Top 5 Summer Reads for Artists

Every year I feel like summer hits me a little like a kick in the teeth. All of a sudden it’s just TOO HOT and TOO STICKY and it makes me feel lazy and languid and fussy. Although I am no longer in elementary school and do not have the luxury of a yearly break from June to September, I feel in my bones that I deserve one and I get irrationally irritated that I have to continue to get things done and function normally.

“You expect me to GO TO WORK and COMPLETE TASKS and REMAIN GAINFULLY EMPLOYED? And ALSO make art? AT THE SAME TIME????” my whiny baby brain shouts. “Why are you being so HARSH to me???”

Calm down brain, we’re going to get through this together. At times like this I find it helpful to throw some books at my brain to give it something to do to amuse and inspire itself. Here are my top summer reads for lazy languid baby artists to get you back to moving and making stuff:

1. Letters to a Young Artist by Anna Deavere Smith – Anna Deavere Smith is my inspiration in all things. She’s creative in a million billion different ways – she’s a writer and an actor and a teacher and my idol. This book is structured as a series of letters written to a fictional teen, BZ, who’s growing up and learning how to make art and be an artist (which are two different things, I have come to understand). Some of the letters are pages long and some only a paragraph, but they’re all deeply personal and loving. I reread this once a year, and every time, I discover some new wisdom I didn’t know I needed, or finally understand a letter I didn’t quite get before. This is a book to comfort you and challenge you and push you into adulthood whether you like it or not.

2. Rookie Yearbook Four by Tavi Gevinson – I’m sure yearbooks 1-3 are also good, but I only own and have read yearbook four, so that’s what I’m recommending. The Rookie Yearbooks are compilations of the best stuff from Rookie Mag. If you don’t know Rookie Mag, a) how?????? b) go to the Rookie Mag website immediately and dive in anywhere. Tavi Gevinson & co. make me want to make art and think deeply and send love letters to every cool girl I’ve ever befriended. This is not explicitly a manual on creativity/making art, but it may as well be. It has interviews and articles and collage kits and DIY projects, and most importantly, the warm glow of the female gaze. It’s also an anthology, so you can flip around and pick what you want to read and put it down and come back later for something else. So warm, so witty, so well curated.

3. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert – I am a huge fan of everything Elizabeth Gilbert does, but this is probably my favorite Gilbert creation. This book is about creativity and how to incorporate it into your life. It is extremely inspiring and feels like a big warm text hug. I go back to it all the time when I’m feeling creatively stuck and it’s like an endless well of inspiration and encouragement. There’s also a related podcast called “Magic Lessons” where she helps people work through their creative blocks and has all kinds of cool guests come on to help, so you can go the podcast route if reading feels too taxing. I recommend book + podcast for the full magic experience though.

4. The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron – yes, I know that everyone in the whole wide world has recommended you read The Artist’s Way, but you know what? Everyone is right and it is for your own good. This is basically a textbook, and I will freely admit that I am a big weird nerd who loves and cherishes and rereads all her college textbooks. This is possibly not true of everyone. And granted, The Artist’s Way is kind of a time investment. It will ask you to do homework. And you really should do the homework. And yes, I understand that it is summer and I’m asking you to do homework but dudes – homework is fun sometimes and this is worth it. I am currently only about halfway through it, but it is changing my life and my brain and my little artist heart. Plus it gets assigned in a lot of college courses so you can probably get a used copy online for pretty cheap.

5. 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write: On Umbrellas and Sword Fights, Parades and Dogs, Fire Alarms, Children, and Theatre by Sarah Ruhl – It’s just always worth your while to read Sarah Ruhl’s words, and really you shouldn’t need more convincing than that. 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write feels to me like jokes and tips and random thoughts from my favorite aunt. Also, I just like saying that whole long title. What a list of items! Each of them important to Sarah Ruhl! Umbrellas have not previously seemed notable to me, but TELL ME MORE, SARAH RUHL, I’M LISTENING. She didn’t have time to write 100 essays, and out of that Not-Having-Enough-Time-ness, she made a whole book! So you can probably write that blog/go to that audition/craft that witty Instagram caption. Right? YES. YOU CAN.

BONUS 6th recommendation – Buy yourself a journal. Scribble all over it. Tape stuff into it. Rip pages out if you want. Make yourself a book about you. Because IMO, the best summer read is the inside of your brain.

So those are my recommendations. Have at them. Go read some books and make some art and linger longer in an air-conditioned location. I love all of you, you sweet bb artists.