Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘books’

18 JANUARY, 2013

Bob Dylan’s 1974 Classic “Forever Young,” Illustrated

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“May you grow up to be righteous, may you grow up to be true… May you stay forever young.”

On January 18, 1974, the world welcomed Bob Dylan’s Planet Waves album. On it was “Forever Young” — one of Dylan’s most beloved songs, inspired by his four-year-old son Jakob.

In 2008, Dylan asked award-winning illustrator Paul Rogers, whose stunning covers for Hemingway classics you may have encountered and admired, to apply his signature mid-century aesthetic in reimagining the lyrics of the iconic anthem as a series of illustrated vignettes for young readers. Forever Young (UK; public library) was born — a charming children’s book about a little boy who embodies the heart of the Dylan classic: adventurousness, doing the right thing, and the eternal spirit of youth.

Rogers writes in the Illustrator’s Notes, before offering a page-by-page breakdown of some of the hidden stories in the drawings:

Listening to nearly every Dylan album while creating the illustrations for this book gave me time to think about the people who inspired him and how his music has inspired so many. These drawings include images from Dylan’s life and lyrics from his songs. Some are obvious and others are meant to be a bit of a mystery.

Forever Young is at once refreshingly unexpected and somehow completely natural — the lyrics, after all, are the perfect life-advice to youngsters:

May you grow up to be righteous
May you grow up to be true
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you
May you always be courageous
Stand upright and be strong
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young

Open Culture

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17 JANUARY, 2013

The Art of Ofey: Richard Feynman’s Little-Known Sketches & Drawings

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“I wanted to convey an emotion I have about the beauty of the world…this feeling about the glories of the universe.”

Just like Sylvia Plath and Queen Victoria, Nobel-winning physicist Richard Feynmanchampion of scientific culture, graphic novel hero, crusader for integrity, holder of the key to science, adviser of future generations, bongo player — was a surprisingly gifted semi-secret artist. He started drawing at the age of 44 in 1962, shortly after developing the visual language for his famous Feynman diagrams, after a series of amicable arguments about art vs. science with his artist-friend Jirayr “Jerry” Zorthian — the same friend to whom Feynman’s timeless ode to a flower was in response. Eventually, the two agreed that they’d exchange lessons in art and science on alternate Sundays. Feynman went on to draw — everything from portraits of other prominent physicists and his children to sketches of strippers and very, very many female nudes — until the end of his life.

The Art of Richard P. Feynman: Images by a Curious Character (UK; public library) collects a quarter century of Feynman’s drawings, curated by his daughter Michelle, beginning with his first sketches of the human figure in 1962 and ending in 1987, the year before his death.

Dancer at Gianonni's Bar (1968)

In an introductory essay titled “But Is It Art?,” Feynman recounts his arrangement with Jerry and observes the intersection of art and science:

I wanted very much to learn to draw, for a reason that I kept to myself: I wanted to convey an emotion I have about the beauty of the world. It’s difficult to describe because it’s an emotion. It’s analogous to the feeling one has in religion that has to do with a god that controls everything in the universe: there’s a generality aspect that you feel when you think about how things that appear so different and behave so differently are all run ‘behind the scenes’ by the same organization, the same physical laws. It’s an appreciation of the mathematical beauty of nature, of how she works inside; a realization that the phenomena we see result from the complexity of the inner workings between atoms; a feeling of how dramatic and wonderful it is. It’s a feeling of awe — of scientific awe — which I felt could be communicated through a drawing to someone who had also had that emotion. I could remind him, for a moment, of this feeling about the glories of the universe.

Female Posing (1968)

Equations and Sketches (1985)

Martha Bridges (1965)

Hans Bethe (date N/A)

Michelle Feynman (1981)

Sketch with Last Line by Carl Feynman, age 2 (1962)

Once Feynman decided to sell the drawings upon a friend’s suggestion, he was cautious of people fetishizing them because of his academic prominence and the sheer curiosity of a distinguished scientist who dabbles in art, so he decided to adopt a pseudonym: Ofey. Feynman explains the origin:

My friend Dudley Wright suggested ‘Au Fait,’ which means ‘It is done’ in French. I spelled it O-f-e-y, which turned out to be a name the blacks used for ‘whitey.’ But after all, I was whitey, so it was all right.

From Behind (1985)

Jirayr Zorthian (date N/A)

Nude from the Rear (1979)

Nude Sleeping (1975)

Portrait of a Stripper (1969)

In the introductory essay, Feynman also considers the differences in teaching art and teaching science, a disconnect Isaac Asimov has famously addressed in his passionate case for creativity in science education. Feynman writes:

I noticed that the teacher didn’t tell people much (the only thing he told me was my picture was too small on the page). Instead, he tried to inspire us to experiment with new approaches. I thought of how we teach physics: We have so many techniques—so many mathematical methods—that we never stop telling the students how to do things. On the other hand, the drawing teacher is afraid to tell you anything. If your lines are very heavy, the teacher can’t say, “Your lines are too heavy.” because some artist has figured out a way of making great pictures using heavy lines. The teacher doesn’t want to push you in some particular direction. So the drawing teacher has this problem of communicating how to draw by osmosis and not by instruction, while the physics teacher has the problem of always teaching techniques, rather than the spirit, of how to go about solving physical problems.

1 Minute Line Drawing (1985)

Portrait of a Woman (1983)

Sheet of Studies (date N/A)

Rufus (1985)

Richard Feynman's First Drawing (1962)

Though The Art of Richard P. Feynman: Images by a Curious Character is sadly long out of print and thus a collector’s item, you can find the essay “But Is It Art” in the fantastic 1985 anthology Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! (Adventures of a Curious Character).

It’s Okay To Be Smart; images courtesy Museum Syndicate

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16 JANUARY, 2013

How to Read Faster: Bill Cosby’s Three Proven Strategies

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“Nobody gets something for nothing in the reading game.”

“All attempts at gaining literary polish must begin with judicious reading,” H. P. Lovecraft famously advised aspiring writers. Indeed, reading is an essential skill on par with writing, and though non-reading may be an intellectual choice on par with reading, reading itself — just like writing — is a craft that requires optimal technique for optimal outcome. So how, exactly, do we hone that vital technique? While speed-reading tutorials, courses, software, and books abound today, some of the most potent tips you’ll ever receive come from an unexpected source:

Bill Cosby may be best-known as the beloved personality behind his eponymous TV show, but he earned his doctorate in education and has been involved in several projects teaching the essential techniques of effective reading, including a PBS series on reading skills. In an essay unambiguously titled “How to Read Faster,” published in the same wonderful 1985 anthology How to Use the Power of the Printed Word (UK; public library) that gave us Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 timeless rules of writing, Cosby offers his three proven strategies for reading faster. Apart from their evergreen application to the printed word, it’s particularly interesting to consider how these rules might translate to the digital screen, where structural factors like scrolling, pagination, hyperlinks, and adjustable font sizes make the text and the reading experience at once more fluid and more rigid.

1. Preview — If It’s Long and Hard

Previewing is especially useful for getting a general idea of heavy reading like long magazine or newspaper articles, business reports, and nonfiction books.

It can give you as much as half the comprehension in as little as one tenth the time. For example, you should be able to preview eight or ten 100-page reports in an hour. After previewing, you’ll be able to decide which reports (or which parts of which reports) are worth a closer look.

Here’s how to preview: Read the entire first two paragraphs of whatever you’ve chosen. Next read only the first sentence of each successive paragraph. Then read the entire last two paragraphs.

Previewing doesn’t give you all the details. But it does keep you from spending time on things you don’t really want — or need — to read.

Notice that previewing gives you a quick, overall view of long, unfamiliar material. For short, light reading, there’s a better technique.

2. Skim — If It’s Short and Simple

Skimming is a good way to get a general idea of light reading such as popular magazines or the sports and entertainment sections of the paper.

You should be able to skim a weekly popular magazine or the second section of your daily paper in less than half the time it takes you to read it now.

Skimming is also a great way to review material you’ve read before.

Here’s how to skim: Think of your eyes as magnets. Force them to move fast. Sweep them across each and every line of type. Pick up only a few key words in each line.

Everybody skims differently.

You and I may not pick up exactly the same words when we skim the same piece, but we’ll both get a pretty similar idea of what it’s all about.

To show you how it works, I circled the words I picked out when I skimmed the following story. Try it. It shouldn’t take you more than ten seconds.

Skimming can give you a very good idea of this story in about half the words, and in less than half the time it’d take to read every word.

So far, you’ve seen that previewing and skimming can give you a general idea about content — fast. But neither technique can promise more than 50 percent comprehension, because you aren’t reading all the words. (Nobody gets something for nothing in the reading game.)

To read faster and understand most, if not all, of what you read, you need to know a third technique.

3. Cluster — to Increase Speed AND Comprehension

Most of us learn to read by looking at each word in a sentence — one at a time.

Like this:

My — brother — Russell — thinks — monsters…

You probably still read this way sometimes, especially when the words are difficult. Or when the words have an extraspecial meaning, as in a poem, a Shakespeare play or a contract. And that’s okay.

But word-by-word reading is a rotten way to read faster. It actually cuts down on your speed.

Clustering trains you to look at groups of words instead of one at a time, and it increases your speed enormously. For most of us, clustering is a totally different way of seeing what we read.

Here’s how to cluster: Train your eyes to see all the words in clusters of up to three or four words at a glance.

Here’s how I’d cluster the story we just skimmed:

Learning to read clusters is not something your eyes do naturally. It takes constant practice.

Here’s how to go about it: Pick something light to read. Read it as fast as you can. Concentrate on seeing three to four words at once rather than one word at a time. Then reread the piece at your normal speed to see what you missed the first time.

Try a second piece. First cluster, then reread to see what you missed in this one.

When you can read in clusters without missing much the first time, your speed has increased. Practice fifteen minutes every day and you might pick up the technique in a week or so. (But don’t be disappointed if it takes longer. Clustering everything takes time and practice.

How to Use the Power of the Printed Word is a treasure trove of illuminating essays — highly recommended.

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