The 3 New Books of Bite-Sized Brilliance You *Need* to Read RN
The long, luxurious days of summer are over, and by now you’ve probably buckled down to work, looking helplessly out the window as the sun chases the end of the work day. Trade your summer sagas for some fall efficiency and the knowledge that good things come in small packages in this week’s book club. These collections of short non-fiction and essays, by three brilliant elder stateswomen of science fiction, urban planning and poetry, serve up mots juste and truth bombs without the commitment — but we’re pretty sure once you’ve read one piece, you’ll commit to the whole thing.
1. Words Are My Matter by Ursula K. Le Guin ($17): Ursula K. Le Guin has been described by The New York Times as “America’s greatest living science fiction writer.” As the groundbreaking author of The Left Hand of Darkness, A Wizard of Earthsea and The Dispossessed, her work has captivated half a century of readers and awards committees, unconstrained by generation or genre. The writer of a stunning 58 novels, translations, children’s books and collections of essays, poetry and short stories, Le Guin is not only a Renaissance woman of the writing world, but uniquely qualified to write about what makes writing work. Subtitled Writings About Life and Books, 2000-2016, With a Journal of a Writer’s Week, Le Guin’s new collection of short non-fiction includes transcripts of her talks, introductions to the work of others, essays on a multitude of subjects and book reviews.
Some of Le Guin’s pieces are deeply personal. One searing essay discusses her terrifying choice of whether or not to have an abortion as a 20-year-old college student in 1950, without the backing of Roe v. Wade. Faced with the prospect of expulsion from college and even prosecution versus the prospect of bringing up an unwanted child on no resources, she chose to risk the former. Another essay details both architectural and family history, an ode to the quirky Bernard Maybeck-designed family home.
Where the collection shines is Le Guin’s writings about writing, particularly her passionate defense of genre fiction as the equal to “literature” in every way, and her love of the book as a physical artifact in a world of online media. She also includes her reviews of everyone from Atwood to Zweig, positive and negative (we’re encouraged that “the pleasure of reading a killer review of a bad book is guiltless,” even if she finds herself feeling guilty about writing them), and her semi-inflammatory six-minute speech as the guest of honor at the 2014 National Book Awards that went viral. At 86, Le Guin is as vital as ever, and a must-read. As she writes, “This confirms my sense that I have been allowed to use my life well, in work that was worth the time spent on it.”
2. Vital Little Plans: The Short Works of Jane Jacobs by Jane Jacobs, edited by Samuel Zipp and Nathan Storring ($18): This year marks the centenary of radical urban planner Jane Jacobs’ birth. Jacobs, a champion of multi-use and diverse neighborhoods, divided her time between New York and Toronto, where she spent her time defying conventional wisdom and frustrating the establishment. It’s because of Jacobs that you can still walk through SoHo and Little Italy, because there’s no Lower Manhattan Expressway bisecting them, and that Toronto’s downtown similarly resisted expressway death. Now, her ideas, which were canonized in The Death and Life of Great American Cities, are widely accepted and richly awarded. They’re also celebrated in Jane Jacobs Days and yearly Jane’s Walks that encourage residents to explore the history and amenities of their neighborhoods while making new friends.
This new collection presents a history of Jacobs’ writing, starting with two articles for Vogue in the 1930s that profile New York districts. It also includes her work for the US State Department, Architectural Forum and the landmark article “Downtown Is for People,” a 1958 piece for Fortune which catapulted her into the public eye. From speeches at the White House to material from two unpublished books written late in life, Jacobs is constantly seen crusading to remove “urban blight” and development that ended community street life, as well as choices that glossed over or forgot the lives of disadvantaged community members.
Jacobs was anything but a one-trick pony, though, and the collection isn’t limited to her thoughts on urbanism, but ranges from ideas about universal health care to global politics to feminism to manhole covers. Adam Gopnik of the New Yorker calls her “the St. Joan of the small scale,” and this is the small scale’s small scale: bite-sized, but vital. “More Jane Jacobs” commands the collection. We agree.
3. Upstream: Selected Essays by Mary Oliver ($18): Jane Jacobs gives you the city, and Mary Oliver serves up the wilderness. Oliver, famous for her beautiful poetry which won both a National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize, reflects back on her childhood and writing life in her 81st year, and how they were both intimately connected with her love of nature. Like Le Guin, nonfiction is not necessarily what she’s known for (it’s hard to do better than her reputation as America’s best-selling poet), but this is very poetic nonfiction. It allows her to explore the topics dear to her heart in a new and compelling way in this collection of 19 essays; as she puts it, “Writing is neither vibrant life nor docile artifact but a text that would put all its money on the hope of suggestion.”
Upstream is both an external and internal book; Oliver marries observations of the world outside and the writer’s inside, with an analysis of her favorite poets’ writing and process. In particular, she finds “true effort” to be a “redemptive art,” which informs the title piece, a metaphor about wading upstream in childhood and finding delight in the difficult steps forward and the potential to get lost in unconventional choices.
“One tree is like another tree, but not too much. One tulip is like the next tulip, but not altogether. More or less like people — a general outline, then the stunning individual strokes,” writes Oliver. It’s these stunning individual strokes that she so cleverly captures with her exquisite, small, writerly brush.
What books do you read in short but sweet pieces? Tag us in your next tiny-but-mighty read @BritandCo.
(Featured photo via Getty)
Artist Dev Heyrana On How Bravery, Resilience and Sunshine Influence Her Work
Ever meet someone who you feel immediate kinship with on a deep almost spiritual level? That is legit every person's experience upon meeting Dev Heyrana, the star of this edition of Creative Crushin'. A fine artist, hip hop dance teacher and constant collaborator, Dev's particular brand of creativity is one-of-a-kind. She manages to be warm, welcoming and woke, with a focus on inclusivity, social justice and motherhood that comes through in every piece of art she creates.
Anjelika Temple here, co-founder of Brit + Co and one of many humans who has benefitted from Dev's boundless generosity and kindness. We first connected at a launch event, then I asked her if she and her family would like to model for a B+C shoot (they did!), then months later, I asked the IG universe if anyone would be down to co-parent with me for a day so I could speak at a conference. Dev said yes! And for those that know her, none of these serendipitous moments are surprising.
Now it's time to delve more into Dev's story, her creative inspiration, her thoughtful approach to parenting and what makes her more passionate than ever about bringing her point of view and artistic voice into the universe.
Anjelika Temple: First, foundations. Where did you grow up? What is your heritage? What did you study in school? Where do you live now?
Dev Heyrana: Born in The Philippines and immigrated to the U.S. when I was 9 years old. Me and my family are from the island of Cebu and I'm a proud Cebuana. My childhood in the Philippines felt like freedom. I had my swimsuit in my backpack for whenever we decided to swim and I biked everywhere.
Immigrating here at 9 yrs old was a transition, to say the least. My parents had big dreams but the move was heavy on them. It wasn't easy. I had to grow up fast. I took care of my sisters while my parents worked night shifts. By the age of 12 I would cook dinner and get my sisters ready for bed. Something I didn't realize was that kids my age didn't do those things until I got older. We would play these make-believe games to make, in hindsight, our hard situation brighter.
I think this is really when art played a big role in my life. It was something I could escape in and always felt healing.
I witnessed racism towards my family and didn't know how to make sense of it. These events left a mark. I was a quiet kid and observed everything and everyone around me. I think about my grandparents, Lolo Jose and Lola Rita, a lot as I walk through life. When I make decisions. As hard as it feels, you have two choices, do you let it take you down or take it one step at a time forward. I kept going and it really shaped me as to why I am the way I am today.
I studied Fine Arts at The Corcoran in DC. I owe that decision to my art teacher, Mr Giles, in High School. He was retiring and wore a Hawaiian shirt every day during my senior year. He was a curmudgeon and I felt incredibly special since out of everyone in the school he really believed in me. As grumpy as he seemed to the class, he would tell me things like "Go into the other studio and break some glass, then put it on a canvas." He's the reason why my abstract pieces have elements like clay and sand in them.
I've had incredible mentors and all were teachers. Mr. Giles in High School and Christine George in College. Christine was the one who told me to go either to New York or San Francisco because "D.C. is no place for an artist like you." She told me to not listen to anyone, how I can still paint, be a graphic designer, and, if I choose to, have a family. I've never had anyone tell me anything like that before.
I took a chance because of her. Moved and went to Design School in 2006 and I've stayed in the Bay Area ever since, raising two girls with the love of my life.
Anj: You are one of those magical human beings that has figured out how to be a full-time artist. What was your career path like before you were able to dive fully into your creative passions?
Dev: The most radical thing I could have done in my family, I did, I went to college for Fine Arts. A mix of being so young and having to do it on my own, I went with the school that gave me more scholarships. Even then I worked three jobs to be able to get through it. Hard work is ingrained in me.
With my sculpture background, I fell in love with Print and Packaging and why I came out here to San Francisco. I appreciated the security of having a career in Graphic Design. I also learned how to work with clients and the business side of things. Even then, I never stopped painting.
A few years ago I went through a pretty hard time with my health. I dealt with six surgeries in one year and I still have to do some follow-up ones. That experience almost broke me and what got me through was my family and painting in bed while I recovered.
When I finally got back on my feet, my heart just wasn't in Graphic Design anymore. So I made a two year plan. With a toddler and a mortgage, I wanted to make sure my steps were thought out. I put myself out there as an Artist while I still worked in Design. After a year I worked part time as a Graphic Designer and stepped down from my Creative Director position. I loved it, to be creative as an Artist and as a Designer. I looked at 2018 as my year to make the jump. If my work as an Artist balances out with my salary then I would quit in the Summer of 2019. And so here we are. I also am sharing a studio with my good friend, Naomi PQ, and I feel like my creative drive is just beginning.
Anj: What do you love about painting? How do you feel when you're in a creative flow state?
Dev: Like every part of me is free. Free to express myself through the stroke of my hand. How all of it leads back to my heart. These elements I use to paint have a mind of their own and how I need to respect the process.
It centers me and reminds me that the process is just like the life we lead. I know I still have so much more to learn but while I'm painting no matter how it's going, I'll embrace this moment.
Anj: You reference your roots quite a bit in your work. Talk to me more about how your roots inspire your work.
Dev: One of my earliest memories is of my Lolo Jose teaching me how to water mango saplings. He converted to Buddhism when my mother was young, so he viewed the world with love and kindness. I didn't realize it then but watering those mango trees were life lessons. We need to take the time to nurture, practice patience, and respect all living things. I still imagine him walking beside me often, carrying his teachings as I find my way in this world.
Nature and the Sun drive my pieces. My abstract works are fragments of moments. Like the sunset I grew up with when I was seven years old in the Philippines, like how I saw the water in Cebu when I dove in as a young adult, and like when I saw the redwoods with my children for the first time.
I see earth in our skin and especially when I paint people. How our mango trees grew and blossomed because the dark earth was rich with nutrients. I imagine the Sun piercing through these women I depict. I paint their love and bravery because their resilience cannot be contained. I want to celebrate all of it.
This is the beauty of Art, I am able to paint exactly how I see it.
Anj: Motherhood and your daughters are also central themes in your work. How has motherhood changed your approach to creating artwork?
Dev: Everything. I was still deep in my Design Career and I would paint at home. One day Quinn, who was 3 years old at the time introduced me at the park to a mom. "This is my mom, she's an Artist." It struck me that my toddler knew who I was more than I knew myself. That's really when I really owned it. I am more fearless because of my girls.
I own my body, I thank people when they compliment me, and I am selective but fearless when I use my voice. I am more in tune how I speak about myself because of them. When I paint these women I want to celebrate them. I notice how I embrace myself is translated in my paintings.
Anj: What advice can you give to parents who are trying to tap into their kiddos' innate creativity?
Dev: I don't have a lot of guidelines set up. I'll say "Let's draw the biggest fish we can draw" or "how many silly lines can we make" and I let them lead me. They ask me questions, show me things, and I sit there with my coffee watching their eyes wide with excitement. Watching them in their creative process is pure joy for me. Those silly lines can turn into a dragon or waves and next thing we know, we're drawing a big beach scene. My advice would be that you can suggest something to start it off but be open to how they take it. It is such a beautiful window into their minds.
Anj: Shifting gears to HIP HOP DANCE! Talk to us about his component of your creative expression.
Dev: I loved the Hip Hop scene in DC and discovered how much fun the clubs were in college. My friends told me about this Hip Hop Crew I should try out for, I was so scared because I've never taken a dance class in my life. I got in and it was like having another family. We competed all over the East Coast, it was a blast!
I found hipline when I started my first Design Job and needed an outlet. It was exactly what I needed and one of the owners asked if I was interested to teach. I've been teaching there since 2009 and am still going strong. It's a wonderful community of women. Now we're virtual and reaching clients all over.
Anj: What does a typical [pandemic] day look like for you? How does it differ from your rhythm before COVID?
Dev: I've been practicing being kinder to myself lately. Both me and my husband work full time and so having the girls at home is a challenge. Some days we are amazed by how smooth it went and then there are others where if the girls are clean and bellies are full, it's a total win.
Now that we're on month 8 our rhythm before covid felt more chaotic to be honest. I felt like we were always rushing out the door while carrying so many bags. Now my husband and I try to have coffee together, if he has a break from his meeting, and we sit with Quinn before school to see what she has to do for the day. Rowan's preschool closed down but we were able to find a wonderful speech therapist for her and she has an Adventure Pod we go to two times a week.
The one thing we really try to do is go outside once a day. Have some magic in their childhood no matter how small. It could be just going up for a hike by our home and picking up leaves, riding our bikes, or watching the sunset from our window. Seeing how the girls' react to these adventures we have is pure magic.
Anj: When you get creatively blocked or burnt out, how do you reset? Do you have tips you can share?
Dev: I go outside. I go out for a hike or go to the beach. Even if it's 15 minutes, something about grounding yourself in Nature is really healing. I also do exercise where I doodle for two minutes because it feels doable. Judgment-free doodles, always opens the doorway to more.
Anj: I know firsthand that community-building is huge for you. Tell us more about what your support system and creative community looks like.
Dev: I feel a lot of love and strength when I think of my community. My relationship with my sister led the way what women supporting women looks like. It's listening, asking questions, remembering, cheering for all the wins, being there even if it's hard, and taking time to invest in them. The way me and my sister show up for each other is why I have these amazing women in my life. I can talk to them about my family, motherhood, and we're all trying to balance it all while sharing my most recent project. I feel really blessed especially looking back in my college years where I don't know where Art would take me.
Anj: When you need to give yourself a pep talk, what does it sound like?
Dev: I usually take a deep breath then say or think "One step forward". Most of the time, I'm scared (as shit) but the thought of not trying scares me more. That one step forward can be hard as hell and maybe even heartbreaking, but I have to try.