Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘books’

07 FEBRUARY, 2013

How Cinelli Revolutionized the Art and Design of the Bicycle

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A visual history of how Italian designer Cino Cinelli shaped the standards for modern cycling.

The history of the bicycle is peppered with curious and wide-spanning cultural resonance — from powering the emancipating (and subjugation) of women to reining in incredible design innovation to serving as a manifesto for the creative life, a a metaphor for computers, and an object of art. But hardly do the bike’s dignity and glory shine more brilliantly than in an exquisitely designed and engineered specimen, and few pioneers have done more to elevate bicycle design than Cino Cinelli.

The beautifully designed Cinelli: The Art and Design of the Bicycle (public library; UK) tells the story of how, since he first began making frames in Italy in the 1940s, Cinelli set the standards for both technical quality and aesthetic elegance in bicycle design, framing the ideal for the classic bike and shaping the evolution of professional cycling.

Even with its very identity, created by legendary designer Italo Lupi in 1979, Cinelli immediately did away with convention:

The aesthetics of the Italian racing bicycle in the 1970s were still defined by a code set in place in the years before World War II. Frames were painted in beautifully applied pure colors — blacks, reds, whites, blues, bronzes and silvers. The decorations and logos were the careful creations of the great artisans of the interwar period — heraldic symbols and traditional Italian iconography combined with great skill to render the final product harmonious.

[…]

The new Cinelli logo employed a Standard Bold typeface with modified spacing to register an iconic effect. The “winged C” itself was inspired by the clean graphic art of 1950s British motorcycle brands. The colors within the wings — an orange-red, mild green, and yellow — made absolutely no reference to any cycling tradition. Lupi recollects that they were inspired specifically by the particular enamel of British locomotives, but with hindsight they seem equally a product of the irreverent postmodern aesthetics of the late-1970s and early-1980s Milanese design.

The logo immediately and starkly distinguished Cinelli from the competition and became perhaps the most imitated bicycle logo of the modern period. It was sexy, funny, ironic, and design savvy — a completely heterogenous mix of the times, but also a reflection of a confident and excited Milanese cultural industry.

Sample Cinelli: The Art and Design of the Bicycle with this teaser from Rizzoli:

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07 FEBRUARY, 2013

Pictures from Italy: A Whimsical Early Travelogue by Dickens, Newly Illustrated

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A beautiful modern resurrection of the author’s lesser-known early work.

In the 1840s, young Charles Dickens traveled to Italy and France with his family, recording the experience in a lesser-known early work that was part travelogue, part imaginative fairy tale. Now, Indian independent publisher Tara Books — whose exquisite handmade gems and whimsical children’s picture-books you might recall — has brought Pictures from Italy (public library; UK) back to life in a beautiful new edition, illustrated by Italian artist Livia Signorini in eleven striking full-color gatefolds inspired by Dickens’s impressions, complemented by beautiful full-page black-and-white closeups.

And let us not remember Italy the less regardfully, because, in every fragment of her fallen Temples, and every stone of her deserted palaces and prisons, she helps to inculcate the lesson that the wheel of Time is rolling for an end, and that the world is, in all great essentials, better, gentler, more forbearing, and more hopeful, as it rolls!

Complement Pictures from Italy with Dickens’s heartening letter of advice to his youngest son.

Images courtesy Tara Books

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06 FEBRUARY, 2013

Yan Nascimbene’s Stunning Illustrations of Italo Calvino Classics

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Meditations on life in philosophical watercolors.

I was enormously saddened to learn that French-Italian illustrator Yan Nascimbene passed away last Friday at the age of 63. A graduate of New York’s School of Visual Arts, Nascimbene illustrated more than 50 books, 300 book covers, and countless editorial pieces for publications like The New Yorker, TIME, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, The Chicago Tribune, The Boston Globe, Scientific American, and The Atlantic. But his most memorable drawings — which, with their tender watercolors, bring to mind Maurice Sendak’s final farewell — stem from his profound love for the work of Italian novelist Italo Calvino.

It all began in the mid-1990s with Difficult Loves, a collection of 13 Calvino short stories about love and loneliness, which had been a longtime dream job for Nascimbene. After several years of pursuit spanning letters, emails, and faxes to and from six different people representing the Calvino estate, the project finally came to life in February of 2001 as Aventures, featuring 27 stunning illustrations by Nascimbene:

Besides the implicit connection the two creators shared in the geography of both of their childhoods, Nascimbene related to Calvino’s existential bent:

You can read his stories on two levels. He writes about love and loneliness and the difficulty that comes in trying to connect with others. His writing is light, clean and crisp, almost mathematical. And at the same time on another level Calvino is highly philosophical about life. He writes one little story about some mundane event or occurrence and builds up a whole analytical system of life around it.

Next came Palomar, Calvino’s final novel consisting of 27 short chapters arranged in a 3 × 3 × 3 pattern, which Nascimbene illustrated in 2003:

The final Nascimbene/Calvino installment, The Baron in the Trees, came in 2005 and is virtually impossible to find online, but your local library might have a copy. It is absolutely breathtaking:

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05 FEBRUARY, 2013

9 Rules for Success by British Novelist Amelia E. Barr, 1901

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“Genius is nothing more nor less than doing well what anyone can do badly.”

The secret of success — like its very definition — remains amorphous and forever elusive. For Thoreau, it was a matter of greeting each day with joy; for Jad Abumrad, it comes after some necessary “gut churn”; for Jackson Pollock’s dad, it was about being fully awake to the world; for entrepreneur Paul Graham, it’s about purpose rather than prestige; for designer Paula Scher, it means beginning every day with a capacity for growth. But perhaps, above all, success is about defining it yourself.

Still, those who have succeed — by their own definition, as well as history’s — might be able to glean some insight into the inner workings of accomplishment. From the 1901 volume How They Succeeded: Life Stories of Successful Men Told by Themselves (public library; public domain) comes a wonderful essay by British novelist Amelia E. Barr (1831–1919) who, despite the devastating loss of her husband and three of their six children to yellow fever in 1867, went on to become a dedicated and diligent writer, eventually reaching critical success at the age of fifty-two.

At the end of her essay, under a section titled “Words of Counsel,” Barr offers nine tips for success, echoing some familiar themes — Tchaikovsky’s insistence on work ethic over inspiration, Ray Bradbury’s case for perseverance in the face of rejection, the importance of having a good routine and working with joy, and the necessary reminder that success requires a deliberate investment of effort and good writing takes time.

  1. Men and women succeed because they take pains to succeed. Industry and patience are almost genius; and successful people are often more distinguished for resolution and perseverance than for unusual gifts. They make determination and unity of purpose supply the place of ability.
  2. Success is the reward of those who “spurn delights and live laborious days.” We learn to do things by doing them. One of the great secrets of success is “pegging away.” No disappointment must discourage, and a run back must often be allowed, in order to take a longer leap forward.
  3. No opposition must be taken to heart. Our enemies often help us more than our friends. Besides, a head-wind is better than no wind. Who ever got anywhere in a dead calm?
  4. A fatal mistake is to imagine that success is some stroke of luck. This world is run with far too tight a rein for luck to interfere. Fortune sells her wares; she never gives them. In some form or other, we pay for her favors; or we go empty away.
  5. We have been told, for centuries, to watch for opportunities, and to strike while the iron is hot. Very good; but I think better of Oliver Cromwell’s amendment — “make the iron hot by striking it.”
  6. Everything good needs time. Don’t do work in a hurry. Go into details; it pays in every way. Time means power for your work. Mediocrity is always in a rush; but whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing with consideration. For genius is nothing more nor less than doing well what anyone can do badly.
  7. Be orderly. Slatternly work is never good work. It is either affectation, or there is some radical defect in the intellect. I would distrust even the spiritual life of one whose methods and work were dirty, untidy, and without clearness and order.
  8. Never be above your profession. I have had many letters from people who wanted all the emoluments and honors of literature, and who yet said, “Literature is the accident of my life; I am a lawyer, or a doctor, or a lady, or a gentleman.” Literature is no accident. She is a mistress who demands the whole heart, the whole intellect, and the whole time of a devotee.
  9. Don’t fail through defects of temper and over-sensitiveness at moments of trial. One of the great helps to success is to be cheerful; to go to work with a full sense of life; to be determined to put hindrances out of the way; to prevail over them and to get the mastery. Above all things else, be cheerful; there is no beatitude for the despairing.

    Apparent success may be reached by sheer impudence, in defiance of offensive demerit. But men who get what they are manifestly unfit for, are made to feel what people think of them. Charlatanry may flourish; but when its bay tree is greenest, it is held far lower than genuine effort. The world is just; it may, it does, patronize quacks; but it never puts them on a level with true men.

    It is better to have the opportunity of victory, than to be spared the struggle; for success comes but as the result of arduous experience. The foundations of my success were laid before I can well remember; it was after at least forty-five years of conscious labor that I reached the object of my hope. Many a time my head failed me, my hands failed me, my feet failed me, but, thank God, my heart never failed me.

For more of history’s timeless wisdom on writing, see H. P. Lovecraft’s advice to aspiring writers, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s letter to his daughter, Zadie Smith’s 10 rules of writing, Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 keys to the power of the written word, David Ogilvy’s 10 no-bullshit tips, Henry Miller’s 11 commandments, Jack Kerouac’s 30 beliefs and techniques, John Steinbeck’s 6 pointers, Neil Gaiman’s 8 rules, Margaret Atwood’s 10 practical tips, and Susan Sontag’s synthesized learnings.

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