Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic

September 3rd, 2015
Me holding my advance copy of Elizabeth Gilbert's forthcoming Big Magic when it arrived at the Hawthorne Books office.

Me holding my advance copy of Elizabeth Gilbert’s forthcoming Big Magic when it arrived at the Hawthorne Books office with a sweet handwritten card from Liz.

I was lucky enough to get an advance copy of Elizabeth Gilbert’s forthcoming book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear due out from Riverhead Books on September 22nd in the early spring and I’ve been rationing my reading of it ever since because I want to take full advantage of all the inspiration and motivation it gives me. Big Magic speaks to me like very few books on writing do and I’ve read a lot of great ones. Some of my favorites include Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Carol Sklenicka’s Raymond Carver biography, David Lipsky’s Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace, Virginia Woolf’s essay A Room of One’s Own ++.

If you are a published writer, an aspiring writer or madly in love with a writer (good luck!) get Big Magic and read it cover to cover and then read it again as I’m going to do. Here are some of the most important takeaways from the book for me: honor and feed your creative curiosity always, the idea of and celebration of the suffering artist/writer is harmful at its core and writing can and should be enjoyable and involve play, fear is boring — conquer it, don’t worry about being original focus on being true to yourself and your voice and then your writing will always be original, in honor of Wernor Herzog: quit complaining and do the work.

I want to tell you why Elizabeth Gilbert means so much to me. I visited San Francisco in the spring of 2012 to meet with my soon-to-be at the time publisher McSweeney’s — they published the Toro Bravo cookbook in 2013. A lot of fantastic things happened on that trip (The “Hurry up and get over to the office. David Byrne is bringing us ice cream!” text from my editor Rachel Khong. What the fuck?! For real.) and one of them was a dinner with Elizabeth Gilbert. She was on tour for her McSweeney’s book — a new edition of her great grandmother’s out of print cookbook At Home on the Range which I wrote about here — and the sweet lovelies at McSweeney’s organized a double Liz tour of the McSweeney’s office followed by drinks at a nearby bar and then dinner at Mission Chinese down the street from the office.

At dinner I got to sit next to Liz and please know this — she is as beautiful and sweet as she seems — even more so in person. So much so, in fact, that I was a little off-putt at first. Let me explain. Despite the fantastic trip I wasn’t in the best of spirits. I’d been working on a novel for a couple years that was going nowhere fast (it didn’t help that I referred to it in an insulting way during the duration of writing it as my “novelish”) and I wasn’t too happy in my long term relationship which ended several months later.

I’m pretty good at best foot forward but Liz obviously sensed my deep down bluesy blues and she worked on me in her big magic Liz G way. She asked a lot of questions about my novel — so many that it felt a bit like a writing therapy session — and I answered them with some seriously low self esteem where my fiction was concerned answers. After dinner and in front of the restaurant in the sparkly spring Mission night she gave me a big hug and said please don’t give up on your fiction. Yep, she’s that generous.

After I returned to Portland I read her short story collection which my editor Rachel Khong had raved about (I loved it too), I watched her now famous TED talk, I picked up Eat, Pray, Love where I’d put it down, I cooked from her great grandma’s book and I wondered when I’d get to see her again. A few months later and a hand-wrapped advance copy of her novel The Signature of All Things arrived with an oh so sweet handwritten card from Liz and I devoured it. This spring a copy of Big Magic arrived with the same and I rationed it.

When Big Magic arrived several months ago I was well into the writing of my current novel — the one that I dig and truly enjoy working on and the one that I’m FINALLY going to finish. In fact, the copy of her book arrived right before I set off for my first writing residency at The Sou’wester for it. I don’t take Liz Gilbert’s advice for and faith in me lightly. Of course I don’t. And now that her Big Magic is about to publish I have a second Sou’wester residency lined up and I’m 30,000 words strong with the novel. I know that there’s a lot of Liz G big magic at play where my fiction is concerned. So grateful to her.

Liz’s book comes out in a couple weeks and I can’t recommend it highly enough. If you are a writer or creative person I think you’re going to love it. Even if you aren’t there is much to learn about living life to the fullest in it. Oh, and she’s coming to Portland for the book for an event sponsored by Powell’s at the Newmark on October 4th. Get a ticket to that and a copy of the book is included.

A couple passages from Big Magic that I love:

“Give your mind a job to do, or else it will find a job to do, and you might not like the job it invents (eating the couch, digging a hole through the living room floor, biting the mailman, etc.). It has taken me years to learn this, but it does seem to be the case that if I am not actively creating something, then I am probably actively destroying something (myself, a relationship, or my own peace of mind.)”

“What you produce is not necessarily always sacred, I realized, just because you think it’s sacred. What is sacred is the time that you spend working on the project, and what that time does to expand your imagination, and what that expanded imagination does to transform your life.”

Cheers to Liz G, Big Magic and YOU! XOXOXO

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
By Elizabeth Gilbert
pub. date Sept. 22nd

At Home on the Range presented by Elizabeth Gilbert

June 25th, 2012

McSweeney's reprint of Elizabeth Gilbert's great-grandmother's cookbook At Home on the Range.

I went to San Francisco in late April to meet with McSweeney’s, visit friends and a city that I’ve missed and haven’t been to in five years. I was really excited to meet with the fine folks at McSweeney’s because as I’ve mentioned here before — working with them on the Toro Bravo Cookbook is a dream come true. The only plans I had with them were to stop by the office after I arrived and a couple days later have dinner with some of them. When all was said and done I ate ice cream that David Byrne, yes that David Byrne, had delivered to the McSweeney’s office while they finished up his book How Music Works which comes out later this summer and gone out for drinks and then dinner with the majority of the fine folks of McSweeney’s and a very special someone.

If it had been just me visiting McSweeney’s I bet two at the most three people from the publishing house I would’ve come out to dinner but the morning of I texted my editor and she said something to the tune of when we’d meet, where (Mission Chinese Food) and oh, Elizabeth Gilbert is coming to dinner too. What the fuck?!

I could go on and on about how generous, warm, and smart Elizabeth is because she is (She reached out for my arm as we walked into Mission Street Chinese and asked me to sit next to her at dinner so we could talk. Above and beyond. I couldn’t have been happier about that and the rest of the night.) but instead I’ll turn to the book that brought her to San Fransisco and therefore dinner that night.

It’s the book above — a reprint of her great grandma Margaret Yardley Potter’s cookbook At Home on the Range which originally published in 1947. It turns out that Dave Eggers had been talking about doing some sort of a charitable book collaboration with Elizabeth when she came across her great grandmother’s cookbook. Would Mr. Eggers like to reprint it and give all the proceeds to ScholarMatch and 826 Valencia? Why yes he would.

Fast forward to me getting my first package of books from the McSweeney’s Book Release Club which I just became a member of…

My first box of books arrived for the McSweeney's $100 for 10 books Book Release Club...

With three incredible books including…

Two down, one to go!

I started reading At Home on the Range on a Saturday and I finished it on a Saturday. The same Saturday. It is that good. If you like what I write about here — DIY cooking projects, gardening, food adventures and all sorts of other eat, drink and be merry things I think you’re really going to enjoy this book.

I’ve only cooked two things from it so far — a classic meatloaf and the chicken cacciatore — and both were delicious. The recipes are all written as this one below — in paragraphs and often with more insight and voice than ingredients. Page after page of honest and full-of-life stories.

Some selections from At Home on the Range:

“So go our culinary ways with confidence and without apology. Use only one standard in trying out strange foods or seasonings: that you like the result.”

“‘Which is more necessary in the house, the bed or the stove?’ has almost as much chance of being satisfactorily answered. Granted that the three most important happenings in life, birth, marriage and death, take place in bed; three equally vital occurrences, breakfast, lunch and dinner, daily owe their success to the stove.”

Followed by this advice for a new couple to purchase the best bed and stove they can afford:

“Don’t rush either purchase, for these important articles, like a husband, should last a lifetime if well selected.”

At Home on the Range meatloaf recipe.

All together now.

Filled with three unsliced hardboiled eggs and topped with bacon.

And a can of tomato soup...

Slice and serve!

Chicken cacciatore over spaghetti with arugula hazelnut pesto.

At Home on the Range
Presented by Elizabeth Gilbert
Written by Margaret Yardley Potter
pub. date April, 2012
originally published in 1947
240 pages
$24, McSweeney’s Books