Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson

★★★★☆ (4/5)

And it occurred to me, not for the first time, what a remarkably, cherishably small world Britain is. That is its glory, you see – that it manages at once to be intimate and small-scale and at the same time packed to bursting with incident and interest. I am constantly filled with admiration at this.

With this delightful travelogue I’ve had a circumstantial stroll through much of Britain, albeit without any maps or pictorial evidence I’m still drawing a blank as to my own whereabouts. Bill Bryson does well in portraying Britain’s splendors and regress as a resident and a traveler. As a reader, I too have settled for “certain idiosyncratic notions that you quietly come to accept when you live for a long time in Britain.”

From the prowess of giving unasked directions in all its exhaustive and indecipherable forms to apologizing so frequently within a sentence that one forgets the real inquiry, from quaint villages with their cozy cottages to insipid and alienated building structures, from mild weather in which one decides to embark upon a casual promenade around the hotel to getting caught in an icy storm cutting through the skin with rage on the way back to the same hotel – this book indeed embodies most, if not all, aspects of British life a visitor might get to experience.

A blizzard, I explained, is when you can’t get your front door open. Drifts are things that make you lose your car till spring. Cold weather is when you leave part of your flesh on doorknobs, mailbox handles and other metal objects.

And with much unbound pleasure I can assuredly say that the claims made by this book don’t stray from what I’ve imagined so vividly in regards to life in Britain for a wayfarer. Coupled with humor, satire and sharp wit Bill Bryson revels in the excessive natural beauty of Britain, but also doesn’t shy away from citing the reasons as to why many cities have fallen from grace, why buildings and monuments are in a state of odd disrepair and meals are often quite different from what you expected.

Mostly what differentiated the North from the South, however, was the exceptional sense of economic loss, of greatness passed, when you drove through places like Preston or Blackburn or stood on a hillside

It’s a charming read, one which I might refer to in the future if I ever find myself stepping on the little island, with plenty of time to spare and preferably in an idyllic countryside. I just hope the paperback version comes with a map and a few photographs so I don’t get lost as often as the author did.

All I can say is that the Dales seized me like a helpless infatuation when I first saw them and will not let me go. Partly, I suppose, it is the exhilarating contrast between the high fells, with their endless views, and the relative lushness of the valley floors, with their clustered villages and green farms. To drive almost anywhere in the Dales is to make a constant transition between these two hypnotic zones. It is wonderful beyond words. And partly it is the snug air of self-containment that the enclosing hills give, a sense that the rest of the world is far away and unnecessary, which is something you come to appreciate very much when you live there.

A selection of my favourite passages from the book

‘Idiosyncratic Notions’ of the British People

  • The fact is that the British have a totally private sense of distance. This is most visibly seen in the shared pretense that Britain is a lonely island in the middle of an empty green sea.
  • All those things that are necessary to the successful implementation of a rigorous socialist system are, after all, second nature to the British. For a start, they like going without. They are great at pulling together, particularly in the face of adversity, for a perceived common good. They will queue patiently for indefinite periods and accept with rare fortitude the imposition of rationing, bland diets and sudden inconvenient shortages of staple goods,

  • One of the charms of the British is that they have so little idea of their own virtues, and nowhere is this more true than with their happiness. You will laugh to hear me say it, but they are the happiest people on earth.
  • For the benefit of foreign readers, I should explain that there is a certain ritual involved in this. Even though you have heard the conductor tell the person ahead of you that this is the Barnstaple train, you still have to say, ‘Excuse me, is this the Barnstaple train?’ When he acknowledges that the large linear object three feet to your right is indeed the Barnstaple train, you have to point to it and say, ‘This one?’ Then when you board the train you must additionally ask the carriage generally, ‘Excuse me, is this the Barnstaple train?’ to which most people will say that they think it is, except for one man with a lot of parcels who will get a panicked look and hurriedly gather up his things and get off.
  • I took a train to Liverpool. They were having a festival of litter when I arrived. Citizens had taken time off from their busy activities to add crisp packets, empty cigarette boxes and carrier-bags to the otherwise bland and neglected landscape. They fluttered gaily in the bushes and brought colour and texture to pavements and gutters. And to think that elsewhere we stick these objects in rubbish bags.

  • One of the primary reasons so much of the British landscape is so unutterably lovely and timeless is that most farmers, for whatever reason, take the trouble to keep it that way.
  • Deference and a quiet consideration for others are such a fundamental part of British life, in fact, that few conversations could even start without them. Almost any encounter with a stranger begins with the words ‘I’m terribly sorry but’ followed by a request of some sort

Bryson’s Portrayal of the Small Island

  • I do like the Underground. There’s something surreal about plunging into the bowels of the earth to catch a train. It’s a little world of its own down there, with its own strange winds and weather systems, its own eerie noises and oily smells.
  • I have never bought into that quaint conceit about London being essentially a cluster of villages – where else have you seen villages with flyovers, gasometers, reeling derelicts and a view of the Post Office Tower?
  • This business of corporate sponsorship is something that seems to have crept into British life generally in recent years without being much remarked upon.

  • There are villages without number whose very names summon forth an image of lazy summer afternoons and butterflies darting in meadows: Winterbourne Abbas, Weston Lullingfields, Theddle-thorpe All Saints, Little Missenden. There are villages that seem to hide some ancient and possibly dark secret: Husbands Bosworth, Rime Intrinseca, Whiteladies Aston. There are villages that sound like toilet cleansers (Potto, Sanahole, Durno) and villages that sound like skin complaints (Scabcleuch, Whiterashes, Scurlage, Sockburn). In a brief trawl through any gazetteer you can find fertilizers (Hastigrow), shoe deodorizers (Powfoot), breath fresheners (Minto), dog food (Whelpo) and even a Scottish spot remover (Sootywells). You can find villages that have an attitude problem (Seething, Mockbeggar, Wrangle) and villages of strange phenomena (Meathop, Wigtwizzle, Blubberhouses). And there are villages almost without number that are just endearingly inane – Prittlewell, Little Rollright, Chew Magna, Titsey, Woodstock Slop, Lickey End, Stragglethorpe, Yonder Bognie, Nether Wallop and the unbeatable Thornton-le-Beans. (Bury me there!) You have only to cast a glance across a map or lose yourself in an index to see that you are in a place of infinite possibility.
  • I couldn’t say where I went exactly because Manchester’s streets always seem curiously indistinguishable to me. I never felt as if I were getting nearer to or farther from anything in particular but just wandering around in a kind of urban limbo.
  • It is remarkable to me how these matters have become so thoroughly inverted in the past twenty years. There used to be a kind of unspoken nobility about living in Britain. Just by existing, by going to work and paying your taxes, catching the occasional bus and being a generally decent if unexceptional soul, you felt as if you were contributing in some small way to the maintenance of a noble enterprise – a generally compassionate and well-meaning society with health care for all, decent public transport, intelligent television, universal social welfare and all the rest of it.
  • And so I went to Edinburgh. Can there anywhere be a more beautiful and beguiling city to arrive at by train early on a crisp, dark Novembery evening? To emerge from the bustling, subterranean bowels of Waverley Station and find yourself in the very heart of such a glorious city is a happy experience indeed.

Humor

  • Much as I admire sand’s miraculous ability to be transformed into useful objects like glass and concrete, I am not a great fan of it in its natural state. To me, it is primarily a hostile barrier that stands between a car park and water. It blows in your face, gets in your sandwiches, swallows vital objects like car keys and coins.
  • There’s nothing like having nothing to drink to bring on a towering thirst.
  • Standing as it does in the midst of flat fenlands, it has a kind of menacing, palpably ancient air, but also a feeling of monumental folly. It required an immense commitment of labour to construct, but it didn’t take a whole lot of military genius to realize that all an invading army had to do was go around it, which is what all of them did, and within no time at all the Devil’s Dyke had ceased to have any use at all except to show people in the fen country what it felt like to be sixty feet high. Still, it offers an agreeable, easy stroll along its grassy summit, and on this bleak morning I had it all to myself.
  • Bradford’s role in life is to make every place else in the world look better in comparison, and it does this very well.

  • ‘Have you been here long?’ I asked. He exhaled thoughtfully and said: ‘Put it this way. I was clean shaven when I got here.’ I just love that.
  • When the man in the window passed them to me he said: ‘The ticket’s free . .. but it’s eighteen-fifty for the receipt.’
  • And that is what I like so much about Liverpool. The factories may be gone, there may be no work, the city may be pathetically dependent on football for its sense of destiny, but the Liverpudlians still have character and initiative, and they don’t bother you with preposterous ambitions to win the bid for the next Olympics.

  • There is almost nothing, apart perhaps from a touching faith in the reliability of weather forecasts and the universal fondness for jokes involving the word ‘bottom’, that makes me feel more like an outsider in Britain than the nation’s attitude to animals. Did you know that the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was formed sixty years after the founding of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and as an offshoot of it? Did you know that in 1994 Britain voted for a European Union directive requiring statutory rest periods for transported animals, but against statutory rest periods for factory workers?
  • For the benefit of foreign readers, I should explain that as a rule in Britain no matter how many windows there are in a bank, post office or rail station, only two of them will be open, except at very busy times, when just one will be open.

Points to Contemplate

  • Now everyone drives everywhere for everything, which I don’t understand because there isn’t a single feature of driving in Britain that has even the tiniest measure of enjoyment in it.
  • To an American the whole purpose of living, the one constant confirmation of continued existence, is to cram as much sensual pleasure as possible into one’s mouth more or less continuously. Gratification, instant and lavish, is a birthright.
  • Second, you are alive. For the tiniest moment in the span of eternity you have the miraculous privilege to exist. For endless eons you were not. Soon you will cease to be once more.
  • When a nation’s industrial prowess has plunged so low that it is reliant on Korean firms for its future economic security, then perhaps it is time to re-address one’s educational priorities and maybe give a little thought to what’s going to put some food on the table

  • But now, no matter what you do, you end up stung with guilt. Go for a ramble in the country and you are reminded that you are inexorably adding to congestion in the national parks and footpath erosion on fragile hills.
  • One thing I have learned over the years is that your impressions of a city are necessarily coloured by the route you take into it.

  • What other nation in the world could possibly have given us William Shakespeare, pork pies, Christopher Wren, Windsor Great Park, the Open University, Gardeners’ Question Time and the chocolate digestive biscuit? None, of course.

Beautifully Constructed Sentences

  • The world was bathed in that milky pre-dawn light that seems to come from nowhere. Gulls wheeled and cried over the water. Beyond them, past the stone breakwater, a ferry, vast and well lit, slid regally out to sea. I sat there for some time, a young man with more on his mind than in it.
  • For much of its length, the beach is reserved for naturists, which always adds a measure of interest to any walk along it, though today, in fact, there wasn’t a soul to be seen along its three fetching miles; nothing before me but virgin sand and behind only my own footprints.
  • You have in this country the most comely, the most parklike, the most flawlessly composed countryside the world has ever known, a product of centuries of tireless, instinctive improvement, and you are half a generation from destroying most of it forever. We’re not talking here about ‘nostalgia for a non-existent golden age’.

    by Ashington Group of artists who met regularly from 1930’s to 1980’s

    We’re talking about something that is green and living and incomparably beautiful.

  • But the paintings (by Ashington Group) provide a compelling record of life in a mining community over a period of fifty years. Nearly all depict local scenes – ‘Saturday Night at the Club’, ‘Whippets’ – or life down the pits, and seeing them in the context of a mining museum, rather than in some gallery in a metropolis, adds appreciably to their lustre. For the second time in a day I was impressed and captivated.
  • I spent a long, happy afternoon wandering through the many rooms, pretending, as I sometimes do in these circumstances, that I had been invited to take any one object home with me as a gift from the Scottish people in recognition of my fineness as a person.
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The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

★★☆☆☆ (2/5)

Once, in my father’s bookshop, I heard a regular customer say that few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into his heart. Those first images, the echo of words we think we have left behind, accompany us throughout our lives and sculpt a palace in our memory to which, sooner or later—no matter how many books we read, how many worlds we discover, or how much we learn or forget—we will return.

I’ve never have had such a devilish time with a book – vacillating between enjoying the subtle pleasantries of the story and being frustrated by it’s melodrama, its various guises and deliberate misdirection of plot points. Coupled with vacuous female characters and incredibly blunt tone with which women were often referred to, this book proved to be an utter disappointment.

Wars have no memory, and nobody has the courage to understand them until there are no voices left to tell what happened, until the moment comes when we no longer recognize them and they return, with another face and another name, to devour what they left behind.

Perhaps my chief issue with the book is that it is a densely romantic novel guised as a mystery-thriller, peppered with tawdry love affairs with women who seem to have no personal purpose of life except to aid men who are either obsessive or violent. Daniel’s bookshop, The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, and the pursuit of riddles surrounding an author’s life are just plot threads willfully inserted to give this inherently romantic novel another dimension. The “love” in question is too aggrandized to have any serious value for the characters. It is the kind of sickly love that makes one act like a love-struck fool, not just for a few moments but for an entire lifetime.

There are people you remember and people you dream of. For me, Nuria Monfort was like a mirage: you don’t question its veracity, you simply follow it until it vanishes or until it destroys you.

Also, how much credit can I, as a reader, really give to this purported mystery story in which in just the first few pages I decoded a fundamental truth about the main antagonist? Moreover, if the primary conundrum has to be unraveled by the main character (of Daniel), why was it revealed through a manuscript written by someone else? To me that seems sloppy and instead of experiencing the excitement of finally acknowledging the deep, dark secrets which have nestled in the bosom of the story for years and years, I felt agitated at the object and source of disclosure. It rendered characters and a chunk of story absolutely futile.

The street was freezing, desolate, suffused in an eerie blue radiance. I felt as if my heart had been flayed open. Everything around me trembled. I walked off aimlessly, paying scant attention to a stranger who was observing me from Puerta del Ángel.

Perhaps the saving grace of this novel is the setting. The description of Barcelona of the 40’s and 50’s is rich and varied and does provide the much needed depth to a host of characters who are very much lacking in intuition and motivation. I was much more enamored by the nightlife of the city, by the paved streets along which common folks walked, by the bus stops in heavy rain, by the shabby nooks and corners of plazas and apartments.

Like all old cities, Barcelona is a sum of its ruins. The great glories so many people are proud of—palaces, factories, and monuments, the emblems with which we identify—are nothing more than relics of an extinguished civilization.

Sentimental and exaggerated romance, banal descriptions of lust, paucity of the world of books, of book-lovers and readers, lack of depth in characters all added to the bitter let-down, much to my dismay. I don’t think I’ll pick up the second installment of this series.

A selection of my favourite passages from the book

On Relationships – Platonic & Romantic

  • I wondered what on earth she saw in me that could make her want to befriend me, other than a pale reflection of herself, an echo of solitude and loss. In my schoolboy reveries, we were always two fugitives riding on the spine of a book, eager to escape into worlds of fiction and secondhand dreams.
  • The female heart is a labyrinth of subtleties, too challenging for the uncouth mind of the male racketeer.
  • Nor had he told me about that bewitchment of pale, tremulous skin, that first brush of the lips, or about the mirage that seemed to shimmer in every pore of the skin. He didn’t tell me any of that because he knew that the miracle happened only once and, when it did, it spoke in a language of secrets that, were they disclosed, would vanish again forever.
  • “Sometimes one feels freer speaking to a stranger than to people one knows. Why is that?” I shrugged. “Probably because a stranger sees us the way we are, not as he wishes to think we are.”
  • Marriage and family are only what we make of them. Without that they’re just a nest of hypocrisy. Garbage and empty words.
  • The nurse knew that those who really love, love in silence, with deeds and not with words.
  • Sometimes we think people are like lottery tickets, that they’re there to make our most absurd dreams come true.
  • Penélope Aldaya, treacherously absent, was too powerful an enemy for me. She was invisible, so I imagined her as perfect. Next to her I was unworthy, vulgar, all too real. I had never thought it possible to hate someone so much and so despite myself—to hate someone I didn’t even know, whom I had never seen in my life.

On Books

  • I was raised among books, making invisible friends in pages that seemed cast from dust and whose smell I carry on my hands to this day.
  • This is a place of mystery, Daniel, a sanctuary. Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens.
  • After a while it occurred to me that between the covers of each of those books lay a boundless universe waiting to be discovered, while beyond those walls, in the outside world, people allowed life to pass by in afternoons of football and radio soaps, content to do little more than gaze at their navels.
  • I couldn’t help thinking that if I, by pure chance, had found a whole universe in a single unknown book, buried in that endless necropolis, tens of thousands more would remain unexplored, forgotten forever. I felt myself surrounded by millions of abandoned pages, by worlds and souls without an owner sinking in an ocean of darkness, while the world that throbbed outside the library seemed to be losing its memory, day after day, unknowingly, feeling all the wiser the more it forgot.
  • Everything on that page spoke of another time: the strokes that depended on the ink pot, the words scratched on the thick paper by the tip of the nib, the rugged feel of the paper.
  • “Julián lived within himself, for his books and inside them—a comfortable prison of his own design.” “You say this as if you envied him.” “There are worse prisons than words, Daniel.”
  • Bea says that the art of reading is slowly dying, that it’s an intimate ritual, that a book is a mirror that offers us only what we already carry inside us, that when we read, we do it with all our heart and mind, and great readers are becoming more scarce by the day.

Barcelona circa 1945

  • Barceló signaled to a waiter of such remarkable decrepitude that he looked as if he should be declared a national landmark.
  • The future could be read much more clearly in the streets, factories, and barracks than in the morning press.
  • Army, Marriage, the Church, and Banking: the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Yes, go on, laugh.
  • From it emerged the proud, majestic, and arrogant figure of Don Ricardo Aldaya, by then already one of the richest men not only in Barcelona but also in the whole of Spain. His textile empire took in citadels of industry and colonies of commerce along all the rivers of Catalonia. His right hand held the reins of banks and landed estates of half the province. His left hand, ever active, pulled at the strings of the provincial council, the city hall, various ministries, the bishopric, and the customs service at the port.
  • In today’s radio soaps, it would be called espionage, but in wartime we’re all spies.
  • This city is a sorceress, you know, Daniel? It gets under your skin and steals your soul without you knowing it.

On Memory and Childhood

  • Barceló also boasted an elephantine memory allied to a pedantry that matched his demeanor and the sonority of his voice. If anyone knew about odd books, it was he.
  • One of the pitfalls of childhood is that one doesn’t have to understand something to feel it. By the time the mind is able to comprehend what has happened, the wounds of the heart are already too deep.
  • The holes left by machine-gun fire during the war pockmark the church walls. That morning a group of children played soldiers, oblivious to the memory of the stones.
  • I remember the dull, terrible impact of the blows raining down mercilessly on my friend. They hurt me still. All I did was take refuge in the policemen’s convenient grasp, trembling and shedding silent tears of cowardice.

Wise Gems

  • There’s no such thing as dead languages, only dormant minds.
  • People tend to complicate their own lives, as if living weren’t already complicated enough.
  • “Presents are made for the pleasure of who gives them, not for the merits of who receives them,”
  • Our world will not die as a result of the bomb, as the papers say, it will die of laughter, of banality, of making a joke of everything, and a lousy joke at that.
  • When one is young, talent—genius, if you like—must be cultivated, or it becomes twisted and consumes the person who possesses it. It needs direction. Support.
  • America, he would later say, by way of apology or epitaph, is a mirage, a land of savage predators, and he’d been educated into the privileges and frivolous refinements of Old Europe—a dead continent held together by inertia.
  • We make so many mistakes in life, young lady, but we only realize this when old age creeps up on us.
  • Time goes faster the more hollow it is. Lives with no meaning go straight past you, like trains that don’t stop at your station.

Aphorisms

  • The truths of life know no age
  • Waiting is the rust of the soul.
  • We all do what we’re best at.

Beautifully Constructed Sentences

  • I still remember the day my father took me to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books for the first time.
  • I, who was never even sure what the time was, nodded with the conviction of the ignorant.
  • It was a well-known fact that the richness of buttery foods led to moral ruin and confusion of the intellect. He forbade Sophie to cook with butter ever again.
  • Dear friends, life is the stuff of drama, and even the noblest of the Lord’s creatures can taste the bitterness of destiny’s capricious and obstinate ways.
  • He sculpted his sentences neatly, measuring them out with a cadence that seemed to promise an ultimate moral that never emerged. Years of teaching had left him with that firm and didactic tone of someone used to being heard, but not certain of being listened to.
  • I began to believe that Julián was not a man, he was an illness.
  • That was my story. Our story. In Carax’s lost footsteps, I now recognized my own, irretrievable.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (Pevear & Volokonsky translation)

★★★★★ (5/5)

Some thoughts penned whilst reading the novel.

Thoroughly enjoyed reading about the muzakhs, their joyous labor in fields, their merriment in spite of exhaustion. Tolstoy paints a lovely picture of peasant and farm life, but of course, not without its hardships.

Levin’s happiness reminds me of David Copperfield’s joy the day he married Dora Spenlow. Such lofty prose, such elevated sentiments put in words, bring tears to my eyes.

Anna’s insecurities are drudging up an ugly ensemble of character traits. She is selfish, in having understood her feelings towards Vronsky as love, and consequently abandoning her own son. Moreover, her insincerity towards her own illegitimate daughter is quite appalling. Her fears limit her comprehension of human relations so much so that she has inadvertently made loneliness her enemy and fast friend both simultaneously. Her unhappiness also stems from this inherent dependence on love on her own terms. Coupled with unreasonable expectations, Anna surely has a venomous streak in her.

A selection of my favourite passages from the book

On Religion

  • If there was a reason why he preferred the liberal tendency to the conservative one (also held to by many in his circle), it was not because he found the liberal tendency more sensible, but because it more closely suited his manner of life.
  • The liberal party said, or, rather, implied, that religion was just a bridle for the barbarous part of the population, and indeed Stepan Arkadyich could not even stand through a short prayer service without aching feet and could not grasp the point of all these fearsome and high-flown words about the other world, when life in this one could be so merry.
  • It provoked in Vronsky and Anna a feeling like that of a mariner who can see by his compass that the direction in which he is swiftly moving diverges widely from his proper course, but that he is powerless to stop the movement which every moment takes him further and further from the right direction, and that to admit the deviation to himself is the same as admitting disaster.
  • In all human griefs consolation is given by faith and love alone

  • He was struck first by the thought that it is not given to man to comprehend divine truths, but it is given to an aggregate of men united by love
  • A new, joyful feeling came over him. At the muzhik’s words about Fokanych living for the soul, by the truth, by God’s way, it was as if a host of vague but important thoughts burst from some locked-up place and, all rushing towards the same goal, whirled through his head, blinding him with their light.

On Love

  • I remember the time when he would come to me and weep, talking about you, and what loftiness and poetry you were for him, and I know that the longer he lived with you, the loftier you became for him. We used to laugh at him, because he added “Dolly is a remarkable woman” to every word. You are and always have been a divinity for him, and this infatuation is not from his soul…
  • She felt her eyes open wider and wider, her fingers and toes move nervously; something inside her stopped her breath, and all images and sounds in that wavering semi-darkness impressed themselves on her with extraordinary vividness. She kept having moments of doubt whether the carriage was moving forwards or backwards, or standing still.
  • She had no need to ask why he was there. She knew it as certainly as if he had told her that he was there in order to be where she was.

  • ‘Love…’ she repeated slowly with her inner voice, and suddenly, just as she freed the lace, added: ‘That’s why I don’t like this word, because it means too much for me, far more than you can understand,’
  • Anna got into her own bed and waited every minute for him to begin talking to her again. She feared that he would, and at the same time she wanted it. But he was silent. For a long time she waited motionless and then forgot about him. She was thinking about another man, she could see him, and felt how at this thought her heart filled with excitement and criminal joy.
  • And as the murderer falls upon this body with animosity, as if with passion, drags it off and cuts it up, so he covered her face and shoulders with kisses.

  • I can only live by my heart, and you live by rules. I loved you simply, but you probably only so as to save me, to teach me!
  • He assured her of his love, because he saw that that alone could calm her now, and he did not reproach her in words, but in his soul he did reproach her.
  • In the first moment his jealousy offended her; she was vexed that the smallest diversion, and the most innocent, was forbidden her; but now she would gladly have sacrificed not just such trifles but everything to deliver him from the suffering he was going through.
  • ‘I love only these two beings, and the one excludes the other. I can’t unite them, yet I need only that. And if there isn’t that, the rest makes no difference. It all makes no difference. And it will end somehow, and so I can’t, I don’t like talking about it. Don’t reproach me, then, don’t judge me for anything. You with your purity can’t understand all that I suffer over.’
  • Vronsky appreciated this desire, which had become the only goal of her life, not only to be liked by him but to serve him, yet at the same time he found those amorous nets in which she tried to ensnare him a burden.

  • Energy, you say. Energy is based on love. And love can’t be drawn from just anywhere, it can’t be ordered.
  • She felt that alongside the love that bound them, there had settled between them an evil spirit of some sort of struggle, which she could not drive out of his heart and still less out of her own.


On Government

  • I think that the motive force of all our actions is, after all, personal happiness. In our present-day zemstvo institutions I, as a nobleman, see nothing that contributes to my well-being.

  • They can be bought either by money or by favours. And in order to hold out they have to invent a trend. And they put forth some idea, some trend which they don’t believe in themselves, and which does harm; and this whole trend is only a means of having a government house and a salary of so much.
  • ‘The point, kindly note, is that all progress is achieved by authority alone,’
  • They pretended to understand fully the significance and meaning of the situation, to acknowledge and even approve of it, but considered it inappropriate and unnecessary to explain it all.
  • They also went into a room which the prince called the ‘clever room’. In this room three gentlemen were hotly discussing the latest political news.

On Monetary Affairs

  • For me– it’s all over! I’ve spoiled my life. I’ve said and still say that if I’d been given my share when I needed it, my whole life would be different.
  • The wealth of a country should grow uniformly and, in particular, so that other branches of wealth do not outstrip agriculture.

  • Only during his very first days in Moscow had Levin been struck by those unproductive but inevitable expenses, so strange for a country-dweller, that were demanded of him on all sides. Now he had grown used to them. What had happened to him in this respect was what they say happens with drunkards: the first glass is a stake, the second a snake, and from the third on it’s all little birdies.

On Evolution and Revolution of Agriculture

  • Levin had also begun that winter to write a work on farming, the basis of which was that the character of the worker had to be taken as an absolute given in farming, like climate and soil, and that, consequently, all propositions in the science of farming ought to be deduced not from the givens of soil and climate alone, but also from the known, immutable character of the worker.

  • Now muzhiks are buying up the land around us. That doesn’t upset me– the squire does nothing, the muzhik works and pushes out the idle man. It ought to be so. And I’m very glad for the muzhik. But it upsets me to see this impoverishment as a result of– I don’t know what to call it– innocence.
  • Political economy said that the laws according to which European wealth had developed and was developing were universal and unquestionable. Socialist teaching said that development according to these laws led to ruin. And neither the one nor the other gave, not only an answer, but even the slightest hint of what he, Levin, and all Russian peasants and landowners were to do with their millions of hands and acres so that they would be most productive for the common good.
  • He saw that Russia had excellent land, excellent workers, and that in some cases, as with the muzhik half-way there, workers and land produced much, but in the majority of cases, when capital was employed European-style, they produced little, and that this came only from the fact that the workers wanted to work and to work well in the one way natural to them, and that their resistance was not accidental but constant and rooted in the spirit of the peasantry. He thought that the Russian peasantry, called upon to inhabit and cultivate vast unoccupied spaces, consciously kept to the methods necessary for it until all the lands were occupied, and that these methods were not at all as bad as was usually thought.

  • Agriculture as a whole, above all the position of the entire peasantry, must change completely. Instead of poverty– universal wealth, prosperity; instead of hostility– concord and the joining of interests. In short, a revolution, a bloodless but great revolution, first in the small circle of our own region, then the province, Russia, the whole world.
  • ‘It is easy to be led into error by drawing conclusions about a people’s general calling,’ Metrov said, interrupting Levin. ‘The worker’s condition will always depend on his relation to the land and to capital.’

On Country Life – the Muzhiks, their Toils and Indolence

  • For Konstantin Levin the country was the place of life, that is, of joy, suffering, labour; for Sergei Ivanovich the country was, on the one hand, a rest from work and, on the other, an effective antidote to corruption, which he took with pleasure and an awareness of its effectiveness.
  • The longer Levin mowed, the more often he felt those moments of oblivion during which it was no longer his arms that swung the scythe, but the scythe itself that lent motion to his whole body, full of life and conscious of itself, and, as if by magic, without a thought of it, the work got rightly and neatly done on its own. These were the most blissful moments.

  • The peasants who were staying overnight in the meadow spent almost the whole short summer night without sleeping. First there was general, merry talk and loud laughter over supper, then again songs and laughter. The long, laborious day had left no other trace in them than merriment.
  • The worker, however, wanted to work as pleasantly as possible, with rests, and above all– carelessly, obliviously, thoughtlessly.
  • ‘Whatever you do, if he’s a lazybones, everything will come out slapdash. If he’s got a conscience, he’ll work, if not, there’s no help for it.’


On Individuals

  • The main qualities that had earned him this universal respect in the service were, first, an extreme indulgence towards people, based on his awareness of his own shortcomings; second, a perfect liberalism, not the sort he read about in the newspapers, but the sort he had in his blood, which made him treat all people, whatever their rank or status, in a perfectly equal and identical way; and, third– most important– a perfect indifference to the business he was occupied with, owing to which he never got carried away and never made mistakes.

  • He could not have believed that something which gave such great and good pleasure to him, and above all to her, could be bad. Still less could he have believed that he was obliged to marry her.
  • Anna Arkadyevna read and understood, but it was unpleasant for her to read, that is, to follow the reflection of other people’s lives. She wanted too much to live herself.
  • With particular pleasure, it seemed, he insisted that maidenly modesty was merely a relic of barbarism and that nothing was more natural than for a not-yet-old man to palpate a naked young girl. He found it natural because he did it every day and never, as it seemed to him, felt or thought anything bad, and therefore he regarded modesty in a girl not only as a relic of barbarism but also as an affront to himself.
  • This playing with words, this concealment of the secret, held great charm for Anna, as for all women. It was not the need for concealment, not the purpose of the concealment, but the very process of concealment that fascinated her.
  • Sviyazhsky was one of those people, always astonishing to Levin, whose reasoning, very consistent though never independent, goes by itself, and whose life, extremely well defined and firm in its orientation, goes by itself, quite independent of and almost always contrary to their reasoning.
  • But the most experienced and skilful painter-technician would be unable, for all his mechanical ability, to paint anything unless the boundaries of the content were first revealed to him.

  • But it is hard for a discontented man not to reproach someone else, especially the very one who is closest to him, for his discontent.
  • And pity in her woman’s soul produced none of the horror and squeamishness it did in her husband, but a need to act, to find out all the details of his condition and help with them.
  • And she remembered that Anna had narrowed her eyes precisely when it was a matter of the most intimate sides of life. ‘As if she narrows her eyes at her life in order not to see it all,’ thought Dolly.

  • He knew this ability she had of withdrawing into herself, and he knew that it happened only when she had decided on something in herself without telling him her plans. He feared it, but he wished so much to avoid a scene that he pretended to believe, and in part sincerely believed, in what he would have liked to believe in– her reasonableness.

On Family

  • All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
  • ‘But she does love my child,’ he thought, noticing the change in her face at the child’s cry, ‘my child– so how can she hate me?’
  • He could not imagine to himself any other relation to his mother than one obedient and deferential in the highest degree, and the more outwardly obedient and deferential he was, the less he respected and loved her in his soul.
  • He was not only unable to picture to himself the love of a woman without marriage, but he first pictured the family to himself and only then the woman who would give him that family.
  • He did not understand that she knew it intuitively and, while preparing for this awesome task, did not reproach herself for the moments of insouciance and the happiness of love that she enjoyed now, while cheerfully building her future nest.

  • His father always talked to him– so he felt– as if he were addressing some imaginary boy, one of those that exist in books, but quite unlike him. And he always tried, when with his father, to pretend he was that book boy.
  • These were all relations and friends of Levin’s wife. And though he loved them all, he slightly regretted his Levin world and order, which was smothered under this influx of the ‘Shcherbatsky element’, as he kept saying to himself.
  • Those painful cares of motherhood that she had hated so on her way there, now, after a day spent without them, presented themselves to her in a different light and drew her to them.
  • What he felt for this small being was not at all what he had expected. There was nothing happy or joyful in this feeling; on the contrary, there was a new tormenting fear. There was an awareness of a new region of vulnerability. And this awareness was so tormenting at first, the fear lest this helpless being should suffer was so strong, that because of it he scarcely noticed the strange feeling of senseless joy and even pride he had experienced when the baby sneezed.

On Society

  • Half Moscow and Petersburg were relatives or friends of Stepan Arkadyich. He had been born into the milieu of those who were or had become the mighty of this world.
  • That’s why most of us prefer the company of Claras. Their failure only proves that you didn’t have enough money, while here– your dignity is at stake.
  • ‘Oh, no! He’s an honest man. But this old-fashioned, patriarchal, family-like way of running the affairs of the nobility has to be shaken up.’


On Ethics and Morality

  • But now, though his conviction that jealousy was a shameful feeling and that one ought to have trust was not destroyed, he felt that he stood face to face with something illogical and senseless, and he did not know what to do.
  • The more he knew his brother, the more he noticed that Sergei Ivanovich and many other workers for the common good had not been brought to this love of the common good by the heart, but had reasoned in their minds that it was good to be concerned with it and were concerned with it only because of that.
  • ‘Either you’re so undeveloped that you cannot see all that you could do, or you cannot give up your peace, your vanity, whatever, in order to do it.’
  • ‘I need physical movement, otherwise my character definitely deteriorates,’
  • And since there is nothing less conducive to agreement than a difference of thinking in half-abstract things, they not only never agreed in their opinions, but had long grown used to chuckling at each other’s incorrigible error without getting angry.
  • It used to be that a freethinker was a man who had been brought up with notions of religion, law, morality, and had arrived at freethinking by himself, through his own toil and struggle. But now a new type of self-made freethinkers has appeared, who grow up and never even hear that there were laws of morality, religion, that there were authorities, but who grow up right into notions of the negation of everything– that is, as wild men.

  • And, without asking the servant who opened the door whether anyone was at home, Stepan Arkadyich went into the front hall. Levin followed him, more and more doubtful whether what he was doing was good or bad.

On Deception and Hopelessness

  • ‘Do you understand, Anna, who took my youth and beauty from me? He and his children. I’ve done my service for him, and that service took my all, and now, naturally, he finds a fresh, vulgar creature more agreeable.
  • Kitty looked into his face, which was such a short distance from hers, and long afterwards, for several years, that look, so full of love, which she gave him then, and to which he did not respond, cut her heart with tormenting shame.
  • When he saw it all, he was overcome by a momentary doubt of the possibility of setting up that new life he had dreamed of on the way. All these traces of his life seemed to seize hold of him and say to him: ‘No, you won’t escape us and be different, you’ll be the same as you were: with doubts, an eternal dissatisfaction with yourself, vain attempts to improve, and failures, and an eternal expectation of the happiness that has eluded you and is not possible for you.’
  • The most, most vile and coarse– I can’t tell you. It’s not anguish, or boredom, it’s much worse. As if all that was good in me got hidden, and only what’s most vile was left.
  • Shamming in anything at all can deceive the most intelligent, perceptive person; but the most limited child will recognize it and feel aversion, no matter how artfully it is concealed.

  • ‘And what of it? I haven’t stopped thinking about death,’ said Levin. ‘It’s true that it’s time to die. And that everything is nonsense. I’ll tell you truly: I value my thought and work terribly, but in essence– think about it– this whole world of ours is just a bit of mildew that grew over a tiny planet. And we think we can have something great– thoughts, deeds! They’re all grains of sand.’
  • His despair was increased by the awareness that he was utterly alone with his grief.
  • ‘Everybody lives, everybody enjoys life,’ she went on thinking, going past the women and on up the hill at a trot, again rocking pleasantly on the soft springs of the old carriage, ‘and I, released, as if from prison, from a world that is killing me with cares, have only now come to my senses for a moment. Everybody lives– these women, and my sister Natalie, and Varenka, and Anna, whom I am going to see– and only I don’t.‘

  • Aren’t we all thrown into the world only in order to hate each other and so to torment ourselves and others.

Wise Gems

  • Wurst even says directly that where there are no sensations, there is no concept of being.
  • Some mathematician said that the pleasure lies not in discovering the truth, but in searching for it.
  • ‘They say if anyone’s been a best man more than ten times, he’ll never marry. I wanted this to be my tenth time, to insure myself, but the job was taken,’
  • I’m a friend of the division of labour. People who can’t do anything should make people, and the rest should contribute to their enlightenment and happiness.

  • The proof that they knew firmly what death was lay in their knowing, without a moment’s doubt, how to act with dying people and not being afraid of them.
  • But any acquisition that doesn’t correspond to the labour expended is dishonest.

  • ‘One cannot put one’s heart into a school or generally into institutions of that sort, and that is precisely why I think these philanthropic institutions always produce such meagre results.’
  • Grace is not guided by human considerations; it sometimes descends not upon the labourers but upon the unprepared

  • A believer cannot be unhappy, because he is not alone.
  • Respect was invented to cover the empty place where love should be.
  • ‘Man has been given reason in order to rid himself of that which troubles him’

  • When Levin thought about what he was and what he lived for, he found no answer and fell into despair; but when he stopped asking himself about it, he seemed to know what he was and what he lived for, because he acted and lived firmly and definitely; recently he had even lived much more firmly and definitely than before.
  • ‘I haven’t discovered anything. I’ve only found out what I know.’

Beautifully Constructed (translated, in this case) Sentences

  • Oblonsky had experienced more than once this extreme estrangement instead of closeness that may come after dinner

  • It was as if a surplus of something so overflowed her being that it expressed itself beyond her will, now in the brightness of her glance, now in her smile. She deliberately extinguished the light in her eyes, but it shone against her will in a barely noticeable smile.
  • But though she had the look of a butterfly that clings momentarily to a blade of grass and is about to flutter up, unfolding its iridescent wings, a terrible despair pained her heart. ‘But perhaps I’m mistaken, perhaps it’s not so?’
  • But Vronsky went on looking at him as at a lamppost, and the young man grimaced, feeling that he was losing his self-possession under the pressure of this non-recognition of himself as a human being and was unable to fall asleep because of it.
  • He had just partly clarified the question of how to live, when he was presented with a new, insoluble problem– death.

  • For a long time, a very long time, it seemed to Levin, the sick man lay motionless. But he was still alive and sighed now and then. Levin was weary now from mental effort. He felt that in spite of it all, he could not understand what was so. He felt that he lagged far behind the dying man. He could no longer think about the question of death itself, but thoughts came to him inadvertently of what he was to do now, presently: close his eyes, dress him, order the coffin. And, strangely, he felt completely cold and experienced neither grief, nor loss, nor still less pity for his brother. If he had any feeling for him now, it was rather envy of the knowledge that the dying man now had but that he could not have.
  • ‘And not only the pride of reason, but the stupidity of reason. And, above all – the slyness, precisely the slyness, of reason. Precisely the swindling of reason,’ he repeated.

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

★★★★★ (5/5)

 A selection of my favourite passages from the book

“It is good to renew one’s wonder,” said the philosopher. “Space travel has again made children of us all.”

ROCKET SUMMER

  • The rocket lay on the launching field, blowing out pink clouds of fire and oven heat. The rocket stood in the cold winter morning, making summer with every breath of its mighty exhausts. The rocket made climates, and summer lay for a brief moment upon the land …

YLLA

  • Marriage made people old and familiar, while still young.
  • All night she had hung above the floor, buoyed by the soft carpeting of mist that poured from the walls when she lay down to rest. All night she had slept on this silent river, like a boat upon a soundless tide. Now the fog burned away, the mist level lowered until she was deposited upon the shore of wakening.
  • When it was quite late he murmured something, went to a closet, and drew forth an evil weapon, a long yellowish tube ending in a bellows and a trigger. He turned, and upon his face was a mask, hammered from silver metal, expressionless, the mask that he always wore when he wished to hide his feelings, the mask which curved and hollowed so exquisitely to his thin cheeks and chin and brow.

THE EARTH MEN

  • If hallucinations can appear this ‘real’ to us, to anyone, if hallucinations are catching and almost believable, it’s no wonder they mistook us for psychotics. If that man can produce little blue fire women and that woman there melt into a pillar, how natural if normal Martians think we produce our rocket ship with our minds.”
  • The psychologist shut his eyes and scratched his nose. “This is the most incredible example of sensual hallucination and hypnotic suggestion I’ve ever encountered. I went through your ‘rocket,’ as you call it.” He tapped the hull. “I hear it. Auditory fantasy.” He drew a breath. “I smell it. Olfactory hallucination, induced by sensual telepathy.” He kissed the ship. “I taste it. Labial fantasy!”
  • “My insanity.” The captain was pale. “Yes, yes, what a lovely insanity. Metal, rubber, gravitizers, foods, clothing, fuel, weapons, ladders, nuts, bolts, spoons. Ten thousand separate items I checked on your vessel. Never have I seen such a complexity. There were even shadows under the bunks and under everything! Such concentration of will! And everything, no matter how or when tested, had a smell, a solidity, a taste, a sound! Let me embrace you!”

THE THIRD EXPEDITION

  • Well, what would the best weapon be that a Martian could use against Earth Men with atomic weapons? The answer was interesting. Telepathy, hypnosis, memory, and imagination.

AND THE MOON BE STILL AS BRIGHT

  • The air smelled clean and new. Spender sat for a long time just enjoying the way it was made. It had a lot of things in it he couldn’t identify: flowers, chemistries, dusts, winds.
  • They’re all here. All the things which had uses. All the mountains which had names. And we’ll never be able to use them without feeling uncomfortable. And somehow the mountains will never sound right to us; we’ll give them new names, but the old names are there, somewhere in time, and the mountains were shaped and seen under those names.
  • we’re kids in rompers, shouting with our play rockets and atoms, loud and alive. But one day Earth will be as Mars is today.
  • “Anything that’s strange is no good to the average American. If it doesn’t have Chicago plumbing, it’s nonsense.
  • “They knew how to live with nature and get along with nature. They didn’t try too hard to be all men and no animal. That’s the mistake we made when Darwin showed up.
  • If art was no more than a frustrated outflinging of desire, if religion was no more than self-delusion, what good was life? Faith had always given us answers to all things. But it all went down the drain with Freud and Darwin. We were and still are a lost people.”
  • And the men of Mars realized that in order to survive they would have to forgo asking that one question any longer: Why live? Life was its own answer. Life was the propagation of more life and the living of as good a life is possible.
  • They blended religion and art and science because, at base, science is no more than an investigation of a miracle we can never explain, and art is an interpretation of that miracle.

THE SETTLERS

  • most men felt the great illness in them even before the rocket fired into space. And this disease was called The Loneliness, because when you saw your home town dwindle the size of your fist and then lemon-size and then pin-size and vanish in the fire-wake, you felt you had never been born, there was no town, you were nowhere, with space all around, nothing familiar, only other strange men.

THE GREEN MORNING

  • There were so many things a tree could do: add color, provide shade, drop fruit, or become a children’s playground, a whole sky universe to climb and hang from; an architecture of food and pleasure, that was a tree. But most of all the trees would distill an icy air for the lungs, and a gentle rustling for the ear when you lay nights in your snowy bed and were gentled to sleep by the sound.

THE LOCUSTS

  • And from the rockets ran men with hammers in their hands to beat the strange world into a shape that was familiar to the eye, to bludgeon away all the strangeness

NIGHT MEETING

  • They pointed at each other, with starlight burning in their limbs like daggers and icicles and fireflies, and then fell to judging their limbs again, each finding himself intact, hot, excited, stunned, awed, and the other, ah yes, that other over there, unreal, a ghostly prism flashing the accumulated light of distant worlds.

WAY IN THE MIDDLE OF THE AIR

  • And in that slow, steady channel of darkness that cut across the white glare of day were touches of alert white, the eyes, the ivory eyes staring ahead, glancing aside, as the river, the long and endless river, took itself from old channels into a new one.
  • None of it flung down, no, but deposited gently and with feeling, with decorum, upon the dusty edges of the road, as if a whole city had walked here with hands full, at which time a great bronze trumpet had sounded, the articles had been relinquished to the quiet dust, and one and all, the inhabitants of the earth had fled straight up into the blue heavens.

USHER II

  • “Does the whole structure cause an ‘iciness, a sickening of the heart, a dreariness of thought’? The House, the lake, the land, Mr. Stendahl?” “Mr. Bigelow, it’s worth every penny! My God, it’s beautiful!”
  • and with a screw tightened here, a bolt fastened there, a push, a pull, a yank, art and literature were soon like a great twine of taffy strung about, being twisted in braids and tied in knots and thrown in all directions, until there was no more resiliency and no more savor to it. Then the film cameras chopped short and the theaters turned dark. and the print presses trickled down from a great Niagara of reading matter to a mere innocuous dripping of ‘pure’ material. Oh, the word ‘escape’ was radical, too, I tell you!”

THE MARTIAN

  • All down the way the pursued and the pursuing, the dream and the dreamers, the quarry and the hounds. All down the way the sudden revealment, the flash of familiar eyes, the cry of an old, old name, the remembrances of other times, the crowd multiplying.

THE WATCHERS

  • To all intents and purposes, Earth now was dead; they had been away from it for three or four years. Space was an anesthetic; seventy million miles of space numbed you, put memory to sleep, depopulated Earth, erased the past, and allowed these people here to go on with their work. But now, tonight, the dead were risen, Earth was reinhabited, memory awoke, a million names were spoken.

THERE WILL COME SOFT RAINS

  • The house was an altar with ten thousand attendants, big, small, servicing, attending, in choirs. But the gods had gone away, and the ritual of the religion continued senselessly, uselessly.

THE MILLION-YEAR PICNIC

  • They looked with fervent anticipation, and the dead city lay dead for them alone, drowsing in a hot silence of summer made on Mars by a Martian weatherman.

The Creative Curve by Allen Gannett

★★★★☆ (4/5)

A selection of my favourite passages from the book

There is in fact a science behind what becomes a hit and that today’s neuroscience gives us an unprecedented ability to decode and engineer the necessary moments of “inspiration” to create popular work

Chapter 1: The Making of a Dream

  • Inspiration theory of creativity: the idea that creative success results from a mysterious internal process punctuated by unpredictable flashes of genius.
  • On the other hand, most of us believe that if we lack the raw talent or innate genius, these moments will never strike. The inspiration theory of creativity is only relevant for those born with so-called genius.

Chapter 2: Learning a Lie

  • Much of the phenomena we observe that seem organic or unique are actually the result of repeating processes and systems.
  • It is a mistake to think that creativity is just about creating something different or original. It also has to be valuable, meaning that a group of people, large or small, have found importance or usefulness in that creative product.
  • People crave the familiar, yet seek the novel.

Chapter 3: The Origin of the Myth

  • Genius was viewed by both scientists and the public as an innate, hereditary trait that cannot be fostered or amplified (other than by getting sick). At the same time, genius became tightly and negatively coupled with insanity and madness.

Chapter 4: What Is Talent?

  • According to academics, divergent thinking—where the goal is to come up with numerous solutions to problems—is correlated with creativity: the more divergent your thinking, the more creative you are. By looking at the number and originality of your responses, they believe they can accurately assess a person’s creative potential.
  • There are two main flaws with the 10,000-hour rule. First, it neglects to mention that it’s not simply how many hours you spend that’s important, but how you spend those hours.
  • “Automaticity is the enemy of growing your expertise,”
  • Instead of simply practicing a task over and over again for 10,000 hours, Ericsson’s research shows you have to engage extensively in purposeful practice. This is a particular type of practice where you work on one small skill repeatedly, with a clear goal and a feedback mechanism.
  • This concept, that our brains’ physiology adapts to situations and experiences, is known as brain plasticity.

Chapter 5: What Is a Genius?

  • The truth is that when people talk about creativity, they are usually talking about a creative output that is widely adopted or accepted
  • To create something novel, you must know what already exists.
  • If you cannot attract the attention of the gatekeepers, you might very well be “original” and “technically skilled,” but the truth of the matter is you will not be considered creative.
  • Part of being a successful artist is being a persuasive salesperson for your own brand. You must be able to generate and capture attention. This goes against the notion of the reclusive, angry artist.
  • The result is that when you study the history of creative geniuses, you find people who had the opportunity to learn the right skills, the time to master those skills, and the ability to persuade others that their work had value.

Chapter 6: The Creative Curve

  • Mere exposure to one of the Chinese characters made the respondents in the study perceive it more positively. Zajonc later called this phenomenon the mere exposure effect.
  • Familiarity does not make us like things more. Rather, it makes us fear things less.
  • The actual role of dopamine in our brains, he says, is to determine when we should approach something to learn more about it.
  • the point of cliché, where novelty seeking peters out at a group level, the brand in question becomes overexposed and overfamiliar, and each additional exposure reduces a group’s overall interest in the product, idea, or concept.
  • A good novel needs more than novelty; it also needs familiarity.
  • In David Kirkpatrick’s book The Facebook Effect, Zuckerberg is quoted as telling the author that “the trick isn’t adding stuff, it’s taking away.”
  • an idea that is too novel has a much harder time appealing to a broad audience.
  • It turns out that when we consume something superficially, whether it’s an advertisement, song, or work of art, our brains process it in a different way than they do when we consume something in depth, or over time. A process that neuroscientists call perceptual fluency takes hold.
  • When you process things deeply, you take time to evaluate them, and your competing emotions involving familiarity and novelty come into play.

Chapter 7: Law I: Consumption

  • Pattern recognition relies on two mental models,
  • The first is a prototype—but not the kind of prototype that might immediately come up in most people’s minds. In psychology, a prototype is an abstraction of any concept’s fundamental properties.
  • The second mental model is the exemplar, which is basically a specific example of a category.
  • As entrepreneurs gain experience, most start to accumulate concrete examples of a variety of concepts, and over time they rely more and more on exemplars. Using exemplars speeds up idea processing. After all, entrepreneurs don’t have to slow down and recognize the individual, distinctive elements of each and every new idea that’s presented to them. Most simply accept that this or that new idea matches an exemplar and is familiar.
  • I call this the 20 percent principle: by spending 20 percent of your waking hours consuming material in your creative field, you can develop an intuitive, expert-level understanding of the level of familiarity of an idea—where it lies on the creative curve—even without real-world experience.
  • “You can’t have insights about things you don’t know anything about.”

Chapter 8: Law II: Imitation

  • “The covenant that a romance writer has with their readers is that there will always be a happily-ever-after. This allows readers to lean into fear and risk while knowing that there is a safe landing at the end.”
  • You may think that breakout success comes from breaking the pattern. In reality, it is only by following a pattern that you tap into the right level of novelty.
  • What I call the Franklin method involves the careful observation and re-creation of the structures underlying successful creative work. Creators use the Franklin method to understand the formulas or patterns that have proven to be historically successful. Along the way they’re exposed to a baseline of familiarity that their audience would know. Then, on top of that structure, they can add novelty while maintaining the necessary familiarity.

Chapter 9: Law III: Creative Communities

  • Even though over the course of writing this book I found that creativity is very much a team sport, our cultural mythology, at least in the United States, remains extremely focused on the individual.
  • I found that creatives had four different types of people in their networks: a master teacher, a conflicting collaborator, a modern muse, and a prominent promoter.
  • Master teachers serve two essential roles: They teach constraints, and they assist with deliberate practice through feedback.
  • As more and more tech companies migrate to the neighborhood, more people seem to want to follow their path. Engineers want to be near other engineers. CEOs want to be near other CEOs. Sociologists call this effect clustering.
  • Ideal collaborators balance out each other’s weaknesses and provide different perspectives.
  • Modern muses: people who provide material for a creator to use as well as practical motivation.
  • In previous chapters, I wrote that to be considered a “genius” you also need to be recognized. It’s not enough to work hard, or to create technically competent work—you also need social acknowledgment that you’re credible. For this reason especially, the last essential member of your creative community is a prominent promoter: someone with credibility who is willing to advocate for you and your work.
  • This is because the people on the fringe give the establishment figures fresh ideas, and the establishment figures provide the necessary reputation and credibility. If you are already successful, this finding underscores how important it is for you to bring new and fresh voices onto your teams if you want to maximize your creative success. You need that source of novel ideas. And if you are an up-and-comer, you need a prominent promoter for recognition.

Chapter 10: Law IV: Iterations

  • All commercial creativity in the end is about the same thing: creating products that will match—and intersect with—an audience’s taste at a particular point in time.
  • Instead of seeing creativity as a series of eureka moments and sudden epiphanies, successful creatives who use data-driven iterations are far more likely to master the creative curve.
  • By this point, you know the history of creativity, the driving forces behind trends, and the four steps you can take to maximize your odds of creating things that have a chance of going big and wide.