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Reading Daniel Pinkwater's novels as a kid changed my life for the better, and I've never looked back, so this beautifully written profile by Josh Nathan-Kazis was a pure delight to read, from Pinkwater's experiences as a cult member to the time that Terry Gilliam blamed him for killing Harvey Kurtzman's Help! magazine, putting R. Crumb out of a job.
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To inaugurate the publication of his brilliant new book How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World (also a PBS/BBC TV series), Steven Johnson has written about the difficult balance between reporting on the history of world-changing ideas and the inventors credited with their creation
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Edward Tufte has made his career teaching us how to create compelling factual illustrations. He follows his own advice in his four exquisitely designed books which he has self-published over the past decade. Each book develops his ideas of minimal decoration and maximum understanding for charts and diagrams. All his books are good, but I think his second, Visual Explanations, is his best. It is a short course in conveying critical information in a visual form. Whether you start with text, data, or ideas, he lays out some sound principles in how to convey these facts in pictures. His own pages are great examples of how readers benefit by these principles. Printed with love, including pages with pasted in cutouts, this timeless book will never go out of date, and is likely to be passed on to future generations.
Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative, by Edward R. Tufte
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Lucas writes, "Through Oct, the Lewis & Clark Library of Montana hosting a Big Read of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Running a vast series of events throughout the month, each will be tracked on a special adventure map to represent the experiences that shape us and our understanding of the classic novel."
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In the new Flying Eye picture book No Such Thing, a little girl named Georgia finds herself in a delightfully spooky situation: things in her home keep going astray — but Georgia knows that there’s no such thing as ghosts. Cory Doctorow field tested the book on his six year old, and comes back with a tale of mystery, delight, and fright, just in time for Hallowe’en.Read the rest
Decades ago, when I was a budding graphic designer, I found a copy of iconic designer Paul Rand’s then out-of-print Thoughts on Design at the annual State Department book sale in DC (a mecca for bookworms). The modest little tome made a big impression on me. Rand’s insistence on the integrity of form and function, his immaculately modern designs, and his brilliant sense of humor (often with cleverly hidden visual puns in his designs) really helped wire my nervous system as a designer.
Sadly, this seminal book has been out of print since the 1970s. But no longer. For the centenary of Rand’s birth (Aug 15, 1914), Chronicle has re-released Thoughts on Design. The new edition remains faithful to the 1970s edition (the one I had), with the addition of a new foreword by designer Michael Bierut.
One impressive thing about Rand’s book to me was always how much he was able to say about the nature of good design in 96 short pages (with the majority of those pages reproductions of his work). He was a master at arriving at designs that boiled down the essence of the intended messages, be it an advertisement or a corporate identity, and he similarly renders out the heart of basic design philosophy in this book. Take passages like:
There are, however, instances when recognizable images are of sufficient plastic expressiveness to make the addition of geometric or “abstract” shapes superfluous.
So, with that principle in mind, he inverts wooden coat hangers to make a flock of birds for a spring apparel poster.
Looking through this book, you realize how many monumental logos he was responsible for: ABC, UPS, Westinghouse, IBM, Ikea, Adobe, the list goes on. As a designer, I always marveled at the Westinghouse logo. Something so absurdly simple, so potently suggestive of electronics and light bulbs, and something that was just so pleasing to look at (and easy to apply in branding/packaging). To me, that logo boiled down the essence of Paul Rand’s genius, and the wisdom and the portfolio of work found in this book.
Adapting Shakespeare for kids is an age-old tradition stretching back almost to the time of Shakespeare itself. But as Cory Doctorow discovered, The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Macbeth brings The Scottish Play to life for audiences young and old in kids-comic form with a lot of broad humor and some grisly murder besides.Read the rest
A fascinating new scholarly essay collection, The Disney Middle Ages: A Fairy-Tale and Fantasy Past, looks at Disney's portrayal of the middle ages and reflects on how these are inextricably linked to other Disney settings, from Tomorrowland to Frontierland, and how the "Americanized" medieval narrative has played out over the decades.
Fantasyland is the home of neo-medieval stories, especially of princesses and their accoutrements; it has been gendered female. Adventureland, Frontierland and Tomorrowland incline towards a male audience, or at least they did in their heyday. Changing public perceptions have meant that the Old West as a setting for the making of rugged American character runs up against an appreciation of the fate of Native Americans, while with the fading allure of pre-internet "Gee Whiz" technology, Tomorrowland has been partially reinvented as "Retroland," a kind of self-mocking "Jetsons" take on what we once thought the future would look like (p. 69).
Fantasyland remains the core of the Disney imagination, and it is lightly dusted with medieval fairy-sparkle. It can't really call to mind even a first-order artificial nineteenth-century romantic Middle Ages, because that would interfere with the goal of presenting Disney's modern world as "the happiest place on earth," a happiness that is more goal-oriented and, one might say, middle-class values-centered than escapist or expressive of discontent with the present. The pastness of Disney's fantasies is tempered and in effect denied by anti-elitist, can-do characters. Amy Foster in "Futuristic Medievalism" shows how the medieval past is shaped by American anti-elitism and the promise of technology. Unidentified Flying Oddball was a 1979 reworking of Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court in which a NASA engineer is transported to Camelot. Not only does he amaze the court with his scientific knowledge and gadgetry, his "regular guy" nature is paramount. He treats peasants, servants and King Arthur alike, for example. Bob Gossedge, in an essay devoted to the 1963 animation of The Sword in the Stone, points out that young "Wart," the future King Arthur, is the only principal character in that film with an American accent. Merlin, in a cultivated English voice, instructs Wart that he needs to get "these medieval ideas out of your head--clear the way for new ideas: knowledge of man's fabulous discoveries in the centuries ahead" (pp. 127-128). One sees similarities in the all-American rendering of underdog heroes like Zorro in the 1957-1959 television series or Remy in Ratatouille (2007). Disney's principal characters tend to be resourceful Americans (whatever their putative nationality) stuck in a past that is attractively fantastic, but irritatingly hierarchical and behind-the-times.
Disney's egalitarianism is about universal opportunity, not economic equality. It amounts to what Foster (p. 164) refers to as "sentimental populism" based on Horatio Alger, not Marx. Anyone can be a princess, anyone can cook (in the non-medieval Ratatouille). The mistreated Snow White and Cinderella are eventually exalted and not only does "happily ever after happen every day," but it happens to anyone receptive to the Disney message or "magic."
The Disney Middle Ages: A Fairy-Tale and Fantasy Past [Pugh and Aronstein, eds]