If I could magically trade places with anybody and try out their career for a day, I might choose Joan Acocella. She gets to review dance and books for The New Yorker. What could possibly be more fun?
Twenty-eight Artists and Two Saints is a collection of Acocella’s essay profiles of creative people. (As you may have guessed from the title, 28 of them are artists and two are saints — Joan of Arc and Mary Magdalene). Resisting cliches about art and suffering, she considers the lives of artists and asks thoughtful questions about the relationship between art and life.
I loved the profiles of Baryshnikov, Martha Graham, and other dancers. I discovered a writer, new to me, whose work I enjoy — Penelope Fitzgerald. I also loved her essay on the history of writer’s block in which she considers famous cases — Ralph Ellison, Coleridge — and asks why and how it happens.
“Possibly, some writers become blocked simply because the concept exists, and invoking it is easier for them than writing,” she says.
I may have skipped a few essays. But I would recommend this book to anybody interested in how creativity works.
“If our lives are dominated by a search for happiness, then perhaps few activities reveal as much about the dynamics of this quest — in all its ardour and paradoxes — than [sic.] our travels. They express, however inarticulately, an understanding of what life might be about, outside of the constraints of work and of the struggle for survival. Yet rarely are they considered to present philosophical problems — that is, issues requiring thought beyond the practical. We are inundated with advice on where to travel to, but we hear little of why and how we should go, even though the art of travel seems naturally to sustain a number of questions neither so simple nor so trivial, and whose study might in modest ways contribute to an understanding of what the Greek philosophers beautifully termed eudaimonia, or ‘human flourishing.'”
I read it while I was here:
It was perfect. You don’t have to go to Florence to read this book. Just read it when you travel somewhere. In fact, one of the chapters is about a journey around the author’s bedroom. Travel doesn’t get more budget than that.