Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘books’

11 SEPTEMBER, 2012

Kevin Stanton’s Cut-Paper Illustrations of Romeo and Juliet

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A tactile take on literature’s most tragic love story.

As a lover of exquisitely crafted die-cut books and beautiful illustrations of literary classics, I was instantly taken with this new edition of Romeo and Juliet (public library) from Sterling, featuring striking cut-paper artwork by Brooklyn-based illustrator Kevin Stanton.

With a whiff of Rob Ryan’s romantic style and Béatrice Coron’s exquisite craftsmanship, yet wholly original, Stanton’s whimsical vignettes capture iconic elements from the play by layering two colors of paper over a white page to a mesmerizing effect.

In addition to Romeo and Juliet, Stanton also illustrated equally stunning new editions of Macbeth and the forthcoming Hamlet.

Thanks, Tina

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10 SEPTEMBER, 2012

A Breakup Letter from Simone de Beauvoir

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“I can still feel warm and happy and harshly grateful when I look at you inside me.”

As a lover of letters, especially exquisite love letters, I find myself enamored with Hell Hath No Fury: Women’s Letters from the End of the Affair (public library) by Anna Holmes — a moving, rigorously researched collection of breakup letters from women across ten centuries, known and unknown, including favorites like Anaïs Nin and Sylvia Plath, and divided thematically — the tell-offs, the “just friends,” the marriage refusals, the unsent letters, and more. (Bonus points: The foreword is by none other than Francine Prose.)

One of the most stirring letters in the anthology comes from French writer, feminist, intellectual, and existential philosopher Simone de Beauvoir, author of the cult-classic treatise The Second Sex. In 1947, while visiting Chicago, she began an affair with Nelson Algren, best-known for The Man with the Golden Arm, and the two sustained a long-distance relationship across the Atlantic for a number years. But the strain of separation eventually took its toll on Algren and, in 1950, he became withdrawn from the relationship, wanting someone permanent in his life. (He eventually remarried his ex-wife, Amanda Kontowicz, in 1953.)

This letter, which de Beauvoir penned in September of 1950 en route back to Paris after visiting a withdrawn Algren in Chicago, is saturated with the palpable tension between the urgency of her longing and the ease which she tries to create for this man she still loves. To give space when what one most yearns for is closeness, that is both the great test and great tragedy of love.

I am better at dry sadness than at cold anger, for I remained dry eyed until now, as dry as smoked fish, but my heart is a kind of dirty soft custard inside.

[…]

I am not sad. Rather stunned, very far away fro myself, not really believing you are now so far, so far, you so near. I want to tell you only two things before leaving, and then I’ll not speak about it any more, I promise. First, I hope so much, I want and need so much to see you again, some day. But, remember, please, I shall never more ask to see you — not from any pride since I have none with you, as you know, but our meeting will mean something only when you wish it. So, I’ll wait. When you’ll wish it, just tell. I shall not assume that you love me anew, not even that you have to sleep with me, and we have not to stay together such a long time — just as you feel, and when you feel. But know that i’ll always long for your asking me. No, I cannot think that I shall not see you again. I have lost your love and it was (it is) painful, but shall not lose you. Anyhow, you gave me so much, Nelson, what you gave me meant so much, that you could never take it back. And then your tenderness and friendship were so precious to me that I can still feel warm and happy and harshly grateful when I look at you inside me. I do hope this tenderness and friendship will never, never desert me. As for me, it is baffling to say so and I feel ashamed, but it is the only true truth: I just love as much as I did when I landed into your disappointed arms, that means with my whole self and all my dirty heart; I cannot do less. But that will not bother you, honey, and don’t make writing letters of any kind a duty, just write when you feel like it, knowing every time it will make me very happy.

Well, all words seem silly. You seem so near, so near, let me come near to you, too. And let me, as in the past times, let me be in my own heart forever.

Your own Simone

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10 SEPTEMBER, 2012

The First Ads for Famous Books

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Because even genius needs share of voice to succeed.

In Read Me: A Century of Classic American Book Advertisements (public library), New York Times book critic Dwight Garner offers “a visual survey of book advertisements, plucked from yellowing newspapers, journals and magazines large and small, from across the United States during the twentieth century” — more than 300 of them, to be precise, including some of modern history’s most beloved literary classics by favorite authors like Susan Sontag, Kurt Vonnegut, Joan Didion, Anaïs Nin, and Ray Bradbury. What emerges is a curious alternative history of literature and its parallel evolution alongside twentieth-century communication arts and advertising. But, perhaps most importantly, it serves as a necessary antidote to the genius myth, demonstrating that icons are very much made, not merely celebrated for their “God”-given talent.

1925

1926

1926

1934

1948

1948

1954

Garner writes of the new visual language of the 60s:

Author photographs, in the 1960s, were increasingly put to bold use. Susan Sontag pops out of a 1963 ad for her first novel, The Benefactor, glancing provocatively from the page as if she were an intellectual Cleopatra.

1963

1966

1969

1970

1970

1971

1971

1974

1985

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