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Posts Tagged ‘maria popova’

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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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Art: Sun and Moon
A beautiful book reviewed at Brainpickings and featuring the work of ten of India’s indigenous artists.

Maria Popova, my go-to source for children’s book suggestions, tweeted about the book Sun and Moon in August, around the time of the eclipse.

“In Sun and Moon,” she writes, “ten Indian folk and tribal artists bring to life the solar and lunar myths of their indigenous traditions in stunningly illustrated stories reflecting on the universal themes of life, love, time, harmony, and our eternal search for a completeness of being.

“This uncommon hand-bound treasure of a book, silkscreened on handmade paper with traditional Indian dyes, comes from South Indian independent publisher Tara Books, who for the past decades have been 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 …

“Among the indigenous traditions represented in the book are Gondi tribal art by Bhajju Shyam (of London Jungle Book fame), Durga Bai (featured in The Night Life of Trees), and Ramsingh Urveti (of I Saw a Peacock with a Fiery Tail); Madhubani folk art by Rhambros Jha (of Waterlife); and Meena tribal art by Sunita (of Gobble You Up).”

Popova links to WorldCat, a library system, for the book’s publishing details and this description: “Part of everyday life, yet rich in symbolic meaning, renderings of the sun and the moon are present in all folk and tribal art traditions of India. Agrarian societies have always kept track of time by referring to markers in the seasonal variations of the sun, moon and planets. They have also woven wonderful stories and myths around them. Here, for the first time, is a collection of unusual stories and exquisite art from some of the finest living artists, on this most universal of themes.”

Be sure to read the Brainpickings post, here, for more art, more of Popova’s insights, and her ever thoughtful suggestions for related reading.

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Art: Maurice Sendak
From
Kenny’s Window, Sendak’s first children’s book

Maria Popova recently posted about the importance of play, commencing her review of Diane Ackerman’s book Deep Play with an anecdote from her own life.

“One July morning during a research trip to the small New England island of Nantucket, home to pioneering astronomer Maria Mitchell, I had a most unusual experience.

“Midway through my daily swim in the ocean, my peripheral vision was drawn to what at first appeared to be a snorkel. But as I looked directly at the curious protrusion, I realized it was the long glistening neck of a stately bird, gliding over the nearly waveless surface a few away.

“By some irresistible instinct, I began swimming gently toward the bird, assuming it would fly away whenever my proximity became too uncomfortable.

“But it didn’t. Instead, it allowed my approach — for it was deliberate permission that this majestic bird gave me, first assessing me with a calm but cautious eye, then choosing not to lift off or even change course as this large ungraceful mammal drew near. I came so close that I could see my own reflection in the bird’s eye, now regarding me with what I took to be — or, perhaps, projected to be — a silent benevolence. …

“In this small act ablaze with absolute presence, I felt I had been granted access to something enormous and eternal.

“The experience was so intensely invigorating in part because it was wholly new to me, but it is far from uncommon. It belongs to the spectrum of experience which Diane Ackerman, one of the greatest science storytellers of our time, describes in Deep Play … a bewitching inquiry into those moods colored by ‘a combination of clarity, wild enthusiasm, saturation in the moment, and wonder,’ which render us in a state of ‘waking trance.’ …

The more an animal needs to learn in order to survive, the more it needs to play … What we call intelligence … may not be life’s pinnacle at all, but simply one mode of knowing, one we happen to master and cherish. Play is widespread among animals because it invites problem-solving, allowing a creature to test its limits and develop strategies. In a dangerous world, where dramas change daily, survival belongs to the agile not the idle. We may think of play as optional, a casual activity. But play is fundamental to evolution. Without play, humans and many other animals would perish. …

“It is hardly happenstance,” adds Popova, “that the word ‘play’ was central to how Einstein thought of the secret to his genius — he used the term ‘combinatory play’ to describe how his mind works. Ackerman considers what it is that makes play so psychologically fruitful and alluring to us …

Above all, play requires freedom. One chooses to play. Play’s rules may be enforced, but play is not like life’s other dramas. It happens outside ordinary life, and it requires freedom.

More.

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Here’s a follow-up to a 2013 post about words and phrases that don’t have an equivalent in other languages. (“In Sweden, mangata is the word for the roadlike reflection the moon casts on the water. In Finland there’s a word for the distance reindeer can travel comfortably before taking a break: poronkusema.”)

Now Maria Popova at Brain Pickings has posted about a book that offers more on the subject. It’s Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Catalog of Beautiful Untranslatable Words from Around the World.  It’s by Ella Frances Sanders, the artist who did the illustrations that were in my original post.

“Beautifully elusive words is what writer and illustrator Ella Frances Sanders, a self-described ‘intentional’ global nomad, explores in Lost in Translation,” reports Popova. …

“From the Japanese for leaving a book unread after buying it to the … Italian for being moved to tears by a story to the Welsh for a sarcastic smile, the words Sanders illustrates dance along the entire spectrum of human experience, gently reminding us that language is what made us human.

“In addition to the charming illustrations and sheer linguistic delight, the project is also a subtle antidote to our age of rapid communication that flattens nuanced emotional expression into textual shorthand and tyrannical clichés. These words, instead, represent not only curiosities of the global lexicon but also a rich array of sentiments, emotions, moods, and cultural priorities from a diverse range of heritage.”

I’m remembering that a while back, Erik explained a few Swedish idioms to me (something about an owl in the moss?), and I tried them out on his parents when they visited. I could tell at once from their blank looks that the phrases were indeed untranslatable!

Art: Ella Frances Sanders
An illustration of an untranslatable Norwegian word.

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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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