Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘ABC’

21 MAY, 2012

To Do: Gertrude Stein’s Posthumous Alphabet Book

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“Don’t bother about the commas which aren’t there, read the words. Don’t worry about the sense that is there, read the words faster.”

In 1939, Gertrude Stein penned her first children’s book, The World Is Round, whose dramatic story was featured in this two-part omnibus of obscure children’s books by famous authors of “adult” literature. The following year, Stein wrote an intended follow-up, titled To Do: A Book of Alphabets and Birthdays (public library) — a fine addition to my well-documented obsession with unusual alphabet books.

But publisher after publisher rejected the manuscript as too complex for children. (One must wonder what Maurice Sendak might have said to that.) The book was never published in Stein’s lifetime. In 1957, more than a decade after Stein’s death, Yale University Press published a text-only version and in 2011, more than half a century later, the first illustrated version true to Stein’s original vision was released, with exquisite artwork by New Yorker illustrator Giselle Potter.

In the press release for The World Is Round, Stein offered the following characteristically philosophical statement regarding her children’s writing, exuding the same dedication to the intertwining of form and meaning we’ve come to expect from her adult writing:

Don’t bother about the commas which aren’t there, read the words. Don’t worry about the sense that is there, read the words faster. If you have any trouble, read faster and faster until you don’t.

Z is a nice letter, and I am glad it is not Y, I do not care for Y, why, well there is the reason why, I do not care for Y, but Z is a nice letter.
I like Z because it is not real it just is not real and so it is a nice letter to you and nice to me, you will see.

Zebra and Zed.

A Zebra is a nice animal, it thinks it is a wild animal but it is not it goes at a gentle trot. It has black and white stripes and it is always fat. There never was a thin Zebra never, and it is always well as sound as a bell and its name is Zebra.

It is not like a goat, when a goat is thin there is nothing to do for him, nothing nothing, but a Zebra is never thin it is always young and fat, just like that.

Images courtesy of Yale University Press

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19 JANUARY, 2011

The Gashlycrumb Tinies: A Very Gorey Alphabet Book

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It’s no secret I have a massive soft spot for alphabet books. In 1963, prolific mid-century illustrator and author Edward Gorey published an alphabet book so grimly antithetical to the very premise of the genre — making children feel comfortable and inspiring them to learn — that it took the macabre humor genre to a new level. “A is for Amy who fell down the stairs,” The Gashlycrumb Tinies begins. “B is for Basil assaulted by bears. C is for Clara who wasted away. D is for Desmond thrown out of a sleigh…”

Part Tim Burton long before there was Burton, part Edgar Allan Poe long after Poe, the book exudes Gorey’s signature adult picture book mastery, not merely adorned by the gorgeously dark crosshatched illustrations but narratively driven by them.

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

The Gashlycrumb Tinies comes in a string of more than 40 gems Gorey published in his lifetime, including favorites like The Epiplectic Bicycle and The Doubtful Guest. His work, which spans over six decades, is collected in four excellent volumes entitled AmphigoreyI, II, III, IV — a play on the word amphigory, meaning a nonsense verse or composition.

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20 DECEMBER, 2010

ABC NYC: The Language of New York’s Found Typography

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Between our unabated obsession wtih all things alphabet and our choice of I LEGO N.Y. as the best quasi-children’s book of the year, it’s no surprise that ABC NYC: A Book About Seeing New York City hits the sweet spot. Though designed as a learning tool for toddlers, the book is a typography lover’s wet dream — a stunning celebration of the alphabet’s visual diversity, as seen on the streets of New York. Ten years in the making, the book features remarkable vintage urban typography, from graffiti to subway signs, captured across New York’s five boroughs by photographer Joanne Dugan.

To sweeten the treat, Dugan has made the letters available for purchase not only as full alphabet sets, but also as self-adhesive, eco-friendly individual prints to spell your way to home decor bliss.

ABC NYC has an equally wonderful number-centric companion, naturally titled 123 NYC: A Counting Book of New York City — a vibrant counting book exploring the city through its rich numerical iconography. A portion of profits from both books is donated to nonprofits promoting education and literacy.

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17 DECEMBER, 2010

Unruly Alphabet: The Macabre, Anthropomorphic Lives of Letters

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Yes, we’re officially on an alphabet binge. After marveling at it in mesmerizing motion graphics, on fabulous Mad Scientist wooden blocks, and in a brilliant typographic anthology, we’ve discovered a worthy new addition to our selection of creative ABC books — illustrator Aaron McKinney’s Unruly Alphabet. With wit and beautifully detailed illustration, McKinney brings each letter to macabre, hauntingly playful life, weaving a dialogue of gallows humor between the letters built on a larger metaphorical narrative on the most loathesome human qualities.

I’ve always been interested in etymology. The way words, a human constructed concept, play off one another to somehow convey thought and expression in our minds fascinates me. With that thought in mind, I decided to strip language down to its most primitive form, the alphabet. To make it interesting, I anthropomorphized each letter with some of humanity’s most common, despicable traits. With each letter playing off the next, the end result is the alphabet, a pretty inorganic and deliberate thing made more barbarically human.” ~ Aaron McKinney

Blending the nostalgic charisma of the classic childhood alphabet book with adults’ taste for dark comedy and sophisticated aestheticism, The Unruly Alphabet is a treasure trove of gorgeously gory glyphs that will delight you with artistic merit and surprise you with a philosophical prompt to contemplate human nature.

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