Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘books’

24 JANUARY, 2013

Penn Jillette on Why Every Day is a Holiday

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“For atheists, everything in the world is enough and every day is holy.”

Penn Jillette’s brand of smug and often vulgar humor isn’t ordinarily my cup of tea, but the title essay in his recently released Every Day is an Atheist Holiday!: More Magical Tales from the Author of God, No! (UK; public library) offers a rather poignant meditation on atheism as a secular philosophy of celebrating life:

In Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll invents the idea of the un-birthday. If we celebrated those we’d have 364 more (in a leap year) un-birthdays than birthdays. Atheists have always had the corner on un-holidays. Christmas, Easter, Good Friday, Ramadan, Rosh Hashanah, the day Tom Cruise had sex with a woman are all holidays in some religion but they’re never a celebration of life. The joy is the exception that proves the rules. It’s the celebration of a joy that we don’t have.

The word ‘holiday’ comes from ‘holy day’ and holy means ‘exalted and worthy of complete devotion.’ By that definition, all days are holy. Life is holy. Atheists have joy every day of the year, every holy day. We have the wonder and glory of life. We have joy in the world before the lord is come. We’re not going for the promise of life after death; we’re celebrating life before death. The smiles of children. The screaming, the bitching, the horrific whining of one’s own children. … Sunsets, rock and roll, bebop, Jell-O, stinky cheese, and offensive jokes.

For atheists, everything in the world is enough and every day is holy. Every day is an atheist holiday. It’s a day that we’re alive.

But, of course, as Dostoyevsky keenly noted in The Brothers Karamazov, “The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.”

Every Day is an Atheist Holiday! is the sequel to Jillette’s God, No!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales.

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23 JANUARY, 2013

Popular Lies About Graphic Design

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Debunking the misconceptions, half-truths, and dangerous mythology of creativity.

“Aphoristic thinking is impatient thinking,” Susan Sontag famously wrote in her private rant against intellectual shorthand. And yet, young creators starting out are bombarded with aphorisms and simple mantras to which to adhere, without much questioning. While there might be tremendous value in learning how to think like a great graphic designer, the operative word is still “think.” In Popular Lies About Graphic Design (UK; public library), New-York-based British designer Craig Ward sets out to debunk the “misconceptions, half truths and, in some cases, outright lies” embedded in the familiar aphorisms and maxims instilled in young designers — a crusade against putting blind religion rather than critical thought at the heart of the discipline. From myths about work ethic to the cult of ideas, Ward tackles 35 such “lies” with all the deftness of a proper devil’s advocate.

For instance, he takes head-on the contention that nothing is truly original — an idea famously championed by Mark Twain (“…all ideas are second-hand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources…”) and Lord Byron (“To be perfectly original one should think much and read little, and this is impossible, for one must have read before one has learnt to think.”). Ward writes:

The human brain is a wondrous and infinitely complex organ, its capabilities and limits still, as yet, undefined. When fed the right combination of inspiration points a well educated, well read, hydrated and healthy brain will come up with original idea after original idea.

With its aesthetic minimalism and conceptual clarity, Popular Lies About Graphic Design manages to walk the challenging line between being critical without being complacently contrarian.

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23 JANUARY, 2013

Life in Five Seconds: Minimalist Pictogram Summaries of Pop Culture and Historical Events

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From The Matrix to Marie Antoinette’s execution, irreverent visual synopses of pop culture staples.

While reductionism in science might be a terrible idea, graphic reductionism in pop culture can be a source of endless delight. In 2011, Milan-based creative agency H-57 brought us an entertaining series of minimalist pictogram flowcharts depicting famous lives, from Darth Vader to Jesus. This year, they’re out with an entire book titled Life in Five Seconds (UK; public library), applying the same irreverent aesthetic to everything from cult movies to the biographies of historical figures.

Complement with the history of how pictograms came to dominate visual culture and their early use in vintage infographics.

Laughing Squid

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