What I read when I’m not writing

“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.” – Albert Camus.

For those fortunate enough to live far away from me, you have been spared an endless stream of distasteful complaints about the weather this thankfully gone summer. The District of Columbia is the hottest place on Earth and I will not be convinced otherwise. There are rats, roaches, and humidity enough to drive any person insane. The city is full of sad looking commuters in stuffy suits, busloads of children in red hats touring the monuments, and mosquitoes …god the mosquitos. As of last week however, it cooled enough to actually wear sweaters and coats and pants – I could not be happier. Fall will probably last only a few glorious weeks before it’s once again winter, but for now… bless this season. 

I spend more time reading newsletters than I do writing this one, which says very little. Every time I see a favorite newsletter of mine hit my inbox I get excited to read alongside my cup of coffee. I can only imagine then the pain millions of my followers feel as they hopelessly await the next edition of The Quotation Mark. All this “I should write more” I tell myself seems to carry the same weight as “I should work out more” or “I should eat fewer breakfast sandwiches,” …words are wind as George RR Martin likes to say. It occurred to me this morning that maybe the easiest way to get a post out there, and hopefully open the door to more consistent publishing, would be to write about what some of my favorite newsletters are. The Quotation Mark itself falls somewhere in the middle of wanting to be all of these. 

The first, and easily my favorite of the bunch, is called Brain Pickings by Maria Popova, whose short wikipedia summary describes her as everything I’ve ever wanted to be (if you take away the part about living in Brooklyn). She is a “writer, blogger, literary and cultural critic living in Brooklyn, New York. She is known for her speeches and her blog BrainPickings.org, which features her writing on culture, books, philosophy and eclectic subjects on and off the Internet.” Literary, Philosophical, and Cultural critique have to three of the most competitive markets for writers to find success and Maria Papova managed to do so in all three with a single blog. Despite publishing consistently on a weekly basis, Brain Pickings, week in and week out is an incredibly sourced and thoughtful piece that has provided more than half of the book recommendations added to my list this year. At the time of writing this, the latest edition featured “An Illustrated Ode to Attentiveness and the Art of Listening as a Wellspring of Self-Understanding, Empathy for Others, and Reverence for the Loveliness of Life,” and “Chaos, Time, and the Origin of Everything: Stephen Fry on How Ancient Greek Mythology and Modern Science Meet to Illuminate the Cradle of Being” – the former being a great example of why I love Brain Pickings more than most. Popova’s inclusion of art as a mainstay in her usual rotation of topics brings me back each time. Always unique, surrounded by beautiful analysis, or used as a supplement to evocative discussion, the visuals included deserve a second look in every post. The image below is one example and my favorite to date simply because it is both beautiful and cracks me up, I mean… the cute lil guy’s head is HUMONGOUS. Popova set up a shop where she sells prints of many of these pieces (those that are public domain) and the money goes to charity – link here. As soon as funds allow for it, I am buying a print of the planet-head below and framing it for my wall. 

Velocity_OfraAmit.jpgThe next newsletter I love dearly is Dan Lewis’ Now I Know, published daily M-F. Each morning, Dan briefly shares some obscure fact he learned that can be about any topic imaginable. Funny, concise, and overall fascinating, I have learned about a range of things from the mischievous art of “Spocking” Canadian 5 dollar notes, the origin story of the 21 gun salute, and my favorite, how Russia tried to create an artificial moon to extend daylight working hours in the winter (Hint, they failed. Another more concerning hint, China is planning on trying again in 2020). Not much else to say about this newsletter other than I highly recommend it. It’s is a much shorter read than Brain Pickings but equally entertaining. 

The last two I want to mention, I am combining into one note because they are similar in a lot of ways. David Kadavy and Ryan Holiday are both bestselling authors that publish weekly newsletters on life and creativity and anything else that they feel like sharing. While differing in backgrounds, the two authors know each other and often reference each other’s work – I actually think I discovered Holiday through one of Kadavy’s emails. For me, both of these newsletters serve as mid-week pep talks. They often share stories, tips, and general ideas about what it takes to pursue one’s passions both in one’s career and more broadly, in life. Last month, Kadavy started discussing his theory of pursuing “Personal PhD’s” for those who do not necessarily have the resources to pursue a real PhD but want to challenge themselves to be more, learn more, and maybe one day mix their passion into a career like he did. The last sentence in his email told readers to respond saying what they would study if resources weren’t an issue. I took some time to write him a response about my interest in ancient and medieval history, and I included mention of my blog, and endless half-committed pursuit other hobbies that I struggle to make time for. Surprisingly enough, I woke up the next morning to a reply from him that was not only sincere but used Ryan Holiday’s work as an example. Later that same day, Holiday’s newsletter came with an encouraging note that perfectly echoed what I needed to hear on how to form better habits and to find time for things I am passionate about. 

What resonated with me was the way both authors complemented each other’s message so perfectly. It was as though they called one another and crafted their emails to specifically tell me what I was hoping to hear. When I responded to both explaining the coincidence and they each replied encouragingly and told me to get to work. So here I am, Marking and Quotationing again. I always hear stories of people writing to their favorite authors and getting sincere replies but this was the first (and second) time I actually hit send. I appreciate the time they took to respond and now will not hesitate in sending an author a note on occasion from now on. 

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