One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and, if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words.~ Goethe
One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and, if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words.~ Goethe
Make your own bible. Select and collect all the words and sentences that in all your readings have been to you like the blast of a trumpet.~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was reading books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who ever had been alive. An artist is a sort of emotional historian.~ James Baldwin
The moral? That there is no greater homage we could pay Proust than to end up passing the same verdict on him as he passed on Ruskin, namely, that for all its qualities, his work must eventually also prove silly, maniacal, constraining, false and ridiculous to those who spend too long on it.
“To make [reading] into a discipline is to give too large a role to what is only an incitement. Reading is on the threshold of the spiritual life; it can introduce us to it: It does not constitute it.”
Even the finest books deserve to be thrown aside.~ Alain de Botton
I’ve a few readers who really enjoy the Marcus Aurelius quotes in my collection. A few initial Aurelius quotations I collected through my general reading online, before I eventually read Meditations (English translations thereof, to be fair) and pulled a bunch more quotes myself.
I’ve just spent a few hours cleaning up my Aurelius quotes. Mostly this was adding the section number from Meditations to my blog posts. It’s now easy to find the original material. Note that Wikisource has several versions of Meditations available online. But at the risk of sounding snobbish, I really like Gregory Hays’s translation which will go out of copyright (maybe) in 2102. I digress.
During my cleanup, I realized that one of my quotes, “Death smiles at us all. All a man can do is smile back.” is not something Aurelius wrote. It’s something the character Marcus Aurelius said in the Movie Gladiator. But it really sounds like him; It’s a great line of dialog for a movie.
It turns out that there are two spots in Meditations which echo the often misattributed quote. In the middle of section 2.17 he writes, “[…] it accepts death in a cheerful spirit, as nothing but the dissolution of the elements from which each living thing is composed.” which is the sentiment without the cinema flourish. It also doesn’t make perfect sense when you pull it out from its context.
Eventually, you reach the final line of section 12.36 and find, “So make your exit with grace — the same grace shown to you.” That’s literally the final line he wrote as a meditation to himself. Can you imagine that being the last line you wrote to yourself? And thus my title.
I was aware that the reading of all good books is indeed like a conversation with the noblest men of past centuries who were the authors of them, nay a carefully studied conversation, in which they reveal to us none but the best of their thoughts.~ René Descartes
How she used to smoke in his office, back when the University allowed that in campus buildings. He didn’t smoke, but allowed her to as she sat on the sofa across from his desk. Or rather, he didn’t object, and even set out a little dessert plate as an ashtray. Maybe because it gave them both a pretense for talking longer, for the extra duration of a cigarette, then two, then three. So that by the time she graduated, she was a chain-smoker.~ Ling Ma from, https://www.theatlantic.com/books/archive/2022/05/ling-ma-office-hours-short-story/629852/
Usually I have some observation to make about the things I share herein. I’ll find myself reading something, an interesting idea flits into my belfry, and I’m momentarily enthralled. It’s at that point that I kick that item into my process for coming out, here.
This was different. I stubbornly reread that first sentence arguing internally about grammar— Decided it didn’t matter because I liked the cut of the paragraph overall— And then realized I was half-way through the entire thing—
Sometimes I just share interesting things I find lying about.
If you find yourself wanting to speed up the reading process on a particular book, you may want to ask yourself, “Is this book any good?”~ Ryan Holiday from, https://ryanholiday.net/13-reading-strategies/
Long-time readers will be well aware of my self-diagnosed problem with books. I’ve spent a lot of time reading about reading about books, but this list by Holiday made me think about a few things in a new light. Yes, of course; It’s a post by Holiday so it’s going to have some ancient Stoic philosophers in it. Schopenhauer had a sublime lament about time for reading. Holiday’s strategies won’t help you there. There’ll preserve some of your reading time for, well, more reading. But I still think the hardest part about reading is making it a priority. (Recall: “I don’t have time to…” is bullshit.)
This is not a passive-aggressive maneuver to get you to scroll to the bottom, read the footer and consider supporting my work. (It would mean a lot though if you did.)
This is a serious question which I ask myself at a frequency approaching every minute. All the benefits are not directly measurable.
Exposure — In order to ensure I have material to write posts, I have various processes and systems that force me to skim an insane amount of stuff pretty much every day. If you imagine skimming my weekly email in a second or two, that’s 7 items. I skim about 300 to 500 items every day. A small number each day catch my attention enough that I toss them on my read-later queue. There are 764 things on that queue at this instant. It takes me significant time to read them, but often just a few seconds to realize, “yeah this is going to be a blog post” (and then I go on reading to the end and then I write the post.) If I stopped blogging, would I still do all that work to be exposed to ideas?
Learning — Writing blog posts creates a third “imprint” in my mind. First a glance, then a read, and then thinking about it. Even if I sometimes abort the blog post mid-writing, it’s still three different repetitions. And I have software that feeds me my own blog posts (“what did I post 10 years ago, today?” etc.) so I am constantly re-reading everything on this site; that’s more repetitions as things drift into history.
Integration — If I write a blog post about it, I generally try to figure out its relationship to everything else. Adding blog tags is the most obvious bit of integration. But figuring out what to pull quote involves deciding what is salient to me. And deciding which part(s) I want to focus on, magnify, or disagree with requires further integration.
Writing — Thoughts swirl in my mind. Characters appear on my screen. There are several skills one can work on between those two sentences.
All of that goes into feeding my personal growth and priming my curiosity. Since good conversation is powered by genuine curiosity, all that stuff also enables my person mission.
Should I keep blogging? It doesn’t feel like stopping is realistically an option.
Let us read, and let us dance; These two amusements will never do harm to the world.~ Voltaire
Much better is to rebuild the skill entirely with a different approach, one that directly addresses your perennial snags. Instead of slowly getting better at your familiar, limited way, you embrace the awkwardness of learning an unfamiliar but stronger method, as though you’ve never done the thing before at all.~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/2021/10/how-to-level-up-instead-of-plugging-away/
In the article Cain mentions spending as much as 10 minutes in reading one page as part of his larger anecdote from which he’s drawing this lesson. Sometimes it takes me a long time to find enough tranquility in my mind just to feel ready to read. I always have so many thing on the to-do and should-do lists. By the time I get enough of the urgent items beat back into the shadows, often, another days has passed with too little reading. I should do something about that…
There comes a moment in doing your reading where new work begins to rhyme. When you start to see the connections. When you understand who influenced the person you’re engaging with right now.~ Seth Godin from, https://seths.blog/2021/09/on-doing-the-reading/
I find it difficult to figure out when to shift from empty-cup, learn-everything mode into the mastery mode. Godin’s insight about “rhyming” strikes me as a great test. In the beginning of some new learning adventure, everything is new and everything is surprising. The idea of noticing when a lot of things start to rhyme… of noticing when you can tell who or what influenced this thing you’re currently studying… that is when you notice that you have shifted into the mastery level of practice. Mastery does not—not by a long shot!—mean you are done. It’s more like the point where the airplane pivots and leaps into the sky: Now I am ready to begin my own journey.
But if you only remember six things after reading this article, it should be the following truths about reading:~ Shane Parrish from, https://fs.blog/2021/08/remember-books/
Those six points are right near the top, too. It’s a great article about reading. —about a certain kind of reading. I’m not certain what to call the type of reading, but for today “reading to learn” will do as a label. Well, there’s another type of reading which I’ll call “reading for ‘hunh‘”.
There’s deep value in a ‘hunh’. When you find one, you can be sure you have just learned something. I spend a lot of time every day reading for ‘hunh’. I cast a wide net and then haul the contents up onto the fishing boat deck. I shuffle through the contents in muck boots; you don’t want to get this arbitrary stuff really on you. Using a squee-gee I push some of it around in an only vaguely interested fashion. I’m not super-focused. I’m paying attention for sharp edges but I’m not expecting any particular outcome. If I find a ‘hunh’ it’s just that; no more and no less than something simply interesting for the time it’s in my realm of awareness. And then I drop it back on the deck. Soon enough I wash it all overboard.
What kind of reading is that?
If you remember what an author says, you have learned something from reading him. If what he says is true, you have even learned something about the world. But whether it is a fact about the book or a fact about the world that you have learned, you have gained nothing but information if you have exercised only your memory. You have not been enlightened. Enlightenment is achieved only when, in addition to knowing what an author says, you know what he means and why he says it.~ Mortimer Adler
When evening has come, I return to my house and go into my study. At the door I take off my clothes of the day, covered with mud and mire, and I put on my regal and courtly garments; and decently reclothed, I enter the ancient courts of ancient men, where, received by them lovingly, I feed on the food that alone is mine and that I was born for. There I am not ashamed to speak with them and to ask them the reasons for their actions; and they in their humanity reply to me. And for the space of four hours I feel no boredom, I forget every pain, I do not fear poverty, death does not frighten me. I deliver myself entirely to them.~ Niccolò Machiavelli
I’ve a system of daily reminders; of course it’s complicated.
For years now, a few of my reminders have simply been questions. I recently started writing something to go with those questions making them feel more at home with some of my other reminders and prompts which had some exposition with them when I found them. I thought it would be interesting to share what I added to this question today:
WHAT HAVE I BEEN READING? — I’ve performed this experiment countless times. Read less: nothing happens. Read more: ideas, new connections, inspiration, questions, motivation, short-cuts, wonder.
As I elaborated in last week’s episode of my podcast, Neil Postman argues that it was the introduction of mass-produced longform writing that really unleashed human potential — ushering in the modes of critical, analytical understanding that birthed both the enlightenment and the scientific revolution, the foundations of modernity. It allowed us to efficiently capture complex thought in all its nuance, then build on it, layer after layer, nudging forward human intellectual endeavor.~ Cal Newport from, https://www.calnewport.com/blog/2020/06/27/on-the-exceptionalism-of-books-in-an-age-of-tweets/
I’ve often ranted against lack of attention-span, and wasted time. But Newport, and in particular some things he’s quoting and talking about from another article, make the point that all of human history is encoded in written form. Why is that so? Because it works, and it works really well.
There is a place for visual and auditory information, of course. Those tools of communication are power tools compared to writing—well, almost all writing. As I’ve said many times here though: One can have the power tools after demonstrating mastery with the manual hand-tools.
There is no question that apps are here to stay, and are a superior interaction model for some uses. But the web is like water: it fills in all the gaps between things like gaming and social with exactly what any one particular user wants. And while we all might have a use for Facebook – simply because everyone is there – we all have different things that interest us when it comes to reading.~ Ben Thompson from, https://stratechery.com/2014/web-still-matters-writing/
That’s from 2014, and holds up pretty well I think. That the web, “fills in all the gaps,” is insightful. Sure, the technology that defines “the Web” drives an enormous amount of stuff other than written content. But even just the smaller portion that is the written word is a huge swath of time and attention. That speaks well for us in the aggregate.
I still believe that the problem, currently, is simply that people rarely bother to figure out how things actually work. People don’t tinker and change things. Once someone gets the bug of curiosity, it’s a slippery slope from poking and prodding, to tinkering and experimenting, to building and creating; It’s a slippery slope lined entirely with reading.
He described himself as a frog not a bird, as he enjoyed jumping from pool to pool, studying their details deeply in the mud. The bird’s-eye perspective was not for him, and he had a lifelong suspicion of grand unified theories.~ Robbert Dijkgraaf from, https://www.quantamagazine.org/remembering-the-unstoppable-freeman-dyson-20200413/
Freeman Dyson’s, Frogs and Birds is also worth a read.
There is such an insanely huge amount of things I want to read. Web pages, PDF files, ePub documents in Kindle and Nook, and of course stacks of physical books. I read a lot, but of course I’ll barely scratch the surface of just the things I’ve actively decided I want to read. Fortunately, I’m no longer reading to reach a goal, or to finish.
My mind is but a tiny eddy of order, maintained every so briefly within the grand arc of time.
…and what fun it is to go frolicking through the works of mankind, sharing the occasional bit here with you!
It’s all about the context. I find that having certain spaces where I do certain things works wonders. For example, if I want to do certain kinds of work, I sit here and all my tools are arrayed. In general, the act of showing up at the designated area and having the environment pre-set to be conducive to the activity is often enough to get my brain to shift into the mode I need.
Have you ever tried to find a chair for reading?
For about a decade I’ve had a typical Pöang chair from Ikea that I sit in to read. It’s absolutely horrible for reading. But it’s better than any chair I have in my house. So buy a chair Craig! …if only I could find one.
High enough at the back so I can rest my head. The whole chair tipped back far enough that I can completely relax and have all of my body settle into the chair. Feet flat on the floor. Padded arm rests. Arm rests high enough that when I hold the thing I’m reading it’s up at eye level.
Sorry. This quest is driving me bonkers.