Brain Pickings

The Moby Awards for Best and Worst Book Trailers

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What zero-gravity intercourse has to do with the future of information and the fate of the printed page.

We have a soft spot for brilliant book trailers here at Brain Pickings, so it was a delight to stumble upon the 2011 Moby Awards for best and worst book trailers, who revealed the winners last week. Zany rather than brainy, and yet uniquely illuminating, the Moby winners — selected by a panel of judges from literary tastemakers like Slate, Flavorpill, GoodReads and The Millions — are a treat of creativity, humor and an occasional profound human truth. Drumroll please…

GRAND JURY AWARD

Subtitled “We’re Giving You This Award Because Otherwise You’d Win Too Many Other Awards,” the quasi-epic mega-award was bestowed upon Gary Shteyngart for his Super Sad True Love Story — a dystopian, profane and, in its own twisted way, relentlessly entertaining vision for the future. (This, friends, is no Optimist’s Tour of the Future, mind you.) Veiled in the love story between a middle-aged man obsessed with eternal life and a 20-something Korean American oppressed by her overbearing parents is a faceted commentary on the obsessions and catastrophes of the information age, adding to the ongoing conversation on what the future of information and the internet may hold.

The James Franco cameo also landed the trailer the award in the Most Celebtastic Performance category.

BEST SMALL HOUSE

Jonathan Safran Foer‘s Tree of Codes, dubbed the “impossible book” for its ambitious production vision, landed atop our list of the best art, design and photography books of 2010 — a remarkable literary remix created by cutting out chunks of text from Foer’s favorite novel, The Street of Crocodiles by Polish author Bruno Schulz, and rearranging the text to form an entirely different story. Its trailer, just as meta as the book itself, scored the Moby Award for Best Small House.

BEST BIG HOUSE

After two excellent books at the intersection of the curious and the macabre, and a controversial TED talk, Mary Roach has done it again with Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void, in which she explores the psychology, physiology, technology and politics of sending humans into space. Roach looks beyond the shiny techno-luster of space travel to explore its most fundamental human concerns — eating, having sex and bathing, going to the bathroom, not dying when reentering Earth’s atmosphere — in her signature style of irreverent curiosity, wry humor and irresistible science writing.

Admittedly, however, I was rooting for Steven Johnson in this category with his Where Good Ideas Come From (which topped our list of the best books in business, life and mind for 2010), brilliantly animated by The RSA, a longtime Brain Pickings darling.

STAND-ALONE ART OBJECT

The Book Trailers as Stand-Alone Art Object award went to How Did You Get This Number — a collection of nine thoughtful essays by Sloane Crosley exploring the delights and distresses of youth, from foreign travel to social awkwardness to heartbreak, complete with ten quasi-innocuous federal offenses Crosley has consciously broken in the past 10 years of being, well, a young person with a restless mind and a creative itch.

WORST PERFORMANCE BY AN AUTHOR

Though Jonathan Franzen recently delivered one of the smartest, timeliest, most poignant graduation addresses I’ve ever had the joy of hearing, he didn’t fare so well on the book trailers front, where he scored the Worst Performance by an Author.

And that’s quite unfortunate, because the book the trailer is for — Freedom: A Novel — is commonly considered some of the best fiction to come by in years.

WHAT ARE WE DOING TO OUR CHILDREN?

It’s a Book by award-winning children’s book author Lane Smith is part playful pastime for your favorite tiny human, part poignant manifesto for the printed page in the digital age.

It rightfully snagged the Moby Award in the children’s lit category, edging out Laura Vaccaro Seeger’s excellent The Hidden Alphabet, and is also an honoree in our own selection of 7 best book book trailers.

Want more? See the full list of winners and the finalists with whom they battled it out.

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Landscape Permutations: An Experiment in Place and Space

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What cross-disciplinary curiosity has to do with impermanence, memory and spatial imagination.

I’m perpetually intrigued by photography projects that use perspective composites and collages to reinterpret the city — examples we’ve previously seen in the form of “urban hackscapes,” “photographic time machines” and Abigail Reynolds’ The Universal Now. So I love artist David Semeniuk‘s Landscape Permutations project — an ongoing exploration of “how spaces and places are experienced, remembered, and represented.” Semeniuk uses images of his hometown, Red Deer, Alberta, and recombines them to imagine a different hypothetical reality of spatial layouts.

In each work of this series, I have brought together separate components of two images, each with a unique interpretant, and forced them to share a single, new meaning. Despite an apparent loss of information within the larger frame of each work, the resulting composite image contains novel, endemic meaning which transcends either image used in its creation.” ~ David Semeniuk

What makes Semeniuk particularly fantastic — at least for me, as an avid proponent of cross-disciplinary curiosity — is that he describes himself as a “formally trained scientist, and an autodidactic artist”: His academic training is in marine biogeochemistry, and he considers his photographic experiments and artistic expression of his scientific exploration.

I am also very much interested in the representational capacity of photographs, and am motivated by questions such as: in what ways is a photograph a transparent view of the world (i.e. akin to looking through a pair of binoculars)? In what ways and to what degree does a photograph truthfully depict reality, and how is this influenced by the naturalistic qualities of photography? Despite the causal origin of a photograph, can a photograph become a more truthful depiction of a particular place?” ~ David Semeniuk

Full of simple poeticism,Landscape Permutations feels like a gentle reminder that our experience of the world is a highly subjective function of our memory, our imagination and our sense of presence. Cue in BBC’s What Is Reality?.

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Bibliographic: The 100 Best Design Books of the Past 100 Years

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What James Bond title sequences have to do with the secret of happiness and the evolution of public signage.

Design is an incredibly self-referential for of expression, and that’s quite alright, as I deeply believe creativity is combinatorial — everything borrows from what came before, everything is a remix, all creative work is essentially derivative work. So knowledge of what came before greatly enriches and empowers our creativity. And, over the past century alone, countless books have been published to make sense of the landscape, language and legacy of graphic design, each exploring a specific facet of this complex ecosystem of visual communication. But how does it all fit together? That’s exactly what Jason Godfrey set out to investigate in 2009 in Bibliographic: 100 Classic Graphic Design Books — yes, it’s a graphic design book about graphic design books, and it doesn’t get any more meta than this, and that’s a wonderful thing.

Godfrey culls the 100 most influential design books of the past 100 years, contextualizing each with succinct background text on what makes it exceptional and important. The collection spans an incredible range of style, genre, subject matter, geography, and cultural concern, from the stories of the pioneering type foundries to vintage Polish film posters to classic graphic design manuals by László Moholy-Nagy and Josef Müller-Brockmann to contemporary design visionaries like Stefan Sagmeister and Paula Scher.

A foreword by none other than Steven Heller adds an irresistibly delicious cherry on top.

These vintage books are untapped repositories of design knowledge, as relevant today as they were when first published.” ~ Steven Heller

What makes Bibliographic all the more valuable is that the majority of the books featured have entered collector’s-item status and are quite hard — not to mention expensive — to get on their own.

A few of my favorite titles in the anthology:

  • Long before there was The Visual Miscellaneum or Data Flow, there was Graphis diagrams: The graphic visualization of abstract data — a seminal vision for the convergence of aesthetics and information value, originally published in 1974. Features work by icons like Saul Bass, Leo and Diane Dillon, Milton Glaser, Richard Saul Wurman and many more.
  • Paula Scher is one of my big creative heroes and her Make It Bigger, titled after the most resented yet prevalent client frustration of all, looks at design’s role in corporate culture, exploring what it is that makes design a powerful and effective business tool.
  • As a big fan of found typography and architectural lettering, I can’t stress the delightfulness of Words and buildings: The art and practice of public lettering enough — a fascinating convergence of architecture and graphic design that preceded recent treats like Store Front and Helvetica and the New York City Subway System: The True (Maybe) Story by four decades, exploring the evolution of public signage and typographic wayfinding.
  • He may be known as the granddaddy of grump, a professional curmudgeon, but iconic designer Paul Rand is one of the most remarkable figures in the history of design both as a creative discipline and a business philosophy — his Thoughts on Design, originally published in 1947, is a philosophical treatise on the role of design and the importance of “function-aesthetic perfection” in modern art.
  • Stefan Sagmeister is easily one of my top three favorite designers alive today, and his Things I have learned in my life so far is quite possibly my favorite design book of all time — a poetic reflection on life, the meaning of happiness, and the human condition by way of Sagmeister’s unique, playful, irreverent visual language.

As much an incredible primer for those just dipping their toes in design as a rich and lavish treasure chest of beloved allusions for the polished design nerd, Bibliographic is an absolute gem from cover to glorious cover.

Thanks, @kirstinbutler

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