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04 JANUARY, 2012

The World Is Round: A Tiny 1938 Children’s Book by Gertrude Stein

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“A rose is a rose is a rose.”

It’s no secret I have an obsession with little- known children’s books by famous authors of literature for grown-ups. Among them is The World Is Round by writer, poet and art collector Gertrude Stein, one of the most beloved — and quoted — luminaries of the early 20th century. Its story is an unlikely but wonderful one: In 1938, author Margaret Wise Brown of the freshly founded Young Scott Books became obsessed with convincing leading adult authors to try their hands at a children’s book. She sent letters to Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, and Gertrude Stein. Hemingway and Steinbeck expressed no interest, but Stein surprised Brown by saying she already had a near-complete children’s manuscript titled The World Is Round, and would be happy to have Young Scott bring it to life. Which they did, though not without drama.

Stein demanded that the pages be pink, the ink blue, and the artwork by illustrator Francis Rose. Young Scott were able to meet the first two demands despite the technical difficulties, but they didn’t want Rose to illustrate the book and asked Stein to instead choose from several Young Scott illustrators. Reluctantly, she settle don Clement Hurd, whose first illustrated book had appeared just that year. The book was at last published, featuring a mix of unpunctuated prose and poetry, with a single illustration for each chapter.

Though Hurd’s original illustrations remain most familiar, Oxford-based Barefoot Books published one last edition of the book in 1993, illustrated by artist Roberta Arenson. It’s a tiny gem of a book, small enough to fit in a pocket, with beautifully minimalist blue-and-white pictogram illustrations reminiscent of Indian Mandana tribal art.

Though out-of-print and fairly hard to find in bookstores, you might be able to grab a copy with some patient sifting through Amazon.

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03 JANUARY, 2012

A List of Don’ts for Women on Bicycles Circa 1895

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“Don’t ask, ‘What do you think of my bloomers?'”

We’ve already seen how the bicycle emancipated women, but it wasn’t exactly a smooth ride. The following list of 41 don’ts for female cyclists was published in 1895 in the newspaper New York World by an author of unknown gender. Equal parts amusing and appalling, the list is the best (or worst, depending on you look at it) thing since the Victorian map of woman’s heart.

  • Don’t be a fright.
  • Don’t faint on the road.
  • Don’t wear a man’s cap.
  • Don’t wear tight garters.
  • Don’t forget your toolbag
  • Don’t attempt a “century.”
  • Don’t coast. It is dangerous.
  • Don’t boast of your long rides.
  • Don’t criticize people’s “legs.”
  • Don’t wear loud hued leggings.
  • Don’t cultivate a “bicycle face.”
  • Don’t refuse assistance up a hill.
  • Don’t wear clothes that don’t fit.
  • Don’t neglect a “light’s out” cry.
  • Don’t wear jewelry while on a tour.
  • Don’t race. Leave that to the scorchers.
  • Don’t wear laced boots. They are tiresome.
  • Don’t imagine everybody is looking at you.
  • Don’t go to church in your bicycle costume.
  • Don’t wear a garden party hat with bloomers.
  • Don’t contest the right of way with cable cars.
  • Don’t chew gum. Exercise your jaws in private.
  • Don’t wear white kid gloves. Silk is the thing.
  • Don’t ask, “What do you think of my bloomers?”
  • Don’t use bicycle slang. Leave that to the boys.
  • Don’t go out after dark without a male escort.
  • Don’t without a needle, thread and thimble.
  • Don’t try to have every article of your attire “match.”
  • Don’t let your golden hair be hanging down your back.
  • Don’t allow dear little Fido to accompany you
  • Don’t scratch a match on the seat of your bloomers.
  • Don’t discuss bloomers with every man you know.
  • Don’t appear in public until you have learned to ride well.
  • Don’t overdo things. Let cycling be a recreation, not a labor.
  • Don’t ignore the laws of the road because you are a woman.
  • Don’t try to ride in your brother’s clothes “to see how it feels.”
  • Don’t scream if you meet a cow. If she sees you first, she will run.
  • Don’t cultivate everything that is up to date because yon ride a wheel.
  • Don’t emulate your brother’s attitude if he rides parallel with the ground.
  • Don’t undertake a long ride if you are not confident of performing it easily.
  • Don’t appear to be up on “records” and “record smashing.” That is sporty.

For more on the history of women and bikes, see the excellent Wheels of Change, among both the best photography books and the best history books of 2011.

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03 JANUARY, 2012

Mathemagician Vi Hart Explains Spirals and Fibonacci Numbers in Doodles and Vegetables

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What snuggled-up slug cats have to do with the math of cosmic wonder and simple beginnings.

You may recall mathemagician Vi Hart from her delightful stop-motion explanation of the Victorian novella Flatland on a Möbius strip and her ingenious illustrated unpacking of the science of sound, frequency, and pitch. Her latest doodletastic gem explores the mathematics of spirals and Fibonacci numbers through pine cones, cauliflower, pineapples, artichokes, and daisies.

It seems pretty cosmic and wondrous, but the cool thing about the Fibonacci series and spiral is not that it’s this big, complicated, mystical, magical supermath thing beyond the comprehension of our puny human minds that shows up mysteriously everywhere. We’ll find that these numbers aren’t weird at all — in fact, it would be weird if they weren’t there. The cool thing about it is that these incredibly intricate patterns can result from utterly simple beginnings.”

This is the first installment in Hart’s trilogy on the subject — keep an eye out for the two forthcoming parts.

For more on Fibonacci numbers, meet the man after whom they were named, a young Medieval mathematician who changed the very fabric of our lives — from our calendar to our business to the evolution of technology — when he wrote Liber Abbaci, Latin for Book of Calculation, in 1202. His story is one of the best science books of 2011 — riveting, important, and unmissable.

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