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How My Admiration for Maria Popova Turned into Jealousy (but Not for Long)

Coffee Cups

If you don’t know who Maria Popova is … shame on you.

She’s the founder and curator of Brain Pickings … one of the few blogs catalogued into the Library of Congress.

That blog is a bottomless source of curiosities. And for any writer, a well of inspiration. Which made her interview with Kelton Reid hands down my favorite.

Let me put this in context.

Over the years Kelton has interviewed some great writers: Seth Godin, Daniel Pink, Elizabeth Gilbert, and Jeff Goins.

But HER interview had me hanging on every word. To say she is intelligent and creative is a gross understatement.

No wonder: her life is consumed by reading and writing. Devoted to books like a nun with a iron-clad pact to serve God. It’s an entirely enviable life.

And not just any kind of books. Old, non-digital books.

Volumes on Einstein, writer and diarist Anaïs Nin, Lewis Carroll, which serve as an antidote to our addiction to presentism: if it’s not at the top of Google it doesn’t matter. And worse still, if it’s not even in Google, it doesn’t exist.

Her publishing schedule is brutal: 3 times a day five days a week. It’s a planned and purposeful neglect of everything else.


That schedule leads to a pressure to continually churn out the new, strange, unorthodox … quite unlike anything else published online, of course, which is her appeal … leading to an inability on her part NOT to absorb any one topic.

She is the perfect generalist. Stated another way, it’s how many books she gets inside, not how many books get inside of her.

I predict few.

Naturally, some books aren’t worth your absorption (most business and self-help books fall into this category). You can pick up the point in 30 minutes and move on.

But the books that truly matter are the ones that deserve to get inside of you. For me that one book is the Bible. I’ve read it cover to cover several times. Crawled through certain chapters for months. I want to master it.

Another book is William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! Possibly the hardest book to read (second only to Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake).

It took me almost three weeks to read this book. I’m usually good for that many books in one week. But it’s WORTH it for the gold of the language, the story, the ideas.

Another book is Gulliver’s Travels. On the readability scale, Jonathan Swift’s masterpiece crashes through the easy meter. But easily missed are the puns, play on words, and satiric politics if you are not a patient reader. I’m on my second reading in less than a month.

I say this because my consumption of Ms. Popova’s blog was short lived. Short lived not because I wasn’t intrigued, but because I was OVER-intrigued. Every post became another book I wanted to read. Three posts a day, five days a week. You do the math.

Don’t get me wrong. I like to blaze through books, and am grateful I live in a nation where books are abundant. But if I had to choose, for a lifetime of reading, I think I would prefer to master ten books as opposed to inhaling ten thousand.

How about you?

P.S. Have you seen my new podcast Rough Draft?

The Web Writer’s Essential Library: 9 Classic Must-Read Copywriting Books


I don’t care who you are — blogger, freelance journalist, ghost writer, ad copywriter — if you are writing on the web then you need to absorb copywriting mechanics.

There are two ways to get to that point: learning and practicing. I can’t help you with the practicing part. You just simply need to write … and keep on writing. But I can help you with the education part.

What follows are the nine books from the legends of direct response. Two are more recent than the others (and Influence is not technically direct response). These are the books I would demand you read if teaching a ground-level course on writing for the web since so many principles of direct response copywriting obey the unbreakable law of the web. [Read more…]

Warning: These 4 Books Will Give You a Case of “Rage to Master”


I’m an achievement addict. And I love books. So no surprise that I read books that will help me achieve my goals [no matter how ridiculous they are].

The four that I’ve read recently are high on my list of must-read. Like read them and you’ll get lit. In a good way. Passionate.

In other words, you’ll get a case of “rage to master.” I explain below. [Read more…]

101 Reasons to Be Pretty Darn Euphoric You’re an Intellectual Snob


Admit it: you’re a snob. An intellectual snob.

Just like me.

You’re a hardcore reader who curls her lip at Harry Potter books. American Idol makes your stomach churn. And you tend to spend your time on ideas and projects devoid of practical value. . .but replete with entertaining possibilities.

If so, then yes. . .you are an intellectual snob. [Most writers are.]

It’s okay. We still love you. [Read more…]

6 Ways to Becoming a Hardcore Reader

Penguin Classics

penquin classics

“My concern is not to make people read, but to make them think.” –Montesquieu

Books are dead.

Sure. Whatever. Especially if what we mean by that is the physical object–the paper, the cover, the spine. Because one thing is for sure: reading is not dead.

Kill off the printed book and we’ll figure out a way to read. [Read more…]

How to Abandon a Book

Abandoned Book

Americans are ferociously pragmatic. We nurture an appetite for quick and easy.

For practical. Effective. Profitable.

We love racy articles on how to retire early. How to cram for a test. How to shave a pound off our tummy.

And we want these articles to hammer home the point in 5, 10 or 15 easy steps.

Don’t make me think. At least not too hard.

That’s the prevailing MO.

Naturally, this pragmatism MUST be avoided when it comes to cherishing a spouse, attending a cocktail party or raising children.

But I do strongly believe some things are in lock-step with expediency… [Read more…]

9 Reasons Why You Should Read More Old Books

Library Curve

If you’re like me, you get anxious and marginally depressed when you see all the new books published each year.

It can happen at Barnes and Noble or while scanning the New York Times bestseller lists.

But the result is always the same: an acute sense of failure. How in the world can I read all of these books? [Read more…]

How to Read a 291-Page Book in Two Hours


If you’re like me, you like to read.

And you like to read a lot.

Some people might call you obsessed. [I get that all the time. No surprise since I try to read 100 books a year–and make it a challenge. My wife loves me for that.]

But it can be frustrating. Demands. Lack of time. Big books.

If that’s you, you’re not alone. [Read more…]

Hardcore Writing Advice: Read 100 Books in One Year

Damaged Books Room

The Damaged Books Room by AMERICAN VIRUS

One hundred books in one year is a lot of books to read.

Why would anyone want to do that?  [Read more…]