Brain Pickings

The Future Belongs to the Curious: A Manifesto for Curiosity

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From my friends at Skillshare, who are out to revolutionize the paradigms of learning, comes this beautiful manifesto for the transformative power of curiosity — something very much at the heart of Brain Pickings.

We are all lifelong learners, from day one to twenty-thousand-and-one, and that’s why we keep exploring, wondering and discovering, yearning and learning, reaching with more than just our hands… The future belongs to the curious.”

I bet legendary physicist Richard Feynman would approve. (See also these 5 manifestos for the creative life.)

Ready to have your curiosity tickled? Explore Skillshare’s countless courses on everything from color theory to 3D printing to living rent-free in NYC.

For more on the future of curiosity and learning, see these 7 essential books on education.

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Les Très Riches Heures de Mrs Mole: A Real-Life Ronald Searle Love Story

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What a tender true love story has to do with medieval illuminated manuscripts and experimental medicine.

On New Year’s Eve 1969, Monica Searle was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of breast cancer. Experimental at the time, chemotherapy — the course of action Monica’s doctor recommended — was a leap of faith. After each treatment, her husband Ronald made Monica a Mrs. Mole drawing “to cheer every dreaded chemotherapy session and evoke the blissful future ahead.” The Mole idea came after the couple discovered a large cellar in the decrepit house they had just bought in the south of France. Les Très Riches Heures de Mrs Mole gathers 47 of these jewel-like drawings, full of love and light and glowing colors. The title of the book plays off the 15th-century illuminated manuscript Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry. Never intended for publication, these intimate visual vignettes exude contagious optimism and hope, a kind of earnestness completely and exuberantly devoid of Searle’s signature sardonic style.

Everything about them had to be romantic and perfect. I drew them originally for no one’s eyes except Mo’s, so she would look at them propped up against her bedside lamp and think: ‘When I’m better, everything will be beautiful.’ ~ Ronald Searle

This is love.

Monica passed away last summer, some forty years after her cancer diagnosis, and Ronald Searle joined his beloved last week at the age of 91.

via Austin Kleon HT @kirstinbutler

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Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses: 18 Rants by Mark Twain

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How to commit 114 out of 115 possible violations of literary art in less than a single page.

On the heels of yesterday’s New Year’s resolution to read more and write better channeled through a reading list of 9 essential books on reading and writing comes Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offences — an epic, exquisite rant by Mark Twain, listing eighteen rules of fiction violated in popular writer James Fenimore Cooper’s final tale, The Deerslayer. So peeved was Twain by critics’ acclaim of the story that he unpacked it with meticulous, delightfully spiteful attention to distasteful detail, his fury culminating in one passage where “in the restricted space of two-thirds of a page, Cooper has scored 114 offenses against literary art out of a possible 115.”

It was written in 1895, the same year as this amusingly appalling list of don’ts for female cyclists.

Take it away, Mark:

There are nineteen rules governing literary art in domain of romantic fiction — some say twenty-two. In “Deerslayer,” Cooper violated eighteen of them. These eighteen require:

1. That a tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere. But the “Deerslayer” tale accomplishes nothing and arrives in air.

2. They require that the episodes in a tale shall be necessary parts of the tale, and shall help to develop it. But as the “Deerslayer” tale is not a tale, and accomplishes nothing and arrives nowhere, the episodes have no rightful place in the work, since there was nothing for them to develop.

3. They require that the personages in a tale shall be alive, except in the case of corpses, and that always the reader shall be able to tell the corpses from the others. But this detail has often been overlooked in the “Deerslayer” tale.

4. They require that the personages in a tale, both dead and alive, shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there. But this detail also has been overlooked in the “Deerslayer” tale.

5. They require that when the personages of a tale deal in conversation, the talk shall sound like human talk, and be talk such as human beings would be likely to talk in the given circumstances, and have a discoverable meaning, also a discoverable purpose, and a show of relevancy, and remain in the neighborhood of the subject at hand, and be interesting to the reader, and help out the tale, and stop when the people cannot think of anything more to say. But this requirement has been ignored from the beginning of the “Deerslayer” tale to the end of it.

6. They require that when the author describes the character of a personage in the tale, the conduct and conversation of that personage shall justify said description. But this law gets little or no attention in the “Deerslayer” tale, as Natty Bumppo’s case will amply prove.

7. They require that when a personage talks like an illustrated, gilt-edged, tree-calf, hand-tooled, seven- dollar Friendship’s Offering in the beginning of a paragraph, he shall not talk like a negro minstrel in the end of it. But this rule is flung down and danced upon in the “Deerslayer” tale.

8. They require that crass stupidities shall not be played upon the reader as “the craft of the woodsman, the delicate art of the forest,” by either the author or the people in the tale. But this rule is persistently violated in the “Deerslayer” tale.

9. They require that the personages of a tale shall confine themselves to possibilities and let miracles alone; or, if they venture a miracle, the author must so plausibly set it forth as to make it look possible and reasonable. But these rules are not respected in the “Deerslayer” tale.

10. They require that the author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his tale and in their fate; and that he shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones. But the reader of the “Deerslayer” tale dislikes the good people in it, is indifferent to the others, and wishes they would all get drowned together.

11. They require that the characters in a tale shall be so clearly defined that the reader can tell beforehand what each will do in a given emergency. But in the “Deerslayer” tale, this rule is vacated.

In addition to these large rules, there are some little ones. These require that the author shall:

12. Say what he is proposing to say, not merely come near it.

13. Use the right word, not its second cousin.

14. Eschew surplusage.

15. Not omit necessary details.

16. Avoid slovenliness of form.

17. Use good grammar.

18. Employ a simple and straightforward style.

Twain concludes:

A work of art? It has no invention; it has no order, system, sequence, or result; it has no lifelikeness, no thrill, no stir, no seeming of reality; its characters are confusedly drawn, and by their acts and words they prove that they are not the sort of people the author claims that they are; its humor is pathetic; its pathos is funny; its conversations are — oh! indescribable; its love-scenes odious; its English a crime against the language.”

The entire essay is very much worth a read, a curious Frankensteining of Twain’s signature wit and his earnest annoyance. It’s available as a free Kindle book (that’s $0.00) from Amazon and downloadable in several formats from Project Gutenberg.

To avoid these offences, and many more, pay heed to Mark Twain’s and other literary icons’ words of wisdom in Advice to Writers.

Donating = Loving

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Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.