Trail Notes of a Reading Kind

Field Notes – Clint Smith – John Green – Crash Course – Anthropocene – Stories of the Civil War

As a walker, I like to read trail notes and maps. They can be as much a part of a wayfarer’s experience as the walk itself.

It’s the same for my reading.  I find value in tracking the creative and intellectual pathways of my favorite writers and artists. Austin Kleon refers to this as artistic genealogy.

Mural in East Downtown, Houston. Artist and title unknown. It seems to capture the way my mind makes loopy trails when I read and walk.

Since retirement, I’ve started to make my own trail notes, tracking what books and articles I’ve read and what led me to them. 

Here are some trail notes from my reading one day this week.

Clint Smith/John Green/Crash Course History Loop

The trailhead started with a tweet by Clint Smith:

I’ve been following Smith for a couple of weeks, ever since I heard he was hosting a new Crash Course series on Black American History.

Crash Course is familiar to me because when my son was in middle school, he binge-watched John Green’s Crash Courses in History: US History, World History 1, and World History 2.  

Crash Course World History 2 series

I’m pretty sure my son wouldn’t be studying history at University College London if it weren’t for John Green.

My son pointed out to me that John Green has a new book: The Anthropocene Reviewed: Essays on a Human-Centered Planet.  

National Geographic’s definition of Anthropocene.

“Anthropocene” is a word I only learned in retirement. If I learned it in school, I forgot it.  Now I see it in a lot of places, like in National Geographic and Orion Magazine–periodicals I didn’t make time to read when I was working. 

Tracking along with John Green and Clint Smith, I see that their paths intersect with some frequency. There’s an upcoming virtual book promotion where Smith will moderate a discussion about Green’s new book. 

I double-back to read Clint Smith’s Atlantic article in full. It’s about the day he spent with the Sons of Confederate Veterans–a bold and interesting prospect for a black American historian and writer. 

The article, I learn, is an excerpt from Smith’s book that will be coming out next month.  I wonder if down the road I’ll see another book promotion, where Green is the one moderating a discussion about Smith’s book. 

The trail ends with me pre-ordering Smith’s book. My son has already pre-ordered Green’s book. I’m looking forward to exploring more of this terrain.

Clint Smith’s new book is How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery across America

John Green’s new book is The Anthropocene Reviewed: Essays on a Human-Centered Planet.  

You can pre-order both from my new favorite bookstore, Kindred Stories, a pop-up book store out of Houston’s Third Ward.

Image via KindredStoriesHTX Instagram


  1. Jen, your trails like an artist reminds me of the Australian Aborigines’ walk-about. Wanderings with an invisible purpose that collects micro-lessons, vista perspectives, and spiritual changes all along the way.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Now I understand why you try to track my source materials. I’ll be paying closer attention for my own benefit. And I remember when Tony was working his way through John Green’s Crash Course. Wow. What a fascinating process.

    Liked by 1 person

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