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Leanne Brown

Sage Cohen

Bette Husted
What Divides Us

Sarah Sloat
Without Category

Patricia Weaver Francisco 

Roberta Ulrich
American Indians

Peter Rock

Robin Rinaldi
Self Knowledge

Ruth Madievsky
Medicine & The Arts

Franny Choi
Body Language

Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer

Ebony Stewart
Sexual Health

Sonja Livingston
Hidden Lives

J.I. Kleinberg

Barbara Crooker

Shawnte Orion
Pop Culture

Amber Keyser

Yolanda Sanchez

Diane Lockward

Nahshon Cook

Maxine Sheets-Johnstone

Shawna Lemay

Fran Kimmel
Troubled Childhood

January Gill O'Neil
Marriage & Divorce

Erin Block
Wild Places

Currie Silver
The Art of Being

Paulann Petersen
Nature Inside & Out

Scott T. Starbuck
Activist Poetry

Shirley McPhillips
Poetry in the Everyday

Rick Campbell
Industrial Cities & Workers

Sandy Longhorn
Midwestern Rural Life

Sharon Bond Brown
Women's Ordinary Lives

Jeff Düngfelder
Absence & Silence

Valerie Savarie
Art Books

Valerie Wigglesworth & Ralph Swain

Ann Staley
Past & Present

Reb Livingston
Oracles & Dreams

Eduardo Gabrieloff
Latino Writers

Lisa Romeo
Personal Essays by Women

Mari L’Esperance
Mixed Heritage

Lee Lee
(Un)Natural Resources

Henry Hughes

Tracy Weil

Penelope Scambly Schott
Strong Women

Allyson Whipple
Roadtrips & Realizations

Hannah Stephenson

Blog Index
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When we read, creativity is stirred.

And when we create, our lives expand.

3 Good Books invites writers & artists to share their favorite books on a given theme.


Yolanda Sánchez on Attention

“Making art, for me, is a way of being present in the world. It is an act of attention,” says Yolanda Sánchez, a visual artist based in Miami, Florida.

Born in Havana, Cuba, Sánchez was a child when she immigrated to the U.S. After working decades as  a clinical psychologist, she returned to school to earn bachelor and master degrees in painting from Yale University. Her beautifully abstract paintings are exhibited both nationally and internationally, and she also serves as director of Fine Arts & Cultural Affairs at Miami International Airport.

“It is my desire to become both a more finely tuned observer and to live more in the moment,” she says. Influenced by dance, calligraphy, poetry, and Buddhism, Sanchez considers her work a reflection of her spiritual practice. “It is not about dogma but is about doing,” she explains, “and the effort to develop more mindfulness, greater attention and compassion, to sharpen the senses.”

Calligraphy and dance also inform her work. “They both use and reflect elements of movement and stillness, suggesting at once, dissolution and impermanence, but also, interrelatedness. The goal is to capture an energy or spirit – something impermanent, moving and changing.”   

“My intention for the future is to widen my boundaries – find new sources of inspiration, discover something I don’t know – any or all of these experiences that make me love the world a little more.”

Yolanda Sánchez suggests three good books on the theme of Attention:

How Proust Can Change Your Life
by Alain de Botton

A delightfully humorous book, a self-help manual of sorts. De Botton reappraises Proust’s famous book, In Search of Lost Time, as a self-help manual for modern times, pointing that our dissatisfactions are more a consequence of “a certain way of living” and a “certain way of looking.”  This book is a guide through Proust’s life and writings, summarized with the admonition to “stop wasting time and start appreciating life.”  Chapters with titles such as How to Take Your Time and How to Open Your Eyes, ardently tell us that the world becomes more interesting when we slow down and attend, when we notice the details of our surroundings. Unhappiness occurs when we neglect to pay attention to the particulars of our lives, when we consider our lives to be “trivial.”  De Botton relates and quotes Proust and his famous incident with the madeleine: “No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shiver ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses . . and at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disaster innocuous, its brevity illusory . . . I had ceased now to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal.”  This was just an ordinary French sweet cake, but attention to his senses allowed for a luminous experience and one that activated memory. De Botton concludes, “beauty is something to be found, rather than passively encountered” and “it requires us to pick up on certain details . . .”  

Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art
by Stephen Nachmanovitch

I have read this book at least five times, if not more, and I open it every so often for inspiration. In a way, it is about attending in a certain way, as I note in my comment about Proust above. It is about releasing our creativity through methods that unblock our natural flow. This natural flow comes through being connected and ready or receptive, and is facilitated through play and improvisation. Alluding to many Zen teachings, Nachmanovitch states that being awake means being ready to respond. The “real material” is always there and what we desire to express is already within us. It can, however, be enhanced through practice or it can become blocked. The mind at play allows us to tap into the energy or force that is present. In improvisation, there is only the NOW (all there is, really!). To tap into the now it is necessary to surrender and be fully present, to have an attitude of “nothing to win, nothing to lose.” Through play, states Nachmanovitch, we can learn to develop a state of mind which is completely tuned into the present moment. It is an attitude and way of being that teaches us that every moment is unique and will never happen exactly the same way. The Japanese say, “ichigo, ichie” – one moment, one meeting; one opportunity, one encounter.  “The whole essence of bringing art into life is learning to listen to our guiding voice,” which we know as intuition. And it comes with attention.

New and Selected Poems
by Mary Oliver

Reading a Mary Oliver poem is a way of awakening and slowing down. I read her words and I feel I am actually present in the natural world. My senses are activated. The poems ask us to “stop, look and see,” and to “be astonished.”  “To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work,” states Oliver. Like Proust, Oliver asks us to see in a “certain way.” When we pay attention, it is as if we are seeing each thing or situation for the first time – it is always fresh. It is a “beginner’s mind” as Suzuki Roshi tells us:  “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s there are few.” We hurry about and don’t truly notice, or we think we know and don’t really look. Oliver illuminates the ordinary and makes it extraordinary; yes, we can get a rush from the most mundane things: a grasshopper, a whelk, a black bear. “The world offers itself to your imagination,” she says, but we need to notice. From the marvel of reality, we touch on the spiritual. For Oliver, the act of attention is a form of prayer.  


Diane Lockward on Food

Diane Lockward is poet laureate of West Caldwell, New Jersey, and the author of The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop.

She runs two two annual literary events: Girl Talk: A Poetry Reading in Celebration of Women’s History Month and the West Caldwell Poetry Festival, produces a monthly poetry newsletter, and maintains Blogalicious, a popular poetry blog.

In her four poetry books — Temptation by Water, What Feeds Us, Eve's Red Dress, and a forthcoming collection, The Uneaten Carrots of Atonement — food plays a central role.

"Some of the poems are about the hunger we have for real food, but others are about the larger hungers – our need for love, for sex, family, success, the past. These hungers are a kind of longing," she has said. "I'm interested in what happens when we are left undernourished or starving."

"I was a fussy eater whose father insisted that every plate be cleaned. I became adept at surreptitiously getting rid of food I found disgusting. While I had no appetite for vegetables, I had a big sweet tooth. But the foods I loved — cake, cookies, candy, ice cream sundaes — were prohibited by my father who wanted me slender. My cravings only increased. On the sly I consumed entire jars of Marshmallow Fluff.

At some level, perhaps, I'd begun equating food with risk, danger, punishment, deprivation, desire, hunger."

Diane Lockward shares three good books on the topic of food:

The Art of Eating
by M.F.K. Fisher

Recognized as the premier writer on the subject of food, M.F.K. Fisher wrote copiously and eloquently about the gustatory pleasures — shopping for ingredients, preparing and cooking dishes, dining, and enjoying the company of good companions. This 50th anniversary edition, like the original from 1937, gathers together five of Fisher’s books: Serve It Forth, Consider the Oyster, How to Cook a Wolf, The Gastronomical Me, and An Alphabet for Gourmets. Collectively, these books and the many essays in them capture the story of a life that had food at its center. We also read about Fisher’s marriages and divorces, her children, houses, travels, and famous friends, including James Beard, Julia Child, and Ruth Reichl. At 700+ pages, this is a huge book, but each of those pages is a delight. I particularly enjoyed The Gastronomical Me and used a line from it as the epigraph for my second poetry book, What Feeds Us: “. . . there is nourishment in the heart, to feed the wilder, more insistent hungers.”

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe
by Fannie Flagg

Set in Alabama, this fabulous novel includes two different time periods, two intersecting story lines, and multiple narrators. Flagg’s exterior story takes place in the 1980s in a nursing home where middle-aged Evelyn visits elderly Mrs. Threadgood, a loquacious resident who narrates the interior story of a friendship between two women who owned the Whistle Stop Cafe during the 1930s. Interspersed between the two stories are newspaper entries which provide another point of view. As we move back and forth between the story lines, each one illuminates the other. Food is a common link between them as is the value of storytelling and the sisterhood among women. The book concludes with a few dozen recipes for dishes served at the Whistle Stop Cafe. I adored the characters and was deeply touched by their stories. As soon as I finished this novel, I immediately returned to the first page and reread the entire book. I’ve also seen the movie numerous times.

Season to Taste: How I Lost My Sense of Smell and Found My Way
by Molly Birnbaum
This memoir tells a story of unusual but profound loss. The summer after she graduated from college, Molly Birnbaum was working in a Boston bistro while she waited to attend the Culinary Institute of America to fulfill her dream of becoming a master chef. Then leaving work one day, she was hit head-on by a car and hurled into the windshield. Many bones were broken and a long period of healing lay ahead. But the worst injury did not reveal itself until Birnbaum returned to her mother’s house and realized that she could not smell the food her mother was cooking, nor could she taste the food. This would be a big deal for anyone, but for someone who aspired to be a chef, someone who read cookbooks instead of novels, it was devastating. What follows is the story of Birnbaum’s long pursuit to understand and restore her lost senses, a journey that included spending time at a perfumery. People interested in cooking or medicine will find this story compelling. Poets, especially, will be fascinated by the insights into the senses of smell and taste.


Nahshon Cook on Becoming

Nahshon Cook is a poet living in Denver, Colorado. His collection, The Killing Fields and Other Poems, documents his journey through Asia, and was published in 2015. His poetry is available online at Split This Rock and the Origami Poems Project.

“The poems in my book,” says Cook, “were thought up and written, for myself, to document the pieces of myself found while living and traveling and being and learning to love in another world.”

Nahshon Cook shares three good books on the topic of becoming:

The Alchemist
by Paul Coelho

This book, for me, is all about having the courage to follow your dreams when the opportunity presents itself — and what happens when you do. While I was living abroad, I imagined I was Santiago (the main character in the book). His life was a road map for mine during those years. I'm thankful for that book; it is love.

No Name in the Street
by James Baldwin

More than the historical events in 1960s and 70s America that James Baldwin considered significant, No Name in the Street — for me — is a lesson in how much more powerful and beautiful and artistic political writing can be when the pain is personal.



The Cancer Journals
by Audre Lorde

My mom is a two-time cancer survivor. The only person I know, on the page or in-person, who faced and fought cancer as fearlessly as my mom is Audre Lorde. I read The Cancer Journals on my flight home from Beijing, after my mom told me her cancer had come back. It gave me the light I needed, and the permission, also, to write, unflinchingly about my mom's chemo and hair loss and prayers and power. The Cancer Journals is the work of a Mahatma.


Maxine Sheets-Johnstone on Dance

Maxine Sheets-Johnstone contains multitudes: dancer, scholar, speaker, thinker, traveler. 

"In my first life," she says, "I was a dancer/choreographer, professor of dance/dance scholar."

In her second (and current) life, she is a Courtesy Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Oregon. She has written over 70 articles for art, humanities, and science journals, and has nine published books, including, The Primacy of Movement, The Corporeal Turn: An Interdisciplinary Reader, and Putting Movement Into Your Life: A Beyond Fitness Primer.

Sheets-Johnstone lectures widely across the U.S. and Europe, often in conjunction with a group-centered improvisational movement session. A 50th anniversary edition of her first book, The Phenomenology of Dance, will be reissued in 2015.

"Like her other philosophical works — and like dance at its best — The Phenomenology of Dance brims with vitality, originality, force, clarity, and conviction," says Anthony J. Steinbock, director of the Phenomenology Research Center Southern Illinois University.

Maxine Sheets-Johnstone shares her three favorite and influential books:

Feeling and Form
by Susanne K. Langer

When I was studying and working on my doctorate in dance and philosophy, I read this book, a marvelous, all-inclusive analysis of form in the arts that included chapters on music, dance, poetry, painting, and more. Though I diverged methodologically from Langer’s analytical approach, following instead the rigorous methodology of phenomenology, my writing of The Phenomenology of Dance prospered greatly from her insights into how the form of art works are inflected with feeling. Her detailed study of how art works are symbolic of human feeling was inspiring!

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
by James Joyce

In my earlier years as an undergraduate in French and Comparative Literature at the University of California at Berkeley, I had several courses in English literature, one of which included reading James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses. I was carried away by Joyce’s language and ultimately, in my ongoing academic pursuits, realized how influenced I’d been by the meticulousness, the complex density, and dense complexity of his writings. I realized, in short, the challenge of languaging experience, and this in conjunction with a phenomenological methodology, which, in everyday but highly descriptive terms, means first of all making the familiar strange, hence being in a sense speechless, without the rush of words that in everyday life commonly constitute our conversations, reactions, thoughts, and so on. Thus, when it came to writing about dance and movement, my literary background was of sizeable moment!

The Complete Poems and Plays
by T.S. Eliot

By the time I was immersed in dance, I had read a good number of poems by T. S. Eliot in both academic and non-academic settings. I continued to be struck by the impermanent, ever-flowing character of time in his poems, by the cadences, and by the descriptive imagery of time: all rang true to the truths of experience in the art of dance as in life. Lines of his poems such as those in Four Quartets, Burnt Norton, for example, resonated with the temporal dynamics of movement — lines such as:

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future

Time and the bell have buried the day
The black cloud carries the sun away.

Interestingly enough, in my years of teaching dance and of choreographing dances, I was taken with what I came to term the dynamic line of movement, a vocalized line that captures the qualitative temporal flow of movement in conjunction with its spatial and energic qualities.



Shawna Lemay on Calm

Shawna Lemay is a writer, blogger, photographer, library assistant, and co-curator of Canadian Poetries. She has written six books of poetry, a work of experimental fiction, and a book of essays entitled Calm Things. Her novel, Rumi and the Red Handbag, will be published in the fall of 2015.

“Those who have anxiety, those who are shy, or nervous, seem to be the most persistent seekers of calm,” says Lemay. “We are those who know how to sit alone, trying to regain our sense of equilibrium. We are drawn to the poetic, the contemplative, to reading, to the rituals of the everyday. We need a certain amount of time alone, we attempt to make appointments with ourselves that we can keep.”

On her blog, Calm Things, she shares photos, poems and thoughts on the theme.

“I intermittently share the following words by Rilke," she says, "because quite often I’m the very opposite of calm: 'Do not believe that the person who is trying to offer you solace lives his life effortlessly among the simple and quiet words that might occasionally comfort you. His life is filled with much hardship and sadness, and it remains far behind yours.  But if it were otherwise, he could never have found these words.' "

Shawna Lemay shares her three favorite books on calm:

The Stream of Life
by Clarice Lispector

Those who are drawn to this improvisation of a book often develop a strong relationship to it, rereading it multiple times. A more recent translation of the book leaves the title as Aqua Viva, literally, living water. The writing flows without plot and the reader finds herself in the unconscious realm, in a dream. It’s a joyful book, exuberant, but it’s also delicate and difficult. She writes, “Could it be that what I am writing you is beyond thought? Reason is what it isn’t. Whoever can stop reasoning – which is terribly difficult – let them come along with me.”  Alive with becoming, The Stream of Life is an inward quest that is daring, lyrical, transcendent, and liberating. I never tire of it, and returning to it always comforts me and frees me to express myself.

The Rose Garden: Reading Marcel Proust
by Kristjana Gunnars

In Trier to do research and put together a book on Mavis Gallant, Gunnars spends her mornings in a "small garden comprised of a tiny lawn, a small cement patio, and a bed for trees and bushes round the corner.” Her intention is to read Proust, dipping in at random. She says, “All I wanted was to be left alone with meditative texts,” but there are interruptions. A lover who she’s "working hard to repel" keeps showing up. Life intervenes. She is confronted with the pressure of being thought anti-social but instead sits with an unfocused question regarding “the woman who wishes to be alone.” The narrator persists in keeping what she calls an "appointment with myself,” validating this experience for the reader.

Journal of a Solitude
by May Sarton

Published in 1973, Journal of a Solitude has become a talisman for many women writers. Traditionally seen as a "woman’s form" because of its secrecy and few claims or pretensions for a wide readership, the diary is quietly elevated in Sarton’s work. She says, “When I am alone the flowers are really seen; I can pay attention to them. They are felt as presences. Without them I would die.”  In her journal she talks about the value of solitude, but isn’t afraid to confront the suffering, the shadows, that one finds when entering this deep well. Nor does she shy from the subject of the everyday, the mundane. “There is a mystical rite under the material act of cleaning and tidying, for what is done with love is always more than itself and partakes of the celestial orders.”  

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