“Maybe the human condition is best summarized as the constant and spectacular battle to veto one’s own programming.” - Winston Rowntree

The whole process of getting old—it could have been better arranged. But you do learn some things just by doing them over and over and by getting old doing them. And one of them is, you really need less. And I’m not talking minimalism, which is a highly self-conscious mannerist style I can’t write and don’t want to. I’m perfectly ready to describe a lot and be flowery and emotive, but you can do that briefly and it works better. My model for this is late Beethoven. He moves so strangely and quite suddenly sometimes from place to place in his music, in the late quartets. He knows where he’s going and he just doesn’t want to waste all that time getting there. But if you listen, if you’re with it, he takes you with him. I think sometimes about old painters—they get so simple in their means. Just so plain and simple. Because they know they haven’t got time. One is aware of this as one gets older. You can’t waste time.

"I’ve always thought most book reviews are too long,” he says, explaining his truncated reviews. “People read the review as a substitute for reading the book, whereas the review should get you to read the book, ideally. The best for that would be very short book reviews; some are just three or four words long. A long one might be 10 words, but you try to make the book sound intriguing."

How Valuable Were Your Last 40 Minutes? : The Art of Non-Conformity

Regarding my personal time management, I also try to live by the philosophy that focuses on: ‘What did I do that was productive and beneficial in the last 40 minutes?’ I literally sit at my desk completing a task and ask myself if I am actually being valuable. If I have not done anything constructive or useful in the last 40 minutes, I am not managing my time well and need to adjust what I am doing to execute more effectively.


How Valuable Were Your Last 40 Minutes? : The Art of Non-Conformity

We hear “do what you love” so often from those few people who it did work for, for whom the stars aligned, and from them it sounds like good advice. They’re successful, aren’t they? If we follow their advice, we’ll be successful, too! […] We rarely hear the advice of the person who did what they loved and stayed poor or was horribly injured for it. Professional gamblers, stuntmen, washed up cartoonists like myself: we don’t give speeches at corporate events. We aren’t paid to go to the World Domination Summit and make people feel bad. We don’t land book deals or speak on Good Morning America.

Mixed [martial] artist Ronda Rousey was overseeing a group of fighters during a training session. One fighter, who was heavily favored to win was slacking off. Rousey approached the fighter and said that she wasn’t training to be the best in the next fight, she was training to be the best on her worst day.

A physical book is difficult. If you haven’t made one, it’s tough to imagine just how difficult it is. Every detail requires deliberation. There are many details. I will spare you an enumeration. But believe me when I say, if you think about them all before you start, you will never start. The rabbit hole is deep. The truth of any craft.

A book with proper margins says a number of things. It says, we care about the page. It says, we care about the words. We care so much that we’re going to ensure the words and the page fall into harmony. We’re not going to squish the text to save money. Oh, no, we will not not rush and tuck words too far into the gutter.

A book with proper margins says, We respect you, Dear Reader, and also you, Dear Author, and you, too, Dear Book.

“Among the creative professions, it’s very, very common,” says comedy producer and performer John Lloyd, who made the TV series QI and Blackadder.

“There’s a very, very high incidence of bipolar disorder. It’s because stable people think the world’s fine as it is. They don’t see any particular need to change it.

"Creative people don’t feel like that. People who want to change the world tend to suffer a lot for it.”

The novelist Robin Sloan offers a wise middle way, borrowing a concept from share trading, which he applies to writing, but which seems relevant for many modern careers. Think about your work, he suggests, as divided into “stock” and “flow”. Flow is day-to-day, high-visibility stuff: putting yourself out there, networking at conferences, Twitter and LinkedIn, reminding the world you exist. Stock is substantive, long-term work that lasts – in Sloan’s case, his books. “I feel like we all got really good at flow, really fast,” he writes. “But flow is ephemeral. Stock sticks around. Stock is capital. Stock is protein.”

Kindle links: Kindle Unlimited, reading experience

The new Kindle Unlimited campaign is smoking out new opinions on Amazon's strategy [1]. I liked this comparison of the Kindle to the iPod's early days, and the evolution from buying single songs to streaming music services (Songza is my favorite). The lack of privacy is of concern to the writer, though buying a Kindle or even having an Amazon account means you have opted for convenience over privacy. The local public library (funded by your tax dollars) may offer a little more in the way of privacy and choice (thanks to librarians, not the government) -- some observers are not all that excited by the books on offer via the Kindle lending library or Kindle Unlimited. Of course, paying with cash at your local new or used bookstore may circumvent privacy and choice concerns.

Austin Kleon (via his marvelous weekly mailing) pointed me to this critique of the Kindle by a new reader. Pierce makes some sharp observations about the Kindle, especially how the designers chose to glorify the device over the book you're reading. He also has reservations about the shared-passages feature of Kindle e-books; it's as if someone is reading over your shoulder and turns what has traditionally been a private experience into an unasked-for shared one.

And I also have the sense he describes of the Kindle separating me from the traditional reading experience. Many books on my shelves double as physical objects I formed a relationship with -- they're signed by the authors, I read this one during that long week in Anaheim, I read this one when I was unemployed and it led me to read these other books, etc.  The reading experience is different on a Kindle; my memories of a book will now be associated to a device rather than a book. Instead of forming a relationship to the book I'm devising a relationship to the device.

For example, if I'm going on a trip and I only have room to carry two books in my bag, then I'm making a commitment to give these books a chance. There are physical consequences of weight and comfort to consider, but I'm also promising myself that I will put in the time to read them. With the Kindle, though, I have maybe 50 or so books and collections I've downloaded. Which do I read first, which do I commit to? Does it really matter, since I can choose to flip in a moment from this essay collection to that novel to that e-book written by a friend? No one book will have my full committed attention unless I delete all the others from the device, because it's the device I've committed to, rather than the e-book.

Or such is my current improvised line of thinking on this sunny and beautiful Sunday afternoon, where I am skimming web pages and writing blog posts rather than sitting down to read a book.

[1] I do not plan to sign up for the service at this time. I already have more books than I can eat on my Kindle. And I have more movies in my Netflix queue than I could see if I had a week off. ^