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CJ’s Reading List

May has been cray, my friends. Just absolutely packed full of awesomeness – time consuming, exhausting awesomeness. This week we had two recording sessions, the first at Capitol for a Netflix movie and the second with FAME in Macedonia recording three episodes of the Apple TV anime series High Guardian Spice. This has left very little time for blog writing. I was wondering what to do this week when an email from Kubilay Uner arrived to my inbox.

Great day for Joy Music House at Capitol Studios recording the score for the Netflix movie All the Bright Places, composed by Keegan Dewitt, orchestrated, arranged and conducted by Dabney Morris.

I had the absolute pleasure of speaking to his wonderful 2019 Columbia College graduating class earlier this week about my life as a composer, entrepreneur, score producer and co-VP of the Alliance for Women Film Composers. Today he dropped me a line requesting a list of the books I mentioned throughout my talk. “That is an excellent idea for a blog post” I thought. So here we are. So many more books I need to read but here are the books I have spent time with, and will continue to do so, as they have greatly improved my creative, business and personal life. These are not really in order of impact. That would be too hard. So many of these have presented a moment where I felt like they were saying exactly what I needed to hear.

Great morning with the grads of the 2019 Music Composition for the Screen MFA Program at Columbia College Chicago

You’ll notice there are not many music books on here. For me I really like reading how other disciplines approach the creative process and then translating it to composing myself, instead of reading about someone’s compositional creative process. Also, a big part of my life right now is working with other composers. I have seen first hand how many composers do their thing so I don’t feel like I need to read a book on it.

OK. Here we go…..

The War of Art – Steven Pressfield

When I read this I had just wished I had read it a decade earlier. It helped me understand all the major things I was struggling with in my creative journey. When you can identify the problem, it is so much easier to address. I read this every year. It is so short and always leaves me renewed. I felt like his book No One Wants To Read Your Sh*t was a great follow up. More tough love that TWOA but an important discussion.

The Artists Way – Julie Cameron

I have never read this book cover to cover. That’s what I love about it. Sometimes just one chapter, or one of the many quotes that are on the margin of each page, are all you need to get back to it. It is a text book for creatives. A tool chest. It always has something for me, wherever I am. I’m now reading her book The Sound of Paper. It is also good but Artist’s Way will always hold a very special place in my heart.

Art and Fear – David Bayles & Ted Orland

This is a great exploration into the creative process and the fear that we all experience. Again it helped identify the things that cause us anxiety and that identification and resulting discussion is a powerful tool to help one overcome and persevere. I need to read it again. I am guessing I will feel that a lot after writing this list. I feel like this book is a bit less folksy and more academic. Maybe a bit of a harder read, but well worth it.

Daybook – Anne Truit

Truit is an artist. This is her journal from a really challenging creative period in her life. She writes about creative challenges, being a parent, thoughts from her childhood. There is a lot here. It is meditative and quiet.

The Creative Habit – Twila Tharp

Tharp is a choreographer. She talks about so many aspects of her creative life, from the rock solid habits that provide her framework, to the challenges of choreographing a show. There’s so much here. There is a hardness and manner-of-factness in her approach. She is So Incredibly Disciplined and she feels very different to my way of life, although I feel like every year I understand more about where she is coming from. It’s fascinating.

On Writing – Stephen King

I have actually only read the first half of this book which is essentially his autobiography. It is AMAZING. His journey is incredible. The first part pre-success and then the second part post-accident is riveting and full of lessons. And of course the way he shares it all with you is through his captivating writing style. Must read.

The Piano Shop on the Left Bank – Thad Carhart

This book is a love letter to pianos. Carhart intertwines his journey back to the piano as an adult living in Paris with a study of the history of the piano. It is simply magical. The piano to me is everything. It is probably one of the first things I heard, as my mum is a concert pianist. I love the piano, although my skills have never matched my passion. The piano is mum, for me. So I love this book. It’s wonderful.

A Devil To Play – Jasper Rees

This book has a similar model to the above. Rees as an adult decides to pick up the French Horn again and in the process explores the history of this extremely challenging instrument. This book is SO FUN. Rees is extremely entertaining. It’s a great ride and you learn a bunch in the process.

A Heart At Fire’s Center: The Life and Music of Bernard Herrmann – Steven C. Smith

A well-written and devastating book about how Herrmann managed to constantly get in his own way, leading to a career that, while very celebrated, was for Herrmann full of disappointment, bitterness and paranoia. This is a book about what NOT TO DO. It is such an important read and definitely I feel locks right in with So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Newport (a few books below in this list).

The Emerging Film Composer – Richard Bellis & Complete Guide to Film scoring – Richard Davis

These were my two favorite film scoring books. They are practical, helpful and humble. I love the interviews of working composers in Davis’ book. It shows just how much variety there is in composers’ journeys into success in this industry.

Flow & Creativity – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (2 seperate books)

Both of these books are fantastic. Flow talks about the ultimate creative state, and Creativity is literally a detailed and thoughtful study of a great and diverse group of fantastic creatives; examining their process and habits. Both of these books, but particularly Flow, are dense, and academic but they are full of gems. If you are interested in becoming more focused and efficient in your process I definitely think you should read.

Deep Work – Cal Newport

Newport refers back a lot to Flow. I feel like Deep Work took Csikszentmihalyi’s concept and did a great job of really digging into the different ways we can apply it to our work places and creative processes today. I enjoy the way Newport writes. He’s an academic, and his books feel like enthusiastic text books. Educational but with a cool teacher. Deep Work had a great impact on my working life.

So Good They Can’t Ignore You – Cal Newport

Another great Newport book. The title is a Steven Martin’s quote – his answer to “how did you become successful?” “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” Newport introduces a very interesting theory in this book: don’t follow your passion. Instead he says you should follow your skills. Fascinating. I didn’t agree with him until I read what he had to say and now I totally agree. Give him a shot.

Books by Ryan Holiday:

The Obstacle is the Way

Ego is the Enemy

The Daily Stoic

Perennial Seller

This guy. He’s fantastic and all these books are sooooo good. Holiday is a student of the Stoics, and their teachings, along with simply the stories learned from history, are the basis of his books. There is something so sturdy and logical about the teachings of the stoics and his writing as a result. I just find myself reading and saying: Yes! Of Course!! All his books are dense with lessons, so you can read over and over. Just so good. If you were to start with one, definitely begin with The Obstacle is the Way. Als read his blog and follow him on twitter.

Atomic Habits – James Clear

Definitely read this book, but also read all his blogs from the last few years that lead to this book. Clear’s ideas on habits vs. goals has changed my life. Also his journey as a writer is so interesting and encouraging. He has only been writing publicly since 2012 and now he is a massive success.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck – Mark Manson

Another writer who I was following as a blogger and then he published this book of amazingness and now he’s huge but still wonderful. This is not about not caring. It is about figuring out what to care about and what to let go. It’s So Good. Speaking of letting go…..

The Untethered Soul – Michael A. Singer

This is an incredible book. It is definitely very rooted in buddhism but I think there is something in there for everyone. The way Singer writes is very accessible. It is also beautiful and meditative, written from the perspective of great compassion and empathy. When I went through a massive personal life change in 2018 this book really helped me through.

Grit – Angela Duckworth

This is a book about being passionate, relentless and working hard. It is fantastic, empowering, and very practical. I don’t think we talk about grit enough. This is a book about grit but from a scientific and extremely well researched and well written perspective. Great read.

Daily Rituals – Mason Currey

I love this book so much. It is simply a well written and impeccably researched accounting of the rituals of so many different well known and renown creatives – writers, painters, composer and philosophers. What I love about this book is the extreme diversity of approaches. It makes me feel validated about my approach. There is no one way to do this, people. They all found the way that fit them. We can do the same. He’s written a new book specifically about women – how have I not read this yet?! It is on my list…..

I am a fan of fiction as well. I feel like I don’t want to go down that rabbit hole right now as there is plenty above for you to explore but here’s a quick rundown of some fiction writers that I always go back to:

Neil Gaiman – So much good here. American Gods is amazing and his short stories book Trigger Warning is absolutely phenomenal.

Tana French – The Dublin Murder Squad series. This is soooooo good. Oh my goodness. Her writing is so dark and deep and each book is absolutely haunting. It is a series but each book is from a different person’s point of view, a person you got to know from someone else’s perspective in the previous book. Genius. Also love the writing of crime writing of Sue Grafton and Patricia Cornwell.

Steven King – yes stating the obvious here, moving on…..

Terry Pratchett – Discworld series. Fun brilliant fantasy.

Peter Clines‘s The Fold. This sci fi book was so good, chilling and almost as messed up as:

Blake Crouch‘s Dark Matter. Argh soooooo messed up, this just turned my stomach in the best possible way. This is one of the best, darkest, most sci-fi love stories I have ever read. CRAZY.

Looking forward to getting back to regular blogging next week but hope you enjoyed this book list. Happy Reading!

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