Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘culture’

29 NOVEMBER, 2011

The Curious Sofa: A “Pornographic Horror Story” by Edward Gorey, 1961

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A naughty illustrated tale of mad mid-century matinees.

I have an epic soft spot for Edward Gorey, mid-century illustrator of stories about mischievous children, mean grown-ups, and curious creatures, whose work influenced generations of creators as diverse as Nine Inch Nails and Tim Burton, and who even eleven years after his death managed to delight us with one of the best children’s books of 2011. In 1961, using his anagram pen name, Gorey published The Curious Sofa: A Pornographic Work by Ogdred Weary — a delightfully dark quasi-pornographic (that is, without actual nudity) quasi-horror (without actual blood and gore) “illustrated story about furniture.” Though none of the drawings are overtly sexual, plenty of innuendo and strategically placed tree branches, urns, room dividers, and other props ensure your imagination stays on the frisky side.

The story continues with charmingly naughty illustrated tales of Alice’s encounter with a “delightfully sympathetic” maid, a pool party of the unusual variety, a backseat reading from the Encyclopedia of Unimaginable Customs, some “remarkably well-set-up” young men from the nearby village, a terrace romp, and — it wouldn’t be Gorey otherwise — an out-of-the-blue, matter-of-factly death in between.

And then, of course, the “curious sofa” makes its much-anticipated cameo.

You’d have to read the rest to find out why Alice is so appalled and what happens next.

Wonderfully naughty in that nicely Goreyesque way, The Curious Sofa is like a children’s book for grown-ups — roguishly risqué grown-ups. And if this is the kind of thing that gets you creatively excited, don’t forget the charming Ancient Book of Sex and Science, a racy side project by four Pixar animators.

HT @MiaFarrow; cover photograph courtesy of VikingBanna

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29 NOVEMBER, 2011

The Physics Book: An Illustrated Chronology of How We Understand the Universe

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Making knowledge digestible in the age of information overload, or what a cat has to do with quasicrystals.

Einstein famously observed that the most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it’s comprehensible. In The Physics Book: From the Big Bang to Quantum Resurrection, 250 Milestones in the History of Physics, acclaimed science author Clifford Pickover offers a sweeping, lavishly illustrated chronology of comprehension by way of physics, from the Big Bang (13.7 billion BC) to Quantum Resurrection (> 100 trillion), through such watershed moments as Newton’s formulation of the laws of motion and gravity (1687), the invention of fiber optics (1841), Einstein’s general theory of relativity (1915), the first speculation about parallel universes (1956), the discovery of buckyballs (1985), Stephen Hawking’s Star Trek cameo (1993), and the building of the Large Hadron Collider (2009).

The book, which could well be the best thing since Bill Bryson’s short illustrated history of nearly everything, begins with a beautiful quote about the poetry of science and curiosity:

As the island of knowledge grows, the surface that makes contact with mystery expands. When major theories are overturned, what we thought was certain knowledge gives way, and knowledge touches upon mystery differently. This newly uncovered mystery may be humbling and unsettling, but it is the cost of truth. Creative scientists, philosophers, and poets thrive at this shoreline.” ~ W. Mark Richardson, ‘A Skeptic’s Sense of Wonder,’ Science

Pickover takes a wide-angle view of what physics actually is, encompassing everything from relativity to quantum mechanics to dark matter and beyond, in a spirit that honors the American Physical Society’s founding mission statement of 1899, which holds physics as “the most basic and fundamental science.” As much as it is about the great ideas of physics, the book is also about the great minds behind them, including Brain Pickings darlings Marie Curie, Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, Stephen Hawking, and Erwin Schrödinger.

From the magnetic monopole to quasicrystals to dark matter, The Physics Book is an invaluable treasure trove of curated knowledge in an age when, as Andrew Zolli put it at the opening of PopTech 2011, “the scale of our knowledge is expanding faster than most of our ability to comprehend.” For once, it’s rather nice to make some of humanity’s greatest intellectual achievements feel contained and digestible.

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28 NOVEMBER, 2011

Do! A Minimalist Handmade Pictogram Book in the Style of Indian Tribal Art

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Beautiful visual storytelling from the Warli tradition, hand-crafted by local artisans.

From Indian author Gita Wolf and the fine folks at Tara Books, makers of beautiful handcrafted books, comes Do! — a lovely set of action pictures rendered in the elegant minimalism of Warli tribal art. Each page depicts a basic verb (“work,” “play,” “fight”), illustrated in a style that blends the white-paint-on-brown-paper technique we’ve seen in Nurturing Walls, a pictogram-driven visual language reminiscent of the ISOTYPE of the 1930s, and a word-image minimalism akin to Blexbolex’s.

Like all Tara books, his gem is silk-screened by hand in Tara Books’ fair-trade workshop in Chennai. The pages themselves emit the rich earthy smell of artisanal craft, printed on rough recycled craft paper the color of paper bags and painted in a style that mimics the lime and chalk artwork traditionally created by the women of the Maharashtra region on walls washed with cow dung, mud, and paint.

Each image in every copy of Do!, more than an educational introduction to English verbs for young readers, is thus an original print to delight the creatively voracious of all ages.

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