A playful celebration of the magic of language. As a lover of unusual alphabet books, I was gladdened by this year’s crop of particularly wonderful additions, including Maira Kalman’s imaginative design history primer, Ah-Ha to Zig-Zag and Oliver Jeffers’s magnificent short stories for the letters, Once Upon an Alphabet.
“You make relationships. One at a time. With the same painstaking attention to craft that you knew as a maker.” “A leader’s real ‘authority’ is a power you voluntarily give him,” David Foster Wallace wrote in what remains the wisest meditation on leadership I’ve ever encountered, “and you grant him this authority not with resentment or resignation but happily.” But for many people in creative fields — artists, designers, filmmakers, writers — “leadership” remains an alienating notion that belongs in the business world or, worse, politics.
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” Few things in creative culture are more enchanting than an artist’s interpretation of a beloved book.
“Terrible things happen. And those are the things that we learn from… The amazing thing is that despite all… the human spirit still manages to survive, to stay strong.” In addition to being one of the most foundational texts on creativity ever published, pioneering psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s 1996 book Creativity: The Psychology of Discovery and Invention (public library) — which sheds light on why “psychological androgyny” is essential to creative genius — is also a precious time-capsule of insights by some of the twentieth century’s most visionary artists, writers, and scientists, many of whom no longer alive.
How two titans faced off to shape the ideal of the modern metropolis. Few people have done more to redefine the fate of a city — and, by a halo of influence, of cities in general — than Robert Moses (December 18, 1888–July 29, 1981), “master builder” of New York during the city’s astonishing growth spurt in the middle of the twentieth century.
The science of why you can’t resurrect a dead body but might be able to, sort of, in the future. Despite living in a universe where, as the aphorism goes, change is the only constant, we humans have a quintessential longing for permanence.
“True solitude is found in the wild places, where one is without human obligation. One’s inner voices become audible… In consequence, one responds more clearly to other lives.” “One can’t write directly about the soul,” Virginia Woolf wrote in her diary.
How to swish, swish, swish one’s way into the spaceship of identity. Of all the imprisoning polarities and stereotypes in our culture, none is more pervasive than the imprisoning gender expectations we instill in kids from an early age.
“We are made by the atoms and the stars… our matter and our form are determined by the cosmos of which we are a part.” Carl Sagan was a tireless champion of reason, a shamanic storyteller who conveyed the whimsy of science, and frequently traversed the metaphysical in his great wisdom on such larger-than-science questions as the essence of spirituality and the meaning of life.
How to instill an appreciation of the difference between “fact” and “poetic truth,” in kids and grownups alike.
A tender consolation for the disorienting journey of becoming a big sibling. Half a century ago, Margaret Mead memorably asserted that exposing young children to people who differ from them is essential for teaching them to like or dislike others on the basis of personal character rather than because they belong to a category of people — in other words, for immunizing them against the poison of bigotry.
Epistles on the fine art of “speeding truth into the world.” Despite being one of the most important writers our civilization ever produced, on whose labors humanity continues to feed, Jane Austen (December 16, 1775–July 18, 1817) left hardly any record of her opinions and theories on the craft she so masterfully wielded in practice.
“If I can’t do better I have slipped badly… I beat poverty for a good many years and I’ll be damned if I’ll go down at the first little whiff of success.” The fact that we humans have such a notoriously hard time changing our minds undoubtedly has to do with the notion that “human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished,” which belies the great robbery of the human experience — by calling ourselves beings, we deny our ever-unfolding becomings.
Nabokov’s love letters, Shackleton’s courageous journey, the unsung heroes behind creative icons, Joni Mitchell unbound, and more.
“It’s rather difficult, when one has MANY friends, to show loyalty to them all at the same time…” Tove Jansson (1914–2001) is one of the most imaginative and influential storytellers in modern history — an artist and writer of singular creative vision and a genius for rendering visible and comprehensible life’s subtlest nuances.
“Every book is a sort of machine… You have to read it to find out how it works.” “A classic is a work which constantly generates a pulviscular cloud of critical discourse around it,” Italo Calvino wrote in one of his fourteen definitions of a classic, “but which always shakes the particles off.” And yet even if we agree that “a book is a heart that only beats in the chest of another,” there is an infinite range of what different chests can — or want to — hold.
How dying confers upon living “the courage to act on the truth we find.” “I am not saying that we should love death,” wrote Rilke, perhaps humanity’s greatest sherpa of befriending our mortality, in a 1923 letter, “but rather that we should love life so generously, without picking and choosing, that we automatically include it (life’s other half) in our love.” In Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End (public library | IndieBound), second-generation surgeon Atul Gawande grants Rilke’s undying words a new dimension in his sublime contribution to the canon of befriending mortality, which stretches from Montaigne’s meditation on death and the art of living to Sherwin Nuland’s foundational treatise on how we die to Alan Lightman’s wisdom on our paradoxical longing for immortality.
“The creative instinct is … an enormous extra vitality, a super-energy, born inexplicably in an individual… — an energy which no single life can consume.” On December 10, 1938, novelist, essayist, and civil rights activist Pearl S.
A sweet celebration of the mutual elevation made possible by dropping our assumptions about ourselves, others, and who is welcome in our world.
“Cummings despised fear, and his life was lived in defiance of all who ruled by it.” “The art of seeing has to be learned,” Marguerite Duras memorably wrote.