From Brain Pickings: The Story of a Cover Girl

Brain Pickings recently featured an article about the book, Lolita – The Story of a Cover Girl: Vladimir Nabokov’s Novel in Art and Design, which is a compilation of the different covers of one of literature’s most controversial classics: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. They describe the different colors and subjects each artist took to create the varying covers and how they incorporated that with the varying interpretation of the theme.

“Lolita is about obsession and narcissistic appetite, misogyny and contemptuous rejection, not only of women, but of humanity itself. And yet. It is also about love; if it were not, the book would not be so heart-stoppingly beautiful.”

Check out more of the covers and read excerpts from the book.

From Brain Pickings: More Books on Writing and Reading

An illustration in the 1959 version of The Elements of Style, illustrated by Maira Kalman.

The list of books written about writing or reading is exhaustive and too numerous to even count. Brain Pickings main blogger, Maria Popova chose nine of her favorite books on writing and reading and explained why everyone should read them. A couple that are more well-known are Stephen King’s, On Writing, which Popova describes as “part master-blueprint, part memoir, part meditation on the writer’s life,” and The Elements of Style by E.B. White and William Strunk.

Some not so well-known, but still highly recommended books, are How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler, hailed as a “living classic” because “it deals with the fundamental and unchanging mesmerism of the written word.” Another is How to Write a Sentence by Stanley Fish. Popova says this isn’t just another guide on how to craft your writing, “it’s also a rich and layered exploration of language as an evolving cultural organism.” Perhaps these books aren’t going to be high on your summer reading list, but they are worth the read if you aspire to write and improve in that area.

Life Advice from Oprah Winfrey to Harvard Graduates (or anyone, for that matter)

Each year, popular and well-known colleges and universities manage to get some kind of famous celebrity to give a commencement speech about life, what to do now with your future, and all that jazz that comes with graduating and stepping off into the great unknown. This year, Harvard’s commencement speech was given by Oprah Winfrey, where she gave the graduating class of 2013 “a powerful message about failure, purpose, and the meaning of life, with a side of essential political awareness about gun control, immigration, and media ethics.”

Brain Pickings posted the video of her speech, as well as transcribed several noteworthy highlights that Ms. Winfrey addressed. The main point was the “inevitability of failure” and the growth it allows us if we approach it with the right mindset.

“It doesn’t matter how far you might rise — at some point, you are bound to stumble. Because if you’re constantly doing what we do — raising the bar — if you’re constantly pushing yourself higher, higher, the law of averages predicts that you will, at some point, fall. And when you do, I want you to know this, remember this: There is no such thing as failure — failure is just life trying to move us in another direction.”

I think this is incredibly important to remember, especially in today’s day and age where perfection and wanting to be “perfect” is pressed into our minds at an early age (get good grades, go to college, get a good job, work hard, etc.) many people think if they don’t have a job immediately after graduating, they’re a failure or they did something wrong along the way. As long as we’re continually striving for something more and doing more, we can never fail, and that is what Ms. Oprah Winfrey is trying to tell us.

Be sure to read the rest of her speech or watch the video for more positive and motivating insights.

From Brain Pickings: The Four People A Writer Must Be

A recently released volume of insights by writer Susan Sontag, titled Reborn: Journals & Notebooks 1947-1963, include a bit of wisdom of the four qualities that compose a writer.  Sontag, 28 at the time, said:

“The writer must be four people:
The nut, the obsédé
The moron
The stylist
The critic
1 supplies the material; 2 lets it come out; 3 is taste; 4 is intelligence.
A great writer has all 4 — but you can still be a good writer with only 1 and 2; they’re most important.”

I think these four qualities makes sense for all writers. Sontag’s book also includes mediations on art, marriage, and a list of beliefs between the ages of 14 and 24.

Source: Brain Pickings

From Brain Pickings: Presenting The Artists’ & Writers’ Cookbook

From The Artist’s and Writer’s Cookbook

Ever wonder what some of your favorite artists’ and writers’ favorite recipes are? Look no further than The Artists’ & Writers’ Cookbook, “a lavish 350-page vintage tome, illustrated with 19th-century engravings and original drawings.” Brain Pickings recently wrote a review on the 1961 published book, featuring “220 recipes and 30 courses by 55 painters, 61 novelists, 15 sculptors, and 19 poets.” Some artists featured include John Keats, Harper Lee, and Anna Tolstoy, daughter of famed writer, Leo Tolstoy. Several artists take creative liberty with their recipes, but the end result is something any artist and writer can enjoy.

From The Artist’s and Writer’s Cookbook

From Brain Pickings: “Ode to the Book” by Pablo Neruda, Exquisitely Read by Tom O’Bedlam

Front Cover of "The Poetry of Pablo Neruda"

Searching for a little inspiration in your day? Brain Pickings is always a good place to look, but there is one article in particular that is well worth your attention. It features a poem by Pablo Neruda, a Chilean poet, titled “Ode to the Book.” Translated into English, it speaks of life, books, perils, mythology, and travel in such a beautiful and mystifying way that it makes your fingers itch to pick up a pen and start writing your own stanzas. And as if that wasn’t enough on its own, you can also listen to the poem being read by the deep, gravelly voice of Tom O’Bedlam, who has narrated many classic works. Enjoy!

From Brain Pickings: The Ideas that Helped Change Graphic Design

Interested in how the ideas and concepts of graphic design has changed over time? There are many books on this, several that “tend to be organized by chronology and focused on concrete-isms,” but one in particular focuses on “abstract concepts” and is illustrated with “exemplary images and historical context.

Brain Pickings examined the new book 100 Ideas that Changed Graphic Design, created by design writer Steven Heller and design critic Veronique Vienne. This book highlights the authors’ favorite creators (such as Saul Bass and Paula Scher) as well as focuses on not only “what design is and does, but also on what it should be and do.”

Example of a public service campaign highlighted in 100 Ides That Changed Graphic Design. Source:

From Brain Pickings: Sage Advice From Today’s Top Graphic Designers

If there is anyone we should take advantage of the advice we are given, it is people in our dream profession who have already graduated from college and experienced what it is like to be in the “real world.” Take, for example, the new book, I Used to Be a Design Student: 50 Graphic Designers Then and Now. Compiled by Billy Kiosoglou and Frank Philippin, the two authors “set out to reverse-engineer the power of personal history by tracing the creative evolution of influential designers, who reflect on their education, profession, and how their preferences in everything from reading to food to modes of transportation have changed since their university days.”

The book features several “comparative grids,” short and sweet sage advice, and some of the designers’ most precious valuables and how these have shifted from “technical tools” to “existential anchors.”

Example of the “comparative grids” of the graphic designers from Then and Now.