Brain Pickings

PICKED: The Solar System at Your Fingertips


Last year, author Marcus Chown took a fascinating look at what everyday objects tell us about the universe. Now, he’s back with Solar System — his first-ever iPad book, a visually stunning and remarkably knowledge-rich interactive exploration of our corner of the cosmos. Created by the team behind Theodore Grey’s acclaimed The Elements and with original music by Bjork, the $14 app is worth every cent as it puts a mesmerizing 3D model of the Solar System at your fingertips, literally.

Solar System is the sophisticated cousin to the American Museum of Natural History’s Cosmic Discoveries and is the kind of cultural artifact that gives us true pause about the technology-enabled frontiers of human knowledge and curiosity in our era.

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Wreck This Box: Keri Smith’s Activity Books for Grown-Ups


Author, illustrator and guerrilla artist Keri Smith is a master of the interactive journal. Wreck This Box is a recently released box set of her three masterpieces: Wreck This Journal, a lovely illustrated journal inviting you to conjure your best mistake-making skills and indulge your destructivist demons as part of the creative process, This Is Not a Book, which rethinks the purpose and function of a book and invites you along for the journey, and Mess: The Manual of Accidents and Mistakes, a potent antidote for your lifelong conditioning for overthinking and fear of being wrong.

Images by Kimberly Ripley

So vibrant is the cult of Keri Smith’s creations that there’s an entire How to Wreck a Journal Flickr pool, 2121 members strong. The box set, too, comes with instructions for how to wreck it and ample encouragement to “make a mess with the box.”

Wreck This Box is as much a delightful activity for parents to do with their kids as they foster an environment of playful acceptance of imperfection as it is much-needed play therapy for grown-ups as we try to shed our lifelong layers of painful perfectionism and, in the process, unleash our inherent, uninhibited creativity. It’s a quirky, hands-on companion to Brené Brown’s intelligent and research-driven The Gifts of Imperfection.

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Fabulous Furniture Made of Unusual Upcycled Objects


What vintage suitcases have to do with funeral homes and bowling alleys.

In the ideology of sustainability, reusing is always better than recycling. But upcycling — the act of salvaging a product that has run its course and repurposing it into something new — doesn’t have to conjure images of scrappy hand-me-down sweaters stitched together into sad-looking patchwork quilts.

Lately, we’ve become particularly obsessed with beautifully designed, meticulously crafted furniture made out of unusual upcycled objects, from coffins to skateboards. Here are five of our favorites. (And a big hat tip to studiomate Tina, a.k.a. Swiss Miss, for nudging us to put this together.)


Canadian artist and designer Adrian Johnson combines vintage fridges with vintage leather seats from junk yard cars into beautiful retrotastic couches.

There are currently three Fridgecouch designs, one of which even features built-in speakers and is iPod-compatible.


Serious skating comes with serious collateral damage. Besides the mandatory broken arms and cracked skulls, there’s also a perpetual graveyard of broken skateboards. Deckstool salvages these from skateparks and skateshops across the U.S. to turn them into wonderful upcycled stools and benches.

The collection currently features several stool designs and one bench, but you can also send them your deck and have them create a custom design for you.

via design milk


Counterevolution takes reclaimed bowling alley hardwood and turns it into beautifully handcrafted tables, benches, chairs, stools and various interior design accessories.

More than three years ago, when I first cleaned some old bowling alley wood to make a countertop, I was struck by the beauty of the heartpine that lay beneath layers of dirt and polyurethane. It was love at first sight. [Our] mission was born in those early days, and it remains the same today: To design, build and sell furniture that realizes the highest potential of reclaimed materials.” ~ Jim Malone

via Swiss Miss


You may recall Coffin Couches from pickings past — a morbidly fabulous collection of corpse carriers repurposed into living room furniture. And if you aren’t sufficiently creeped out yet, you need only look to the the six cast iron heavy duty legs on each couch, embossed with the universal biohazard insignia to wink at federal health and safety regulations.

Still, the couches are absolutely beautiful, in that Adams Family kind of way. The collection currently features 24 couches, including a couple of team fan varieties.


From South African designer Katie Thompson comes REcreate — a fabulous line of furniture made from upcycled objects, upholstered with beautiful locally designed fabric prints. From vintage suitcase chairs to hat box ottomans to whisky casket side tables, the collection is pure retrostalgic charisma.

REcreate also has a lovely line of home accessories featuring treats like bucket lid clocks and teacup herb gardens.

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Women of the World: An Arresting Global Exploration


Last year, we took a look at Mondo Cane, the original shockumentary circa 1962. The following year, the same filmmakers — Paolo Cavara, Franco Prosperi and Gualtiero Jacopetti — released La Donna nel Mondo (Women of the World), another genre-bender film whose tagline says it all: “Behind the Fancy Clothes Into the Most Primitive, the Most Provocative Affairs of Women!” — an arresting exploration of everything from tribal culture to Geishas to polygamy to the female form itself.

In the following excerpt, the filmmakers take us inside the gay and lesbian club scene of Paris in the late 1950s and early 1960s. It’s fascinating and unsettling to see the film treat homosexuality as symptomatic of some “underlying sadness” and a misguided attempt to emulate the physical characteristics of the opposite gender. At the same time, however, it’s hard not to revel in the disconnect between the narrator’s scorn and the merry good time these men and women seem to be having.

Women of the World bespeaks the era’s institutionalized sexism, devoid of any self-awareness, yet offers a fascinating perspective on both the women of the time and, in a rich meta kind of way, on the men who documented them.

via VSL

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