The Company We Keep when We Sleep with Books (By Dominique T. Chlup, Ph.D., P.O.W.E.R. Associate Director)


The Company We Keep when We Sleep with Books

By Dominique T. Chlup, Ph.D., P.O.W.E.R. Associate Director


I like to tell the students that enroll in my P.O.W.E.R. writing studios that you can learn a lot about people from the books they sleep with.  Essayist Anne Fadiman offers that Alexander the Great was rumored to have slept with a copy of the Iliad under his pillow.  Charlemagne reportedly slept with St. Augustine’s The City of God.  Fadiman herself slept with a copy of Montaigne’s essays. 

Heather Sellers, in her book Page after Page:  Discover the Confidence & Passion You Need to Start Writing & Keep Writing (no matter what!), also admits to sleeping with books.  In fact, she insists her “reading is infused with the same kind of obsession I want my writing to maintain…And I imagine productive writers are pulled to their writing the same way we are to books” (p. 53).  She implores us that to deepen our writing practice we must think “Love Affair” and “make love to books!” (p. 53).  In this way, we can use/develop our passion for books as a way to develop our passion for getting lost in our own writing. 

In the spirit of a “Love Affair,” I like to have books spilling out of my bed.  Below are some of the books that I am currently finding good company with.  Each of these books has been freeing my creative spirit and making me a more productive writer.

How could I not immediately fall in love with Brenda Ueland’s book If You Want to Write:  A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit?  Especially since, it opens with a chapter titled “Everybody is Talented, Original and Has Something Important to Say.”  Imagine if each of us repeated and believed this statement daily.

Susan Goldmith Wooldridge’s book Poemcrazy:  Freeing your Life with Words, while written to help its readers explore the poetry making process, is helping me think through my research process. For instance, in her essay titled “I dress myself with rain,” Wooldridge instructs us to:  “Choose a specific object you normally call ‘it” and think of it as ‘thou.’  Ask questions to help you see its point of view and tap its wisdom.  …Be open to the way the object speaks and every impression you pick up” (p. 108).  I love the idea of using this practice in my academic writing to ask questions of my data, my findings, or my conclusions to help me see varying points of view and as a way to garner wisdom as I move forward in my research process.

The book feeding my creative spirit is Kelly Rae Roberts’ Taking Flight:  Inspiration & Techniques to Give your Creative Spirit Wings.  Roberts is a mixed media artist.  If you get any mainstream mail order catalogs, you’ve probably seen her work for sale in it.  While Taking Flight focuses on creating art projects, I am inspired by her thought-provoking writing prompts and quotes.  I loved using one of my warm-up writing sessions to answer the questions, “When it comes to my creativity, these are the fears I most need to recognize so I can move past them…” and “If I wasn’t afraid, I would…” (p. 34).  How could I not be inspired to think through what new research I might take on if only I wasn’t afraid of sounding silly or getting my work rejected. 

It seems I am always learning from books! 

And now that the winter season of holidays is upon us, my wish list, not surprisingly, includes books.  Amazon has the coolest feature where you can create a wish list that you can share with family and friends or with the world for that matter if you choose to make your list public.  I’m not one for promoting the consumer trappings of the holidays, but I am one for promoting a holiday season spent snuggling in bed with the company of a good book.  So in honor of happy reading this holiday season, here’s a sampling from the books that have made it onto my wish list.

First on my list is Eric Maisel’s Fearless Creating:  A Step-by-Step Guide to Starting and Completing your Inner Work of Art.  Heather Sellers claims Maisel’s book helped to deepen and intensify her writing practice as no other book has done.  I may be a bit biased as I’m currently taking a course on creativity coaching with Dr. Maisel, but I think I’m going to agree completely with Seller’s assessment.  

Mark Nepo’s latest book, Seven Thousand Ways to Listen: Staying Close to What Is Sacred is also at the top of my list.  Nepo is one of the most gifted poets I have ever readAnd I couldn’t resist adding Nepo to my “To Read List” after I read Natalie Goldberg’s—author of Writing down the Bones—enticing review of it:  “Ninety percent of writing is listening.  To receive the world and to receive ourselves.  In this book Nepo has generously taught us how to listen.  Do the reflective exercises he suggests to lead you deeply down the path.”  I am ready to listen!

Anne Lamott also has a new book out—Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers.  While a book about “essential prayers” normally wouldn’t make it onto my list, I simply love Lamont’s writing style, and her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life has reposed on my nightstand for years.  And a sneak peek inside the book had me hooked when I read her opening lines:  “It is all hopeless.  Even for a crabby optimist like me, things couldn’t be worse…The planet does not seem long for this world.  Repent!  Oh, wait, never mind. I meant:  Help.”  I think I’m going to find some real gems in here and in all of the books I plan to keep company with throughout the winter season. 

So in the spirit of the season, happy reading to all, and to all a good-night!