Brain Pickings

The Gashlycrumb Tinies: A Very Gorey Alphabet Book

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It’s no secret I have a massive soft spot for alphabet books. In 1963, prolific mid-century illustrator and author Edward Gorey published an alphabet book so grimly antithetical to the very premise of the genre — making children feel comfortable and inspiring them to learn — that it took the macabre humor genre to a new level. “A is for Amy who fell down the stairs,” The Gashlycrumb Tinies begins. “B is for Basil assaulted by bears. C is for Clara who wasted away. D is for Desmond thrown out of a sleigh…”

Part Tim Burton long before there was Burton, part Edgar Allan Poe long after Poe, the book exudes Gorey’s signature adult picture book mastery, not merely adorned by the gorgeously dark crosshatched illustrations but narratively driven by them.

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

The Gashlycrumb Tinies comes in a string of more than 40 gems Gorey published in his lifetime, including favorites like The Epiplectic Bicycle and The Doubtful Guest. His work, which spans over six decades, is collected in four excellent volumes entitled AmphigoreyI, II, III, IV — a play on the word amphigory, meaning a nonsense verse or composition.

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Knowledge Navigator: An Apple Concept from 1987

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What 1980s futurism has to do with the cola wars and presaging Angry Birds.

In 1987, Apple CEO John Sculley published Odyssey: Pepsi to Apple — a tale of innovative ideas, tumultuous transitions and unabashed practical futurism. Besides the fascinating story of the seminal “Pepsi Challenge,” which allowed Pepsi to gain unprecedented market share over competitor Coke, the book features a peculiar concept called Knowledge Navigator — a networked device that can search a massive hypertext database and retrieve just about any information, using a multitouch interface and powerful voice recognition technology. So, essentially, Wikipedia meets iPhone meets Ford Sync long before there was either.

Alongside the book, Sculley released a series of concept videos showcasing Knowledge Navigator, set in roughly the present day and regarded at the time as an outlandish technological pipe dream. (Here’s where we point you to last week’s piece on vintage visions of the future.)

What’s most remarkable about this Knowledge Navigator video demo is that it was produced six years before the graphical interface of the web even existed, a good 15 years before point-to-point videoconferencing like Skype was a mainstream reality, and some 2 decades before touchscreen technology had widespread device implementation.

Odyssey was republished last August by Betascript Publishing. We highly recommend it not only as a living hallmark of our collective cultural curiosity for information technology, but also as a fascinating presage of today’s digital learning landscape.

via Another Architect, tip via @petrazlatevska

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Stunning Images of Pollen, the Hidden Sexuality of Flowers

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We’re all about the cross-pollination of ideas and disciplines, and nowhere does it get more literal or more stunningly embodied than in Pollen: The Hidden Sexuality of Flowers — an extraordinary project by visual artist Rob Kesseler, who collaborated with two leading botanical biologists to document the otherworldly beauty of the building block of plant life. Using bleeding-edge electron photomicroscopy to scan these tiny microgametophytes of seed plants, Kesseler awakens a special kind of awe for the incredible diversity and miracle of plant pollination.

Pollen is like a 21st-century version of Ernst Haeckel’s remarkable illustrations from the early 1900s, a gorgeously gripping reflection of the amazing world we live in and a subtle but palpable living reminder to cherish, honor and preserve the planet’s precious biodiversity.

Images from Pollen: The Hidden Sexuality of Flowers, by Rob Kesseler and Madeline, published by Papadakis Publisher

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Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:





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