Book Review: Spark – How Creativity Works by Julie Burstein (DNF)

Spark by Julie Burstein

This book is subtitled Inside the Minds of America’s Greatest Writers, Filmmakers, Musicians & Artists.

I expected to enjoy reading this book a lot, so I asked for an ARC from the publishers, Harper. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite to my taste and after 3 or 4 weeks of dipping in and out of the book, I’m giving up. Although I may read the last section still, that looks interesting.

Spark: What it is about

Studio 360 is a radio program from Public Radio International that ran from 2000 to 2009, and was “public radio’s premier guide to contemporary culture”. A large number of creative people were interviewed by Kurt Andersen, such as novelists, poets, playwrights, photographers, singers, etc.

Julie Burstein was the producer of the program and in short chapters, she describes the way 35 of these interviewees came to be creative, i.e., where did (do) they find their inspiration. These are not actual interviews, but third-person extracts from the interviews (and possibly also other information about the interviewees that Burstein has gathered).

The book is divided into sections, each with their own theme as a source of creativity, such as nature, childhood, adversity, parents, creative partners, etc. Within each of these sections, the stories of a number of individuals is given (each in their own short chapter).

Spark: What I thought

For some people, this may be a really interesting book. If you know many of the people mentioned, and you are interested in them, it will be heaven. For me, I knew just 5 or 6 (of the 35). While this did not really matter, and while I bravely googled pictures from the photographer and poems from the poet in the first section, after a while I got bored with the stories.

I missed a picture of the people themselves and something that alluded to the work they were doing, a picture or some text. In other words, the featured people were all faceless and their work anonymous, except for the few that I’d heard of (e.g., Kevin Bacon, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Robert Plant).

The, in my eyes, distant way Burstein wrote about them didn’t help. There was no discernible spark (so to speak) in Burstein’s eye while writing about these people. The writing was a little clinical and there didn’t seem to be any emotional connection between Burstein and her protagonists (a like, a dislike, an admiration).

Altogether, the book wasn’t for me and I didn’t finish it.

Rating: 2/5 (DNF)

I got this book: free from Harper Publishers for review (ARC)

I read this in: English, the original language

Number of pages: 249

First published: 2011

Genre: non-fiction, art


About Leeswammes
I'm owner and editor at In my free time, I read and review books on my two blogs, Leeswammes' Blog and De Boekblogger.

13 Responses to Book Review: Spark – How Creativity Works by Julie Burstein (DNF)

  1. Cindy says:

    Okay, I’ll give it a miss 😉

  2. Young1 says:

    Sounds like a bit of a bore, great cover not so hot content!

    • Leeswammes says:

      Yes, Young1, I was expecting a bit more than I got. I forgot to mention that “How Creativity Works” suggests a more deeper investigation into the matter, but there wasn’t one.

  3. I’m impressed that you requested it! As much as I love non-fiction at times, this doesn’t even slightly jump my interest scale, unfortunately. Sorry you couldn’t finish it – but on to the next one!

    • Leeswammes says:

      Coffee, I *am* a psychologist, even if it’s more or less limited to the psychology of language. So, I thought this could be quite interesting. And it isn’t all that bad, but I didn’t finish, so it wasn’t quite for me.

  4. I was waiting for your review about this book. I do love non fiction and books like this one. I am glad I waited. Now, I can use my time to read something more insteresting.

    PS. I like the new look of your page 🙂

  5. Nadine Nys says:

    By the look of the cover I would have thought this a very interesting book. Glad I know now it is not. I think the fact that you don’t know most of the people is the reason you didn’t like it. It remains all a bit abstract and you can’t connect. As you say yourself, it could have helped if there would have been a little background information about everyone. Thanks for the review!

  6. You just can’t make yourself like something you don’t. I think it’s really helpful to read reviews of books that others didn’t like — sometimes I realize it might be just the right thing for me. But I wasn’t a fan of Studio 360, so I don’t think I’d enjoy this much. Thanks for your review!

    • Leeswammes says:

      Indeed, Col. I don’t mind writing a negative review because someone else may say that’s just their sort of book. And they’ll be happy to have found out about it. Fun to read that you know this program, as you can guess, I didn’t.

  7. Chinoiseries says:

    Missed chance for the author, I guess? Or perhaps an American reader would enjoy it more?

    • Leeswammes says:

      I think an American reader would like it more, if they are familiar with the interviewees. I think I had different ideas about the book too, so it wasn’t what I expected.

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