LOTR: The Two Towers, excerpts

I finally finished my multi-month journey through J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Two Towers, second in the Lord of the Rings trilogies. The world needs more good trilogies. This one is fantastic, though Tolkien’s quote that it is a “book that will break your heart… good beyond hope” is certainly true.

Would you just look at that old boy lounge? What an incredible outfit.

Here are some of my favorite excerpts from the book, marked with sticky tabs while reading. Many of these will not make much sense out of context, but I hope you still enjoy them.

Swiftly now, the pursuers turned and followed the new path. As if fresh from a night’s rest they sprang from stone to stone. At last they reached the crest of the grey hill, and a sudden breeze blew in their hair and stirred their cloaks: the chill wind of dawn. (p. 29)

They turned and walked side by side slowly along the line of the river. Behind them the light grew in the East. As they walked they compared notes, talking lightly in hobbit-fashion of the things that had happened since their capture. No listener would have guessed from their words that they had suffered cruelly, and been in dire peril, going without hope towards torment and death; or that even now, as they knew well, they had little chance of ever finding friend or safety again. (p. 77)

…in the Old Entish as you might say. It is a lovely language, but it takes a very long time to say anything in it, because we do not say anything in it, unless it is worth taking a log time to say, and to listen to. (p. 86)

All that day they walked about in the woods with him, singing, and laughing; for Quickbeam often laughed. He laughed if the sun came out from behind a cloud, he laughed if they came upon a stream or spring: then he stooped and splashed his feet and head with water; he laughed sometimes at some sound or whisper in the trees. Whenever he saw a rowan-tree he halted a while with his arms stretched out, and sang, and swayed as he sang. (p. 109)

The grey figure of the Man, Aragorn son of Arathorn, was tall, and stern as stone, his hand upon the hilt of his sword; he looked as if some king of the mists of the sea had stepped upon the shores of lesser men. Before him stooped the old figure, white, shining now as if with some light kindled within, bent, laden with years, but holding a power beyond the strength of kings. (p. 133)

A strong place and wonderful was Isengard, and long it had been beautiful; and there great lords had dwelt, the wardens of Gondor upon the West, and wise men that watched the stars. (p. 204)

‘You do not know your danger, Theoden,’ interrupted Gandalf. ‘These hobbits will sit on the edge of ruin and dscuss the pleasures of the table, or the small doings of their fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers, and remoter cousins to the ninth degree, f you encourage them with undue patience.’ (p. 208)

We shall have to share pipes, as good friends must at a pinch. (p. 213)

‘Yes, yes, and Sam stinks!’ answered Gollum. ‘Poor Smeagol smells it, but good Smeagol bears it.’ (p. 299)

The gasping pools were choked with ash and crawling muds, sickly white and grey, as if the mountains had vomited the filth of their entrails upon the lands about. (p. 302)

And here he was a little halfling from the Shire, a simple hobbit of the quiet countryside, expected to find a way where the great ones could not go, or dared not go. It was an evil fait. But he had taken it on himself in his own sitting=room in the far-off spring of another year, so remote now that it was like a chapter in a story of the world’s youth, when the Trees of Silver and Gold were still in bloom. (p. 319)

Above them as a dome of pale sky barred with fleeting smoke, but it seemed high and far away, as if seen through great deeps of air heavy with brooding thought. (p. 319)

Then at a great distance, as if it came out of memories of the Shire, some sunlit early morning, when the day called and doors were opening, he heard Sam’s voice speaking. ‘Wake up, Mr. Frodo! Wake up!’ Had the voice added: ‘Your breakfast is ready,’ he would hardly have been surprised. (p. 402)

Gollum looked at them. A strange expression passed over his lean hungry face. The gleam faded from his eyes, and they went dim and grey, old and tired. A spasm of pain seemed to twist him, and he turned away, peering back up towards the pass, shaking his head, as if engaged in some interior debate. Then he came back, and slowly putting out a trembling hand, very cautiously he touched Frodo’s knee – but almost the touch was a caress. For a fleeting moment, could one of the sleepers have seen him, they would have thought that they beheld an old weary hobbit, shrunken by the years that had carried him far beyond his time, beyond friends and kin, and the fields and streams of youth, an old starved pitiable thing. (p. 411)

Linchpin, excerpts

I just finished Linchpin, written by Seth Godin – my first time consuming one of his books. Here are some of the excerpts that caught my ear while listening.

Be remarkable, be generous, create art, make judgement calls. Connect people and ideas. And then, we have no choice but to reward you. (1:12:20)

What would make you impossible good at your job? If your organization wanted to replace you with someone far better at your job than you, what would they look for? I think it’s unlikely that they would seek out someone who is willing to work more hours, or someone with more industry experience, or someone who could score better on a standardized test. No, the competitive advantage the marketplace demands is someone more human, connected and mature. Someone with passion and energy, capable of seeing things as they are. (1:12:50)

What they should teach in schools. Only two things: 1. Solve interesting problems. And 2. lead… Interesting is the keyword. Answering questions like: when was the war of 1812, is a useless skill in a always-on Wikipedia world. It’s far more useful to be able to answer the kind of question for which google won’t help. Questions like: what should I do next? (1:42:25)

Our economy now rewards artists far more than any other economy in history ever has. People who tell you that they don’t have any good ideas are selling themselves short. They don’t have any ideas that are valued, because they’re not investing in their art. (1:51:30)

Perhaps you can’t name a beloved brand of tofu is that no artist has bothered to market it to you yet. (3:21:00)

Some people are hooked on passion. Deriving their sense of self from the act of being passionate. Perhaps your challenge isn’t finding a better project or a better boss. Perhaps you need to get in touch with what it means to feel passionate. People with passion look for ways to make things happen. The combination of passion and art is what makes someone a linchpin. (3:23:00)

Over time, the gifts accrue, and you have created a reputation. (3:24:00)

The only purpose of starting is to finish. And while the projects we do are never really finished, they must ship. Shipping means hitting the publish button on your blog. Showing a presentation to the sales team. Answering the phone. Selling the muffins. Sending out your references. Shipping is the collision between your work and the outside world. (3:44:00)

Our economy has reached a logical conclusion. The race to make average stuff for average people in huge quantities is almost over. We’re hitting an asymptote. A natural ceiling for how cheaply and how fast we can deliver uninspired work. Becoming more average, more quick and more cheap is not as productive as it used to be. Manufacturing a box that can play music went from $10,000 for a beautiful Edison Victrola, to $2,000 for a home stereo, to $300 for a Walkman, to $200 for an iPod, to $9 for an MP3 memory stick. The improvements in price are now so small, they’re hardly worth making. Shipping an idea went from taking a month by boat, to a few days by plane, to overnight by federal express, to a few minutes by fax, to a moment by email, to instantaneous by Twitter. Now what? Will it arrive yesterday? So, what’s left to make, to give, is art. What’s left is the generosity and humanity worth paying for. (4:28:00)

The internet is crack cocaine for the resistance. If you sat at work all day watching Hawaii 5-O reruns, you’d probably lose your job. But it’s apparently fine to tweak and update your Facebook account for an hour. That’s connecting to your social graph. (4:50:30)

A friend of mine says something really smart every day, something earth shattering once a week. And that’s it. At the end of the year, he has some great blog posts and a pile of Twitter tweets to show for it. What if he harnessed even one of those ideas, and fought the resistance hard enough to actually make something of it? At the end of the year, he could show us a multi-million dollar company or a movement that changed the world. (4:52:15)

I’m not a work-a-haulic… By forcing myself to do absolutely no busy work tasks in between bouts with the work, I remove the best excuse the resistance has. I can’t avoid the work, because I am not distracting myself with anything but the work. This is the hallmark of a productive artist. I don’t go to meetings. I don’t write memos. I don’t have a staff. I don’t commute. The goal is to strip away anything that looks productive but doesn’t involve shipping [your work]. It takes crazy discipline to do nothing between projects. It means that you have to face a blank wall and you can’t look busy. It means you are alone with your thoughts. And it a means that a new project, perhaps a great project, will appear pretty soon because your restless energy can’t permit you to only sit and do nothing. (4:54:00)

Anxiety is the exaggeration of the worst possible what-if? (4:57:30)

It’s so easy to fall into the trap of using a spreadsheet or a time clock to measure your progress, when in fact, it’s the investment you make in your interactions that will pay off. (7:31:45)

What do you do when your art doesn’t work? What happens when the conversation doesn’t happen? The product doesn’t sell? The consumer is not delighted? Your boss is not happy? And the people aren’t moved? Make more art… Learn from what you did, and then do more. (8:00:00)

Maybe you can’t make money doing what you love – at least what you love right now. But I bet you can figure out how to love what you do, to make money. If you choose wisely. Do your art, but don’t wreck your art if it doesn’t lend itself to paying the bills. That would be a tragedy. (8:06:45)

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A Curious Mind, excerpts

I recently listened to Brian Grazer’s A Curious Mind, diving into his life and career as a film producer for such movies as A Beautiful Mind and Apollo 13, and what he claims as the source of his success: curiosity. Here are the excperts that stuck out to me as I listened.

More than intelligence or persistence or connections, curiosity has allowed me to live the life I wanted. Curiosity is what gives energy and insight to everything else I do. (2:15)

Curiosity has been the most valuable quality, the most important resource, the central motivation of my life. I think curiosity should be as much a part of our culture, our education, our workplaces, as concepts like creativity and innovation. (3:20)

Life isn’t about finding the answers, it’s about asking the question. (7:55)

We are all trapped in our own way of thinking. Trapped in our own way of relating to people. We get so used to seeing the world our way, that we come think the world is the way that we see it. (1:13:45)

Nothing is as common as innovation I come up with that I think is brilliant and you think is dumb. (1:40:15)

Unlike creativity and innovation though, curiosity is by its nature more accessible, more democratic. Easier to see, and also easier to do. (1:40:25)

Here’s the secret that we don’t seem to understand, the wonderful connection we’re not making. Curiosity is the tool that sparks creativity. Curiosity is the technique that gets to innovation. Questions create a mindset of innovation and creativity. Curiosity presumes that there might be something new out there. Curiosity presumes that there might be something outside our own experience out there. Curiosity allows the possibility that the way we’re doing it now isn’t the only way, or even the best way. (1:41:00)

One of the concepts that really animates me is what I think of as mastery. I want to know what it takes to really master something. Not just to be a police officer, but to be the chief. Not just to be an intelligence agent, but to be the head of the CIA. (1:55:40)

We’re now firmly in the era of the billion dollar film franchise, and the billion dollar acting career. (2:01:25)

Curiosity leads to storytelling, and storytelling inspires curiosity. The exact same dynamic works with curiosity and persistence. Curiosity rewards persistence. If you get discouraged when you can’t find the answer to a question immediately, if you give up at the first no, then your curiosity isn’t serving you very well. (2:48:10)

As inevitable as Dr. Seuss’ appeal seems now, Mulberry St. was rejected by 27 publishers before being accepted by vanguard press. What if Geisel had decided that 20 rejections were enough for him? Or 25? Imagine childhood and reading without Dr. Seuss. (2:55:40)

I ask questions. What’s the talk supposed to be about? What’s the best possible version of the talk? What do the people coming to this event expect to hear? What do they want to hear in general? What do they want to hear from me specifically? And who is the audience? (2:57:40)

Curiosity isn’t necessarily about achieving something, about driving towards some goal. Sometimes it’s just about connecting with people. Which is to say curiosity can be about sustaining intimacy. It’s not about a goal, it’s about happiness. (4:05:45)

For me, the most valuable kind of curiosity is the kind where there isn’t a specific question I’m trying to get the answer to. The most valuable kind of curiosity is the truly open hearted question. Whether to a Nobel Laureate, or the person sitting next to you ta a wedding. (4:55:20)

I don’t have any idea where good ideas come from. But I do know this: the more I know about the world, the more I understand about how the world works, the more people I know, the more perspectives I have, the more likely it is that I’ll have a good idea. The more likely it is that I’ll understand the good idea when I hear it. The less likely I’ll agree that something is good enough. (4:57:10)