• Montaigne’s trick for paying close attention

    The trick is to maintain a kind of naive amazement at each instant of experience-but, as Montaigne learned, one of the best techniques for doing this is to write about everything. Simply describing an object on your table, or the view from your window, opens your eyes to how marvelous such ordinary things are. How […]

  • Andre Weil, Albert Einstein and environments of failure

    One of the strengths of Zena Hitz’s book Lost in Thought is in the variety of intellectual examples she offers. Hitz doesn’t limit examples of the intellectual life to literature and philosophy. Instead she reminds us mathematics and science are vital intellectual disciplines. Her two major examples include Albert Einstein and Andre Weil the French […]

  • Drawing brings joy

    Mostly, it seems, she spent her days drawing. She drew compulsively, rapturously, from a young age, in a sketchbook that she made from drawer-lining paper and stationery. “It is all the same, drawing, painting, modelling, the irresistible desire to copy any beautiful object which strikes the eye,” she wrote. She drew when she was unsettled, […]

  • Tyler Cowen and Lydia Davis in conversation. Forty minutes of writer nerd bliss.

    I’ve been waiting months for this podcast episode. Tyler Cowen and Lydia Davis did not let me down. For a writer of her stature, Lydia openly admits she finds very long books hard to approach: COWEN: Do you think the late Thomas Pynchon became unreadable, that somehow it was just a pile of complexity and […]

  • The duty of a scientist and conquering fears by practice with Richard W. Hamming

    “By the 1950s I had found I was frightened when giving public talks to large audiences, this in spite of having taught classes in college for many years. On thinking this over very seriously, I came to the conclusion I could not afford to be crippled that way and still become a great scientist; the […]

  • For Jack Kerouac, at 100

    I crept to the end of a row and kneeled in the warm dirt. Her five brothers were singing melodious songs in Spanish. The stars bent over the little roof; smoke poked from the stovepipe chimney. I smelled mashed beans and chili. The old man growled. The brothers kept right on singing. The mother was […]

  • Irish author Roddy Doyle’s favorite film director – Charles Dickens

    I paid 3.00 dollars for an essay. I mean, come on, the opening sentence is killer: Charles Dickens died in 1870, and I’m glad. 8 words from Roddy Doyle’s introduction to the abridged Puffin Classics version of Great Expectations was all it took. Sold. Roddy Doyle is a writer who makes reading fun. Instead of […]

  • Samuel Smiles, Seth Curry, and Aritz Aduriz, a brotherhood of opsimaths

    The most important thing to understand about Smiles is that he worked for his whole life. When he wasn’t in the office, he was pursuing his education or writing articles. This doesn’t mean he was succeeding. Often he was simply reading and learning for the sake of it. The successful books he published were the […]

  • Ecologist David Ainley’s Indispensable Friends

    after spending more than 35 seasons in the Antarctic, my shelves are now crammed with field books. Many of the entries have since been logged into endless computer spreadsheets and exist in digital pixels to be shared with colleagues instantly around the world. Nevertheless, the daily context in which the data really lived is only […]

  • Lydia Davis on the power of rereading a sentence pt. 2 – Translation

    Sometimes I read straight on without going back, but often, when I learn one word, it explains the meaning of other words that came just before it, so I look back, and, one by one, each newly acquired word gives me the clue to the next one. Knowing Tom had gotten onto his knees before […]

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