Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘books’

21 MAY, 2012

To Do: Gertrude Stein’s Posthumous Alphabet Book

By:

“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 — 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

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:





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.

21 MAY, 2012

Snoopy’s Guide to the Writing Life: Ray Bradbury on Creative Purpose in the Face of Rejection

By:

“The blizzard doesn’t last forever; it just seems so.”

Famous advice on writing abounds — Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 tips on how to make a great story, David Ogilvy’s 10 no-bullshit tips, Henry Miller’s 11 commandments, Jack Kerouac’s 30 beliefs and techniques, John Steinbeck’s 6 pointers, and various invaluable insight from other great writers. In Snoopy’s Guide to the Writing Life, Barnaby Conrad and Monte Schulz, son of Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz, bring a delightfully refreshing lens to the writing advice genre by asking 30 famous authors and entertainers to each respond to a favorite Snoopy comic strip with a 500-word essay on the triumphs and tribulations of the writing life. The all-star roster includes William F. Buckley, Jr., Julia Child, Ed McBain, and Elizabeth George, but my favorite contribution comes from the always-insightful Ray Bradbury:

The amazing Blackstone came to town when I was seven, and I saw how he came alive onstage and thought, God, I want to grow up to be like that! And I ran up to help him vanish an elephant. To this day I don’t know where the elephant went. One moment it was there, the next — abracadabra — with a wave of the wand it was gone!

In 1929 Buck Rogers came into the world, and on that day in October a single panel of Buck Rogers comic strip hurled me into the future. I never came back.

It was only natural when I was twelve that I decided to become a writer and laid out a huge roll of butcher paper to begin scribbling an endless tale that scrolled right on up to Now, never guessing that the butcher paper would run forever.

Snoopy has written me on many occasions from his miniature typewriter, asking me to explain what happened to me in the great blizzard of rejection slips of 1935. Then there was the snowstorm of rejection slips in ’37 and ’38 and an even worse winter snowstorm of rejections when I was twenty-one and twenty-two. That almost tells it, doesn’t it, that starting when I was fifteen I began to send short stories to magazines like Esquire, and they, very promptly, sent them back two days before they got them! I have several walls in several rooms of my house covered with the snowstorm of rejections, but they didn’t realize what a strong person I was; I persevered and wrote a thousand more dreadful short stories, which were rejected in turn. Then, during the late forties, I actually began to sell short stories and accomplished some sort of deliverance from snowstorms in my fourth decade. But even today, my latest books of short stories contain at least seven stories that were rejected by every magazine in the United States and also in Sweden! So, dear Snoopy, take heart from this. The blizzard doesn’t last forever; it just seems so.

What a fine complement to this recent omnibus of wisdom on how to find your purpose and do what you love.

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:





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.

18 MAY, 2012

100 Ideas That Changed Film

By:

How the seventh art went from magic lanterns to state-of-the-art computer-generated imagery in 100 years.

When a small handful of enthusiasts gathered at the first cinema show at the Grand Cafe in Paris on December 27, 1895, to celebrate early experimental film, they didn’t know that over the next century, their fringe fascination would carve its place in history as the “seventh art.” But how, exactly, did that happen? In 100 Ideas that Changed Film, Oxford Times film reviewer David Parkinson and publisher Laurence King — who brought us 100 Ideas That Changed Graphic Design and the epic Saul Bass monograph — offer a concise and intelligent chronicle of the most influential developments since the dawn of cinema.

From technologies like magic lanterns (#1), the kinetoscope (#3), and the handheld camera (#78), to genres like slapstick (#21), poetic realism (#50), and queer cinema (#97), to system-level developments like the star system (#23), film schools (#38), and censorship (#48), to cultural phenomena like fan magazines (#31), television (#63), and feminist film theory (#86), the book blends the illuminating factuality of an encyclopedia with the strong point of view of a museum curator to reveal, beneath this changing flow of technologies and techniques, cinema’s deeper capacity for playing on universal emotions and engaging our timeless longing for escapism, entertainment, and self-expression.

Parkinson promises in the introduction:

What follows is as much a chronology of business opportunism and technical pragmatism, as a celebration of artistry, social commitment, and showmanship.

Idea # 1: MAGIC LANTERNS

Images from a set of 24 glass slides based on Sir John Tenniel’s original drawings for Alice in Wonderland

These optical lanterns contained the principal elements later found in film projectors: a source of illumination; a mechanism for moving frames through the light-proofed casing; and lenses for condensing and projecting images onto a distant screen. As an early form of mass entertainment, they also anticipated the storytelling experiments of later filmmakers.

Idea # 20: SERIALS

Betty Hutton relives the glory days of the silent serial in The Perils of Pauline, a 1947 biopic of the legendary chapterplay heroine, Pearl White.

Over 470 serials were produced in the United States between 1912 and 1956. In telling continuous stories in 10-15 weekly episodes of 15-25 minutes each, chapterplays, as they were also known, helped turn moviegoing into a habit.

Idea # 28: GENRE

Alfred Hitchcock so excelled at the thriller that he was nicknamed ‘The Master of Suspense’.

Idea # 36: EXPRESSIONISM

This poster for The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) conveys the angularity of the stars and Walter Röhrig, Hermann Warm and Walter Reimann’s sets.

Employing exterior or objective representation to convey interior or subjective stats, the silent Schauerfilme (horror films), Kammerspielfilme (chamber dramas), and Strassenfilme (street films) produced in Weimar Germany between 1919 and 1929 continue to have a major influence on world cinema.

Idea # 44: MUSICAL SCORES

Riffing on the notes E and F, John Williams's 'shark' theme proved crucial to ratcheting up the suspense in Jaws (1975).

Idea # 52: B MOVIES

Shot in just three weeks, Jean Rollin’s Lèvres de Sang (1975) is a superior example of the erotic European horror Bs produced in the 1960s and ’70s.

Idea # 54: SHORTS

Ben Turpin crosses Charlie Chaplin in Essanay’s two-reel lampoon of showbiz types, His New Job (1915).

Idea # 61: THE BLACKLIST

A protest supporting the Hollywood Ten – Alvah Bessie, Herbert Biberman, Lester Cole, Edward Dmytryk, Ring Lardner, Jr., John Howard Lawson, Albert Maltz, Samuel Ornitz, Adrian Scott and Dalton Trumbo.

The impact of the House UnAmerican Activities Committee’s investigation into Communism in HOllywood can never fully be assessed: after all, it’s impossible to assess the caliber of scripts never written and performances never given. Nevertheless, the witch hunt that took place between 1947 and 1952 represents the studio system’s darkest hour.

Idea # 70: TRAILERS

Alfred Hitchcock fronted an amusing five-minute lecture with a shock ending to trail The Birds (1963).

Idea # 73: CANNES

Poster from the 1953 festival showing the original Palais des Festivals, which was inaugurated on La Croisette in 1949 and demolished in 1988.

Idea # 86: FEMINIST FILM THEORY

Dorothy Arzner depicted strong, independent women in The Wild Party (1929), Christopher Strong (1933) and Dance, Girl, Dance (1940).

The audience for Hollywood features was predominantly female into the 1950s, yet the studio front offices were exclusively occupied by men. Feminist film theory posed a radical challenge to this gender imbalance in the 1970s — but has anything really changed?

Idea # 97: QUEER CINEMA

Written by Christa Winsloe and directed by Leontine Sagan, Girls in Uniform (1931) had an all-female cast and featured same-sex romantic situations, a rarity at the time.

Homosexuality was illegal in many countries for much of cinema’s first century. Consequently, the representation of openly gay or lesbian characters in mainstream films was nigh on impossible until the late 1960s launched a revolution in the West, not just in the way films were made but also how they were interpreted.

From the trick films (#6) of cinemagician Georges Méliès to the experimental cinema (#42) of Maya Deren to the rise of animation (#55), 100 Ideas that Changed Film is an indispensable guide to one our most expressive and resonant forms of storytelling.

Images courtesy of Laurence King

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:





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.