Creativity is all about letting what’s inside of us out. Whether you’re searching for inspiration, looking for a step-by-step guide to a new hobby or eager for a glimpse into the creative life, these books will light the fire within.
Cross Stitch for the Soul
While visiting my parents in Texas for Christmas in 2017, I asked my mom, a devoted quilter, if she could teach me to cross-stitch. We went to a craft store the very next day, and by the time I left for home, I was hooked. I still consider myself a novice, so trust me when I say that the exquisite designs in Cross Stitch for the Soul aren’t beyond the reach of beginners. Designer Emma Congdon applies her colorful typographic sensibility to 20 quotations and aphorisms and creates bold postmodern patterns, each paired with a short personal reflection. She also includes no-nonsense guides to the materials and techniques you’ll need to get started. Stitching, Congdon writes, is “a chance to embrace slowness and create something beautiful at the same time.” I’m grateful to have had the creative outlet of stitching my way through her book this year.
—Stephanie, Associate Editor
Loitering With Intent
Many novels about aspiring authors are, to be blunt, extremely obnoxious. They either portray the writing process with toothache-inducing twinkle or with such overblown and tortured sturm und drang as to make the entire thing ridiculous. Between these two poles lies Muriel Spark’s Loitering With Intent, which trots happily alongside aspiring would-be novelist Fleur Talbot as she breezes through bedraggled postwar London. Fleur is young, highly educated and underemployed, but where others would succumb to ennui, Fleur finds inspiration. Her terrible landlord, her drifting friends and romantic prospects and, most of all, her bizarre boss are prime material for mockery and fictional examination. Nothing about her life is particularly glamorous, which somehow makes it all even more wildly appealing and quietly galvanizing.
—Savanna, Associate Editor
Walking on Water
If you’re looking to spark your creative side, Madeleine L’Engle’s book about spirituality and the creative process is both flint and tinder. Though it uses Christian language (L’Engle was devoutly Anglican), Walking on Water offers artistic nourishment for anyone who feels there’s something mystical taking place when humans make art—the mystery of how ideas come to us, the miracle of making something where there was nothing before. Reading L’Engle’s flowing prose feels devotional, as she meditates on the relationship between faith and art, art and artist. By her estimation, the artist’s responsibility is merely to show up to the page, the canvas or the studio and be open to the work. The work already knows what it wants to be; all we have to do is follow its lead. In this way, the artist’s role shifts from director to humble servant, freeing us up to participate in the collaborative art of creation.
—Christy, Associate Editor
The New Way to Cake
This year I joined the hordes of people coping with anxiety by mixing it, beating it and throwing it in the oven. For me, baking has become a way to touch base with loved ones—outside, at a distance—and, almost as importantly, a way to stay creatively inspired. This cake cookbook from Benjamina Ebuehi (whom you may know from “The Great British Bake Off”) is all about exploring flavors, ingredients and textures in unexpected ways. Many of her recipes have me dreaming of the future: spiced sweet potato loaf, hot chocolate and halva pudding, date and rooibos loaf, cardamom tres leches cake and more. The lemon, ricotta and thyme mini-cakes are on permanent rotation, and I’ll never make carrot cake ever again without adding some breakfast tea. Each bake is a chance to learn something new, find out what an unknown ingredient is like and discover how to do it better next time.
—Cat, Deputy Editor
Susan Sontag: Essays of the 1960s & 70s
The 2019 Met Gala didn’t do camp any justice. A gaggle of elites trying to understand the intricacies of this strange, whimsical, dynamic aesthetic was sure to end in failure, but one can’t help imagining Susan Sontag smiling at their attempt. Sontag coined the term in her essay “Notes on ‘Camp,’” published in 1964 during a drastically different cultural moment. This collection of essays showcases the brilliant mind of one of the 20th century’s most important writers and invites you to think about everything from aesthetics to death to feminism. Whatever the topic, Sontag is cool, compassionate and clear, not to mention impossible to be bored by. Reading this book reminds me of my favorite quotation of hers: “My idea of a writer: someone interested in everything.” She certainly was, and her writing moves me to be, too.
—Eric, Editorial Intern