Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘books’

11 APRIL, 2013

Henry Miller on the Joy of Urination

By:

“To relieve a full bladder is one of the great human joys.”

Henry Milleroracle of writing, modern philosopher, man of discipline, wise heart — may endure as a literary legend, but part of what made his spirit so extraordinary was his irreverence and his childlike wonder at the world. From This Is Henry, Henry Miller from Brooklyn: Conversations with the Author from the Henry Miller Odyssey (public library) — the same 1974 gem that gave us Miller’s meditation on the mystery of the universe and the meaning of life — comes his delightful paean to something far less exalted and much more grittily human: urination.

I do not find it strange that America placed a urinal in the middle of the Paris exhibit in Chicago. I think it belongs there, and I think it a tribute that the French should be proud of. … I am a man who pisses largely and frequently, which they say is a sign of great mental activity. One likes to piss in sunlight among human beings who stand and smile down at you. Standing behind a tin strip and looking out on the throng with that contented, easy, vacant smile, that long reminiscent pleasurable look, is a good thing. How many times have I stood thus in this smiling gracious world, the sun splashing over me and the birds twittering crazily, and found a woman looking down at me from an open window. Standing thus with heart and bly and bladder open, I seem to recall every urinal I ever stepped into. To relieve a full bladder is one of the great human joys.

This Is Henry, Henry Miller from Brooklyn is a treat in its entirety, an unprecedented glimpse of Miller’s character in all of its dimensions, from the playful to the profound. Complement it with Miller on the art of living and the future of mankind.

Donating = Loving

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:





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

11 APRIL, 2013

How Elvis Presley Ushered in the Era of Teen Consumer Culture

By:

All shook up over portable radio and credit buying.

The 1950s were a time of monumental transition — color replaced black-and-white, the century of the self was coming into full bloom, and the American Dream was taking its first bold steps into new economic freedom after the sequential devastation of the Great Depression and World War II. But one particular change that took place in that seminal decade grew to be a central driving force of contemporary culture.

In The Fifties (public library), Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist David Halberstram considers how Elvis Presley’s music, at the perfect confluence of the golden age of portable radio, the rise of credit buying, and the rock-and-roll cross-over spearheaded by Bill Haley, Chuck Berry, and Little Richard, ushered in a new era of the teenager as a flag-bearer of consumer culture:

Presley’s timing was nearly perfect. … Parents might disapprove of the beat and of their children listening to what they knew was black music. But their disapproval only added to Presley’s popularity and made him more of a hero among the young. Local ministers might get up in their churches (almost always well covered by local newspapers) and attack demon rock as jungle music and threaten to lead a crusade to have this Presley boy arrested if he dared set foot in their community (generally, there was no problem, their towns were too small for him to play). It did not matter: Elvis Presley and rock music were happening.

A new young generation of Americans was breaking away from the habits of its parents and defining itself by its music. There was nothing the parents could do: This new generation was armed with both money and the new inexpensive appliances with which to listen to it. This was the new, wealthier America. Elvis Presley began to make it in 1955, after ten years of rare broad-based middle-class prosperity. Among the principal beneficiaries of that prosperity were the teenagers. They had almost no memory of a Depression and the great war that followed it. There was no instinct on their part to save money. In the past when American teenagers had made money, their earnings, more often than not, had gone to help support their parents or had been saved for one treasured and long-desired purchase, like a baseball glove or a bike, or it had been set aside for college.

An essential byproduct of this, just as the new middle class had begun to take over the country, was the rise of a new consumer class: youth. By 1956, the 13 million teenagers in America had a cumulative income of $7 billion a year, a staggering 26% increase over the figures from three years prior. Those numbers, Halberstam notes, were astounding at the time, not far from the disposable income of an entire family of average Americans after basic billpay a mere fifteen years earlier.

But beyond the changing social structures, what fueled this tectonic shift in consumer culture was technological innovation:

Technology favored the young. The only possible family control was over a home’s one radio or record player. There, parental rule and edicts could still be exercised. But the young no longer needed to depend on the family’s appliances. In the early fifties a series of technological breakthroughs brought small transistorized radios that sold for $25 to $50. Soon an Elvis Presley model record player was selling for $47.95. Teenagers were asked to put $1 down and pay only $1 a week. Credit buying had reached the young. By the late fifties, American companies sold 10 million portable record players a year.

What this technological liberation achieved above all, Halberstam argues, was a reshuffling of the authoritarian hierarchy:

In this new subculture of rock and roll the important figures of authority were no longer mayors and selectmen or parents; they were disc jockeys, who reaffirmed the right to youthful independence and guided teenagers to their new rock heroes. The young formed their own community. For the first time in American life they were becoming a separate, defined part of the culture: As they had money, they were a market, and as they were a market they were listened to and catered to. Elvis was the first beneficiary. In effect, he was entering millions of American homes on the sly; if the parents had had their way, he would most assuredly have been barred.

The Fifties goes on to explore the social, political, and economic changes swept in by the era’s whirlwind of affluence and anxiety, control and chaos, uplift and unease.

Public domain images via Flickr Commons

Donating = Loving

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:





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

10 APRIL, 2013

An Illustrated Tour of All the Buildings in New York

By:

“It is the other ordinary buildings, spilling with hectic daily life, that hold real New York life and passion.”

New York City has served as a muse to such literary greats as Gay Talese, Anaïs Nin, E. B. White, and Jan Morris. It has been the subject of cartographic love letters and famous diaries. And yet the essence of its spirit remains ever-elusive.

A couple of years ago, Australian illustrator James Gulliver Hancock moved to New York City and, in an effort to “own” his new home in his unique way, set out to draw every single building in town. Now, he is releasing the best of these drawings in All the Buildings in New York (That I’ve Drawn So Far) (public library) — a charmingly illustrated tour of Gotham’s cityscape and architecture, from icons to oddities, spanning the entire urban spectrum in between.

Hancock writes in the introduction:

Newcomers to New York City really want to own it, to make up for all the years they’ve missed living here. My way of doing that was drawing my surroundings, so I could become more involved and connected with my new home. Many visitors come to this city and fall in love with it. What I fell in love with was the density of experience here. This is a chaotic, awkward, historic, and organic city organized on a grid. Although perfect buildings, like the Chrysler Building or the Statue of Liberty, symbolize ‘I Love NY,’ it is the other ordinary buildings, spilling with hectic daily life, that hold real New York life and passion. The fact that they stand right next to the icons is what makes this city special.

To Hancock, the project became a sensemaking mechanism for his experience of this all-consuming city:

This collection and obsession have become an almost ritualistic undertaking, a therapy of sorts, helping me to organize the overwhelming infinity and chaos of New York into something I can know and understand. Sometimes it appears to me like the game Tetris; the buildings begin to fit together neatly and become familiar. At other times it seems like an unquantifiable mess. This diarylike process helps me to deal with the waxing and waning, from complete chaos to intimate detail that is New York, making it personal, one object at a time.

Complement All the Buildings in New York with this interactive map of all the buildings James has drawn so far. Some of the drawings are also available as prints.

Donating = Loving

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:





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.