8.08.2011

Briefs

My reading notebook, otherwise known as my commonplace book, consists of two sections now—Briefs and Passages. Passages are the notable thoughts and ideas I collect from the books and periodicals I read. Briefs are provocative comments, a word or phrase, a quotation from a random collection of almost anything I read—a newspaper, blog, journal, essay, etc. The Briefs for each year are usually just a few pages while the Passages can be anywhere from 50 to 60 pages. To give you an idea of the kinds of things I collect in the Briefs, here are those I saved last year.


I never know what I think about something until I read what I’ve written on it. William Faulkner

I have so much to say about the importance of memory…the role of memory in love. One way in which we love people is by remembering them, maybe even after they’ve forgotten things about themselves. I find the idea of bearing witness very beautiful. The idea that to love someone is to bear witness to his or her life comes up a lot in the book [Man Walks Into a Room]. I find the idea of bearing witness very beautiful. Nicole Krauss

But great books force people to engage in the human conversation. They teach empathy and they teach compassion. They remind us of all the words there are beyond whatever. In a large sense, this is what Man Walks into a Room is about. It's about a man who becomes disengaged, and who—after a lot of loneliness and pain—relearns the difficult beauty of engagement. If I could reduce what matters to me most right now to a single word, it would be simply that: engagement. Nicole Krauss

“… you go to a great school not so much for knowledge as for arts and habits; for the habit of attention, for the art of expression, for the art of assuming at a moment's notice a new intellectual position, for the art of entering quickly into another person's thoughts, for the habit of submitting to censure and refutation, for the art of indicating assent or dissent in graduated terms, for the habit of regarding minute points of accuracy, for the art of working out what is possible in a given time, for taste, for discrimination, for mental courage, and for mental soberness. Above all, you go to a great school for self-knowledge.” William Cory

Miracles can happen in the writing process. More often than in life, unfortunately. David Grossman

…that we have these ideals which are extraordinarily powerful, and extraordinarily high and our inability to execute them is tragic…. Osker Eustis

The world’s most urgent environmental need, he has come to believe, is not for some miraculous seeming scientific breakthrough but for a vast, unprecedented transformation of human behavior. David Owen

I have one opinion—one should evaluate things—which is strongly held. I’m never unhappy with the results. I haven’t yet seen a result I didn’t like. Esther Duflo

Sometimes I think that creativity is a matter of seeing, or stumbling over, unobvious similarities between things—like composing a fresh metaphor but on a more complex scale….The writer’s real world and the writer’s fictional world are compared, and these comparisons turned into text. David Mitchell

“The only end of writing is to enable the readers better to enjoy life, or better to endure it.” Writing instructs and that doesn’t necessarily make it dictatorial, elitist, self-righteous or school-marmish. A good writer writes with authority. He has something to give us – pleasure, insight, information – something he convinces us is worth having. He may do so by arguing, explaining, seducing or amusing. An exchange takes place: He convinces us to listen and we give our attentiveness, which is respectful but neither na├»ve nor credulous. If he tries too hard – if he tailgates like an overheated driver – the contract is broken and we close the book. If we are writers and don't uphold our end of the bargain, we're soon out of readers. Patrick Kurp

It is tempting to think of public resistance to particularly egregious Supreme Court decisions. Suppose, for example, that there had been a popular uprising against Bush v. Gore in 2000—that the recount of votes in Florida had gone forward despite the Court’s decision and that Al Gore had won and become president. The United States would not have invaded Iraq. Lax financial regulation would not have brought us close to an economic meltdown. John Roberts and Samuel Alito would not be on the Supreme Court. The fantasy has its appeal. But the price would have been high: the loss of fealty to the one institution that holds this vast, disparate country together: law….”The Democrats as well as the Republicans followed the decision. They did so peacefully.” It was, he said, “the most remarkable…feature of the case.” Anthony Lewis