Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘books’

12 JULY, 2012

The Naughty Nineties: A Victorian Pop-Up Book for Adults Only

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A pull-tab time machine of risqué rites.

Being a lover of unusual pop-up books and naughty Victoriana, imagine my delight at the discovery of The Naughty Nineties: A Saucy Pop-Up Book for Adults Only (public library) — a marvelous 1982 gem that transports you a century back, to the friskiest frontiers of Victorian society in the 1890s, illustrated in a black-and-white ink style reminiscent of Edward Gorey’s and outfitted with various pull-tabs and paper mechanics for your playful pleasure.

And, hey, look — I made some animated GIFs of it. (Though they are no substitute for the analog-interactive real deal.)

For a different treat in the same vein of Victorian raunchiness, see Edward Gorey’s The Curious Sofa and Scrap Irony.

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12 JULY, 2012

Henry David Thoreau on Defining Your Own Success

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“If the day and the night are such that you greet them with joy, and life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs, is more elastic, more starry, more immortal — that is your success.”

Legendary philosopher, poet, political pundit, abolitionist, and transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau remains best-known for one of history’s most important texts on protest and for Walden (public library; public domain), his beautiful 1854 paean to solitude, simplicity, and self-sufficiency, which inspired much of John Cage’s philosophy and generations of intellectuals and creators. Nine years prior, Thoreau had moved into a cabin by Walden Pond in an effort to remove himself from social life, instead absorbing nature and letting himself be absorbed by it. The book synthesizes Thoreau’s insights derived over the two years he spent there, woven of exquisite language full of magnificent metaphors and whimsical descriptions, and spanning everything from the nature of the self to consumer culture.

My favorite part, however, deals with a familiar subject — how to define your own success, find your purpose and do what you love:

If one listens to the faintest but constant suggestions of his genius, which are certainly true, he sees not to what extremes, or even insanity, it may lead him; and yet that way, as he grows more resolute and faithful, his road lies. The faintest assured objection which one healthy man feels will at length prevail over the arguments and customs of mankind. No man ever followed his genius till it misled him. Though the result were bodily weakness, yet perhaps no one can say that the consequences were to be regretted, for these were a life in conformity to higher principles. If the day and the night are such that you greet them with joy, and life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs, is more elastic, more starry, more immortal — that is your success. All nature is your congratulation, and you have cause momentarily to bless yourself. The greatest gains and values are farthest from being appreciated. We easily come to doubt if they exist. We soon forget them. They are the highest reality. Perhaps the facts most astounding and most real are never communicated by man to man. The true harvest of my daily life is somewhat as intangible and indescribable as the tints of morning or evening. It is a little star-dust caught, a segment of the rainbow which I have clutched.

Then, in nearing the conclusion:

I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.

Remarkably profound in its entirety, Walden is a classic for a reason — the kind of spectacular read that stays with you for life.

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11 JULY, 2012

No Man’s Land: A Meditation on Mortality and Self-Delusion from French Illustrator Blexbolex

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“And still, that insinuating, ever-growing silence.”

French comic artist and illustrator Blexbolex may be best-known for his contemplative meditations on people and time, aimed at children yet agelessly delightful and thought-provoking, but he is also a masterful explorer of complex grown-up themes. No Man’s Land (public library), from London indie publisher No Brow, is a poignant satire of the mind’s well-documented gift for fooling itself and seducing us into our own hand-spun illusory realities. Printed in three spot-colors, screenprint-like, on beautiful matte paper — Blexbolex’s signature style — it tells the story of a hero spiraling into an implausible dreamland in hopeless escapism from the processes of mortality.

And still, that insinuating, ever-growing silence.

Hell. I survived hell; you don’t even have the beginning of the slightest idea.

At once an exquisitely crafted artifact and a beautiful, unsettling story, No Man’s Land is the kind of treasure chest in which you find new gems with each reading, uncover new slivers of existential truth, peel away new layers of the human condition.

Thanks, Claudia

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