Mental notes (and the use of a highlighter when reading)

About a year ago I decided to make sure I always had a pen or highlighter on me when reading.  I read far too much non-fiction for my own good and I began to realize that although I was loving many of the ideas that I was discovering, they were passing me by and the limits of my brain couldn’t take EVERY idea and process it fully.  Neither could I re-read all of the books when the notion took me.  So the decision to start to demarcate interesting passages was a way to make re-reading the books less time consuming.

As with many good intentions, however, I’ve yet to back through any of these and actually re-read the highlighted passages.  

Here are the non-fiction books I’ve read (or re-read) over the last year:


SO:  I thought I’d try a little experiment with this post and randomly pick some passages I’d highlighted from the books, transcribe them here, and see what that does to my brain.  Self indulgent, yes – but this is my blog, so yah-boo 🙂   So here we go:

“The great archetypal activities of human society are all permeated with play from the start.  Take language, for example – behind every abstract expression there lies the boldest of metaphors, and every metaphor is a play upon words” – Huizinga, Homo Ludens

“If you maintain a feeling of compassion, then something automatically opens your inner door.  Through that you can communicate much more easily with people, and that feeling of warmth creates a kind of openness”  The Dalai Lama-  The Art of Happiness

“understand that feeling is in you, not in reality – negative feelings are in you, not in reality.  Stop trying to change reality.  That’s crazy!  Stop trying to change the other person.  We don’t have to change anything!”  Anthony DeMello – Awareness (funny to randomly pick this as Christopher Butler recently posted something very similar over on his blog

“Mine is no callous shell,
I have instant conductors all over me whether I pass or stop,
They seize every object and lead it harmlessly through me.

I merely stir, press, feel with my fingers, and am happy,
to touch my person to some one else’s is abou tas much as I can
stand” – Walt Whitman – Song of Myself

“Now since we are undertaking to live, without companions, by ourselves, lust us make our happiness depend on ourselves; let us loose the bonds which tie us to others; let us gain power over ourselves to live really and truly alone – and of doing so in contentment.” Michel de Montaigne – On Solitude


Amazement as we walked together
in the cold of the year – a vast
reach of birds, nearing and ebbing past

understanding, numberless over the fields’
spires of shadow; now like iron filings
magnet-swept in thress dimensions,

massing to a dark fold and spreading
light again; now a tidal gesture:
the opening and closing of a hand” – Sam Willetts

“The genius of the scientific method, however, is that it accepts no permanent solution.  Skepticism is it’s solvent, for every theory is imperfect”  Jonah Lehrer – Proust was a Neuroscientist


A mouthful of language to swallow:
stretches of beach, sweet clinches,
breaches in walls, pleached branches;
britches hauled over haunches;
hunched leeches, wrenched teachers.
What English can do: ransack
the warmth that chuckles beneath
fuzzed surface, smooth velvet
richness, plashy juices.
I beseech you peach,
clench me into the sweetness
of your reaches.”  Peter Davison

“It is naive empiricism to provide, in support of an argument, a series of elegant confirmatory quotes from dead authorities.  By searching, you can always find someone who made a well-sounding statement that confirms your point of view – and, on every topic, it is possible to find another dead thinker who said the exact opposite” – Nassim Nicholas Taleb – The Black Swan

“Full Moon & Little Frieda

A cool small evening shrunk to a dog bark and the clank of a
bucket –

And you listening.
A spider’s web, tense for the dew’s touch.
A pail lifted, still and brimming – mirror
to tempt a first star to a tremor.

Cows are going home in the lane there, looping the hedges with
their warm wreaths of breath – 
a dark river of blood, many boulders,
balancing unspilled milk.

“Moon!” you cry suddenly.  “Moon! Moon!”

The moon has stepped back like an artist gazing amazed at a work

that points at him amazed.”  Ted Hughes


Birds legs
do of course
all dogleg
giving them
that bounce.
But these are
not normal odds
around the house.
Only two of
the dog’s legs
dogleg and
two of the cat’s.
Fifty-fifty: that’s
as bad as it
gets usually,
despite the
fear you feel
when life has
angled brutally.”  Kay Ryan

“A realization of the inevitable guilt of life may so sicken the heart that, like Hamlet or like Arjuna, one may refuse to go on with it.  On the other hand, like most of the rest of us, one may invent a false, finally unjustified, image of oneself as an exceptional phenonmenon in the world, not guilty as other are, but justified in one’s inevitable sinning because one represents the good.  Such self righteousness leads to a misunderstanding, not only of oneself but of the nature of both man and the cosmos.  The goal of the myth is to dispel the need of such life ignorance by effecting reconciliation of the individual conciousness with the universal will.”  Joseph Campbell – The Hero with a Thousand Faces (This quote made this whole post worthwhile.  YES.)

“”Poetry confronts in the most clear-eyed way just those emotions which conciousness wishes to slide by” C.K. Williams writes in Poetry & Conciousness.  Poetry puts us on the hook – it makes us responsible for what we might otherwise evade in ourselves and others.”  Edward Hirsch – How to Read a Poem.

“Despite clocks and the regular turning of the earth, time is experienced as passing at different rates.  This impression is generally dismissed as subjective, because time, according to the nineteenth-century view, is objective, incontestable, and indifferent; to its indifference there are no limits.
Yet perhaps our experience should not be dismissed so quickly.  Supposing one accepts the clocks; time does not slow down or accelerate.  But time appears to pass at different rates because our experience of its passing involves not a single but two dynamic processes which are opposed to each other: as accumulation and dissipation.
The deeper the experience of the moment, the greater the accumulation of the experience.  This is why the moment is lived as longer.  The dissipation of the the time flow is checked.  The lived duree is not a question of length but of depth or density” – John Berger – And our faces, my heart, brief as photos.


So, a few conclusions.  1) I need to do a better job of annotating!  Many of the passages I highlighted only made sense in the context of the rest of the chapter.  2)  I’ve added poetry to my classification of “non-fiction”.  I think I like it there.


Mental notes (and the use of a highlighter when reading)

Solid Gold Music: Old Gold, New Gold

Below is a music review piece I wrote for NI’s “The Big List” in May.  I’ve included Spotify links to the corresponding albums for your listening pleasure 🙂

Old Gold:

Anthology of American Folk Music by Harry David Smith

Released back in 1952 by Folkways Records, what’s sometimes called “Harry Smith’s Anthology” became the jumping off point for the folk revival in New York in the 50s & 60s.  Consisting of 6 albums recorded from 1927-32, the Anthology introduced the young Dylan, Pete Seeger and others to tracks that would become folk standards –  John Henry Was A Desperate Little Man, Stackalee and John The Revelator are in their earliest forms on the Anthology.  Dylan simply copied “Down on Penny’s Farm” when he wrote “Hard Times in New York Town”.

For all of its importance as a historical document, though, it’s the stories and emotions so clearly on display here that make the Anthology such a legendary compilation.  “Fifty Miles of Elbow Room” is the sound of a community shaking off the drudgery of the long work-week and celebrating the prospect of a better life on Sunday morning.  Clarence Ashley’s “House Carpenter” (another song directly lifted by Dylan) is a heart-breaking story of love unrequited,  Ashley’s plaintive voice and sparse banjo playing drawing you in and setting the tone from the first note.

But as with any legendary recording, the Anthology has it’s own stories about how the recordings were made.  Legend has it that Blind Lemon Jefferson recorded his cuts to one microphone in the carpet department of Macy’s department store in Amarillo, Texas.  The carpeting provided excellent sound dampening and the close sound he wanted for his music.

The Anthology is one of the most important pillars at the root of all modern folk, blues and ultimately rock n’roll.  Essential stuff, then.

New Gold

Plumb by Field Music

If Harry Smith’s Anthology is a monument to folk songs that would be belted out on a front porch on Saturday evening –  recordings that were more substance over style, then Field Music’s “Plumb” offers the perfect contrast.

Sunderland’s Peter & David Brewis have created an album of perfectly crafted and recorded indie pop songs, yes – songs of which Britt Daniel or Gruff Rhys would be more than proud – but every second of the 30 or so minutes of music on “Plumb” is so intricate and nuanced, that each listen is like a fresh listen.  The structural complexity of the songs is absolutely fascinating – the whole thing sounds like a work of expert craftsmanship.

Which is all well and good, but these are still pop songs – songs about lonliness, materialism, and disconnection – “I want a different idea of what better can be that doesn’t involve having more useless shit” –  all wrapped in tunes that will worm their way into your head until all of a sudden you’re humming the melody as you walk down the street.  And more importantly, they’ll have you dancing your ass off (“A New Town” and “I Keep Thinking About A New Thing” are great examples). 

At no point do Field Music let the odd time signatures, sudden changes in direction or strange instrumentation get in the way of the tune.  Complexity and pop accessibility make this album one of my favourites of this yet-young year.

Solid Gold Music: Old Gold, New Gold