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Author Archive: "Kerry Miller"

A Day in the Life of an Author: Orthodontist Appt., Piano Practice, After-School Tutoring

Earlier this year, when I decided to leave my full-time reporting job to focus on Passive Aggressive Notes, I made a bargain with myself: Instead of frittering away my free time falling down Wikipedia rabbit holes, I'd actually get off the Internet and make some progress on some long-overdue items on my big life to-do list, also known as "things I guilt trip my parents about for depriving me of in my childhood."

This list includes:

  • learn to play the piano
  • get braces
  • get a driver's license and, most embarrassingly:
  • learn to ride a bike

In addition to finally getting my New York state learner's permit and learning to plink out "A Whole New World" on the keyboard, I also started volunteering at a pretty awesome organization, 826NYC, where kids can produce their own books (like this one, by Lola, that I think gives Frank Warren a run for his money):

Overall, I can't say that I've been 100% successful in my mission, but hey — did you know that in Canada, corn dogs are known as


Going Analog

The Passive Aggressive Notes project would have never gotten off the ground were it not for my ongoing fascination with all-things handwritten. Under my bed, I have several boxes filled with personal artifacts: grade-school compositions, seventh-grade gossip, and pretty much every letter, postcard and birthday card I've ever received.

(This card from my grandmother, which arrived with a box of homemade baked goods, was the very first in my collection of passive-aggressive notes.)

Now that I spend most of my day sending and responding to e-mails, I get a particularly special thrill from finding something unexpected in my mailbox besides ValPak and the Pottery Barn catalog.

The Thing Quarterly is kinda like an art-oriented version of Powell's Indiespensable. It's not exactly cheap (a 1-year subscription is $140), but four times a year you get the thrill of receiving what the editors describe as "an everyday object that somehow incorporates text" — each one conceived by artist/writer types like Miranda July (

Guess That Novel! (And, Yes, I Saw The Office Last Thursday…)

Last week was a great one for passive-aggressive notes in primetime.*

Pam Beesly was outed as a notewriter on The Office, in a series of scenes that demonstrate and reinforce my non-scientific finding that passive-aggressive notes backfire on their writers 99% of the time. A deleted scene from the episode goes into even further detail to show why anonymous office notes like Pam's are as ineffective as they are irritating.

Passive-aggressive notes also had a brief guest appearance in the opening minutes of Summer Heights High on HBO, an Aussie import my roommate turned me onto (via YouTube) after she returned from six months of backpacking and beach bumming down under.

When it comes to fiction-based passive-aggressive notes, however, my all-time favorite is one submitted through my website by a dumpster-diving reader in California. What seems, at first glance, like a page from a particularly vicious junior-high slam-book is actually just a particularly, um, creative assignment for a junior-high English class. At least, I hope so.

*Since you ...

Crazy Old Man Writing

I don't put much stock in the pseudoscience of graphology, but I admit there's just something intriguing about handwritten notes, and angry notes in particular. Small details — the extra pressure applied to a furious double underline, for example — become telling insights into the writer's state of mind, and these details are what elevate what might otherwise be a mildly eccentric missive into full-blown masterpiece of passive-aggression.

This is particularly evident within a genre of more-aggressive-than-passive notes I've collected and filed under the header of "crazy old man" — and noticable enough to confuse at least one reader of "I love your site, but I am curious as to why many of the notes have the same backhand slant/distinctive printing. Is it because original notes are illegible? I thought maybe you are recreating the notes so they can be seen in the photos."

Nope, I responded — they're all 100% original. When I took a look back through my archives, however, I realized her suspicions weren't totally off-base. To wit:

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