Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘gift guide’

22 DECEMBER, 2009

Gift Guide Part 3: Free


DIY goodness, intellectual enrichment, and how to go cheap without being cheap.

This is the final installment in the curated 3-part Brain Pickings holiday gift guide. Today, we’re saluting thrift and last-minuteness with five priceless yet free gifts that show off your creative connoisseurship without making a dent in your wallet.


itunes.gifEveryone loves a good mixtape. But, let’s face it, it isn’t the most original — or, for that matter, the most intellectually enriching — of gifts. So why not put a personal growth spin on the cultural classic? iTunes is actually a fantastic resource for free podcasts and lectures from the world’s best universities, across a multitude of disciplines. Show off your eclectic yet refined taste by burning your giftee a mix of selected episodes from a few smart podcasts — think part sampler, part mixtape, part gift certificate to self-improvement.

Here are a few of our favorites to get you started:

Perfect for: Lifelong learners, personal growth fiends, the eclectically curious


We sung the praises of nothing a while ago, and it’s still one of the best gifts out there. It’s cheap, but you aren’t — it’s a clever and tongue-in-cheek choice that serves as a powerful antidote to our culture of excess. Your socially-conscious friends will appreciate it, and they won’t have to regift it along with that bizarre snow globe from grandma.

Perfect for: The environmentally concerned, those with a good conscience and good sense of humor


Here’s a wonderful DIY gift that’s both super cool and doable even with the craft skill level of a six-year-old — cork photo coasters.

All you need: Some photos, a pen, an X-acto knife, a few very, very basic art supplies and sheets of cork. Depending on your choice of photos, you can make the coasters artsy or personal, but either way, they’re bound to delight — not to mention save a coffeetable or two from those dreaded mug circles.

Perfect for: Everyone


Ah, the paper fortuneteller — what a fond childhood memory. But, if you’re like us, your adult self couldn’t make one to save your life. Thankfully, the good folks at eHow have put together a simple how-to video that revives this nostalgic gem.

Ramp up the cool factor by getting creative with the paper itself and/or slipping in a few clever, inside-jokey fortunes.

Perfect for: Retrostalgics, the kid at heart, those who value personal, non-generic gifts


Yes, we’re being shamelessly self-promotional — but that’s only because we fervently believe in our mission, and there’s no shame in that.

Brain Pickings aims to enrich people’s creative and intellectual scope by taking them on a curated journey into the great creative unknown — because we believe indiscriminate curiosity and exposure to cross-disciplinary interestingness fuels our inner capacity for creativity. So tickle a friend’s brain by introducing them to Brain Pickings — you can sign them up for our newsletter for a sampler, or just send them a simple note/email with our URL.

Inspired information is, after all, the greatest gift of all. So who cares if it doesn’t come in giftwrap and a red ribbon?

Perfect for: Everyone — especially the chronically curious, those immersed in creative culture

Psst, we’ve launched a fancy weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays, offers the week’s articles, and features five more tasty bites of web-wide interestingness. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.

09 DECEMBER, 2009

Gift Guide: Kids & The Eternal Kid


From thinking to tinkering, by way of color, music and photography.

This is Part 2 of the three-part Brain Pickings holiday gift guide. Today, we’re looking at goods and goodies for kids of all ages and the eternal kid in everyone.


Indie rock icons They Might Be Giants are among the most revolutionary musicians of our time. Their critically acclaimed Here Comes Science children’s series lives up to their relentless thinking-in-all-kinds-of-directions innovation and consistent excellence. The 2-disc CD/DVD album is a bundle of creativity and entertainment, tied with a ribbon of education. Although aimed at the K-5 set, the playful lyrics and brilliantly animated videos are an absolute treat for musicologists and design junkies alike — we can attest.

We reviewed it in full, with trailers and more, here.

Perfect for: Musicologists, science lovers, those into creative and non-traditional education


Polaroid may have barely escaped the kiss of obsolescence, but instant film cameras will always hold immeasurable nostalgic charm in the digital age. The new Fujifilm Instax MINI offers a lovely twist on your dad’s old Land Cam, packaged in a gorgeously designed Mac-ish white body that’s just a joy to hold and look at. It prints credit-card-sized photos and, for those interested in the technical shenanigans, has a built-in flash, four exposure settings for indoor and outdoor shooting, and — our favorite — a wicked wide-angle lens that makes for some gorgeous, gorgeous shots. It’s a return to simpler times of no memory cards and USB cables and i-anything. But it gives you more creative control while still being a no-brainer to operate.

Sure, we love (love love) the design, but we’re even more taken with what it stands for — an analog connection to the fleeting moment, celebrating the essence of the presence in a way that preserves it for the future.

Perfect for: Budding photographers, creatively inclined kids, design aficionados, hopeless nostalgics, retro lovers


Who doesn’t love a good pop-up book? Marion Bataille‘s ABC3D takes the familiar genre it to a whole new level.

Slick, stylish and designerly, it’s hard to capture its tactile, interactive magic in static words — you have to have it in your hands to truly appreciate it.

We took a closer look, along with 4 more creative alphabet books, last week.

Perfect for: Designers and their kids, bookbinding geeks, paper craft lovers


It’s never too early — or too late — to introduce the idea of the conscious consumer. And when it’s done with quirk and creativity, it’s bound to engage, inspire and, well, effect change. Enter Part Of It, a wonderful venture founded by illustrator duo Christopher Sleboda and Kathleen Burns in 2007, working with artists to create products for causes they are passionate about.

From Helvetica alphabet t-shirts to a lovely tote bags, profits from these goodies benefit charities chosen by the artists. (Who, by the way, include Brain Pickings darling Adrian Johnson.)

Perfect for: The socially-conscious and design-driven


Indie music defines itself through the colorful quirk of its artists and evangelists. Without that, it would blend in with the grey mediocrity of the mainstream. For the past two years, obscenely talented UK illustrator Andy J. Miller has been working on a project that celebrates this whimsy. Today, he finally releases the Indie Rock Coloring Book — a wonderful collection of hand-illustrated activity pages, mazes, connect-the-dots, and coloring pages for indie icons like Bloc Party, The Shins, Iron & Wine, Broken Social Scene, Devendra Banhart, MGMT, The New Pornographers, The National, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

We reviewed it in full, with trailers and more, here.

Perfect for: Indie music fans and their artistically inclined offspring


Photographer and all-around geek Theodor Gray spent 7 years gathering objects, from the fascinating to the mundane, that embody and exemplify the 118 elements in the periodic table. Then he shot them brilliantly, producing The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe — an utterly captivating exploration of the matter that we, and all the things around us, are made of.

Set to the first authorized video version of Tom Lehrer’s iconic eponymous song, The Elements video gives you a taste for what to expect from this gem of a book.

Perfect for: Neo-geeks, science junkies, photography lovers, visual learners


We’re firm believers in the power of tinkering in developing creativity.

And there’s nothing more stimulating to the creative brain than playing with simple, flat shapes and basic colors to produce a near-infinite variety of 3D whimsy. Which is why we love this 100-piece set of clear-color magna tiles. Sure, kids will be all over it, but we dare you not to love it yourself.

Perfect for: Tinkerers, builders, color lovers, budding industrial designers


In 1926, English author Alan Alexander Milne took a shelf of his son’s stuffed toys and turned them into some of the best-loved books ever published — the Winnie-the-Pooh series was born. This year, 81 years after Christoper Robin and the gang left the Hundred Acre Wood, they are back for a new adventure.

Return to the Hundred Acre Wood is among the most epic comebacks in English literature. Although Milne himself is long dead, the new book is written by David Benedictus — who also produced the audio adaptations of Winnie-the-Pooh, starring Dame Judi Dench — and meticulously based on Milne’s Pooh stories, with artwork by Mark Burgess in the style of original illustrator E. H. Shepard.

We reviewed it in full here.

Perfect for: Readers, nostalgics, Pooh lovers of all ages


We love LEGO — who doesn’t? And what better way to learn about the man-made hallmarks of our civilization than by building them with your bare hands?

No, you won’t be lugging mastabas across the Egyptian desert — we’re talking about the LEGO Architecture Series. From the Taj Mahal to Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpieces, you — or your little one — can get down and dirty with humanity’s greatest architectural achievements.

Perfect for: Tinkerers, builders, architecture lovers


Ah, Crayola. Easily one of the most beloved brands of all time. Even just saying the name evokes that distinct, wonderful smell of your first crayon.

Now, you can resurrect your inner kid with a lovely, desk-job-safe Crayola Executive Pen, in orange, green, violet and yellow. Need we say more?

Perfect for: Everyone!

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07 DECEMBER, 2009

Gift Guide Part One: Books


How to be a cool and cultured polyglot of a friend and friend of the polyglot.

‘Tis the season of giving, and we have your back with curated gifts ideas that are bound to delight and enlighten with a mix of smarts, quirk and non-genericism. This is Part 1 of the three-part Brain Pickings holiday gift guide: Books. (Part 2 will focus on gifts for kids of all ages and the eternal kid, and Part 3 will give you ideas for priceless free gifts.)


Four Pixar animators release a racy side project — need we say more?

Still, we did — here’s our full review, with a few glorious illustrations from the book to give you a teaser taste of what’s an absolute cover-to-cover gem.

Perfect for: Designers, artists, animation lovers, irreverent culture buffs, hipsters of all stripes


A feat of photography, cultural anthroplogy and music history, The Jazz Loft Project: Photographs and Tapes of W. Eugene Smith from 821 Sixth Avenue, 1957-1965 offers a fascinating slice of life from one of the 20th century’s most defining eras.

We reviewed it here, where you can read about the incredible story of how it came to be and see exclusive images from its pages. (It was also one of the most popular pieces on Brain Pickings this year.)

Perfect for: Lovers of photography, jazz, history, New York, vintage culture


What makes information visualization so appealing is that it bridges so many different disciplines — design, statistics, content curation, art, mathematics — to marry them with pure human curiosity and the love of knowledge, offering digestible, intuitive insight into issues that may otherwise seem confusing, alienating or intimidating. The Visual Miscellaneum does all that and more, with fascinating and gripping visualizations of anything from global Internet trends to the most pleasurable guilty pleasures.

For a look inside and further well-deserved superlatives, check out our review of the book.

Perfect for: Those into data visualization, design, trivia; lifelong learners and the relentlessly curious


When a blog gets a book deal, you know it’s onto something great. And Cassette From My Ex: Stories and Soundtracks of Lost Loves is a perfect case study. Sixty noted writers and musicians wax poetic about their mixtape masterpieces and the relationship that inspired them, revealing amusing and incredibly relatable pieces of human truth in the process.

We reviewed it in full here.

Perfect for: Music lovers, hopeless romantics, cultural nostalgics


Regardless of your political inclinations or nationality, it’s hard to deny the incredible cultural phenomenon of Obamania. From being the first campaign in history to be orchestrated practically on social media, to helping a generation never before interested in politic find its civic voice, to making the boldest case for equality to date, it affected much more than politics and reached much further than America.

Now, author and photographer Rick Smolan (whom you may recall from last year’s fantastic Blue Planet Run, another highly recommended read) is capturing the phenomenon in a unique project: The Obama Time Capsule.

Besides brimming with amazing images by 140 of the world’s leading photographers, the book features an excitingly unusual twist: It’s customizable and personalizable.

We’re keenly aware that politics is a tricky subject. Views vary, people pout, and the concept of “happy medium” is darn near nonexistent. But look at it this way: If your mom had a personalized visual record of Beatlemania, full of vibrant vintage photographs and inscribed with her own dedication to her not-yet-born children, how priceless would that be?

Perfect for: History lovers, Obama supporters, those interested in the sociology of politics, customization addicts


Another excellent blog-turned-book, Strange Maps: An Atlas of Cartographic Curiosities features 138 of the most fascinating, absorbing and remarkable maps from the blog’s 3-year history of culling the world’s forgotten, little-known and niche cartographic treasures.

From the world as depicted in Orwell’s 1984, to a color map of Thomas More’s Utopia, to the 16th-century portrayal of California as an island where people live like the Amazons, the book peels away at our collective conception of the world over the centuries, revealing rich layers of history, sociology, politics, anthropology and pure amusement.

Snack on a few maps from the book for a taste of its brilliance in our full review.

Perfect for: Map geeks, history geeks, geeks; the chronically curious


Between 1968 and 1972, author and activist Stewart Brand, who helped start the environmental movement in the 60’s, published the highly acclaimed Whole Earth Catalog — an iconic counterculture compendium of tools, texts and miscellaneous information, which Steve Jobs went on to describe as the conceptual forerunner of the World Wide Web.

This year, he followed up with the long-awaited Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto, a sharp and compelling vision for engineering our collective future.

Our full review.

Perfect for: The socially-conscious, ecologically-minded, future-forward


Johnny Carrera’s Pictorial Webster’s: A Visual Dictionary of Curiosities is an absolute feat of artistry and bookbinding — a charming, chunky volume of over 1,500 engravings from Webster’s 19th-century dictionaries, cleaned, restored and curated in a captivating and unusual reference guide for modernity.

There are also two equally delightful companions to the book — a stamp kit and a set of wall cards.

We reviewed it fully here.

Perfect for: Vintage junkies, those who love the art and craft of books, illustration and design lovers, history geeks


Product designer, activist and Project H founder Emily Pilloton is one of our big heroes. This year, she published Design Revolution: 100 Products That Empower People — a fascinating anthology of 100 contemporary design products and systems that change lives in brilliantly elegant ways.

From a high-tech waterless washing machine, to low-cost prosthetics for landmine victims, to Braille-based Lego-style building blocks for blind children, to a DIY soccer ball, the book reads like a manual, thinks like a manifesto, and feels like a powerful jolt of fire-in-your-belly inspiration.

Our full review.

Perfect for: Design thinkers, change agents, do-gooders, those in need of inspiration and restoration of their faith in humanity


In 2005, visionary artist-storyteller Jonathan Harris embarked upon an ambitious project: To record the collective sentiment of the social web in a massive ongoing visualization. The project, titled We Feel Fine, soon became an icon of interactive storytelling and data visualization.

Four years and 12 million human emotions later, Harris co-authored We Feel Fine: An Almanac of Human Emotion, a remarkable and visually indulgent anthology of infographics, visualizations, and scientific observations of the dreams, passions and worries that make us human. We’ve been awaiting this book for a long time, and it more than meets our gargantuan expectations — so it’s at the top of this year’s Brain Pickings favorite and comes highly, highly recommended.

Peek inside the book’s whimsical and fascinating pages in our full review and read editor Maria Popova’s interview with Harris for Wired UK.

Perfect for: Everyone and anyone, but especially the visually inclined; fans of PostSecret; cultural voyeurs

For more excellent, eclectic and relentlessly fascinating gift ideas, check out all the books we recommended this year. And stay tuned for Parts 2 and 3 of our holiday gift guide.

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