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Posts Tagged ‘brain pickings’

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Maria Popova at Brain Pickings is a Renaissance woman. She not only reviews books on science, philosophy, and poetry at major publications, but she maintains a deeply thoughtful blog that includes the best suggestions anywhere for children’s books. I have bought many at my local indy bookstore after reading her reviews, and she has never let me — or the grandchildren — down.

Last spring I was talking to a woman who was also a Maria Popova fan and who had bought some of the Brain Pickings suggestions for her own grandchildren, but not all the same ones I had.

So I took mine out of circulation for a while to have a tidy collection in case she should drop in. I had previously learned that to keep track of these unusual books and also to share them with two families of grandchildren, it was best to bring them back and forth to my kids’ houses when I visit. I will be putting them all back in circulation soon.

Above, you can see the ones I pulled together, any of which I would love to tell you more about if you ask. (Hmm, was Take Away the A really one of hers? The more I think about it, the less I think it is her style.)

The White Cat and the Monk, a serene retelling of an ancient story, is still at Suzanne’s house. The Little Gardener and The Sound of Silence are at John’s.

In Popova’s review of The Sound of Silence, you can see why no grandparent could possibly resist this thoughtful kind of analysis. In addition, Popova apparently gets permission to show all the tantalizing illustrations.

Look at the title of this post: “The Sound of Silence: An Illustrated Serenade to the Art of Listening to Your Inner Voice Amid the Noise of Modern Life; A tender reminder that silence is not the absence of sound but the presence of an inward-listening awareness.” Already I’m hooked.

Popova begins: “ ‘There are many fine things which we cannot say if we have to shout,’ Henry David Thoreau observed in contemplating how silence ennobles speech. A year earlier, he had written in his journal: ‘I wish to hear the silence of the night, for the silence is something positive and to be heard.’

“It’s a sentiment of almost unbearable bittersweetness today, a century and a half later, as we find ourselves immersed in a culture that increasingly mistakes loudness for authority, vociferousness for voice, screaming for substance. We seem to have forgotten what Susan Sontag reminded us half a century ago — that ‘silence remains, inescapably, a form of speech,’ that it has its own aesthetic, and that learning to wield it is among the great arts of living.”

Not your typical children’s book review, am I right?

She continues, “That ennobling, endangered kind of silence is what writer Katrina Goldsaito and illustrator Julia Kuo celebrate in The Sound of Silence (public library) — the story of a little boy named Yoshio, who awakens to the elusive beauty of silence amid Tokyo’s bustle and teaches himself its secret language.

“Conceptually, the book is a trans-temporal counterpart to In Praise of Shadows — that magnificent 1933 serenade to ancient Japanese aesthetics, lamenting how excessive illumination obscures so many of life’s most beautiful dimensions, just as today’s excessive noise silences life’s subtlest and most beautiful signals.” More.

In the illustration below, the boy asks the koto player what is her favorite sound, and she puzzles him by answering, with a cryptic smile, “The sound of silence.” Check out the other illustrations here.

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If you don’t already follow Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings on twitter or receive her emails, you might want to consider it.  For me, she is a source of science ideas and children’s book reviews and all sorts of deep thoughts on a myriad of topics. And she always suggests complementary readings at the end of her posts.

Here she reports on a short, animated Ted-Ed that romps through the history of books.

“Carl Sagan saw books as ‘proof that human beings are capable of working magic,’ Popova begins. ‘Reading books is the most glorious pastime that humankind has yet devised,’ Polish Nobel laureate Wisława Szymborska observed in her memorable meditation on why we read. …

“Books, Susan Sontag wrote in her beautiful letter to Borges, grant us ‘a way of being fully human.’

“Indeed, any thinking, feeling human being knows that it is impossible to be fully alive and awake to the world without reading, and so we’ve come to see books not only as essential to our humanity.

“But this wasn’t always so. …

“How did something so nascent become so elemental to our humanity? That’s what educator Julie Dreyfuss and animator Patrick Smith … explore in this short TED-Ed animation chronicling the history of books:

As the book evolves and we replace bound texts with flat screens and electronic ink, are these objects and files really books? Does the feel of the cover or the smell of the paper add something crucial to the experience, or does the magic live only within the words, no matter what their presentation?

More here.

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Over at the Brain Pickings blog, Maria Popova has a review of a book that features photos of famous meals in fiction.

“Food and literature have a long and arduous relationship … But nowhere does that relationship come alive more vividly and enchantingly than in Fictitious Dishes: An Album of Literature’s Most Memorable Meals  … an ingenious project by designer and writer Dinah Fried, who cooks, art-directs, and photographs meals from nearly two centuries of famous fiction. Each photograph is accompanied by the particular passage in which the recipe appeared, as well as a few quick and curious factlets about the respective author, novel, or food.

“The project began as a modest design exercise while Fried was attending the Rhode Island School of Design a couple of years ago, but the concept quickly gripped her with greater allure that transcended her original short-term deadline.

“As she continued to read and cook, a different sort of self-transcendence took place. [Although] a near-vegetarian, she found herself wrestling with pig kidney for Ulysses and cooking bananas eleven ways for Gravity’s Rainbow. …

“All of Fried’s photographs are immensely thoughtful (Ishmael’s austere dinner from Moby-Dick is not only a nautically appropriate serving of clam chowder, but also appears lit by candlelight), and some bear a distinct undertone of cultural meta-satire (representing A Confederacy of Dunces is the ultimate edible Americana, a hot dog on a classic All-American diner tablecloth).”

Check out Popova’s review here, and revel in photographs that include Sylvia Plath’s avocado and crabmeat salad, Oliver Twist’s request for “More,” Proust’s petite madeleine, Alice’s Mad Tea Party, and Heidi’s toasted cheese.

Photo: Dinah Fried
“On buffet tables, garnished with glistening hors-d’oeuvre, spiced baked hams crowded against salads of harlequin designs and pastry pigs and turkeys bewitched to a dark gold.” — The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1925

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The semicolons’ mournful racket
is drowned out by surrounding brackets

Maria Popova recently wrote at Brain Pickings about a 1905 poem that playfully imagines warfare among various kinds of punctuation.

She reports that a new edition, In the Land of Punctuation, is “a beautiful and clever type-art adaptation of German poet Christian Morgenstern’s darkly delightful 1905 poem ‘Im Reich der Interpunktionen,’ illustrated by Indian graphic artist Rathna Ramanathan and translated into English by Sirish Rao. …

“Silkscreened on handmade paper with traditional Indian dyes and hand-bound in a limited edition of 3,000 numbered copies, this gorgeous large-format book comes from South Indian independent publisher Tara Books — a small team of passionate book- and art-lovers who have spent two decades giving voice to marginalized art and literature through a commune of artists, writers, and designers collaborating on books handcrafted by local artisans in a fair-trade workshop in Chennai.”

The peaceful land of Punctuation
is filled with tension overnight

When the stops and commas of the nation
call the semicolons “parasites”

More.

Art: Rathna Ramanathan

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Maria Popova at Brain Pickings finds the most wonderful books to blog about. In a recent post she extolled the wonders of fairy tale illustrations by Kay Rasmus Nielsen.

I was surprised to learn that’s a man’s name in Denmark. Wikipedia says, “Kay Nielsen was born in Copenhagen into an artistic family; both of his parents were actors – Nielsen’s father, Martinus Nielsen, was the director of Dagmarteater and his mother, Oda Nielsen, was one of the most celebrated actresses of her time, both at the Royal Danish Theater and at the Dagmarteater.

“Kay … received his first English commission from Hodder and Stoughton to illustrate a collection of fairy tales, providing 24 colour plates and more than 15 monotone illustrations for In Powder and Crinoline, Fairy Tales Retold by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch in 1913. In the same year, Nielsen was also commissioned by The Illustrated London News to produce a set of four illustrations to accompany the tales of Charles Perrault; Nielsen’s illustrations for ‘Sleeping Beauty’, ‘Puss in Boots’, ‘Cinderella’ and ‘Bluebeard’ were published in the 1913 Christmas Edition.”

This is from Maria Popova: “As a lover of illustrated fairy tales and having just returned from Sweden, I was delighted to discover, thanks to the relentlessly wonderful 50 Watts, East of the Sun and West of the Moon: Old Tales from the North … illustrated by Danish artist Kay Rasmus Nielsen (1886-1957), whose work you might recall from [my list of] the all-time greatest illustrations of Brothers Grimm and the fantastic visual history of Arabian Nights. Originally published in 1914, this magnificent tome of 15 stories was recently reissued by Calla Editions, the same Dover imprint that revived Harry Clarke’s magnificent illustrations for Edgar Allan Poe, and features 25 color illustrations, along with a slew of black-and-white ones, in Nielsen’s singular style of haunting whimsy.”

There are more than 20 amazing Nielson illustrations here, at Brain Pickings.

Art: Kay Rasmus Nielsen
The North Wind went over the sea.

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You remember that breathtaking moment in the movie The Miracle Worker, when a fiercely determined Annie Sullivan finally gets through to a recalcitrant Helen Keller that her hand signals are words and words have meaning? Well, revelations like Helen’s continue to happen to children, as in the recent viral video of a baby getting a first pair of glasses. The dawning wonder and smiles are so touching.

Today, Maria Popova posted a video at Brain Pickings of a deaf teen in Uganda whose silent world opens in a similar flash, and it is powerful. The TV report that captured that moment is obviously edited, but I find it convincing and moving.

According to the YouTube blurb, Patrick Otema, 15, is profoundly deaf. “In the remote area of Uganda where he lives, there are no schools for deaf children, and he has never had a conversation. Raymond Okkelo, a sign language teacher, hopes to change all this and offer Patrick a way out of the fearful silence he has known his whole life.”

Popova recommends you watch the video, then pair it with Helen Keller’s thoughts on optimism.

Once I knew only darkness and stillness. Now I know hope and joy. Once I fretted and beat myself against the wall that shut me in. Now I rejoice in the consciousness that I can think, act and attain heaven. … Can anyone who escaped such captivity, who has felt the thrill and glory of freedom, be a pessimist?
My early experience was thus a leap from bad to good. If I tried, I could not check the momentum of my first leap out of the dark; to move breast forward as a habit learned suddenly at that first moment of release and rush into the light. With the first word I used intelligently, I learned to live, to think, to hope.

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I have enjoyed Maria Popova’s reviews of children’s books at Brain Pickings and have been moved to buy quite a few.

This is the first picture book for grown-ups I’ve seen at her site, a kind of meditation on living life, with watercolors of an Everyman thinking about things.

Popova writes, “French-born, Baltimore-based artist Jean-Pierre Weill explores in The Well of Being (public library) — an extraordinary ‘children’s book for adults,’ three years in the making, that peers into the depths of the human experience and the meaning of our existence, tracing how the stories we tell ourselves to construct our personae obscure the truth of our personhood, and how we can untell them in order to just be. …

“Weill dances across the Big Bang, the teachings of the 18th-century Italian philosopher and mystic Ramchal, evolution, 9/11, and life’s most poetic and philosophical dimensions. He tells the lyrical story of a man — an androgynous being who ‘represents Everyman and also Everywoman,’ as Weill explains in the endnotes — moving from the origin of the universe to the perplexities of growing up to the mystery of being alive.”

Here’s a passage:

Is the world not whole? Is it not beautiful?

For now, let’s consider well-being a choice, something you can try on and wear. When we put on the hat and coat of well-being we incline towards joy without special occasion.

More at Brain Pickings, here.

Art: Jean-Pierre Weill 

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