Archive for the ‘Book Review’ Category

What’s a Mysterious Flame? (or, where I got the name)

I’ve been “running” this site (despite several long lapses in activity) for three-and-a-half years now, and I have never mentioned where I got the name for the site.

It comes from a book I read back in the fall of 2007 or so, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, by Umberto Eco. I was brainstorming all sorts of names for a “site for artists” and everything I thought of was taken or didn’t really work.

Then I remembered La Misteriosa Fiamma della Regina LoanaThe Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana.

When I first encountered the book at Borders, the grunged Gotham Bold and Trade Gothic Bold No 20 type caught my eye, as did the vintage comic book and advertising art. Being cheap (and poor) I reserved a copy at the library. I was immediately drawn into the story as soon as I began reading it.

A 59-year old Milanese bookseller nicknamed Yambo has lost his memory after a stroke. He can’t even remember his own name, though he is able to write Giambattista with a flourish. But he can remember absolutely everything he’s read. In order to try to remember his life before his stroke, he goes to the house where he grew up in the 1940s, and uncovers a lot of documents from his childhood.

Memories come to him in little sparks, mysterious flames, but nothing truly emerges until a dramatic turn. It’s very dense and layered, but not so much that it is difficult to read. It’s a lot of fun, and the colorful illustrations of 1930s and 40s Italian and American comic books, advertisements, and sheet music sprinkled throughout make for a unique literary experience. The three parts are constructed in a unique way that I think establish this book as both a love letter to both highbrow and lowbrow literature as well as making it a piece of great literature in its own right.

Worth Reading: _The War of Art_

Book Cover for The War of Art by Steven Pressfield A few months ago I picked up the book The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, who also wrote The Legend of Bagger Vance. It’s an excellent book that deals with getting yourself off your rear end and doing whatever it is you were meant to do, whether it’s writing The Great American Novel or starting a business.


Pressfield begins by taking a good, hard look at what he calls “Resistance,” that thing that keeps us from doing anything difficult or end up with a good long-term result. Book One, “Defining the Enemy” talks about the many forms Resistance takes, many of which you will recognize right away. In Book Two, he quickly moves on to the idea of “Turning Pro” — resisting Resistance by not procrastinating and treating your art as a job. Just plug away at it, even if it’s crap. It’s the old “quantity over quality” idea that says if you work hard enough and long enough and make enough, the quality will happen on it’s own. Finally, he conludes this short book with third section about his fervent belief in angels and muses, who inspire him. He even cites Homer’s Invocation of the Muse (it’s his prayer before he begins writing) and touches on Jungian psychology.

My take: no nonsense (or very little, anyway)

I really appreciate Pressfield’s no-nonsense, tell-it-straight writing style that mixes in humor and an uplifting moment or two along with the career successes and failures he shares. The former Marine has an in-the-trenches attitude that says: “Cut the crap and get the art done.” I will say that the last section of the book, “Beyond Resistance: Higher Realm” gets a bit weird with all the talk about angels and muses. Then it takes a weird turn where he starts swearing at the first novel he ever finished. Nonetheless it’s a great book, and I enjoyed the tidbits of Greek history and philosophy.

It’s written in an almost devotional sort of format, with each “chapter” rarely going more than one or two pages. The chapters had a bite-sized “blog post” feel. One could read a page a day at random as they get fired up to go to their studio and do their art. I loved the lack of New-Agey fluff that’s so common to art/self-help books like The Artist’s Way. It’s a great book that will inspire you to get off your butt and get moving. There are great tidbits of advice and pep-talk without any sugar-coating at all. I highly recommend it to any creative person, whether they’re stuck or not.