Brain Pickings

The Late American Novel: Writers on the Future of Books


Telling the fortune of tales to come, or what has to do with writing.

Whither the written word? Many meditations on this question, our own included, have appeared on substrate, online, and in streaming newsfeeds of late. We found the most entertaining answers in a new collection called The Late American Novel: Writers on the Future of Books.

Just released this month, The Late American Novel was edited by Jeff Martin and C. Max Magee, writers and, in the case of the latter, founder of one of our favorite sites, The Millions. Martin and Magee have assembled an all-star team of literary visionaries including authors Rivka Galchen, Benjamin Kunkel, and Reif Larsen, and the results are at turns funny, poignant, and searching, but always provocative.

Galchen’s piece “The Future of Paper” opens the anthology with this LOL-worthy, tongue-in-cheek fable:

In Brooklyn, a paper-making collective was formed. A neglected commercial space for the collective was renovated with great flair and through the sweat of women with really cute bangs. However, the original Save Paper mission became overshadowed by the collective’s far more successful sideline of selling homemade organic yogurt and handmade patches created by prisoners whose only thread was harvested from striped gym socks.”

The joy of compilations lies in their contributors’ differing approaches and viewpoints, much in evidence here. Kunkel takes the historical perspective in his essay, creating a narrative of modern culture that moves from the “logosphere” to the “graphosphere” to our current context, which he dubs the “digitosphere.” Larsen, in his Pynchonian piece “The Crying of Lot 45,” uses illustrated marginalia to highly entertaining ends.

Writers especially will find inspiration among the book’s essays, as in Lauren Groff’s “Modes of Imagining the Writer of the Future”:

He is the one drawing word after word, pushing his sentences outward, into the darkness, into the thrilling unknown. He’s not going to put it off for tomorrow, and he’s not content with yesterday’s work. He is the one alone somewhere, writing, right now. And right now. And right now.”

As with Groff’s piece, our favorites among the bunch were those that ended with a reveille, rallying cries to creators in all places and of all media to get out there and do. In the words of writer Ander Monson:

Are we going to have to find new ways to get noticed? Yes. Do we get to find news ways to get noticed? Yes. Is it trouble? Yes. But trouble is the stuff of writing and creation. Time to shut up and get to the making, get back to that sense of play where everything interesting, including the future, finally fast and soon to be here, starts.”

The Late American Novel came out last week and may just be the most compelling collage-vision for the futue of publishing yet.

Kirstin Butler is writing an adaptation of Gogol for the Google era called Dead SULs, but when not working spends far, far too much time on Twitter. She currently lives in Cambridge, MA.

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Lost Roll of Film Finds Its Way Home, Virally


On lost film, found friendships and the stories we all want to believe could be true.

In January, a man named Todd Bieber made waves with his story of finding a lost roll of film while skiing in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park and his quest to find the strangers to whom it belonged. The original video, seemingly engineered for it, went predictably viral:

This week, six weeks after his quest began, Bieber has miraculously found the film owners — lifted by its viral wings, the video apparently made its way to them. In Paris.

Turns out the real photographer was never the two men in the pictures at all. It was their sister — a quiet young student, who was visiting the states, which is the European word for America. Camille’s ex-roommate in New York recognized that several of the shots were taken right outside their apartment, so she sent Camille my video.” ~ Todd Bieber

Admittedly, somewhere between Bieber’s day job as writer and director for the Upright Citizens Brigade, the forced hesitation of his voiceover tone, the all-too-hipster choice of analog film, and the Seinfeld-loving German hostess, we had to wonder whether the whole thing is a hoax. But a big part of us wants to believe it isn’t. And whatever the case, it’s still a beautifully told story of what we all secretly wish to believe: That human kindness makes the world go around, and that we’re all connected in more ways than we could possibly imagine.

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Gerd Artnz Graphic Designer: The Visual Legacy of 4,000 Symbols


It’s been a great month for Isotype, the vintage pictogram language that gave rise to much of today’s visual communication and sparked the infographics revolution. Yesterday, we featured the story of Otto Neurath, considered the father of Isotype, and last week we raved about the ace iPhone app testing your memory through pictograms by Gerd Arntz (1900-1988), the politically engaged Modernist German graphic designer who collaborated with Neurath on the invention of Isotype.

Today we turn to Gerd Arntz Graphic Designer — an absolutely fantastic recent book about Arntz’s work, exploring the 4000 symbol signs he designed in his lifetime and their visual legacy.

Best-known for his iconic black-and-white wood and linoleum cuts, Arntz also created an astounding array of Isotype color icons spanning nature, industry, people, architecture, mobility, food and more.

And here’s something we found wildly interesting, a living testament to the iconic designer’s cultural footprint: Does the F in this Arntz logo look familiar?

A major case of Similarities, it seems, and proof that everything does indeed build on what came before.

Beautifully designed and thoughtfully written, Gerd Arntz Graphic Designer is both a treasure trove of Isotypes and a priceless overview of the system, its political and historical context, and its timeless design legacy.

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Sub City New York: A Cinematic Celebration of Urbanity


We love cities, especially our current home base: New York. Last year, we featured a breathtaking love letter to NYC in HD and today, we’re back with another mesmerizing ode to one of the world’s most interesting cities.

From filmmakers Sarah Klein and Tom Mason comes Sub City New York — “a visual poem about that moment in New York when you emerge from the subway and find yourself in a new and sometimes unexpected world.”

The film is part of a larger series to be filmed in Paris, Moscow, London and Hong Kong — we can’t wait.

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