Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘music’

15 AUGUST, 2012

Nick Hornby on Your Cultural Snobbery

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What Céline Dion has to do with Jonathan Franzen and the construction of intellectual identity.

“Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider,” Francis Bacon advised in 1597. “One should read less and less, not more and more,” Henry Miller remarked as he reflected on a lifetime of reading in 1952.

Roughly half a millennium after Bacon and half a century after Miller, beloved critic and author Nick Hornby, whose Stuff I’ve Been Reading column in Believer never ceases to delight, captures our relationship with reading even more succinctly and unapologetically: “Read what you enjoy, not what bores you.” More Baths Less Talking: Notes from the Reading Life of a Celebrated Author Locked in Battle with Football, Family, and Time Itself (public library) collects Hornby’s Believer writings over the past two years, spanning everything from the devastating effects of the World Cup to Marshall McLuhan to the reading life as memento mori — a witty and illuminating blueprint to the habits and how-to’s of reading good books well.

In one particular essay, Hornby explores our distorted dichotomy of cultural taste by discussing Carl Wilson’s Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste:

Why does everyone hate Céline Dion? Except, of course, it’s not everyone, is it? She’s sold more albums than just about anyone alive. Everyone loves Céline Dion, if you think about it. So actually, he asks the question: why do I and my friends and all rock critics and everyone likely to be reading this book and magazines like the Believer hate Céline Dion? And the answers he finds are profound, provocative, and leave you wondering who the hell you actually are — especially if, like many of us around these parts, you set great store by cultural consumption as an indicator of both character and, let’s face it, intelligence. We are cool people! We read Jonathan Franzen and we listen to Pavement, but we also love Mozart and Seinfeld! Hurrah for us!

Hornby cites Wilson’s swift summation of cultural snobbery:

It’s always other people following crowds, whereas my own taste reflects my specialness.

(Still, cue in William Gibson on taste as the building block of the “personal microculture” that defines us creatively and intellectually.)

More Baths Less Talking comes on the heels of three previous volumes of Hornby’s collected Believer columns, all excellent — The Polysyllabic Spree (2004), Housekeeping vs. the Dirt (2006), and Shakespeare Wrote for Money (2008).

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10 AUGUST, 2012

The Science of How Music Enchants the Brain, Animated

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How harmony, melody, and rhythm trigger the same reward systems that drive our desires for food and sex.

The profound connection between music and the brain has long fascinated scientists and philosophers alike, and has even shaped the course of our evolution. The wonderful duo Mitchell Moffit and Gregory Brown, better known as AsapSCIENCE, breaks down music’s ability to create a state of arousal by inducing the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which also regulates the neurochemistry of love, and offsetting a reward circuit similar to the one drugs exploit — something I can certainly attest to as a hopeless music addict.

In the same way that a drug-induced dopamine surge leaves you craving more, music becomes addictive — the dopamine tells your body it was rewarded and creates a desire to seek out more.

For more, see these 7 essential books on music, emotion, and the brain.

It’s Okay To Be Smart

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09 AUGUST, 2012

Introducing Literary Jukebox: Daily Book Quote Matched with a Song

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An experiment in cross-pollinating the arts.

As a lover of both literature and music, I frequently find myself immersed in a passage, with a conceptually related song beginning to play in my mind’s ear. I recently started making such matches more consciously and was quickly drawn into a highly addictive exercise in creative intersections and associations. So I decided to make a little side project out of it. Enter Literary Jukebox, a minimalist site where I match a passage from a favorite book with a thematically related song each day. Sometimes, the connections will be fairly obvious. Other times, they might be more esoteric and require some reflection. Whatever the case, I hope you enjoy — I certainly am.

Many thanks to the talented Josh Boston for designing the identity and to Debbie Millman for in part inspiring the project.

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