Leisure Learning, December 2022

by Melissa Haas
published in Reading

Only a few more days til 2023! With Covid largely behind us, 2023 means we can get back out there and live fully. We can do research at destinations we’ve had on our lists for years! In the spirit of kicking off the new year, my December 2022 leisure learning recommendations are designed to set you up for your best writing in 2023.

Creative Routines from the Masters

Traditionally, January is a time to reset, which often means looking at your writing routine. This is the time to re-evaluate how long projects may take, tighten up the specifics and, of course, try and get the best work out of yourself, despite your actual life.

For centuries, creators have asked the eternal question authors still sit with today: How do I do my best work while trying to do everything else required by life?  

This infographic provides a visual for how W. H. Auden, Benjamin Franklin, Maya Angelou, and many other artists and composers planned their days on this pale blue dot. According to these creative luminaries, an artistic life mainly consists of:

  • deep work
  • taking care of the body (food, drink, exercise)
  • time spent with other people
  • trying to make ends meet
  • personal development / learning
  • sleep

See how close your ideal writing day compares to the standards of these legendary creators. Moreover, get inspired by the evidence that long, wandering strolls are central to an artist’s life work. 

The Library That Dolly Built

Dolly Parton is one of America’s most well-known figures, quite literally. Her chest is internationally famous for its dimensions, and her wholehearted spunk could easily serve as a trademark of Americana.

This country music queen has a reputation for “doing good things” with the money she has earned through her success. Dolly grew up in a family where her father didn’t have a choice in trading his own education for hours of work in the fields of Appalachia. Her father couldn’t read or write, and Dolly is passionate about ensuring American children have a foundation for literacy.

In 1995, Parton started The Imagination Library as a local, early-literacy program in Tennessee. Since then, it has expanded to where it now provides 10% of America’s children, from birth to age 5, with free books every month. This notable statistic was obtained, unfortunately, because Covid sent the program into overdrive. 

The importance of reading in the home is a key predictor of how well a child will thrive in school. These books constitute some of the child’s first very owned property, and the experience of getting mail adds to the idea that books are something important and special.

The Library That Dolly Built provides more information about this unique non-profit. However, it is for nostalgia and sentimentality that I am recommending this selection. It’s a 68-minute documentary that shows something everyone should be seeing more of: children falling in love with reading.

DIY Your Ultimate Literary Canon

On the opposite end of serving literary needs sits Benjamin McEvoy, graduate of Oxford University. McEvoy earned his degree in English Language and Literature, an experience that taught him to hate reading.

Fortunately, after a few years in the real world, books called to him once again, and he realized that what he was seeking at Oxford was a way of living the lessons he’d learned in books.

That’s the excitement about reading the Great Books: they change you for the better through thoughtful contemplation, rumination and (ideally) action.

In this YouTube segment, McEvoy reveals assignments Kurt Vonnegut formerly gave his students to cultivate a love of literature that they could carry throughout their entire lives. McEvoy builds on these as well as his own education to show how one can practically and passionately approach literature by making one’s own literary canon.

Even if you choose not to DIY your own stack of required reading, Vonnegut’s instruction and commentary about the reader’s state of mind will change how you read and deserves a watch.

Take a Tour of The Charles Dickens Museum

Last month, I doled out Dickens recommendations for a warm and cheerful December. To get an even better idea of Dickens’ version of Christmas, take this short tour of his former home, now The Charles Dickens Museum.

Find out why Ebenezer specifically brought a turkey to dinner, learn what pseudonym Dickens’ wife published her 1851 cookbook under, and see how the English Christmas pudding collided with hygiene in this charming house-turned-museum on Doughty Street.

Writers and Their Notebooks by Diana Raab and Peter Selgin (ed)

For writers, notebooks serve as our studios. Whether you’re committed to paper, have gone digital, or (like myself) are somewhere in between, a writer’s notebook is essential when you work in words. If there is any rule of writing that authors can actually agree on, it’s that you must keep a notebook.

Easier said than done.

Many people are starting 2023 with the intent of keeping a writing notebook…but what exactly goes in there? A writer’s notebook is part gym, part wilderness, part gobbledy-gook, and 100% affordable therapist.

Writers and Their Notebooks is a collection of essays on how writers have learned to use their notebooks over the years. It’s about the relationships they’ve formed with this often embarrassingly messy tool. It is not an instructional book, nor is it a visual look at anyone’s Moleskins. It’s about how authors figure out what they think they want to say on the road to figuring out precisely what they need to say.  

This book is a worthwhile read for authors of all genres and levels of experience. Contributors (aka people who talk to themselves via notebook) include John Dufresne, Sue Grafton and Kyoko Mori.

Whether you are starting a notebook or giving your own a re-evaluation, this is a terrific dive into what a writer’s notebook can be. 

Melissa Haas is the author and illustrator of Catula: The Misadventures of Dracula’s Cat and The Night Before Christmas (NOW WITH CATS), among others. Follow Catula’s whereabouts on Instagram @CatulaTheCat. If you’re interested in downloading free coloring pages or seeing Margaret Atwood with a blowtorch, check out more Leisure Learning related content at www.MelissaHaasCreates.com.

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