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Happy Birthday, Thom Gunn: The Beloved Writer’s Reading List of 10 Essential Books to Enchant Teenagers with Poetry


“Poetry is of many sorts and is all around us… a rhymed political slogan is poetry of a kind, for example, and the lyrics of a song by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, or Bob Dylan may be poetry of a very high order.” “Poetry can break open locked chambers of possibility, restore numbed zones to feeling, recharge desire,” wrote Adrienne Rich in her beautiful meditation on what poetry does.

Frida Kahlo’s Illustrious Life, Illustrated


An affectionate homage to one of humanity’s most original and beloved artists. “Only an artist can tell … what it is like for anyone who gets to this planet to survive it,” James Baldwin wrote in contemplating the artist’s struggle for integrity.

Auden on the True Task of the Critic, What It Really Means to Be a Scholar, and Why Malevolent Reviews Are Bad for Character


“The only sensible procedure for a critic is to keep silent about works which he believes to be bad, while at the same time vigorously campaigning for those which he believes to be good, especially if they are being neglected or underestimated by the public.” In the preface of her magnificent nonfiction collection of riffs on books, the great Polish poet and Nobel laureate Wisława Szymborska made a vital distinction between traditional literary criticism and her own approach to reading and writing about books.

Swifter Than a Bird Flies: An Astonishing Account of Riding the First Passenger Train and How the Invention of Railroads Changed Human Consciousness


“When I closed my eyes this sensation of flying was quite delightful, and strange beyond description.” “That is our condition, a culmination of millennia of evolution in human societies, technologies, and habits of mind,” James Gleick wrote in contemplating our civilizational enchantment with speed.

Bruce Lee’s Daughter Shares Her Father’s Philosophy of Learning


“Learning is discovering, uncovering what is there in us.” “No one can build you the bridge on which you, and only you, must cross the river of life,” Nietzsche wrote in his timeless treatise on education and the journey of becoming who you are.

Virginia Woolf on How Our Illusions Keep Us Alive


“Life is a dream. ‘Tis waking that kills us. He who robs us of our dreams robs us of our life.” Long before psychologists began exploring the curious cognitive mechanism of how our delusions keep us sane, even before the poet W.H.

Aristotle’s Aperture: An Animated History of Photography, from the Camera Obscura to the Camera Phone


…and how a greedy attitude to intellectual property made the camera’s primary competitor perish. “Needing to have reality confirmed and experience enhanced by photographs is an aesthetic consumerism to which everyone is now addicted,” Susan Sontag wrote in her timeless and increasingly timely treatise on photography a century and a half after the invention of this worldview-changing technology, making a resounding case for what photography can do that the other arts can’t.

Jorge Luis Borges on Collective Tragedy and Collective Joy


“There was the emotion over what had occurred, and there was also the emotion of knowing that thousands of people, millions of people, maybe all the people in the world, were feeling great emotion over what was occurring.” “This must be the mission of every man of goodwill: to insist, unflaggingly, at risk of becoming a repetitive bore, but to insist on the achievement of a world in which the mind will have triumphed over violence,” legendary composer Leonard Bernstein urged in his stirring clarion call for the only true antidote to violence in response to John F.

What Poetry Does: Adrienne Rich on Poetry’s Political Power and Its Role in the Immigrant Experience


“Poetry can break open locked chambers of possibility, restore numbed zones to feeling, recharge desire.” One summer evening not long ago, on a rainy Brooklyn rooftop, a friend — a brilliant friend who studies the cosmos and writes uncommonly poetic novels — stunned me with an improbable, deceptively simple yet enormous question: “What does poetry do?

What Makes a Good Life: Revelatory Learnings from Harvard’s 75-Year Study of Human Happiness


“The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier.” “The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge,” Bertrand Russell wrote in his 1925 treatise on the nature of the good life and how we limit our happiness.

Cycling as a Cure for Creative Block: A Charming 1926 Case for Why the Bicycle Is the Ideal Vehicle for Writers


“The bicycle, the bicycle surely, should always be the vehicle of novelists and poets.” “Don’t cultivate a ‘bicycle face,’” an 1895 list of don’ts for women cyclists admonished just before the bicycle became a major vehicle of women’s liberation.

Neil Gaiman Reads “The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury,” His Lovely Present for Bradbury’s 91st Birthday


A touching ode to friendship as a kind of mutual memory. “It’s part of the nature of man to start with romance and build to a reality,” Ray Bradbury (August 22, 1920–June 5, 2012) observed in his forgotten 1971 conversation with Carl Sagan and Arthur C.

A Fairy Tale of Infinity and Love Forever: Yayoi Kusama Illustrates Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid”


“Her skin was as soft and tender as a rose petal, and her eyes were as blue as the deep sea, but like all the others she had no feet.

Rock Climbing and the Meaning of Life: Vita Sackville-West’s Letters to Virginia Woolf on the Intimacy-Building Power of Travel and How Nature Reveals Us to Ourselves


“I don’t believe one ever knows people in their own surroundings; one only knows them away, divorced from all the little strings and cobwebs of habit.” “I simply adore Virginia Woolf… She is both detached and human, silent till she wants to say something, and then says it supremely well,” Vita Sackville-West wrote in a letter to her husband after meeting the famed author with whom she would embark upon one of literature’s greatest romances — a romance that would inspire Woolf’s groundbreaking 1928 novel Orlando, memorably described by Vita’s son as “the longest and most charming love letter in literature.” The origin of that uncommon and uncommonly beautiful love story unfolds in Letters of Vita Sackville-West to Virginia Woolf (public library).

Werner Herzog Recommends Five Books Every Aspiring Filmmaker Should Read


From Virgil to JFK’s assassination report, an eclectic fomenting of the cinematic imagination. “Filmmaking — like great literature — must have experience of life at its foundation,” Werner Herzog counseled in his no-nonsense advice to aspiring filmmakers.

Baudelaire on the Political and Humanitarian Power of Art: An Open Letter to Those in Power and of Privilege


“Art is an infinitely precious possession, a refreshing and warming drink that restores the stomach and the mind to the natural balance of the ideal.” A generation before Walt Whitman wrote about why the humanities are essential to democracy, the great French poet, essayist, and critic Charles Baudelaire (April 9, 1821–August 31, 1867) made what remains the most elegant and increasingly timely case for why those in power and those of privilege should use their resources to support art and embrace it as an invaluable political and humanitarian tool.

The Wolves of Currumpaw: A Sorrowful and Redemptive Illustrated True Story


“Each of our native wild creatures is in itself a precious heritage that we have no right to destroy or put beyond the reach of our children.” The Old West was an era obsessed with “the annihilation of space and time.” In a world where nature’s most fundamental dimensions were the target of a manic quest for mechanical domination, no aspect of nature was safe from such forcible subversion.

Ted Hughes on How to Be a Writer: A Letter of Advice to His 18-Year-Old Daughter


“The first sign of disintegration — in a writer — is that the writing loses the unique stamp of his/her character, & loses its inner light.” “Read good books, have good sentences in your ears,” the poet Jane Kenyon counseled in what remains some of the sagest advice to write and live by.

Life on a Möbius Strip: A Remarkable True Story of Love, Science, Choice, and Chance by Cosmologist Janna Levin


“…a living testament to the incredibly improbable trip that we’re on.” Our lives are shaped by an inescapable confluence of choice and chance.

Reclaiming Friendship: A Visual Taxonomy of Platonic Relationships to Counter the Commodification of the Word “Friend”


Exploring the concentric circles of human connection through the lens of our ideal and real selves. Friendship, C.S.


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