Brain Pickings

Page 1339

Strange Maps: The Book

What George Orwell has to do with the Amazons of California and Utopia.

Today is the day we’d been waiting for for a long, long time. For today, Strange Maps — an absolute favorite blog of ours, a frequent source of inspiration, and one of the shiniest hidden gems on the Interwebs — is finally gifting the world with its eponymous book.

Strange Maps: An Atlas of Cartographic Curiosities features 138 of the most fascinating, absorbing and remarkable maps from the blog’s 3-year history of culling the world’s forgotten, little-known and niche cartographic treasures.

From the world as depicted in Orwell’s 1984, to a color map of Thomas More’s Utopia, to the 16th-century portrayal of California as an island where people live like the Amazons, the book is brim-full of priceless anecdotes from our collective conception of the world over the centuries.

But what makes all these maps really special is that they somehow capture and reveal a great deal about human psychology and thought — the humor of political parody (Hey there, United States of Canada vs. Jesusuland), the tragicomic bias of a New Yorker’s vantage point, the odd propositions of science gone awry (No, we won’t rename the stars after famous dictators), the inflation of political ego (Sorry, China, you’re not the Middle Kingdom at the center of the world), the absurdity of rampant religious fundamentalism (Really? The final battle between God and Satan in Armageddon will take place exactly at the Megiddo Valley in Israel?), the universal and age-old mistrust of cabbies (Who knew a hexagonal layout of London would prevent passengers from getting ripped off?).

Strange Maps: An Atlas of Cartographic Curiosities is certainly unusual and idiosyncratic — in the most wonderful way possible. At the intersection of history, design, politics and humor, it’s one of those rare beasts that tackle so many facets of culture with utter ease, readability and can’t-put-it-down magnetism.


Interview with Mary Tomer, Brains Behind

Fashion, politics and how to live every blogger’s dream.

Today, we’re picking the brains of Mary Tomer, creator of the uber-successful blog-turned-book following the fashion of Michelle Obama. Mary’s book, Mrs. O: The Face of Fashion Democracy, is out today and we sit down with her to talk about the inspiration behind the project, culture’s conflicted relationship with fashion, and the notion of high-low style.


Hey Mary, good to have you. Tell us a bit about yourself, your background, what inspires you and your brand of creative curiosity.

Hey Maria! Thanks for the opportunity to chat with you a bit. I’m a 28-year-old account planner at BBH New York. I moved to New York to work at BBH four years ago, an ambition that involved repeated trips on the Fung Wah bus from Boston and back.

Before working in advertising, I spent a few years at a Boston-based private equity firm. Advertising appealed to me as a field that mixed business with creativity, and in that respect, would better suit my strengths.

What inspires me? Fashion bloggers Tavi and Jane Alridge (of Sea of Shoes), tea and chocolates with my mom at the MoMA cafe, foreign travel, glossy fashion magazines, and, of course, Michelle Obama, Mrs.O.


What was the original inspiration for the Mrs. O project?

Michelle Obama’s style was on my radar for most of 2008, but it was during the Democratic National Convention in late August 2008 that I became captivated. By the second night of the convention I was googling to learn more about Michelle Obama’s style — details on what she was wearing and what others thought. I expected to find a blog dedicated to her style, but surprisingly, it didn’t yet exist. I thought others had to be as interested as I was, if not more so, and that a blog was in order. I approached BBH to help me create it, and a less than three weeks later, launched.

If I take a step back, I see a few other influences that were more subconsciously at play. Through the years, my mother has imbued a fascination with Jacqueline Kennedy’s style. In Michelle Obama, I instantly felt that my generation had found its Jacqueline Kennedy.

At BBH, there was a definite appetite for new types of creativity, particularly in the digital space. That was coupled by past experience working on Zag — BBH’s brand and innovation unit — that invites everyone at the agency to propose ideas. I wanted to be as stylish as its inspiration, and knew that BBH would help me to achieve that.


Over the past few years, many street fashion blogs have emerged as champions of decentralized, democratized, power-to-the-people fashion. Mrs. O is similar in a lot of way in its overall mission of “fashion democracy,” but opposite in going about it through centralized focus on a very famous public persona. How do you see Mrs. O relate to street fashion beacons like The Sartorialist?

Through both the first lady’s style and street style blogs, I think we see an increasing value placed on creativity in fashion, as well as a kind of reappraisal of luxury. The latter became apparent to me while working on Mrs. O: The Face of Fashion Democracy and interviewing various figures in the fashion industry.

Repeatedly, designers spoke of their customers rejecting an empty facade of luxury that they might have bought into a few years ago, instead choosing garments that are of genuine, real value, whether priced high or low. That seems to be the underlying driver behind high-low style, embraced by the first lady as well as the muses of street style blogs.


You’re a fellow planner — a rather complex, hybrid discipline that lives in the epicenter of the ad agency environment of cross-pollination of ideas and skills. What role has this played in fostering the Mrs. O idea and bringing it to life?

The idea for was born out of a personal passion and interest in Michelle Obama’s style. But in many respects, I was also planning on autopilot. For example, the idea required recognizing a gap in the market coupled with a growing consumer need, defining a clear voice for a brand, etc. It just all happened a bit more intuitively and with less process than usual. And actually, before I was a planner, I started out at BBH in account management. I think the hybrid skill set has been an asset here.

On the flip side, this experience has also taught me a lot as a planner. I never considered the value I would get from moderating a blog, but things like stimulating and steering conversation, and listening to your audience all feel quite applicable to planning.


There’s always been an interesting social tension about fashion. It’s surrounded by an air of glamor and creativity, but there’s also a lurking perception that it’s a somewhat superficial, inferior, non-serious thing to revere. At the same time, politics is a space to be taken seriously, there’s even a certain solemn reverence about it. And Mrs. O lives at the intersection of the two. How do you balance that tension?

I’m continually trying to wrap my head around this. The oft asked question is: Are you selling Michelle Obama short by focusing on her fashion? In truth, I don’t know anyone who’s only interested in Michelle Obama’s style. But at the same time, I think that the clothes bring their own kind of substance — as part of our culture, and in shaping our social history — that is often overlooked.

The dress codes that accompany politics do make it all the more complicated. On both the blog and in the book, I’ve tried to present a balanced perspective, by acknowledging the story behind the clothes themselves, but also presenting the context in which they were worn.


Almost four decades ago, another Mrs. O became the first First-Lady-turned-style-icon. If blogs were around then, who would be writing the then-version of Mrs. O — Peggy Olsen, Betty Draper, Joan, or Sal? (You didn’t think you’d slide by without a Mad Men reference, did you?)

Ah yes… Probably Joan. She seems both interested in fashion and a bit enterprising. I almost chose Betty, but she might consider blogging to be improper.

Mary’s wonderful book, Mrs. O: The Face of Fashion Democracy, is out today. It takes a closer look at America’s modern style icon with more than 120 photographs of the first lady, placed in a rich historical and biographical context that captures Michelle Obama’s revered charisma, intelligence and substance through a fascinating journey into her personal style.


The Real Godfather: Il Divo

Scorsese meets Coppola, or what the Vatican has to do with assassination conspiracies.

Known as Divo Giulio — from the Latin Divus Iulius, “divine Julius” — Giulio Andreotti has reigned as the most enigmatic, revered and feared politician in Italy for over 50 years, serving seven terms as Prime Minister. Then, at the pinnacle of his political career, Andreotti faced a scandalous investigation, accusing him of orchestrating a massive Neo-Fascist mafia conspiracy, with the Vatican involved, and ordering the assassinations of judges, journalists and members of the Christian Democratic party — his own.

In 2008, director Paolo Sorrentino swept the international film circuit with Il Divo, an ambitious and powerful biopic about Andreotti’s epic career, which won the coveted Prix du Jury at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival, among numerous other prestigious film awards. And today marks Il Divo‘s much-anticipated DVD release.

Award-winning writer/director Paolo Sorrentino packs this incredible true story of corruption and murder with explosive action, stunning cinematography and startling surprises to capture perhaps the most fearless and breathtaking depiction of a public figure in modern cinema history.

Beautifully shot, with extraordinary acting and a superb soundtrack, Il Divo is part Scorsese, part Coppola, part ambitious new breed of contemporary film.


Art of the Toilet Paper Roll

Simplicity and complexity, human emotion, and the intersection of craft and storytelling.

While Charmin gets busy staffing NYC bathrooms with bloggers this holiday season, we thought we’d focus on the less commercial, more artistic side of the backbone of this whole toilet paper thing: The toilet paper roll. Here are three artists who have turned the inglorious brown tossaway into beautiful and inspired design goodness.


French artist Junior Fritz Jacquet has been fascinated by paper since a very young age. Among various other paper and cardboard creations, he transforms plain toilet paper rolls into remarkable miniature masks. His technique is inspired by origami, in that it uses a single piece and folds it into a shape, but has a unique smoothness that deviates from the sharpness and jagged edges of origami, creating shapes that are astonishingly human.

The masks are sculpted by hand, then coated with shellac and different pigments. A testament to the power of taking something incredibly simple and transforming it into something impressively expressive, each piece exudes a complexity of human emotion conveyed in just a few brilliantly orchestrated folds.


French artist Anastassia Elias is a master of collage. But her Paper Cuts series is something else entirely. Like a pop-up book that unfolds inside a toilet paper roll, Elias’ work is a beautiful intersection of art, craft and modern storytelling.


Japanese artist Yuken Teruya, whom you may recall from our paper art omnibus feature, takes everyday objects and transforms them into works of art. His toilet paper roll mini-sculptures are created just by cutting silhouettes into the paper and folding them out, adding and subtracting nothing.

Teruya’s work is as much an innovation in artistic technique as it is a conceptual criticism of contemporary culture’s preoccupation with adding more and more to our lives while taking more and more from nature — an ode to the brilliance and charm of simplicity.


View Full Site

Brain Pickings participates in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn commissions by linking to Amazon. In more human terms, this means that whenever you buy a book on Amazon from a link on here, I receive a small percentage of its price, which goes straight back into my own colossal biblioexpenses. Privacy policy.