Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘books’

18 JULY, 2012

Hemingway Shoots His Cat

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“Have had to shoot people but never anyone I knew and loved for eleven years. Nor anyone that purred with two broken legs.”

We now know young Ernest Hemingway was a sensitive soul but, beneath the machismo for which he became known, the iconic author seemed to have maintained his soft core into his final years. One testament to this was his well-documented love of his cats — he had 23 by 1945. (His first cat, named Snowball, was given to him by a ship’s captain and was six-toed; his former home in Key West, Florida, currently houses nearly a hundred descendants of Snowball, about half of whom are polydactyl — an inadvertent lab for inbred genetic mutation.) Hemingway’s niece, Hilary Hemingway, writes in the foreword to Hemingway’s Cats: An Illustrated Biography (public library) that the author and his fourth wife, Mary, called the cats “purr factories” and “love sponges.”

On February 22, 1953, one of Hemingway’s cats, Uncle Willie, was hit by a car. Following the accident, Hemingway sent his close friend Gianfranco Ivancich the following distraught letter:

Dear Gianfranco:

Just after I finished writing you and was putting the letter in the envelope Mary came down from the Torre and said, ‘Something terrible has happened to Willie.’ I went out and found Willie with both his right legs broken: one at the hip, the other below the knee. A car must have run over him or somebody hit him with a club. He had come all the way home on the two feet of one side. It was a multiple compound fracture with much dirt in the wound and fragments protruding. But he purred and seemed sure that I could fix it.

I had René get a bowl of milk for him and René held him and caressed him and Willie was drinking the milk while I shot him through the head. I don’t think he could have suffered and the nerves had been crushed so his legs had not begun to really hurt. Monstruo wished to shoot him for me, but I could not delegate the responsibility or leave a chance of Will knowing anybody was killing him…

Have had to shoot people but never anyone I knew and loved for eleven years. Nor anyone that purred with two broken legs.

For more on the literary legend’s tender side, see Young Hemingway’s Letters.

TYWKIWDBI

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18 JULY, 2012

Alligators All Around: A Maurice Sendak Alphabet Book from 1962

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Juggling jellybeans, keeping kangaroos, and other shockingly spoiled yackety-yacking.

As a lover of alphabet books and of all things Maurice Sendak, I was delighted to get my hands on an original 1962 edition of Sendak’s Alligators All Around: An Alphabet — a charming, tiny gem that tells the non-narrative story of an alligator family who go about their daily business as young readers explore the progression of the alphabet.

Even with so few words and such simple illustrations, Sendak’s signature wit and subtle irreverence shine with their familiar light.

Note that although the illustrations in the them are no less delightful, the copies currently on Amazon are, alas, regular-sized reprints from 1991 — but some public libraries still carry the wonderfully diminutive original.

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18 JULY, 2012

Remembering Steven R. Covey with Timeless Insights from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

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“Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.”

In 1989, Stephen R. Covey penned The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (public library), a book that went on to sell millions of copies worldwide and defined a new genre bridging self-improvement, business management, and personal productivity. This week, Covey passed away at the age of 79. Here’s a look back at his legacy with some of the keenest insights from his beloved bestseller.

Habit is the intersection of knowledge (what to do), skill (how to do), and desire (want to do).

Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.*

People can’t live with change if there’s not a changeless core inside them.

Until a person can say deeply and honestly, ‘I am what I am today because of the choices I made yesterday,’ that person cannot say, ‘I choose otherwise.’

To learn and not to do is really not to learn. To know and not to do is really not to know.

It is one thing to make a mistake, and quite another thing not to admit it. People will forgive mistakes, because mistakes are usually of the mind, mistakes of judgment. But people will not easily forgive the mistakes of the heart, the ill intention, the bad motives, the prideful justifying cover-up of the first mistake.

Admission of ignorance is often the first step in our education.

Our behavior is a function of our decisions, not our conditions.

The ability to subordinate an impulse to a value is the essence of the proactive person.

How you treat the one reveals how you regard the many, because everyone is ultimately a one.

There’s no better way to inform and expand your mind on a regular basis than to get into the habit of reading good literature.

And, of course, the meat of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:

Habit 1: Be Proactive
Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind
Habit 3: Put First Things First
Habit 4: Think Win/Win
Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
Habit 6: Synergize
Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw

* Covey is, of course, paraphrasing Gandhi.

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17 JULY, 2012

A Vintage Love Letter to NYC’s Heat as the Ultimate Class Equalizer

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How the extremities of the thermometer bridge the most insurmountable of social barriers.

As New York enters a record-breaking heat wave this week, I was reminded of a wonderful passage from Manhattan ’45 (public library), titled thusly because it sounds “partly like a kind of gun; and partly like champagne,” by the Welsh historian and prolific travel writer Jan Morris* — easily the most beautifully written love letter to New York City since E. B. White’s iconic Here Is New York, one of my all-time favorite texts. Morris paints a portrait of the city as it was on June 25, 1945 — the day 14,000 American servicemen and women, the first contingent returning from the victory over Nazi Germany, sailed into New York aboard the British liner Queen Mary — reconstructed in 1987, when the book was originally published. In this excerpt from the closing of Chapter 4, “On Class,” Morris captures the remarkable unifying force of New York City heat, something to quietly celebrate as we brush up against sweaty strangers on the subway and exchange wistfully knowing nods.

[W]hen a heat wave left the whole city gasping and sweating, a powerful fellowship blunted the edge of the common misery, bridging the most insuperable linguistic barriers, or the most unclimbable social barricades, if only with a wink or a grimace.

Morris goes on to extend this amalgamation of difference into fellowship, driven by the forces of the city’s circumstance, to the very fabric of citizenship:

And anyway citizenship of this city in itself made for a bond beyond class. To be a citizen of Manhattan was an achievement in itself — it had taken guts and enterprise, if not on your own part, at least on your forebears’. The pressures of the place, its competition, its pace, its hazards, even the fun of it, demanded special qualities of its people, and gave them a particular affinity for one another. They were all an elite!

*Morris herself is very much a character worthy of New York City’s colorful spirit. Born as James Morris in 1926, the father of five children and a WWII vet, she had gender reassignment surgery in 1972 after eight years of medical transition. She had to travel to Morocco to have the procedure performed, since British doctors wouldn’t agree to do it unless Morris divorced the children’s mother, Elizabeth Tuckniss, which she refused to do. The two eventually divorced, but remained close and were legally reunited in a civil partnership in 2008, when Morris was 82. You can hear Morris in conversation with NYPL’s Paul Holdengräber.

Thanks, Chel

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