Stretch Yourself Creatively: Read a Book

This week in The Creative Play Challenge should be nice and relaxing because we’re all going to read a book. Specifically, a book that is in a different genre than what we typically read. If a completely different genre makes you uneasy, then read an author you’ve never read or a book that you’ve always wondered about (but have never read.)

The books pictured at the beginning of this post have all been influential in different ways this winter. I’ve enjoyed Tolstoy since college but had not read him for a while—rediscovering his works and reading his masterpiece this winter was a treat that I’ll not soon forget.

Continuing to educate myself in financial matters has been an interesting creative exercise as well. Have you ever noticed a correlation between money and creativity? Both of them require risk-taking and courage. That interesting discovery has had me thinking a lot. I was surprised how the financial authors I was reading consistently quoted poets and authors who I had read in other creative works.

My parents are big fans of The First Days of School but for whatever reason, I’ve never read it. I guess I thought it was for teachers only but my mom assured me recently there are principles that anyone can benefit from in this book. So I checked it out and am reading it. (It got shelved for two larger tomes I’ll share about in a moment, but I’ll get back to it.)

I love to read cookbooks and learn from them so adding a cookbook to my book stack was not too much of a stretch. That said, it’s always fun to read cookbooks that offer different-to-you recipes. Making food and eating is a creative and sensory experience. It’s great to mix it up! (No pun intended. :))

Read a Book—Go On a Journey

The creative exercise of reading a book in a different genre is something we’re exposed to a lot when we’re in school. It’s not like our teachers polled us and asked what books we preferred. We read what was on the syllabus and that was that. I’ll not say that every book I read in high school and college ended up being on my favorites list, but many times that exposure nurtured me in ways I didn’t know I needed. Reading those books also led me on what I like to think of as “author trails.” You know what those are, right?

An author trail is when you read one book and in it, the author mentions another author (or time period) which intrigues you enough to pick up another book, which in turn points you to yet another book . . . It’s a great way to discover new-to-you authors and I love how when I’m perceptive to this phenomena, I’m much more likely to follow the trail and read.

Here’s my adventure from a recent author trail that certainly stretched my creative thinking!

I read a LOT, so we are regulars at our local library. That said, one night I was looking for something to read and couldn’t find anything that interested me on our bookshelves. We have a lot of free books on our Kindle, so I turned to that next and browsed until I came to The Tale of Two Cities. I know, perfect bedtime reading, right? But I had actually never read the story, so I decided to give it a go.


It’s been a while since I sat in history class so I found myself Googling The French Revolution and learning more. I’m sure all of you are well aware of how torrid that book is—it was heart-breaking how low we can go as human beings. I found it interesting how Dickens sat on the proverbial fence as he wrote of the plight of the poor and the evils of the aristocracy as well as the reverse.

That book led to me reading two books that have always been Those Books. You know, the ones people talk about but that are Really, Really Long so only a few actually read them. Yep, I read War and Peace and Les Miserables.

They both skirted around the French Revolution in their respective ways, so I learned a lot about that period of time. Les Miserables‘ story of redemption definitely moved me, though I was surprised at how different the story line was in comparison to the musical. (I know, I know, adaptations are always different, so I don’t know why I was surprised, but I was.) I read Les Mis after finishing War and Peace so I’ll admit that I wasn’t as into the constant historical and political asides of Hugo as I had been with Tolstoy. (I must have been weakened by all that reading, haha)

Early on in Les Mis, I wrote out the following quote by the bishop because it made me think of our creative journeys. Madame Magloire is remarking to her brother about his single plot of flowers in their vegetable garden and how it’s a bit wasteful.

” . . . It would be more useful to have salads here than bunches of flowers.” (she said)

“Madame Magloire,” replied the bishop, “you’re mistaken. The beautiful is just as useful as the useful.” He added after a pause, “Perhaps more so.”

That quote needs to be hand-lettered, that’s all I’m going to say. 🙂

I took War and Peace one page at a time and let the plot slowly unfold. It is long as we all know, and yet, it felt like a more accurate picture of life than any story I’ve read. Because the characters have years to mature and develop, they have quite the arc. I’m ruined now because since reading this tome, other books feel really, really short and underdeveloped.

I wish I had written down some quotes and thoughts from War and Peace but I didn’t even think of doing so until I was finished. That said, the translation I read was excellent, and we’ll definitely be adding it to our family library. I have to agree with Paul Miller who wrote, “War and Peace is the greatest Jane Austen novel ever written.”

I won’t go into a detailed review of this book (Tolstoy refused to call it a “novel”), but what struck me over and over was the humanness of the characters. Sometimes they make huge mistakes. Sometimes they’re complete cowards. Sometimes they know what is right and then are too embarrassed about what others will think of them so they go along with the crowd or do nothing. They really are normal people, living in strange times. Aren’t we all?

Reading these books gave me pause and led my husband and I to some really great conversations. I found myself sketching Jane Austen-like dresses in my sketchbook and wondering who else lived during those times. It has been a great journey.

So this week (or in the next couple of weeks), read a book that is a stretch for you. You don’t have to like it. In fact, you don’t even have to finish it. But give it a try. Take note of what lessons you can learn as you read. Who knows where this will take you?

Have a lovely {and creative} day, friends!


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4 responses to “Stretch Yourself Creatively: Read a Book”

  1. Connie Avatar

    You must be a speed reader…it would take me a month to read War and Peace, and that may be why I’ve had it on my Kindle forever and have not begun! I am an impatient reader…I skim rather than thoroughly read most books, particularly fiction. War and peace would be a good discipline.

    1. Jennie Avatar

      I definitely read quickly but it took me much more than a week to get through War & Peace. Sorry if I made it sound like I read that tome in an afternoon, haha. I originally downloaded it on Kindle but did not like it. There are a LOT of footnotes in the back of the book (in the translation I got from the library) that greatly helped my understanding. The characters also speak in French some of the time so there was a lot of scrolling back and forth to get the translation that was usually footnoted at the bottom of the page. Also, it was depressing to see I had 80 hours left to read. haha 🙂 🙂

  2. Sandi Avatar

    I loved reading Les Miserables, but admittedly I did skim through the detailed part about the French sewer system and perhaps another Hugo-esque detail to enhance the reader’s understanding of the story.
    This book had me crying the last chapter. I wish I could have read the note in French. At the time I was in another country and the internet wasn’t what it is today. The only way I knew the about the story before was having seen it on stage in Milwaukee.
    Thanks for this challenge Jennie- I am behind on my yearly book reading schedule, and I have a few books on my list that fit the bill ‘not in my typical genre. ‘

    1. Jennie Avatar

      I *might have* skipped the detailed sewer system part too, haha. I remember thinking, “Was he trying to show his readers how much knowledge he had?” but ah well. Still loved the book, and I cried at the end too. Wow, what an ending! Glad I could encourage you to get back into your reading schedule. It’s a lot of fun to discover new things. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by, Sandi! 🙂

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