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

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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?

Want Your Copy to Sound Human? Have This Stupid Machine Read It


I got this idea from my daughter who was making us utterly crack up this weekend with her imagination. It wasn’t so much what she said. It was how she said it.

Rather how Ginger said it.

Ginger is the name we gave to the voice on Google Translate. My daughter was making Ginger say some of the most preposterous things.

For example:

Hello, I am a stupid machine. Do you still love me? It is good that you love me since I don’t care. I don’t have emotions. Tell me what I should say. How I should feel. See, I am stupid. What’s the weather like outside? How old is that cat? I have mental problems. Can you tell?”

If you read those lines … it just seems silly. Listening to Ginger say them, however, is a flipping riot.

Which got me thinking about that particular piece of writing advice that says we should read what we wrote out loud. This exercise is supposed to help you to hear if it makes sense.

So what if Ginger read your copy out loud? Give it a shot.

  1. Go to Google Translate.
  2. Drop your copy in first box.
  3. Translate in language of choice.
  4. Hit the speaker icon.

I experimented with a few posts … and it was funny. But very bumpy. She has zero emotion. Misses inflection. And stops halfway through on long posts.

Give it a shot with a short piece, and let me know what you think.

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Why Google Reader Is Like an Open Bar (and That’s Not a Good Thing)


You’ve no doubt seen it … the signature-collecting pledge to save Google Reader. But why? Is it really that great of a product?

I argue it isn’t.

Google Reader is a neat product, but it has one flaw … it allows customers to do exactly what they want … without penalty. [Read more…]

Online Readers: Why You Should Use Readability

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Writers are hardcore readers…whether online or in books.

In fact, like a lot of professionals, the amount of time I spend online is ridiculous. All of it is for research–personal or professional.

And if I’ve learned anything about my time reading online is that I HATE clutter, wide margins and tiny font.

In addition, I also hate not having one location for all of my reading content.

I read a fraction of what I find on the spot. The remaining I bookmark to read later, favorite or simply archive…and all of that content is spread across Google Reader, Delicious and Spool.

What’s an online reader to do? [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 Absorb a Book into Your Bloodstream

Modern Librarymodern library

Just in case you were beginning to mistake me for a methamphetamine addict who blazes through books, I thought I’d write a post to correct that picture in your mind.

In fact, I want to convince you of one of the most important rules when it comes to reading.

I want to show you why absorbing a book into your bloodstream is a good thing.

And I want to show you that unless you do this, you’re likely missing out on the best kind of reading. Let me show you what I mean. [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…]

A Mildly Unorthodox Method to Developing a Wicked Vocabulary

Concert Goer

You can spot a mediocre writer from miles away.

Flat verbs. Obtuse nouns. Lame metaphors. Absence of stories.

I should know. I used to be one. [And compared to a David Mamet or William Faulkner or David Ogilvy, I still am.] [Read more…]