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The Best of Brain Pickings 2012

Everything you missed and everything you’d want to revisit, in one place.

On this last day of the year, what better way to send 2012 off than with a look back at the its most stimulating reads? Gathered here are the most read and shared articles published on Brain Pickings this year, to complement the recent omnibus of the year’s best books. Enjoy, and may 2013 be inspired in every possible way.

  1. How to Find Your Purpose and Do What You Love
    Why prestige is the enemy of passion, or how to master the balance of setting boundaries and making friends – insights from seven thinkers who have contemplated the art-science of making your life’s calling a living.
  2. The Daily Routines of Famous Writers
    “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.” E. B. White, Ray Bradbury, Susan Sontag, Kurt Vonnegut, Jack Kerouac, Joan Didion, Simone de Beauvoir, Ernest Hemingway, and other literary icons share their writing habits, painstakingly culled from decades’ worth of interviews and diary entires.
  3. Susan Sontag on Love: Illustrated Diary Excerpts
    “Nothing is mysterious, no human relation. Except love.” Artist Wendy MacNaughton illustrates Sontag’s most poignant, most private meditations on love – candid, vulnerable, hopeful, hopeless – culled from the author’s recently released journals.
  4. Charles Bukowski, Arthur C. Clarke, Annie Dillard, John Cage, and Others on the Meaning of Life
    “We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us.” In 1988, the editors of LIFE magazine asked 300 “wise men and women,” from celebrated authors, actors, and artists to global spiritual leaders to everyday farmers, barbers, and welfare mothers, what the meaning of life might be. Here is a selection of the answers.
  5. 10 Tips on Writing from David Ogilvy
    “Never write more than two pages on any subject.” Timeless wisdom on writing from the original Mad Man.
  6. John Steinbeck on Falling in Love: A 1958 Letter
    “If it is right, it happens — The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.” A moving letter of advice to the author’s teenage son upon his first love.
  7. A 5-Step Technique for Producing Ideas circa 1939
    “…the habit of mind which leads to a search for relationships between facts becomes of the highest importance in the production of ideas.”
  8. Ted Hughes on the Universal Inner Child, in a Moving Letter to His Son
    “The only calibration that counts is how much heart people invest, how much they ignore their fears of being hurt or caught out or humiliated.”
  9. Internal Time: The Science of Chronotypes, Social Jet Lag, and Why You’re So Tired
    Debunking the social stigma around late risers, or what Einstein has to do with teens’ risk for smoking.
  10. This Will Make You Smarter: 151 Big Thinkers Each Pick a Concept to Enhance Your Cognitive Toolkit
    The importance of “the umwelt,” or why failure and uncertainty are essential for science and life.
  11. Henry Miller’s 11 Commandments of Writing & Daily Creative Routine
    “When you can’t create you can work.”
  12. Why Emotional Excess is Essential to Writing and Creativity
    “Something is always born of excess: great art was born of great terrors, great loneliness, great inhibitions, instabilities, and it always balances them.”
  13. How to Avoid Work: A 1949 Guide to Doing What You Love
    “Life really begins when you have discovered that you can do anything you want.”
  14. The Seven Lady Godivas, His Little-Known “Adult” Book of Nudes
    In 1939, when Theodor Seuss Geisel left Vanguard for Random House, he had one condition for his new publisher, Bennett Cerf – that he would let Geisel do an “adult” book first. This is the little-known result.
  15. Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Tips on How to Write a Great Story
    “Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.”
  16. John Cleese on the 5 Factors to Make Your Life More Creative
    “Creativity is not a talent. It is a way of operating.”
  17. Austin Kleon on 10 Things Every Creator Should Remember But We Often Forget
    What T.S. Eliot has to do with genetics and the optimal investment theory for your intellectual life.
  18. Jack Kerouac’s List of 30 Beliefs and Techniques for Prose and Life
    “No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge.”
  19. 100 Ideas That Changed Graphic Design
    From visual puns to the grid, or what Edward Tufte has to do with the invention of the fine print.
  20. New Year’s Resolution Reading List: How To Read More and Write Better
    As far as New Year’s resolutions go, hardly anything does one’s mental, spiritual, and creative health more good than resolving to read more and write better. This reading list, originally published in early January 2012, addresses these parallel aspirations. And since the number of books written about reading and writing likely far exceeds the reading capacity of a single human lifetime, this omnibus couldn’t be – shouldn’t be – an exhaustive list. It is, instead, a collection of timeless texts bound to radically improve your relationship with the written word, from whichever side of the equation you approach it.
  21. Women in Science: Einstein’s Advice to a Little Girl Who Wants to Be a Scientist
    The heartening correspondence between Einstein and a South African little girl named Tyffany.
  22. How To Talk About Books You Haven’t Read
    “Non-reading is not just the absence of reading. It is a genuine activity, one that consists of adopting a stance in relation to the immense tide of books that protects you from drowning. On that basis, it deserves to be defended and even taught.”
  23. A Liberal Decalogue: Bertrand Russell on the Ten Commandments of Teaching
    “Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.”
  24. Charles Darwin’s List of the Pros and Cons of Marriage
    “My God, it is intolerable to think of spending one’s whole life, like a neuter bee, working, working, & nothing after all.”
  25. Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar
    “The useless days will add up to something….These things are your becoming.”

Published December 31, 2012




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