These are the 8th-12th of 25 books I have committed to read & review this year for a project I’m calling “25/25.” Follow visual updates on Instagram (& Twitter) with the hashtag #read25in25.
In interest of both sticking to my project goals and the deadlines I've publicly committed to, I've decided to shorten most of these 25-in-25 reviews considerably. I'm splitting my time between a number of different projects at the moment, want to best give what I can to each of them, and am trying to be realistic about just how much that is. If ever you're curious to know more about a book, don't hesitate to ask! I love to discuss what I'm reading, so perhaps these can function more as conversation starters rather than full out reviews. Thanks for following, everybody! And happy reading...
Joni: The Creative Odyssey of Joni Mitchell by Katherine Monk
I'll read just about anything I can get my hands on that's about Joni Mitchell. She's a huge influence on my own work as an artist–both musically & visually–and has been a great source of comfort & inspiration in recent years.
This book was a worthwhile read, though not my favorite take on the Joni Mitchell life-story. The facts are there, the stories are there, but Monk's insight seems a bit limited (or even off-base at times). This may be due largely to the fact that she was unable to get much if any direct conversation with Joni in the process of compiling this biography. I did appreciate that Monk, like Joni, is originally from Canada and could speak to some of specifics of growing up there was like.
I'd recommend Will You Take Me As I Am? Joni Mitchell's Blue Period for more insightful, accurate portrait of Joni Mitchell. I'm no expert necessarily. This is just my personal take based on my extensive "research"–or hours upon hours of watching documentaries, interview tapes, listening to/analyzing records, and studying related personality types. As you can see, I tend to get a little obsessed...but we can just call it "focused." Right? Maybe?
Art & the Bible by Francis Schaeffer
This is a classic that should be on the shelf of any artist who claims a Christian worldview/lifestyle.
It is essential to read the brief foreword to get situated in the book's historical context–to understand why it was written. However it is eerily applicable still (or again?) today, over 40 years later.
"In a world that had become suspicious of the beautiful, Schaeffer reminded us that the Father of Jesus was also the God of beauty." (Foreward, p8)
Schaeffer encourages artists to take seriously the lordship of Christ over every aspect of our lives. Meaning that if Jesus is the lord of all that has been made and will be, that we are at liberty to make art about anything and everything in creation as we experience it, so long as we remain submitted to the lordship of Jesus. This essentially obliterates the sacred vs. secular divide, and states that Christians don't have to feel limited to making art only about religious themes (though of course they are at liberty to make religiously themed art as well). If all has been made through Jesus (John 1:3), there isn't a secular molecule in the universe. And at a time when about 98% of the mainstream art & music coming out of the "Christian market" is only focusing on about the 2% most "spiritual" aspects of our human experience, this is good news to us. We need art made by folks looking at the world with a Christian worldview about all sorts of things they see and experience, not just art about the worldview itself. We need art that's honest about the hard, unresolved aspects of our lives that doesn't try to tie up the pain of those neatly by the end of every 3 minute song. The whole body of work of a Christian should certainly be dominated by the hope of full life we know, but by no means does that require an artist to be dishonest about doubt, pain, confusion, loneliness, anger or anything of the sort in any given piece of art...with no rush to resolve prematurely.
And ultimately–artist or not– Schaeffer reiterates time and time again that the ultimate artwork is our life itself. We can and should learn to see our lives as works of art, crafting them into things of truth and beauty amidst a world in deep need of both.
And the Floor Was Always Lava by Michelle Junot
So, one of my best friends and college roommate Michelle Junot wrote a book. It's been special for me to see a number of these stories be developed over the last few years, culminating in this project. But I recommend this read to you from the most unbiased stance I can muster. Really, I'm putting on my let's-be-objective pants for this one...
Michelle has this uniquely entertaining-while-insightful voice in her writing, and there's really nothing quite like it (as far as I can tell). There's dry wit, blunt realism, and deep insight in her observations that will have you all over the spectrum of emotion by the time you're done with this book. I read this by the pool one afternoon and noted how grateful I was for my sunglasses as tears, giggles, belly-laughs, and my thinking face (not super attractive) were surely all on display at one point or another.
A book of stories that chart a coming-of-age in the world. Michelle's coming of age, yes, but somehow in someway our own coming-of-age too.
Buy the book at michellejunot.com.
(Photos of Michelle & me...Good writing requires: good friends, good teachers, good ice cream, and good coffee shops.)
The Intentional Christian Community Handbook by David Janzen (and a community of friends)
The opening line of the foreword reads, "This is a book we've needed for a long, long time." And that couldn't be more true.
We've had books of big visions and stories of radical living. We've had books on the theologies and ideologies that drive the visions and experiments in life-together. And many of these are excellent books. Deeply excellent and needed. However there's been something missing from the shelf...whether we knew it or not...and this book can now fill that gap.
Practical. Deeply honest. Real. Humble. Hopeful. Helpful.
Janzen and his friends have been at this life-together thing for a long time, being formed by community for almost twice as long as I've been alive. The relief, joy, confirmation, and conviction a few of us have felt as we've immersed ourselves in this wisdom is invaluable and essential past the point of words.
If you've been confused and curious about what the heck this intentional Christian community stuff is...or what New Monasticism is (or just how to pronounce it)...and how these intentional communities of all kinds are relating within themselves, to each other, and/or to the wider church body, this is a great place to start learning. And if you're in thick of community wondering if you're falling apart or growing, what covenanted life can look like in different seasons, or just how to get the dishes washed regularly...this is for you.
"This is a book for people who long for community and for people who've found it; for young seekers and for old radicals. Like a farmer's almanac or a good cookbook, it's a guide that doesn't tell you what to do but rather gives you the resources you need to find your way together with friends in the place where you are." (Foreword, xiv)
Get Happy: The Life of Judy Garland by Gerald Clarke
Ok, I went through a Judy Garland phase as a kid. Not a Wizard of Oz phase or an Andy Hardy phase or anything like that, but a full out Judy Garland phase...as in a fascinated by her life story, begging my mom to take me to Blockbuster (remember those?) to find the DVD of Life With Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows phase.
I was probably 12 years old. Having recently re-watched that film and read this 528-page book, I see now that this was maybe an odd thing for a 12 year old to be so interested in, but nevertheless I just was.
She's one of the greatest talents yet to walk the earth with a story that fluctuates between tragic and triumphant until that little body that housed such a huge voice and even bigger heart just couldn't keep going anymore. With an overbearing stage mother who started her on amphetamines at age 10 and the monopoly that was MGM never satisfied with her weight or face or friends for years and years...she really barely had a hope of a stable adult existence. Sure, there were a lot of poor choices along the way for which the responsibility is hers, but it's hard to deny that the cards were stacked against her from an early age. And with that in mind, the brilliance that she blessed millions with seems all the more magical...
An agile, curious mind that loved to learn. The photographic memory that could memorize a script in one read-through. The capacity to seemingly become the character she was to play. The endurance and supreme work ethic (when healthy). The electric presence that moved audiences time and time again. The overflowing love and affection for her audiences and children. The playfulness and humor/wit that many knew and loved. The list goes on...
The opposites could surely be listed as well. Judy was a drug addict before anyone knew much how to help with such struggles–and she, her family, her coworkers, her staff, and her acquaintances all fell victim to problems this created.
But don't call her life a tragedy...it's clear enough that she'd hate that. She was adamant that she loved life. This was a roller-coaster of a read, but one I'm glad to have invested time in. I've learned much about the human capacity for both beauty and destruction from her story–feeling the potential of each to manifest in myself. I'm grateful for the inspiration to draw from Judy's triumphs and the warnings to be heeded from her struggles. And I'm grateful we still have so much of her here to enjoy through the films, recordings, her children, books, etc.