How to Travel Without Seeing: Dispatches from the New Latin America by Andrés Neuman, Translated by Jeffrey Lawrence (Purchase)
Isn’t it great when a writer takes a genre and turns it on its head? Neuman’s concept for his travel memoir is simple: rather than taking the notes from his book tour around Latin America and turning them into a fully-formed narrative journey at the other end, he decided that the notes could comprise the entire book. Translated from the Spanish by Jeffrey Lawrence, the author’s notes encompass consecutive flying visits through nineteen countries of a new Latin America.
As an Argentinian-Spaniard, he tells a tale of displacement and rediscovery through his wry, often sardonic observations as he discovers endless, odd and endearing quirks of manners and finds that navigating airport bureaucracy can be a curse and currency, and a great insight into a nation’s character. If you’re looking for a way to make the dead ends into finish lines, this is a great lesson in turning your sketchbooks into exhibitions.
Backup recommendation: Anything on our list of Books To Read When You Have Itchy Feet.
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick (Purchase)
An excellent part-illustrated novel that inspired the film by the same name by Martin Scorsese. This is ideal reading for film lovers as it combines gorgeous illustration with love for early pictures and the work of the luminary George Mélies. If you have kids, you might even get away with turning your inspiration into a comforting late-night read for the little ones.
Backup recommendation: Presented in a sealed slipcase, S. by JJ Abrams and Doug Porst isn’t just a novel, but a literary experience. The book itself is a lightly battered library copy of Ship of Theseus by V.M. Straka. Within its pages are notes and ephemera from two readers, Jennifer and Eric, a pair of college students who share the novel for their research and, together, begin to brew up some serious conspiracy theories. The collaborative interplay between form and function are bound to get your creative juices flowing.
Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon (Purchase)
We’ve all heard the Picasso quote: “Good artists copy; great artists steal.” Austin Kleon, who describes himself as an artist who draws, took this to heart and mapped the notion out into illustrations and words in this 10-step manifesto for artists in the digital era. It’s minimalist, motivating, and inspiring, and filled with wonderful quotes that you’ll want to scribble down on a post-it or illustrate for your office wall.
Backup recommendation: This is a popular one, so those who’ve read it should go further into Kleon’s work and check out his follow-up, Show Your Work! Straight up? It’s content marketing for creatives, but it’s also a look into how you can use your creative process to get people even more engaged in your work. The result is a kind of online scrapbook of your interests, distractions, and plenty of creative fodder for your next project.
Sudden Death by Álvaro Enrigue, Translated by Natasha Wimmer (Purchase)
It takes a bold personality to write a book like Álvaro Enrigue’s Sudden Death. Not many are prone to tackle tennis in literature after David Foster Wallace’s 1000-page Infinite Jest, but this Mexican author serves up a formidable challenge. It begins with the Italian painter, Caravaggio, locked in a tennis battle with the Spanish poet, Francisco de Quevedo, before digressing into a world tour of 16th Century. He weaves the seemingly unrelated stories of Thomas Cromwell and Hernán Cortés into this thoroughly postmodern and wacky work that disorients and delights in equal measure. If you can believe in tennis balls made from the locks of Anne Boleyn, you can heave enough inspiration from this original novel to get back and tackle your own creative project.
Backup recommendation: There’s no-one quite like Álvaro Enrigue, but his wife, Valeria Luiselli, is another author whose work takes risks and experiments with form in delightful ways. Start with her latest, The Story of My Teeth, which follows an old schemer named Highway Sanchez Sanchez, and don’t forget to read up on her creative process for this novel while you’re at it.
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind, Translated by John E. Woods (Purchase)
This author wrote an entire novel about a creepy guy with a fetish for the scent of death and managed to turn it into novel filled with gorgeous prose. Beat that! But really, if you think about it, which of our senses is destined not to make sense on the printed page? We read dialogue all the time, conjure images from gorgeous prose, and a good description of food can make your mouth water. Smell is kind of the loner of the bunch. Maybe an author will mention the scent of a curlicue of smoke from a cigarette’s end, or mention the childhood memories associated with some well-cured leather, but Patrick Süskind made it his mission to ascribe new meaning to that olfactory sense – all the way from innocence of birth to the mysterious stench of death. You may not love his choice of protagonist, but you’ll marvel at his use of language. I promise.
Backup recommendation: The Dumb House by John Burnside. While I’m not entirely convinced that it will break you out of your creative rut, it has a similar vibe to Perfume’s, and it will get stuck in your mind and inspire you in unexpected ways. It’s about a creep who tests Akbar The Great’s theory about whether language is innate or acquired on two children, and is, in some ways, about how an idea can obsess and haunt a soul.