A space ship

Congratulations on the new library, because it isn’t just a library. It is a space ship that will take you to the farthest reaches of the Universe, a time machine that will take you to the far past and the far future, a teacher that knows more than any human being, a friend that will amuse you and console you—and most of all, a gateway, to a better and happier and more useful life.

~ Isaac Asimov from, https://www.openculture.com/2022/12/isaac-asimov-on-how-libraries-can-radically-change-your-life-1971.html

This tiny little post, which is written around Asimov’s short note quoted above, launched me in off in multiple directions. A library. Asimov. A type–written note. Even Asimov still made typing mistakes—how fast must he have been able to type after all those years of writing? What type writer did he use? Every now and then I feel like getting a type writer—but I spin off into looking at typefaces, and what the heck would I actually do with a type writer? OMG no I’m not going to start type writing the slips in the slipbox. (Because that’d be insane, and because hand writing the slips is part of the point since it reinforces learning. I don’t think typing would do that.) And I keep thinking I never got around to building the library/reading space that as a kid I’d always dreamed of. So many ideas. So little time.



What follows is an attempt to consider some of the aspects and implications of techno-optimism. It is an attitude that has become somewhat taken for granted, which is precisely why it is important to consider what it is and how it functions.

~ “Z.M.L” from, https://librarianshipwreck.wordpress.com/2021/06/10/theses-on-techno-optimism/

This is an interesting thesis. I generally don’t like creating new labels for things. But “techno-optimism” just weaseled into my vocabulary.


Have we become wiser?

We live in the age of philosophy, science, and intellect. Huge libraries are open for everyone. Everywhere we have schools, colleges, and universities which give us the wisdom of the people from many previous millennia. And what then? Have we become wiser for all this? Do we better understand our life, or the meaning of our existence? Do we know what is good for our life?

~ Jean Jacques Rousseau


The Structurist

Sometimes I have a “thread of interest” that I simply know I will never have the time to do anything with. Instead of simply ̄\_(ツ)_/ ̄ing and letting it go, I’m sharing this here so I can feel like I did something with it.

The what now? Oh, this periodical…


…but the links on that page itself are broken. More searching did lead me to find at least some issues in U Sask.’s online store. But they are not cheap. (If they were single-dollars-each, I might just buy them all.)

They are available on ABE Books…


Open questions I had:

Does anyone within the sound of my voice have any issues?
Anyone have any commentary about the periodical at large?
Does anyone’s closest library have any of them?
Is anyone near the University of Saskatchewan?
…have a contact there?
…or any in-real-life means of getting more information?

And also, why aren’t the contents of these online? They seem to be culturally significant.


The library

If you think of your mind as a library, three things should concern you. […] There is no point having a repository of knowledge in your mind if you can’t find and apply its contents (see multiplicative systems).

~ Shane Parrish from, https://medium.com/personal-growth/what-you-spend-time-reading-changes-your-brain-ee2ab4f2aa17#.20s36rpb7

Don’t panic it’s not simply a catalog of library metaphors. There are great points about being intentional about what you choose to put into your brain, what your brain is good at doing, the utility and danger—which I humorously typo’d as “dander”—of filters, and more. I’m going to go in a different direction here however: Rather than trying to figure out how to assess the library of my mind, I’ve been trying to more often let people see what it’s doing. As I’ve said many times, this blog itself is a form of me working “with the garage door up.” …and I regularly reread these blog posts myself to make sure the thoughts still look reasonable after some time sitting on the digital shelf.



As to methods, there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.

~ Harrington Emerson


This is strikingly accurate for all the domains I’ve tried so far. I believe it’s useful to begin by trying some method-work; To explore conversation as a mastery practice, it would be insurmountably boring to sit in my research library reading about conversation. But trying a few different experiments provides invaluable experience. Some things are reproducible, and some things aren’t. Why is that? Some things work as I expected, and some things don’t. Why is that? Some things aren’t connected the way I’d expected, (imagine if the light switches in your house worked lights in other rooms, instead of the one you expected.) Why is that?

Niels Bohr said something similar about Painful experience, and I agree. The experiences serve as guides on either side of the roadway. In the beginning, everything is unknown and the road is seemingly boundless. Some exploration however soon finds a guide limiting one side. Farther exploration moves along the road and perhaps finds the other side’s guide. Progress continues in a serpentine fashion along the road. As principles are learned, the road becomes clearer. Armed with the curiosity and inspiration born of experimentation, progress along the road accelerates as the guides become more clear.

In the end—or the end of the beginning?—things again seem simple. One might even say they seem principled.


Deep dive into books

Today I thought I’d share a thorough explanation of what I do “to” a book these days. This process—which to be honest I don’t follow for every book I read—is the result of combining a few different ideas:

  • I love the physicality of books. The typography, the paper, writing in them, desultory bookmarks, (I add my own ribbon bookmarks,) and numerous sticky-notes poking out the side.
  • I love the peaceful, inertness of books. They literally sit there and do nothing. There are no alerts, and no interaction, (from anyone beyond the author’s original magic spell.)
  • I’ve always wanted to retain more of the knowledge from a book once I’ve read it.
  • I’ve wanted to be free of my self-imposed rule of reading every page.
  • These days I have a slipbox, and I want it to grow.
  • I love to collect quotes.
  • I’ve always wanted a set of crib notes, summary, or something that I could lay hand on after reading a book.


Fortunately, books arrive slowly. It took practice, but I learned to do all of the following in a minute or two.

If it’s a new book, I take a few moments to prepare the spine. (Please tell me you know how to do that.) I affix a small, white, circular label on the spine, and I slap a sticky-note on the first face opposite the cover.

I skip over to librarything.com and find the book in “Your Books”—my books, that is. Most arriving books are coming in after already being in my “wishlist” collection; They get moved to the “library” collection. Otherwise they get searched for and added to my collection. Books get tagged as “physical,” (as opposed to those tagged “PDF,” “iBooks”, or “Kindle,” because, yeup, I track those too.) I see what MDS number Library Thing says the librarians of the world have chosen.

On the sticky-note, I write “LT”, (for “this book is entered into Library Thing,) and the MDS number. I write the main, three-digit part of the MDS number on the label on the spine.

Finally, I skip over to bookmooch.com and remove it from my Wishlist over there to ensure I don’t forget about it. (Lest I accidentally “spend” my Book Mooch points requesting a book I now have.) If this is a book that someone sent me because of Book Mooch, I hit the “Received!” button instead.

This book is now “ours.” And some amazing things are now possible just by having spent a couple minutes on each book as it arrives. (Please ignore the entire week I spent bootstrapping ~500 books when I started doing all this. :)

  • Physical bookstores are fun again! What books are on my wishlist? (500+ at the moment) …okay, what wishlist books are tagged, “priority”? (about 250 — yes I have a problem.) Picking up a book… “this looks interesting…” Do I already have it in the house, maybe now is the time to buy it? Did I once have it, and it’s no longer in our collection, (part of my collections in Library Thing is “had but gone now”)?
  • Long-term storage of books doesn’t mean they are lost. A big portion of the books in our house are here because we want to keep them. They sit for years untouched. Those are shelved by MDS number. Ask me for a book, and I can walk directly to it; It’s either laying about somewhere and top of mind, or it’s shelved where it can be found immediately.
  • This is morbid, but if the house burned down I could decide what books to replace.

Books are for reading

Well, technically, one can also build a thing called an anti-library. But eventually, hopefully, or at least this is what I keep telling myself: I start reading the book.

I do tend to read the entire book. But generally I read the table of contents first to see what I’m getting into. If I think the book is going to be a really deep read—something I want to read more than once, refer to, and really ingest—I probably read the Afterword first. The Afterword was written dead-last, after the book was done and the author is a different person at that point. Then maybe the Foreword, or some books have a Summary, or a Preface, whatever.

I’ve no qualms about skipping parts. For example, in books like Trust Yourself by M Wilding I skipped all the anecdotes and skipped all the workbook/exercises stuff. I ended up reading only about one-third of all of the pages. (Still, a good book by the way.)

As I’m reading, if anything quotable jumps out, I’ll capture that on the spot. This leads to me making some marks, allocating a slipbox slip address, and I’ll leave a small post-it sticking out the side. I’ve never met a book worth reading that didn’t have at least one quotable bit awaiting me within.


As soon as the first slip gets created from the book, that slip needs to refer to the book. That means the book itself needs to be in the slipbox. Apparently, I always wanted to be a librarian.

And now I can leave a “(2tu1)” reference on the quote’s slip.

So that’s a bit of detour, but it really only takes me about a minute. You’ll notice—first photo at top—that the sticky-note for this example book has a slipbox reference, “(2tu1)”—the parens mean “this is a reference”. I didn’t put that on the sticky-note when the book arrived. That was added when I put the book into the slipbox by creating slip “2tu1”.

But mostly, I’m just reading the book.

Identify summarizing bits

One day, I’m finished reading.

I find that even if it took me months to finish, the book’s contents remain pretty fresh in my mind. I flip through the book cover-to-cover, just skimming and noticing what I recall from reading. When I see a good, representative bit, I simply stick in a blank card at those spots. This lets me gauge how many slips my “summary” will be; Two is too few, and 20 might be too many.

Each spot has some key point that I want to include in my summary. I don’t write anything at this point. The goal is just to stick the cards into all the places that I want to include in my summary.

(I once tried using a printed template whose layout facilitated taking brief notes and had pre-printed page numbers. Folded, it doubled as a bookmark so I could build some notes as I read. When an idea leapt out, I’d find the page number on the sheet and jot a note. It was a neat idea, but didn’t work out for me.)


Finally, I go through all the spots I’ve identified and I do a little underlining. I jot the basics of the idea on a slip and address it. So for this example book, whose slip is addressed “2tu1”, this first of the summary slips goes “below” as “2tu1a.” Next summary slip would be, “2tu1b”, “2tu1c” etc.


The guilty, crazy secret

The bullshit— …well, it disappears for a fleeting second.

~ Ryan Holiday from, https://ryanholiday.net/the-guilty-crazy-secret-that-helps-me-write/

I have playlists for this exact thing. Hundreds of individual songs selected and shuffled, for very specific purposes.

Sometimes I go “hunting” to find new tracks for these lists; My Mac says my music library has 9,121 items, 26.5 days, 77.96 GB, and I have a “smart” playlist which grabs 250 least-recently played. It avoids some genres (like “Spoken Word” so it doesn’t pick out French lessons, etc) and it avoids any track I’ve one-starred (my way of saying omg no)… It’s basically an endless series of, “I forgot about that!” I often flip over to the original album, start from the front, and sometimes I add a track to one of my play lists.

What? Why? …best of both worlds. I have playlists that do what I need—hide the world, hide everything. And I’m continuously startled with delight by my tiny music collection.


Slip by slip

Today, a deep dive into how slips get added to the Slipbox. I’ve been working on the Slipbox the last few days—I cannot wait to look back on these posts and the Slipbox in another decade. :) But mostly it’s been meta work: Deciding on format for the slips, and beginning to sketch out the conceptual superstructure of the Slipbox, … tedious and boring and the sort of process and organization work which I flippin’ love. *ahem* What follows here is a story, with photos. I’m going to go through adding three new slips to the Slipbox.

First slip

I was reading this book (image below) and I came to the section in the lower right. I thought that was interesting. The underlined bit in particular is a really great sentence about Stoicism. (I’ll get to the actual sentence in a moment.)

You might be wondering how I manage to make books lie open so neatly. There’s a clever hack (image below) for that. See also, Book holder for paperbacks. I’ve graduated from using a pencil, as I describe in the Life Hack linked, to using these gorgeous steel rods I found. Furthermore, because I’m insane, I used heat-shrink tubing in a lovely shade of blue to cover the ends so they don’t mark up tables and such.

Back to that sentence which caught my eye as I was reading.

I grabbed a blank 3×5 card—what I’m using for the “slips” in my Slipbox—and I copied the bit I want from the book. (image below) I did not write that “5a1” at the top initially; After I did a lot more of what I describe in this post, it occurred to me to write this post, and I didn’t feel like rewriting this slip to take a photo without the “5a1”.

This slip has the bit I wanted to capture, then the page number, and the “(2a1)” is a slip reference; it’s the address of this particular book’s slip in the Slipbox. These things don’t have to be in any particular layout. They are all obvious in the context. What page number could I possibly mean, other than page 33 in the book itself? What could possibly be a (2a1) in the Slipbox—a book, but I could also just go look at (2a1).

All our books have a note in the front (image below) which say “LT” and which has the major Dewey Decimal System number. I’ll let it settle in, the level of commitment it takes to have done this for every book in the house. But it’s easy to maintain, just do it for each new book as they arrive. The “LT” is a reference to Library Thing, which is a magical web site that tracks library contents. In LT I know every book I’ve ever owned, which are currently in the house, I have a wishlist, etc..—going to a bookstore is magical when armed with that knowledge.

I may as well mention that the Dewey number is on the spine too. (image below) Yes, on every book. Yes, the books in the house are also shelved by Dewey Decimal. I learned a lot about what librarians actually do when I tried to find the Dewey Decimal number for a book—hint, it’s an art, not a science.

So it’s easy to figure out that the book I’m quoting from on this new slip is in the Slipbox at (2a1) because it’s on the postit in the book. I jot that on the slip, “this is where I got this from: Page 33 from the book at slip 2a1.”

Ok, I’ve capture that little quote. Where do I put this new slip in the Slipbox? Well, I think it’s a great idea about Stoicism, and Stoicism is in the Slipbox already. Below is a photo of the slip whose address is (5)—that’s the “5” at the top left. This is an “early days” slip so it has a silly-short address. This slip is just a list of topics I have under “Philosophy,” today just the “a” section for Stoicism. There is a boring “5a” too (not shown.) This seems silly, until I get to “g” under Philosophy, and that slip is 200 slips farther along in the box. Then I’ll be flipping through looking for that “silly” (5g) slip.

So (5a) already exists, and it is the home of “Stoicism” in my Slipbox. So where do I put my newest slip with this little quote from book (2a1)? I flip to (5a) and realize there’s nothing after it. So this new slip becomes (5a1). I wrote that (5a1) on there dead-last. And then I tossed it into the Slipbox behind (5a).

Second slip

I did all that stuff to make that new (5a1) slip, and then I went back to reading the book. A few pages later I find this…

I scribble on the margin (above) since this is interesting. There’s a tiny “16” there. I look at this book’s notes—the book I’m reading in the photo—and it’s a reference to a book I actually have. (There’s also a tiny “17,” but it’s not a book I have.) I grab the referenced book and find the referenced page, starts lower-left (image below)… (I’d love to say the Dewey shelving was handy, but I am also reading this book! So it was sitting close at hand already.)

I had started reading this book before I had a Slipbox. When I looked at it today though, I realized that I’d have captured this exact bit… if I’d had a Slipbox.

Not shown: I made a (2a2) in for this book. Looks much like the (2a1) image above. I added (2a2) to the note in the front of the book.

Then I made a new slip (image below) for this bit about Stoicism… (I also added “pg 20” after taking this photo.) The note in the front of the book says “LT 171 (2a2)”—but I just made (2a2) anyway.

The cool part about this is the slip can lay around if I feel like having it close by. It’s a thought, and I know where I got the thought. When (if!) I want to put it into the Slipbox…

I flip to (5a) for Stoicism… there’s a (5a1) already, so this slip becomes (5a2). I add “5a2” to the top of the slip, I date the slip (the dates are “when it was added” to the Slipbox, not “when I wrote it”,) and toss it in the Slipbox.

Third slip

A Guide to the Good Life by WB Irvine is the first book, way above. That’s the one I was reading this morning that started all of this. The next image is (2a1), the slip I created for this book.

Don’t panic. I’m not adding a slip for every book. This isn’t a card catalog for the entire library. This slip got added to create a home for the next card…

I have a feeling that this book is going to be referred to often. (Often enough to warrant adding it to the Slipbox.) Now, as I find (2a1)—aka references in the Slipbox to this book—when I flip to (2a1), I immediately see (2a1a) which tells me what the book is about. Or least what Irvine hopes the book is about. :)


The last lecture

The Last Lecture is a summary of all Pausch had learned and all he wanted to pass along to his children. The lecture, entitled “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams,” wasn’t about dying rather just the opposite. It was about dreams, moments and overcoming obstacles because “time is all you have…and you may find one day that you have less than you think.”

~ Shane Parrish from, https://fs.blog/2014/01/randy-pausch-the-last-lecture/

Perhaps you’ve already heard of this book? I had not. Tidy little article from Parrish makes me want to run—not walk—out and buy this book.

On the other hand: I really have a problem with books. There’s already a few hundred in the anti-library. My wishlist of books contains 410— err, correction, 411 books.

This is such a delightful problem, yes?


Slip boxes aka zettelkasten

Zettelkasten is usually mentioned as a note-taking method. However, the end goal of Zettelkasten is not gathering and collecting notes, but rather creating a competent and knowledgeable communication partner. The main interaction with the slip-box is not when we are writing and adding new notes, because the slip-box is not there to be an archive of our memory and knowledge. Slip-box is there to be an apparatus with which we think. Therefore, the main interaction is when we communicate with the slip-box by confronting ourselves and our thinking with our prior knowledge.

~ Eva Thomas from, https://medium.com/@ethomasv/understanding-zettelkasten-d0ca5bb1f80e

This appears to be part four of a series: On knowledge systems, Push and pull, and Commonplace notebooks. Depending where you are on your personal journey you may have been sitting back, chuckling, waiting for me to “discover” zettelkasten. …to which I reply, “y u no email me about zettelkasten?!”

Now this idea I definitely have seen before. I can recall stumbling on the idea very early in my personal productivity and self-awareness journey. Without looking, I’ll bet I found it first on 43 Folders. I had the distinct pleasure of following along through Merlin Mann’s journey—trying to keep up, but not succeeding at the time. (Posts on that site run from 2004, through 2011.) If you just went, “43 Folders? …what’s that?” You need to go look at 43 Folders.

…oh sorry, I was off on a tangent there. I just realized Mann has a podcast that’s on episode . Shit. Another thing I probably need to listen too. I’ll just say: My web site serialize tool can drip podcast show notes pages at me too, so I’ll drip all those so I can skim the show notes, and I’ll just listen to the few that are “must listen” [in my opinion of course.]

*shudder* I’m all over the map today. Zettelkasten, right.

When I first encountered it, I got stuck on the idea that it’s “notes” in “boxes.” Why would anyone want to do that, now that we have (back then) web sites where you can tag stuff, search, edit, etc.? Now I see this part—trimming my lead quote down—is the neat part:

The end goal of Zettelkasten is creating a competent and knowledgeable communication partner. The slip-box is there to be an apparatus with which we think. Therefore, the main interaction is when we communicate with the slip-box by confronting ourselves and our thinking with our prior knowledge.

Do you see it now? The slip-box system can be slips of paper, digital notes/files, or many other implementations. The original slip-boxes (physical things, pre-Internet… actually, pre-electricity,) were used by one person. Using modern technology we can implement one that allows people to collaborate too. (If we wanted. Not saying I necessarily want that.)

Oh, and guess what I built four years ago. A very complicated, (that’s not a compliment,) system for weaving together references, summaries, and articles on a site called Hilbert’s Library. It was literally my first attempt to build a knowledge management system. I’m now thinking it’s over-designed—I mean yes, sure… I over-think and over-design everything. But I mean that now I see why the design I built into it actually gets in the way of it being maximally useful as a knowledge management system.

What? Oh, yes, people have built lots of ways to implement slip-boxes. Notably, Emvi does that (among other things, because zettelkasten can be confusing so they pitch it in various use cases.)



Commonplace notebooks

Continuing my train of thought from On knowledge systems and Push and pull, today I want to dive into something called a commonplace book. (For the third time: no denouement today.) In line with more modern language usage, I’m going to prefer commonplace notebook; books are today commonplace, and we use the word “notebook” for the ones we create privately.

Settle in, this is about to get tangential.

I first encountered this idea at 8am, November 13th, 2020. Literally. I’ve never heard of the idea of a “commonplace book” previously. And here I am in the midst of finally pulling on a thread which I’ve been calling a quest for a knowledge system… trying to solve a problem which is as yet ill formed. I’ve been reading through the entire https://fs.blog web site; it’s like 5,000 non-trivial web pages skimming a few every day for well over a year. This November 13th a little before 8am I happen to reach, John Locke’s Method of Organizing Common Place Books. Which, probably is not worth clicking through. First off, “common” modifies “place” so we can drop “common” without fundamentally changing the meaning—so sayeth grammar. Therefore Locke’s method is for organizing books about places. I very nearly didn’t even skim it. But I did. And realized it’s his method for organizing commonplace books. Oh my god Becky, that’s completely different. Wait, what’s a commonplace book? (There’s a link in that post about Locke’s method.) POW!

Commonplace books are personal knowledge libraries; notebooks full of collected ideas and bits of wisdom all mixed up together. Here, we take a look at their history and benefits.

~ from https://fs.blog/2014/07/networked-knowledge-and-combinatorial-creativity/

Am I on Candid Camera? This is so apropos of my recent thinking, it’s H.P. Lovecraft level eery.

Zooming out…

The knowledge system I’m seeking is not simply a repository into which I want to toss everything. For example, Evernote is not a solution that will work. It’s too easy to put things in. (Likewise for any home-grown version I might cook up with documents or cloud storage.) Sure, Evernote and other solutions are eminently searchable—that’s a good thing. But I continue to avoid such tools because… well, because I don’t want simply a giant collection of everything. I don’t want to simply amass everything I’ve ever been exposed to. (We already have an Internet. We don’t need Craig’s Internet assembled within the other.) But, I’ll call these desirables the “power” features.

I’m intrigued by the commonplace notebook solution as it requires a good bit of effort to add things. Effort is required to evaluate each new idea to be added. Effort is required to see how it “hangs together with” the rest of what I know, at the time when I encounter the new thing. This suggests individual, manual and mental labor, [meaning I have to do everything, possibly even including manually writing things down on paper] is also a desirable feature.

Some combination of those “power” and “manual” features feels like a sweet spot.


Push and pull

Aside: Like yesterday, there’s no conclusion here today.

A large part of books’ allure is that they never interrupt. They sit inert, exactly where you leave them, (physically or digitally,) and respond the instant you decide you want to engage. You are in total control. Eons ago, I saw the difference between books and the Internet described, overly simplistically, as “pull” versus “push” modes of information flow. That’s true for a book; a book is completely pull oriented. However, the Internet can be used in either mode. It can both “push” information at you and enable you to “pull” information towards yourself.

I became convinced that I needed to pull information towards me and ruthlessly prevent any pushing. This was a simple continuation of my love of books and reading. Reading exposed me to so many new ideas, so I expanded the trawling into the Internet, and to make room for the new things I was finding I squelched things that were being pushed at me. Over many years I began to read trade publications slowly learning which ones were just advertising vehicles and which ones contained real ideas. I joined professional organizations and read their publications. I found web sites that were things I wanted to read and dutifully kept up with them, (either by visiting regularly or by following their RSS feeds.)

I was eventually in complete control of what information I was exposed to. Nothing was being pushed at me against my will, but this became far too much to keep up with. And once the pulling becomes a habit, it’s effectively pushing. I burnt out and crashed hard. I rage-quit a number of things I had been keeping up with, and stopped visiting a swath of great web sites. I began reading physical books more, but this it was only a sort of reset. It left me back at the beginning; I’d learned a lot about how to manage my exposure to information but I was once again starved for new information. These days, I’ve renewed interested in some sort of “knowledge system” and in addition to points I made yesterday it’s also a way to manage this pull-versus-push problem.

More than half a century before blogging, Instagramming, tweeting, and the rest of today’s ever-lowering barriers of entry for publishing content, Bush laments the unmanageable scale of the recorded human experience.

~ Maria Popova from, https://www.brainpickings.org/2012/10/11/as-we-may-think-1945/

After a bit of cool perspective from history, it gets around to talking about the importance of not just categorizing and compressing information for storage—think “library” or “internet”—but the ultimate importance of being able to use the information. Spot on this topic I’ve been slowly trying to unpack.

So, thinking about a knowledge system in the context of pulling information: I currently have a lot of fresh information that I pull; I could say I’m regularly exposed to many new ends of thread. However, I also want to be able to pick a thread, (or two or three,) and to be able to continuously pull on it. My knowledge system should enable that.



The power of preserving silence is the very first requisite to all who wish to shine, or even please in discourse; and those who cannot preserve it, have really no business to speak. … The silence that, without any deferential air, listens with polite attention, is more flattering than compliments, and more frequently broken for the purpose of encouraging others to speak, than to display the listener’s own powers. This is the really eloquent silence. It requires great genius—more perhaps than speaking—and few are gifted with the talent …

~ Arthur Martine from, https://fs.blog/2013/08/the-art-of-ordinary-conversation/

Months ago, I presume, I had marked this Parrish article for later reading because it’s stuffed full of wonderful insight about conversation. That’s something about which I happen to be passionate, you know? Today I was giving it a thorough, leisurely read and the bit I quoted above screamed at me to be the lead quote of a post. I’d wager it caught my eye when I months-ago marked it for later reading. Turns out I have the book containing the original source, Martine, A. (1866), Martine’s Hand-Book of Etiquette, and Guide to True Politeness, pp 8-9, librarything.com/work/1885064/book/101201787

I read the book a decade (or more?) ago when I obtained it. But now I’m inspired to re-read a few of its chapters now that I’ve become reacquainted with conversation as an art in itself.

“Okay, Craig, get to the point.”

Sometimes bricks of thinking and action click perfectly into place. In this case: A web page from 2013 which I’m only just reading in 2020, a different web page I read a decade ago, an author working just after our Civil War, my personal journey, my interest in conversations and podcasting. I quite often worry about all the things I regularly jam into my brain; they’re good things, but they are so numerous that my brain sometimes feels overstuffed! And then, click. It’s all worth it.

Do you have ways of regularly exposing your self to… well… whatever it is you need to feed your mind?


Tell me if this sounds crazy

All of our books have a small dot on their spine.

It’s one thing to try to keep your books physically under control. It’s another task for Sisyphus to keep track of your books in general. Here’s how I do it:

  • Create a free account over on LibraryThing. Set up three collections: One for the books currently in our possession; “Library.” A second for books we’d love to have join us; “Wishlist.” A third for books that have passed through; “Previous.”
  • Get some small stickers, (1/4″ round ChromaLabels work great,) and some sticky notes.
  • Add each book to your “Library” collection in LT and put a sticky note inside the cover marked “LT”. I also track digital books, so I tag all the books in LT with “physical” or “digital”. Then put a dot on the spine so you don’t have open the book to check if there’s a sticky note inside.
  • Why both? Some books can’t accept the spine sticker, and sometimes the dot falls off. So the sticky inside the cover is the definitive mark that a book is in LT.
  • New book arrives? Add it to LT’s “Library” collection, tagged as “physical”, insert sticky note in the front, and add a dot to spine.
  • Book leaving my possession? Remove the dot and sticky note, and shift the book to the “Previous” collection in LT.

As you come across books you might want to read, add them to your Wishlist collection in LT. My Wishlist contains hundreds of books. (That’s not a brag, that’s a confession.) LT has a notes field and I often leave a clue about where/why I’m adding the book. When I later—having forgotten all about that book—go into LT to add it, only to discover it’s already there… “Hmmm, that’s twice now I’ve ‘discovered’ this book. Maybe I should read this book sooner than ‘some day’?” Such books I then tag, “priority.” I’ve about ~20 books tagged priority at the moment.

Yet another reason this is useful is that you can search via the LT website, or the mobile app, to see if you have/have-had any book. You can even wander through a bookstore, and know that your Wishlist is always in your pocket.

Does that sound crazy? Dammnit, that does sound crazy now that I typed it all out.


Blindingly obvious

A few weeks ago I had a rapid sequence of ideas related to reading books. All of these are blindingly obvious in hindsight:

One can gang books together when reading. Grab Aurelius’s Meditations, Frankl’s, Man’s Search for Meaning, Seneca’s Letters, and Epictetus’s Discourses, Handbook and Fragments—and read a little from each of them in each sitting. Or grab the Constitution of the United States, The Federalist Papers, the Anti-Federalist Papers, and Stevens’s Six Amendments. (What “gang” of books springs to mind for you?)

One is permitted to place multiple bookmarks in the same book. Yes I’ve long advocated adding sticky notes to mark various things in a book as I go along. But the idea of reading in multiple places simultaneously in the same book hadn’t really occurred to me.

One can make their own bookmarks from 1/4″ satin ribbon! I have all sorts of bookmarks; things which slide onto the edge like a paper-clip, printed cards (“Remain calm. I’m the Doctor.” for example) with the usual string or ribbon from the end, 3×5 cards stuffed in randomly, and large sticky notes. But it’s way cooler to cut a length of ribbon and drape it through the book… just like really cool and expensive books which arrive with a bookmark sewn into their binding.

If you’re cutting ribbon to make bookmarks, you can easily attach it into the book just like the fancy books’ marks. Cut it long enough to: lay one end between the last two pages of the book, tight in against the binding, with the end near the top of the page, and the ribbon laying down the page. Flip a few pages on top of it to hold it in place, and lay the ribbon back up across the entire book again tight in against the binding. Now you have a bookmark that feels like it’s sewn into the binding when you grab the lower portion sticking out of the book as your mark.

My final thought in that recent cascade was of course: Okay, wow, I really have a book problem.



I read now for the same reasons I read then — to feel less alone. But I read for more than that: Reading teaches me the answers to problems I haven’t had yet, or to problems I didn’t even know how to describe. And when I feel less alone with what troubles me, it is easier to find solutions. A book to me is like a friend, a shelter, advice, an argument with someone who cares enough to argue with me for a better answer than the one we both already have. Books aren’t just a door to another world — each book is part of a door to the whole world, a door that always has more behind it. Which is why I still can’t think of anything I’d rather do more than read.

~ Alexander Chee, from A Velocity of Being, which I found via, https://www.brainpickings.org/2019/06/11/alexander-chee-a-velocity-of-being-letter/

I’ve mentioned elsewhere that growing up, it was a 20-minute drive to anything. A true bookstore, or even a public library, was farther still.

But I do distinctly remember the feeling of being among books. At a book store, at my high school’s library, at the closest [small] city’s public library, and eventually at my university’s two libraries. To be honest, I don’t know when last I thought of that feeling, until it bubbled up, just now as I write. The lighting. The sound-scape. The smells. The furtniture. And of course the books. Knowledge and experiences and surprises and questions beyond belief.

(Woa! I just remembered the huge amount of time I spent thinking about one day having a proper study. My own personal library, meets workspace, meets inner sanctum. And I’m reminded that I’m currently obsessed with finding a good chair for reading.)

But it’s all about the books.

Carl Sagan captured it best when we said, “Humans work magic.



On the other hand, if you dump your trash in the forest to avoid paying the city’s garbage fees, or haggle endlessly with the manager at big-box store to get things for free, you’re not helping anyone but yourself. Canceling TV service and taking up the more productive hobby of reading library books is Frugal. Saving the same amount of money by voting down property tax funding for your local school system is Cheap.

~ Peter Adeney from, http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2012/10/24/frugal-vs-cheap/

Even my title.


Vonnegut in rare form

When I taught in Iowa, University of Iowa, I had a writers workshop… Is I’d tell my students to go to the public library there in Iowa City and take out a novel that hadn’t been taken out for twenty years… And geezers they found some knockouts. It doesn’t surprise me at all.

~ Kurt Vonnegut from, https://www.youtube.com/watch?reload=9&time_continue=9&v=crPrPpAaRXo

…and when I say “in rare form,” I mean that literally. This is a YouTube video, of a live interview in Second Life on NPR’s “The Infinite Mind.” The video is of two avatars, (in front of a live audience of avatars,) having a virtual, live interview… and it’s all Vonnegut gold.


Bethlehem serenity garden

Adjacent to Bethlehem’s public library is a Japanese serenity garden. It was a gift from Bethlehem’s sister city Tondabayashi Japan. In 1971, Tondabayashi sent all the materials and the workmen to build this as a gift to the people of Bethlehem. If you live in the Lehigh Valley, this is a great place to visit; it’s just a short walk from Main Street on the north side of the city. These photos are from a dedication of a new “Mayors’ Green” that is located just in front of the garden.