Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘blog-turned-book’

22 SEPTEMBER, 2011

Missed Connections Illustrated: Visual Paeans to Modern Love

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Reverse-engineering serendipity, or what ice skating collisions have to do with fish market romance.

You might recall Sophie Blackall, known for her distinctive children’s book illustration, as one of the brains and brushes behind these brilliant design makeovers of the mundane. Since 2009, she has been capturing Craigslist missed connections in her delightful illustrations and unmistakable style of Chinese ink and watercolor, brimming with charm, romanticism and soft whimsy. Now, Blackall joins our running list of blogs so good they became books: Missed Connections: Love, Lost & Found collects the best of these poetic visual what-if love stories, each told in a shorthand “missed connection” ranging from the lyrical (I Gave You My Umbrella but the Wrong Directions) to the warm-and-fuzzy (We Shared a Bear Suit) to the shared love of the tragicomic (Ice Skating in Central Park We Collided).

Every day hundreds of strangers reach out to other strangers on the strength of a glance, a smile or a blue hat. Their messages have the lifespan of a butterfly. I’m trying to pin a few of them down.” – Sophie Blackall

Both playful and profound, Blackall’s delicate drawings — many of which are available on Etsy as prints — immortalize the ephemeral with a wink and a wand, breathing into these mundane encounters a kind of magic that transforms them into open-ended modern-day fairy tales.

In the book’s fascinating introduction, Blackall explores the history of missed connections, both her personal fascination with them and our larger collective memory across time:

For centuries the lovelorn have carved messages in tree trunks and rolled letters into bottles and cast them out to sea. On the 19th of January, 1862, the following appeared in The New York Times:

‘If the young lady wearing the pink dress, spotted fur cape and muff, had light hair, light complexion and blue eyes, who was in company with a lady dressed in black, that I passed about 5 o’clock on Friday evening in South Seventh Street, between First and Second, Williamsburg, L.I., will address a line to Waldo, Williamsburg Post Office, she will make the acquaintance of a fine young man.’

Some of the illustrated messages were written by their smitten authors moments after the encounter took place, and others decades later. Some are written to an impossible love interest, a person famous or dead or forbidden for one reason or another, and some lament the loss of a familiar lover. Hopeful, pensive, lonely, drunken, optimistic — they span the entire spectrum of human emotion.

Missed Connections: Love, Lost & Found weaves some much-needed romance and magic into the fabric of the daily grind, reverse-engineering serendipity with equal parts imagination and humor to deliver a chorus of rare and wonderful paeans to modern love.

Images via Sophie Blackall

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14 JUNE, 2011

Obsessive Consumption: Life in a Material World, Illustrated

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How a visual record of consumerism is paving the way for mindful consumption.

I’ve been a longtime fan of Kate Bingaman-Burt‘s Obsessive Consumption project — a wonderfully illustrated visual record of personal consumption running since February 5, 2006. So I was delighted when last year Princeton Architectural Press (of The Map as Art fame) added the project to this running list of blog-turned-book success stories and published Obsessive Consumption: What Did You Buy Today? — a charming illustrated chronicle of Bingham-Burt’s adventures in a material world, spanning 200 pages and three years’ worth of selected ink drawings from the project.

The project is particularly interesting examined in parallel and contrast to Annie Leonard’s The Story of Stuff, which also uses black-and-white line illustration but explores the flipside of personal consumption by exposing the dark underbelly of the seemingly innocuous products we buy.

Images courtesy of Kate Bingham-Burt

And while Obsessive Consumption may at first seem in stark contrast with my advocacy of collaborative consumption and having more by owning less, its underlying message is one of introspection and insight, of paying closer attention to how we make sense of the world and our place in it through “stuff” and, in the process, becoming more mindful consumers.

You can snag an original drawing by Kate over on Etsy.

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01 JUNE, 2011

thxthxthx: The Art of Finding Happiness in Everyday Gratitude

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What laundry and bee stings have to do with the secret of happiness.

We live in a culture with far, far too much pessimism, cynicism and dystopianism going around. It’s easy to dismiss any inkling of positivity as self-serving Pollyannism, yet there’s plenty of evidence that recognizing our simple blessings greatly increases our well-being. I’m certainly a believer.

I’ve been a longtime fan of Leah Dieterich‘s fantastic THXTHXTHX thank-you-note-a-day blog and, this week, it’s joining this running list of blog-turned-book success stories with the publication of the truly wonderful book of the same name, thxthxthx: Thank Goodness for Everything — a lovely compendium of everyday gratitude in the form of 200 of Dieterich’s original handwritten thank-you notes on everything from clean sheets to empty bars to the “th” sound.

Sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, sometimes vulnerable, and always profoundly human, the notes are a gentle, non-preachy reminder that, heck, we’re incredible beings living in an incredible world and why oh why do we make such a tragic habit of forgetting that?

Far from merely being one of the most charming books to come by this year, thxthxthx is a timeless and much-needed reminder that happiness is a choice we actively make, not a divine courtesy bestowed upon us by some arbitrary higher power.

An speaking of gratitude, a big “thank you” to Jason Bitner of Cassette From My Ex fame for flagging this.

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04 FEBRUARY, 2011

Rainn Wilson’s SoulPancake: Exploring Life’s Big Questions

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Last year, actor Rainn Wilson surprised us with his insightful and utterly un-Dwightlike thoughts on creativity. As it turns out, Wilson is scholar of human nature and the creative process. His newish book, SoulPancake: Chew on Life’s Big Questions, explores the human condition from a rich and fascinating array of angles, spanning life and death, art and creativity, sex and relationships, the brain and the soul, science and technology, and just about everything in between.

When I got so well-known for The Office, I just wanted to create something positive on the Internet. There’s so much crap out there. I wanted to create something really positive and uplifting, and this blends philosophy, creativity and spirituality.” ~ Rainn Wilson

Beautifully written and exquisitely designed, the book is based on Wilson’s site of the same name (another fine addition to our running count of blog-turned-book success stories) and is the product of his collaboration with social media entrepreneur Devon Gundry, photographer and writer Golriz Lucina, and award-winning journalist Shabnam Mogharabi.

With stunning art by nearly 100 up-and-coming artists and designers, as well as essays by like creative thinkers and doers like Amy Sedaris (whom you know we love)a, David Lynch, Jesse Dylan, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, Josh Ritter and Saul Williams, the book is a remarkable feat of philosophical inquiry and creative discovery.

SoulPancake: Chew on Life’s Big Questions is a treasure trove of insights, poems, art, quotes and thought starters on pretty much everything that matters in life — a visually astounding and conceptually compelling journey into being human.

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