Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘culture’

29 AUGUST, 2011

Analog Books to Die For: Five Fantastic Die-Cut Books

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What cutting-edge digital culture has to do with an unmakeable book, lasers, and Sherlock Holmes.

For all their wonder and promise, one crucial component of the joy of reading still eludes the publishing platforms of the future: holding a beautifully bound, meticulously designed, thoughtfully crafted tome in your two hands. Hardly does that tactile delight get more intense than with a magnificent die-cut book. (Die-cutting is a process using a steel die to cut away sections of a page.) Here are five old-timey treasures that will make you swoon in rediscovered awe of the analog.

THINGS I HAVE LEARNED IN MY LIFE SO FAR

Every seven years, Stefan Sagmeister takes a year-long sabbatical, during which he does absolutely no commercial work. Instead, he retreats to Bali or another off-the-grid corner of the world, where he immerses himself in creative exploration and self-improvement. Things I have learned in my life so far, sitting atop our selection of beautifully designed books by prominent graphic designers, grew from a list in his diary compiled during his first such sabbatical. The book, which consists of 15 unbound signatures in a gorgeous die-cut slipcase producing 15 different covers, is a reflection on life, being human, and the meaning of happiness, relayed through the language Sagmeister is so masterfully fluent in — elegant, eloquent graphic design. Each spread presents a beautifully and thoughtfully designed typographic sentiment, or fragment of a sentiment continued on the following spread, about one of life’s simple truths — part Live Now, part Everythign Is Going To Be OK, part The 3D Type Book, yet it both predates and outshines all three.

TREE OF CODES

Jonathan Safran Foer‘s Tree of Codes topped our list of the best art, design and photography books of 2010 — and for good reason. So ambitious was Foer’s project that nearly all bookbinders he approached deemed it unmakeable. When Belgian publishing house Die Keure finally figured out a way to make it work, what came out was a brilliant piece of “analog interactive storytelling” — a book created by cutting out chunks of text from Foer’s favorite novel, The Street of Crocodiles by Polish author Bruno Schulz, rearranging the text to form an entirely different story. The die-cut narrative hangs in an aura of negative space for a beautiful blend of sculpture and storytelling, adding a layer of physicality to the reading experience in a way that completely reshapes your relationship with text and the printed page.

I thought: What if you pushed it to the extreme, and created something not old-fashioned or nostalgic but just beautiful? It helps you remember that life can surprise you.” ~ Jonathan Safran Foer

Our full review here, including remarkable making-of footage.

HOLY CLUES

Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes is one of the most beloved and enduring literary characters of all time, to this day culturally relevant and alluring. In the 1999 unlikely gem Holy Clues : The Gospel According to Sherlock Holmes, author Stephen Kendrick explores how Holmes’ legendary methods of Zen-like awareness, observation and deduction can be employed in our relationship with spirituality. (Cue in our omnibus of 7 essential meditations on the science of spirituality.) The book’s dust jacket features a single die-cut hole, through which peeks Sherlock’s iconic silhouette on a patterned pictorial cover.

OFFF, YEAR ZERO

For the past decade, the OFFF festival of post-digital culture has been a beacon of contemporary art, design and media innovation, offering a provocative lens for understanding modern culture. Every year, OFFF releases a lavish book that’s both a catalog of work from the festival and a scrumptious keepsake tome of visual culture. This year, as the festival celebrates its roots and its return to Barcelona, it produced what’s easily the most ambitious book yet: OFFF, Year Zero: Artwork and Designs from the OFFF Festival, published by our friends at Mark Batty and featuring astounding, visually gripping work around the “Year Zero” theme.

Each of the tome’s 300 pages is die-cut, so the stunning artworks can be hung on the walls of homes, studios, classrooms and creativity hubs alike.

CURIOUS BOYM

Since 1986, designer Constantin Boym and his partner Laurene Leon Boym, working as Boym Partners, have been finding humor in the humdrum and magic in the mundane to churn out relentlessly whimsical work across product design, furniture, installations and more. Curious Boym from Princeton Architectural Press and design duo Hjalti Karlsson + Jan Wilker is an appropriately playful volume covering the many mediums of Boym’s creative curiosity. The tactile, interactive book features a die-cut cover, pop-ups, pull-outs, and other analog surprises that play into Boym’s irreverent, exuberant and fun approach to design.

The lovely Abe Books has even more die-cut gems for your gushing pleasure.

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26 AUGUST, 2011

Video Portraits of Resilience from Sri Lanka

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Three beautiful short films about ingenuity in the face of scarcity and hardship.

In the 1990s, the Sri Lankan government’s embargoes on fuel, medicines and food items in the north and east of Sri Lanka in an effort to frustrate the operations of a potent separatist militant group known as the Tamil Tigers reached their peak. In the face of dearth and hardship, the locals resorted to increasingly inventive ways of making do. From narrative multimedia journalist Kannan Arunasalam comes a beautiful and poignant series of video portraits of resilience, expression and survival, capturing the stories of the people of Jaffna, Sri Lanka, and their remarkable ingenuity — a taxi drivers taking the sick to the hospital with no fuel, a lepers community persevering despite despair and isolation, a newspaper publishing without newsprint.

Watch all three of the terrific films below:

Paper brings to mind the world’s last 3 hand-written newspapers.

The project was supported by Sri Lankan citizen journalism platform GroundViews and captures the sort of next-gen storytelling we’ve previously seen News21 aspire to.

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26 AUGUST, 2011

The Ghost Map: Hard Lessons in Epidemiology from Victorian London

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What an ill Victorian infant has to do with the power of maps and the future of modern cities.

At around 6AM on the morning of August 28, 1854, the Lewis infant started vomiting and excreting greenish stools with a pungent smell. Her mother gathered the soils in a bucket of tepid water and tossed them into the cesspool in the family cellar. So began the story of London’s most horrific epidemic, the Broad Street cholera outbreak. In The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic — and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World, Steven Johnson, easily my favorite nonfiction writer working today, unleashes his signature cross-disciplinary thinking to explore the intricate interconnections between the spread of the disease, the rise of cities, the mysteries of medicine, and the very nature of scientific inquiry.

It’s the story of two men, Dr. John Snow and Rev. Henry Whitehead, who began to suspect the true cause of the outbreak and were eventually proven right by a rigorous, contested investigation. But Johnson’s genius is in his ability to translate the fascinating but seemingly irrelevant into a highly context of excruciating relevance, exploring what this story means for the liabilities and vulnerabilities of modern cities. (Cue in Monday’s omnibus of 7 essential books on cities)

This is a story with four protagonists: a deadly bacterium, a vast city, and two gifted but very different men. One dark week a hundred fifty years ago, in the midst of great terror and human suffering, their lives collided on London’s Broad Street, on the western edge of Soho.

This book is an attempt to tell the story in a way that does justice to the multiple scales of existence that helped bring it about: from the invisible kingdom of microscopic bacteria, to the tragedy and courage and camaraderie of individual lives, to the cultural realm of ideas and ideologies, all the way up to the sprawling metropolis of London itself. It’s the story of a map that lies at the intersection of all those different vectors, a map created to help make sense of an experience that defied human understanding.”

I’m a big believer in the power of maps as great sense-making mechanisms, so I find The Ghost Map deeply fascinating and an extraordinary feat of intelligence. It also makes me wonder how an epidemic of this scale would unfold today, at a time when evolved high-tech mapping tools like Ushahidi would not only glean better understanding of how the deadly wave is propagating but also track its progress in real-time and offer a powerful weapon in the arsenal of man’s epic battle against microbe.

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