Brain Pickings

Forgotten Bookmarks: The Secret Life of Second-Hand Books

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From Paul Rand to Hitler, or what Jane Austen has to do with shopping lists and Valentines.

If you, like me, love marginalia and the secret histories of second-hand books, you’ll find yourself enamored with Forgotten Bookmarks: A Bookseller’s Collection of Odd Things Lost Between the Pages — the latest addition to the web’s blog-turned-book success stories based on the wonderful site of the same name by used bookstore owner Michael Popek.

It’s happened to all of us: we’re reading a book, something interrupts us, and we grab the closest thing at hand to mark our spot. It could be a train ticket, a letter, an advertisement, a photograph, or a four-leaf clover. Eventually the book finds its way into the world-a library, a flea market, other people’s bookshelves, or to a used bookstore. But what becomes of those forgotten bookmarks? What stories could they tell?”

From actual bookmarks to photographs, ticket stubs, lists, scribbled recipes, children’s drawings, birth certificates, four-leaf-clovers, unsent love letters, and countless other funny, heartbreaking, and odd ephemera, this scrapbook of Popek’s most intriguing finds opens a rare window into the private lives of anonymous strangers through snippets of their life stories.

Captivating, charming, and irresistibly voyeuristic, Forgotten Bookmarks surfaces the intimate relationship we have with books in an entirely new, entirely delightful way.

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Maurice Sendak on Passion, the Risk of Art, and Never Having Written for Children

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What Herman Melville has to do with the artist’s gauntlet and the sacrilege of sequels.

There are very few creators alive today truly worthy of being called “creative genius.” Children’s book author and illustrator Maurice Sendak, beloved for Where The Wild Things Are and other gems, is certainly one of them. This affectionate 5-minute micro-documentary from Tate Modern zooms in on the iconic creator, uncompromising and idiosyncratic and brilliant as ever at the age of 83, to reveal the creatively restless and lovably grumpy workings of his heart and mind.

Herman Melville said that artists have to take a dive, and either you hit your head on a rock and it splits your skull and you die, or, that blow to your head is so inspiring that you come back up and you do the best work you ever did.

But — you have to take the dive. And you do not know what the result will be.

[…]

My books are really books that are impressed and in love with the memory of comics and how important they were to me as a child… I didn’t live near any famous person, I didn’t see Michelangelo go to work in the morning. I just lived in Brooklyn, where everything was ordinary — and yet, enticing and exciting and bewildering. The magic of childhood, the strangeness of childhood, the uniqueness that makes us see things that other people don’t see…

For more Sendak gold, see his rare Velveteen Rabbit illustrations circa 1960.

via Open Culture

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Advice on Writing from Modernity’s Greatest Writers

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What sleep and plagiarism have to do with the poetry of experience and the experience of poetry.

I recently stumbled upon a delightful little book called Advice to Writers, “a compendium of quotes, anecdotes, and writerly wisdom from a dazzling array of literary lights,” originally published in 1999. From how to find a good agent to what makes characters compelling, it spans the entire spectrum of the aspirational and the utilitarian, covering grammar, genres, material, money, plot, plagiarism, and, of course, encouragement. Here are some words of wisdom from some of my favorite writers featured:

Finish each day before you begin the next, and interpose a solid wall of sleep between the two. This you cannot do without temperance.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Begin with an individual and you find that you have created a type; begin with a type and you find that you have created — nothing.” ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald

Don’t ever write a novel unless it hurts like a hot turd coming out.” ~ Charles Bukowski

Breathe in experience, breathe out poetry.” ~ Muriel Rukeyser

A short story must have single mood and every sentence must build towards it.” ~ Edgar Allan Poe

You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.” ~ Saul Bellow

Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.” ~ T. S. Eliot

Fiction is a lie, and good fiction is the truth inside the lie.” ~ Stephen King

Good fiction is made of what is real, and reality is difficult to come by.” ~ Ralph Ellison

The problem with fiction, it has to be plausible. That’s not true with non-fiction.” ~ Tom Wolfe

You cannot write well without data.” ~ George Higgins

Listen, then make up your own mind.” ~ Gay Talese

Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about. It is this genuine caring, not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style.” ~ Kurt Vonnegut

Write without pay until somebody offers pay; if nobody offers within three years, sawing wood is what you were intended for.” ~ Mark Twain

And then, of course, there’s the importance of knowing what advice to ignore:

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