts

Flying seems like magic but all it requires is the pilot understand and abide by simple standard practices. Check the equipment, know the frequencies, listen, trust the instruments: you’ll get where you’re going. Writing is the same.

Good writing may look like sorcery but it has patterns, structures and guidelines. Different types of writing have different “checklists” but even wild free verse or stiff academic prose follow basic rules of logic and language.

If you write beautifully by ear you can still learn
a huge amount (and gain courage) by understanding the principles of good writing. Before you know it, you’ll be flying.

Stay tuned for some of my favourite guidebooks… and share yours in the comments!

 

 

Write as if you were dying

“Write as if you were dying”. Annie Dillard’s advice (The Writing Life, p 68) has echoed in my head since I scribbled it in my notebook yesterday.

writing-life

“What would you begin writing,” she asks. “If you knew you would die soon?”

Yesterday’s answer was: I don’t know.

Today’s answer is shaded by the news of he-wh0-shall-not-be-named’s immigration ban. My mind keeps casting for a flicker of hope or relief. The hook comes up emptyemptyempty.

What would you write if sanity and morality were dying in your world, leaving good people gasping, upside down, like fish in a poisoned lake?

What the fuck can I say in the face of that?

Tweet. RT.

#resist #notmypresident #imanimmigrant

Someone, Natalie Goldberg maybe, said if you can ask a question you can answer it. Fine.

If I were dying, I’d write about not knowing where I belong. I’d write about the rain and the pine trees. I’d write about riding the old red Routemaster bus from Finchley Road to the Strand. I’d write about the nights drinking on Old Compton Street, and the Weatherspoons on Charing Cross Road. I’d write about making boots out of pink acrylic fur and wearing them to hard house raves beneath the arches at London Bridge. I’d write about buying Andy a Kinder Egg for Easter and watching him repair his trainers with superglue. I’d write about waiting for hours for a minute of conversation with Will; about the night he bought me a bottle of champagne in a drafty club in Elephant & Castle. I’d write about how extraordinary the stars are in southern Idaho, miles from the nearest town; and how the Nevada desert doesn’t look real beneath the pearly light of the full moon. I’d write about how the air smells at night in Ibiza and the whorled trucks of ancient olive trees. I’d write about the ribbon-like roads of the Amalfi Coast and the way the wind topples turquoise waves into streamers of white foam on the Mayan Riviera. I’d write about learning to taste wine and chargrill aubergines. I’d write about the dead men who make me grind my teeth. I’d write about feeling lost. I’d write about the books that shaped me, the ones I turn to for comfort. I’d write about being a god-fearing child and agnostic adult. I’d write that the most important thing in the world is being able to walk away. Then I’d contradict myself and say the most important thing is to know when to say.

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Amalfi Coast, Italy

What I’d be trying to say, through all of it, is I don’t know. Maybe you do. Maybe someone does. But me? Nope. Not a clue. I don’t know what it means to be here, to be me. I don’t know what picture the pieces make. All the memories and experiences, all the fun and all the disasters, all the friendships and the distance.

This is where I should trot out a pithy homily and – zi-zang!- all will be clear. But it’s not that kind of day; arguably, as of today, we don’t live in that kind of world. There are no pat explanations or obvious answers. All I know is that we have a fundamental human obligation to treat each other with care and respect. Everything else — our histories, preferences, quirks, interests, opinions — are inconsequential compared to this single, immense obligation. The only question any more is What can I do to help?

Support: Amnesty International Support: Human Rights Watch Support: ACLU

 

 

Birthday Poem: ‘Trouble’

On encountering Jack Gilbert’s ‘Trouble’ I had to look up Saint Chrysostom. Turns out the holy man in question was the Archbishop of Constantinople and his feast day in the Eastern Orthodox calendar of such things is 27 January. On that note…

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Summer in the Mediterranean — Ibiza

‘Trouble’
by Jack Gilbert

This is what the Odyssey means.
Love can leave you nowhere in New Mexico
raising peacocks for the rest of your life. The seriously happy heart is a problem.
Not the easy excitement, but summer in the
Mediterranean mixed with the
rain and bitter cold of February on the
Riviera, everything on fire in the
violent winds. The pregnant heart
is driven to hopes that are the
wrong size for this world.
Love is always disturbing in the
heavenly kingdom.
Eden cannot manage so much ambition.
The kids ran from all over the piazza
yelling and pointing and jeering
at the young Saint Chrysostom
standing dazed in the church doorway
with the shining around his mouth
where the Madonna had kissed him.

Buy Jack Gilbert’s ‘Collected Poems’

Share your birthday with an interesting character ? Share in the comments

Highway 61, Visited

Clarksdale, Mississippi is where, according to legend, Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil. The alleged swap took place at the junction of Highway 49 and Highway 61, crossroads now marked with a blue-and-white sign and a guitar. Across the street: Church’s Chicken and a gas station. Opposite, Abe’s Barbecue “Swine dining since 1924.” You can judge a place by the length of time since anything noteworthy happened.

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Carnegie Library

There is a Carnegie Library, built in 1913. Blue plaques commemorate Ike Turner and WROX Radio. Ground Zero blues club, part-owned by Morgan Freeman, looks like a cross between the set of The Wire and the toilets in an indie rock club: busted sofas, a bench seat from some ancient automobile, scrawls and music stickers slapped on the walls. Its patio looks like Miss Del’s “garden” a few blocks down — a concrete plot sprouting mismatched furniture beneath a wall blazoned “God Speed the Plow.” Miss Del’s garden, like the adjoining General Store, is slumped and peeling. The only bright spot a crisp red-and-white “For Sale by Owner” sign.

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Ground Zero Blues Club

 

Whoever sells these signs has the only growth industry in town. The grocery store is boarded over; sheets drape the windows of Dependable Appliances; the Sunflower Building is a rambling corrugated iron shed that betrays no sense of purpose; “Customer parking only / Others towed at owner’s expense” warns a sign in front of a derelict drive-through. Mag-pie Gift shop is one of the few establishments that looks alive but it’s Sunday afternoon. What business gets done in Clarksdale doesn’t happen on the Lord’s day. Especially not as dull a one as this.

Highway 61 runs through pancake flats of mud broken by lines of black, leafless trees. Rain falls, unremitting, feeding shallow silver pools of water. Occasionally a line of bright green-and-yellow John Deere tractors breaks the monotony; less predictably, a shack roofed yellow parachute fabric. God gave good advice: If you want some killing done, no one will notice here.

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Highway 61, Mississippi delta

Above, flat silvery clouds; alongside, sodden fields; ahead, burnished concrete ribbon unspooling at the speed of our tires. For an open space, it feels awfully cramped. Tension splits the sullen sky and black Delta mud. This land’s richest days sprang from the slavery. Its finest heritage is heart-cries of anguish distilled through despair to bittersweet blues. What becomes of a place whose only pride is the beauty of its ugliness?

 

Judging by Clarksdale, it crumbles, contracting in a permanent spasm of hopelessness, too broke to sustain even the liquor store. You can buy beer at the gas station next door, though. A big, elderly black woman stands between thebattered gas-pumps and the shop’s iron-barred door, her red sun hat blooming like a flower above a royal purple dress. She’s the only sign of life on the streets, apart from a heavysetman wrangling two small children across an empty intersection. Do they bother to teach kids to look both ways here? Is anyone ever coming?

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Clarksdale town center

Levon’s Bar and Grill is the only place to get a drink or assurance you’ve not stumbled into a nightmare. Two white-haired white guys play the blues. On the guitar, Mr Pony-tail, beret and handlebar mustache; on harmonica, vocals and kick-drum, Mr Clean-shaven in a loose-fitting black button-down, says he has a wife but doesn’t wear a ring. They play “Sunshine of Your Love” and “It’s Alright Mama”, run through a joke about topless hippies that’s as threadbare as knees on old Levi’s.

 

Behind the bar, Mr Birdsong chirps. His daddy is a retired firefighter-cum-blues historian who tends bar across town. Mr B the younger, a “fourth or fifth generation” Clarksdaler, got away all the way to Tupelo (two hours east) to apprentice as a portrait painter. Spent 13 years learning his art then moved back, 14 years ago, tended bar with his daddy till Levon wrangled him. “I have kids running around, ex-wives on my nerves,” he says, grinning.

There are half a dozen of us in the room. A tattooed tourist from Milan wearing a fancy-dress take on Easy Rider chic: denim vest over a leather jacket, cowboy boots, red bandana tied over a frizzy curls that swish around his shoulders, rings on every finger. Sharing his table, a big man with bloodhound jowls wearing overalls and hoodie. Tucked in the corner is a tidy, middle aged couple in matching black puffa jackets. They’re from Brazil, which means they must have read about the Delta Blues Museum and Highway 61, must have come looking for some magic. I wonder if this enough.

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Crossroads, Clarksdale

Blues was survival music. Here in Clarksdale, whose famous sons and daughters include John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Bessie Smith, Son House, Sam Cooke, Johnny B. Moore, and many others, it still is. Those fields of Mississippi mud aren’t likely to birth anything better and it is a long way to somewhere else on Highway 61.

Read: Delta Blues: The Life and Times of the Mississippi Masters, Ted Gioia

Listen: Bob Dylan, Hwy 61 Revisited

 

Resist List

A shitstorm’s a’coming, America, and it is tempting to sit like a rabbit in the headlights of 24/7 all-you-can-eat-non-stop-over-the-top media madness. It is easy to feel helpless as a bunny in front of a bazooka. Which is what They want. They want good people to be frightened, disempowered, anxious, depressed, fatalistic. They get us that way by generating global drama to distract us from the simple business of living in our own skin.

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Do your damnedest

Who has time to help a neighbour, volunteer, or read a book when THE END IS NIGH?

Not us, if They can help it.

Let’s call out that lie. Let’s insist on the value and validity of our lives. Let’s resist by doing small things to help, encourage, support, and contribute to our community.

Resistance comes in all shapes, sizes and creeds. Environmental activism, visiting the elderly, leading a youth group, donating to an animal shelter. It’s all good. It all matters. Every small act of care for a sentient being is a pebble in Goliath’s eye.

Here’s my resist list. What’s yours?

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Stand for something

Tip cash

Cash tips mostly go to servers. Card tips mostly disappear into an accounting black hole. Also, if you’re in the USA, do a quick Google search and check state law on tipping. In Oregon, employers have to pay the full minimum wage, tips are extra. In Tennessee, employers pay as little as $2.13/hour as tips count towards the paltry $7.25/hour minimum wage. If your home state is in a similar situation contact your Representatives & Congress people, and agitate against these oppressive laws that protect bosses.

Buy less/buy second hand

Because A) They want you to be doped on ads, neck-deep in debt and dissatisfied; and
B) Stuff ties you down. Stay free, stay mobile.

Avoid cheap new goods; they are the product of exploitation. As the great Victorian critic John Ruskin pointed out, if something is sold for less the true cost of production, it is stolen. They are also an environmental nightmare. Resell, re-buy, reuse. Craigslist, eBay, Amazon, garage sales, and thrift stores are a good place to start.

Get a library card

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Read for your rights

Libraries are the perfect place to plot a revolution. Read the books They don’t want you to read. Study. Learn. Connect to worlds of wisdom and possibility.

Exercise

The only proven treatment for depression that has no negative side effects? Exercise.
It also prevents heart disease, diabetes, stroke, dementia, etc etc. They are happy to have a weak, sick, docile population. Stay strong and resist.

Speak

Even if you think it doesn’t affect you. Never forget the words of Martin Niemoller,
a German Protestant minister who spent seven years in Nazi concentration camps:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Listen

To the people you love: because it’s easy to take then for granted,  take out our stress on them, or assume we know them. Ask questions, even if you think you know the answer.

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Be alert

To people you disagree with: antagonism and mutual mistrust is what got us here, it won’t get us out. Let’s none of us build walls.

To people no one else hears: kids, homeless, older, female, coloured… there are a lot of things that get you ignored. Make a conscious effort to give them your ear.

 

Share your Resist List in the comments or Tweet @CilaWarncke your #resistlist

 

 

Reread: Best Books of 2016

If, like me, you have a voice in your head that tells you off for paying attention to your own life, for saving boarding passes and scribbled-upon napkins, for stopping to write love letters in the sand, ignore it.

img_20161113_151120Happiness and creativity depend on valuing our lives. They depend on listening, watching, recording, remembering. It is easy to envy other people’s lives — so exciting! Such superior children/holidays/houses/jobs/wardrobes/sex lives! Such a torrent of fabulous Instagram photos and witty Facebook status updates. We get so caught up peering through the virtual window of our neighbours’ lives we forget to look at our own. We don’t see the pathos, adventure, and pleasure of our own existence because we’re not looking.

Two years ago I started a keeping a list of all the books I read. It seemed like a self-indulgent tic indicative of an unhealthy level of ego. Or, worse, a pointless exercise (who cares?) My delight in list-making narrowly trumped these niggles. Now a blue virtual post-it on my home screen contains a list of all the books I read in 2016.

The list reminds me not only what I’ve read, but how I read. It is a snapshot of the ebb and flow of time and energy. January 2016 was a book-heavy month, gobbling up a glut of Christmas goodies and biding a lot of time until my second date with the soon-to-be boyfriend. February was a respectable showing. March, the month I spent between London, Dominican Republic and Brussels, I read almost nothing. The next two months were spent in a miserable, unsuccessful attempt to assimilate into a receptionist job at an overrated luxury agrotourismo in Ibiza — it was bad enough I only read a book and a half. Finishing Anna Karenina took me through June. The rest of the year I read in fits and starts. What jumped out, reviewing the list, was how many books I reread. And, with the exception of High Tide in Tucson and Jane Eyre, not just for the second time.

Looking over my top ten rereads reminds me what I value and crave. The books on this list all offer, directly or through illustration, wisdom and encouragement to those trying hard to live by their own lights. From the esoteric musings of the Glass siblings to the tough-love advice of Cheryl Strayed, each book is, in its own way, a tonic. They were rocks in the fast-moving stream of a year where everything changed, stepping stones to a new life.

Franny & Zooey, JD Salinger

franny

The summer I was 15 I lived with my older sister and worked at Wendy’s. Every day on my break I hunkered down in store cupboard and read Franny & Zooey. To this day I’m not sure where I got the book, or why it grabbed me. What I do know is I’ve read it somewhere between 30-50 times, can quote entire sections of it verbatim, and reread it at least twice a year. In part it’s the reflection of myself I see in Zooey who says “I’m sick to death of waking up furious every morning and going to bed furious at night”, an echo of my relationship with my siblings in the narrator’s aside that the Glass siblings share a “semantic geometry where the shortest distance between two points is a fullish circle”, or descriptions like, “the Jewish-Irish Mohican scout who died in your arms at the roulette table in Monte Carlo.” In part, because the wildly verbose, witty, strangely timeless sentences still reveal new flashes of character. The narrator says it is a “compound or multiple love story, pure and complicated” which is a fine description of the writing, too.

Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott

Ostensibly a book about writing, Bird by Bird is a wise, funny, heart-rending guide to living life when you don’t fit in a box. The combination of Lamott’s acerbic yet self-deprecating turns of phrase coupled with her palpable compassion is almost unbearable. I cry every time I read it, even though I’ve read it so many times I well up in anticipation. It makes me want to walk around hugging everyone and at the same time makes me want to be a blazing good writer. Every chapter is a gem, but “Jealousy” and “KFKD” are maybe the best things you’ll ever read on, respectively, the eponymous emotion and self-doubt. And her advice about avoiding libel charges is hilarious, priceless, and involves the memorable comparison of a penis to a baby bird in its nest.

Letters to a Young Poet, Rilkeletters

This I plucked off a library shelf in Tigard, OR on the strength of the fact that Lady Gaga has a Rilke quote tattooed on her upper arm — it reads in part, “confess to yourself that you would die if you were forbidden to write”. The line, it transpires, is from Letters To A Young Poet which is so rich in exquisitely worded wisdom it flays me. Rilke’s advice on sex, solitude, and seeking ones calling is so incisive it takes my breath away. And, as a poet, he makes every word count, crafting artful sentences that blow my mind on both a philosophical and aesthetic basis. I love it so much, I read it aloud and sent the recording as a gift to a friend.

 

A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf

Woolf’s trenchent analysis of what women writers need is as relevant today as when she delivered the lectures from which it was drawn in 1928. We may have “come a long way, baby” but women are still underpaid, overworked, and too often cut off from the privileges that enrich men’s prospects. Sexism may not be as crude as the beadle who ordered her out of the Oxford library, but it thrives in a thousand insidious ways that women internalise or ignore at their own risk. I also love Woolf’s dazzling prose, which gave us, “one can not think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”

Tiny Beautiful Things, Cheryl Strayed

This collection of Strayed’s advice columns written for The Rumpus’s Dear Sugar column breaks my heart wide open. I’m sobbing by the time I get through the second or third letter, whichever it is that is from the women who suffered a late-term miscarriage. It is hard to put my finger exactly on what it is about Tiny Beautiful Things that makes me gasp. Mostly, it’s Strayed’s unflinching willingness to examine the hardest things in her own life. She doesn’t rush through awfulness, or glide past suffering, she stays, unafraid to study it and claim who and what she is in the wake of it. This solipsism is unexpectedly comforting. By inhabiting and sharing her experience she makes it okay to inhabit and unpick my experience. Line by line, she demonstrates the potential for growth and change in every life. If one is willing to embrace an almost Stoic determination to live well by doing what’s right.

Endurance, Melissa Madenski

enduranceIn 2015 I committed to memorising a poem per month, and did. Not all of them have remained word-perfect in my head, but it was an incredible experience with language. When you learn something by heart, you discover things. Cadence, repetition, punctuation, imagery all become vivid in an unpredictable way. I didn’t set out to memorise poetry in 2016 but I read a lot of it — including fantastic collections by Jack Gilbert and CP Cavafy. My favourite reread, though, was this slender chapbook by an Oregon writer. She lost her husband to an unexpected heart attack when she was in her 30s with two young children and the grief of that loss reverberates through Endurance. These are poems about learning to live with the worst case, not with resignation but with courage and, ultimately, joy. It’s another one I can’t make it through without tears, but they’re cathartic.

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte

Of all the my rereads, this was the most fun because it was so different from my memory of it. I must have been 12 or 13 when I read Jane Eyre and I was bored witless. Years later, I read Wuthering Heights and hated it, confirming my prejudice against their weird, masochistic and wildly overrated Brontë sisters. Then on a whim I read Anne Brontë’s Tenant of Wildfell Hall and liked it. And somewhere I heard that Jane Eyre was feminist. So I gave it another shot and fell in love. Bold feminism plus a terrific yarn? Brilliant.

Free Kindle edition

Long Quiet Highway, Natalie Goldberg

I reread at least one or two of Goldberg’s books each year. Most often Writing Down the Bones or Wild Mind, but this time I went for The Long Quiet Highway which is mostly about her study of Zen Buddhism over the years. Which of course means it is about writing, being, meaning, truth, acceptance, and everything else that matters. Writing is Zen; Zen is writing. Whatever we do is meditation if we allow it to be. The subtitle is Waking Up in America which is  nearly what I named this blog because that’s what I’m trying to do: wake up in a country I left 16 years ago; figure out what it means to be me in America in 2017, and how to do something good here.

Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson

Treasure Island has been a staple of my literary diet since I was 15 or so. I was a precocious reader, but not above devouring whatever I could get my hands on, and this yarn of seafaring and daring-do always hit the spot. Years later, when I moved to Ibiza, I started to think of it as treasure island — a supposed paradise guarded by dead men’s bones and half-crazed exiles. Overly dramatic personal parallels aside, it is a fantastically fun book and an excellent template for writers looking to craft a fast-paced, unforgettable story.

Free Kindle edition

High Tide in Tucson, Barbara Kingsolver

Kingsolver is the most recent addition to my personal pantheon of southern American writers (Carson McCullers, Hunter S Thompson, Eudora Welty, Truman Capote, etc etc) and possibly the one I’d Most Like To Meet. Writing implacably reveals character and every word I’ve read of Kingsolver makes me think she is a Good Person, smart as hell, and cracking company on a night out. Her fiction boggles me and this book of essays is one of the finest, sharpest, most humane collections I’ve had the pleasure of reading. The title essay alone is worth the price of admission; Buster the stranded hermit crab may change your life.

What were your favourite rereads of 2016? Share in the comments or tweet @CilaWarncke