A charming reminder of how far we’ve come — and what we’ve given up along the way.
By Maria Popova
Yesterday, we traced the birth of our modern obsession with maps. But in today’s age of cartographic entitlement — the kind that causes an epidemic of panic and outrage at having one kind of Earth-in-your-pocket over another — it’s hard to believe we once had to be taught how to use maps and why they mattered. That’s precisely what the delightful vintage grade school primer How We Use Maps and Globes (public library) does. Originally published in 1968 as part of the same Social Studies Program series that gave us How People Live in the Suburbs, the slim 48-page book explores the basics of distance, scale, direction, and orientation through vibrant illustrations, black-and-white photographs, and simple words.
One of the most beautiful illustrations in the book is this map of bird migration patterns:
But besides the educational value and the sheer vintage gorgeousness of the artwork, these illustrations also remind us of what we’ve lost along with everything we’ve gained in the past half-century of technological progress — the pride in telling direction just by your shadow in the sun, the awe of gazing at the night sky and knowing that you share the North Star with millennia of fellow explorers, or even the simple joy of spinning a globe with your index finger. (Whatever happened to globes, anyway?)
“No other city in the world stages dusk to dawn like New York City.”
By Maria Popova
“Just bring your own contents,”wrote Anaïs Nin of the poetics of New York in 1934, “and you create a sparkle of the highest power.” But this iconic city comes with a sparkle all its own, glowing with unparalleled magnetic power, especially at night.
In 2008, photographer duo James and Karla Murray took us on a breathtaking tour of New York’s disappearing face in their stunning visual archive of mom-and-pop storefront signage — a bittersweet project eight years in the making, documenting shops more than half of which are now gone. This season, they’re back with New York Nights (UK; public library) — a striking, lavish street-level tour of New York City’s typographic neon mesmerism, revealed through the illuminated storefronts of some of the city’s most revered bars, diners, speakeasies, theaters, and other epicenters of public life. The gorgeous, giant tome, weighing in at over six pounds and more than a foot wide, is divided into seven sections — Manhattan below 14th Street, 14th Street to 34th Street, 34th Street to 59th Street, above 59th Street, The Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn — each highlighting the respective neighborhood’s most iconic establishments.
The Murrays observe in the foreword:
No other city in the world stages dusk to dawn like New York City. Whether it’s a glimpse out of a bus window pulling into the terminal at Port Authority, or the first step out onto the sidewalk under the Times Square lights after the end of a Broadway show that started before sunset — any visitor is immediately drawn to the city’s lights. Even simply viewing the illuminated city from the George Washington Bridge on the drive into Manhattan can be undeniably exciting.
And who more perfect to pen the introduction than the inimitable Steven Heller, as brilliantly versed in the nooks and crannies of the graphic arts as he is in the art of being a New Yorker? Heller writes:
No other city in the world is more spectacular than New York at night! From down low or up high, its neon sparkles, its L.E.D. shimmers and its incandescence radiates in ways that duller metropolises cannot begin to replicate. Night light in New York is so spectacular that an entire genre of mammoth New York electronic advertising displays is called ‘spectaculars.’ Seen together, and glowing in full candlepower, ‘spectaculars’ exemplify the illuminated majesty of the Great White Way.
From gaslight to electric light, from wick to filament wire, luminosity has long defined the essence of this decidedly commercial city.
Rather than recede into the darkness, New York’s illuminated storefronts reveal more than is possible during the daytime hours.
Alongside the photographs are fascinating interviews with store owners, revealing unexpected pieces of cultural history. The Financial District’s Delmonico’s, for instance, turns out to be the birthplace of such culinary classics as Eggs Benedict, Baked Alaska, and Lobster Newburg. A tiny piano bar in Greenwich Village called Duplex gave both Woody Allen and Joan Rivers their first stand-up spotlight. Mark Twain and Eleanor Roosevelt filled their prescriptions at C.O. Bigelow Apothecaries at 6th Avenue and 9th Street. Rudy’s Bar & Grill in Hell’s Kitchen offered Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner a safe haven to share a drink together before their relationship was thrust into the public eye.
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