Top 5 Witchy Reads for Halloween


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1. Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones – You’ve almost certainly seen the Miyazaki movie adaptation, but have you read the extremely excellent book? In both the book and movie, Sophie Hatter is my style icon and I will love her forever. (Obviously I am referring to Belligerent Elderly Sophie and not Meek and Mild Pre-Curse Sophie). The book is much more chill and cozy than the movie (no war plot), and Howl is far more of a dweeb, which pleases me. Instead of a scary war-portal hell cupboard attached to his house, he has the country of Wales, where he wears a sweatshirt and carries a cricket bat, and drives Sophie about in a car, and never ever explains what’s going on. This novel encompasses a genre I like to refer to as “soft fantasy” – there are magic and witches but they don’t fundamentally change anything in anyone’s lives and there are all kinds of mundane problems that can’t be fixed with magic – like Howl’s atrociously dirty bathroom. Also, it is one of the few books out there that truly celebrates weird belligerent old women, which is my favorite quality in a book.

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2. Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner – This was originally published in 1926 and I’m honestly not sure how it was allowed. It starts out as the story of a girl named Laura. Laura loves her father and loves nature and grows up quite dreamily, never feeling inclined to marry anyone. After her father dies, she moves in with siblings, continues to resist matrimony and lives as a spinster in their spare room until one day she decides, to hell with it, London sucks and I’m going to move to the countryside. Her dumb brother has lost most of her inheritance in stocks but she makes do and moves to the countryside, where she makes lots of friends, casually acquires a familiar, goes to a coven meeting, and becomes a witch. It’s a very dreamy book with lots of woodsy countryside and long passages concerning tea and baked goods. It also picks as its heroine a very stubborn and strong willed old woman. (This is a trend for me, clearly.)

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3. The Once and Future King by T.H. White – I’m going to be honest with you, once you get past the very beginning this ceases to be cozy and begins to be very intense, but it is WORTH YOUR READ. This witches in this novel are not charming or whimsical, but they are dark and interesting women enacting and experiencing tragedy all around them. This’ll make your heart hurt a little bit, but in a nice way, ultimately. (I think.)

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4. Witch Week by Diana Wynne Jones – Yes, I have two Diana Wynne Jones novels on this list. She’s really good okay???? SUE ME. This is part of the Chronicles of Chrestomanci series, which I was deeply obsessed with as a teen. All the books can be read out of sequence or independently so you don’t need to read anything else to get into this. It’s a pretty short read and deals with witch hunts and parallel universes and petty boarding school squabbles and also, notably, Guy Fawkes.

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5. Blue is For Nightmares by Laurie Faria Stolarz – This book is PEAK YA, so if that’s not your jam maybe skip it, but I read it when I was fifteen so it will always be in my witchy lil heart. It’s different than the others in that this is more like Wicca/Psychic Witchery, and not Pre-Industrial Fantasy Universe Witchery. It takes place at a boarding school and features a murder mystery that the lead character has to solve with only PSYCHIC POWERS. (It turns out that’s not as effective a tactic as like, traditional detective-ing, but in her defense, she is predicting a future murder which I imagine is difficult, so I cannot fault her.) Read for intense teenage witch vibes.

Thumbnail image courtesy of Natalie Franke at nataliefranke.com.

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.