Notes and Quotes on Writing and Reading

Melissa Toldy
Mar 7 · 3 min read
  • “So, consider this not a closed transmission of information, but instead an open and extended essay, in the original sense of the word (a journey, an essaying forth).” — Jenny Odell, How to Do Nothing
  • Everything we read should be treated as an introduction, as a continuation. We can’t treat text as a source of truth. We can only engage with the material and let the knowledge sprout in our minds. That’s why we need to be careful about what we read. Because we can’t always remember where our ideas come from, but they always come from somewhere.
  • “You might think of serendipity as passive luck that just happens to you, when actually it’s an active process of spotting and connecting the dots …To be lucky, it’s often essential to be open and alert to the unexpected.” — Christian Busch, “How to Be Lucky
  • Writing and reading share the same characteristics as serendipity and luck. As a reader and writer, you connect the dots. Something draws you in, and you follow the clues to some kind of conclusion. A lucky writer is someone who notices something unusual; they find the context to place this new idea; a thread becomes a stitch in a larger patchwork. The lucky reader participates in the discovery, letting the lines create new layers in their mental landscape.
  • “The notion of my future suddenly snapped into focus; it didn’t exist yet. I was making it, standing there, breathing, fixing the air around my body with stillness, trying to capture something — a thought, I guess — as though such a thing were possible.” — Ottessa Moshfegh, My Year of Rest and Relaxation
  • Words can exist as placeholders, but they’re not substitutes for the real thing. Everything written is an article of the past. The writing re-enters the present when a reader picks up where it left off. Still, language is a medium. Words are not the truth, but we can use words to get closer to knowledge, to wisdom, to meaning.
  • “But conditions today favor the amateur. They favor ‘speed, brevity, and repetition; novelty but also recognizability.’ Artists no longer have the time nor the space to ‘cultivate an inner stillness or focus’; no time for the ‘slow build.’ Creators need to cater to the market’s demand for constant and immediate engagement, for ‘flexibility, versatility, and extroversion.’ As a result, ‘irony, complexity, and subtlety are out; the game is won by the brief, the bright, the loud, and the easily grasped.’” — Robert Diab, “The Great Unread
  • Truth, beauty, insight, knowledge, intimacy, these are not commodities in a market. People find stillness and slowness, regardless of the conditions. Life is not a game. Something easy to grasp will always travel faster, but it’s usually built on decades of communal understanding.
  • “Wellness — the kind that actually works — is simple: it’s about committing to basic practices, day in and day out, as individuals and communities…the more vulnerable you are — both with yourself and others — the better…the more present and fully engaged you are with what’s in front of you, the happier you’ll be.” — Brad Stulberg, “We’ve Reached Peak Wellness. Most of It Is Nonsense.
  • Reading a book, especially a book of literary fiction, can be an act of wellness. You are doing two things at once: Breaking away from the urgency of your life and tapping into a parallel world. In this other world, you find a mind who sometimes thinks the way you think, but their thoughts take you in a new direction. This is not an escape. You are still you, and you are changing, with the story.
  • “There is advice everywhere, some grand, some practical. The practical advice spreads quickly and creates consequences.” — Jenny Offill, Weather
  • Read slower, if you can. Write slower, if you can. Pay attention, if you can. Stay open and alert, if you can. Practice stillness, if you can. Be kind, if you can.

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