kottke.org posts about books
Due to its popularity, the Harry Potter series of books has been translated into dozens of different languages from around the world. Given the books’ setting in Britain, heavy use of wordplay & allusions, and all of the invented words, translating the books accurately and faithfully was difficult.
Translators weren’t given a head-start — they had to wait until the English editions came out to begin the difficult and lengthy task of adapting the books. Working day and night, translators were racing against intense deadlines. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the longest book in the series at 870 pages for the US edition, was originally published on June 21, 2003. Its first official translation appeared in Vietnamese on July 21, 2003. Not long after, the Serbian edition was released in early September 2003.
Also not mentioned in the video is all of the foreshadowing Rowling uses in the first few books in the series that pays off in later books. Since the translators probably didn’t know the plot details of the later books, some of that foreshadowing might have been edited out, downplayed, or misinterpreted.
Phil Edwards talks to James Gleick about his new book, Time Travel: A History, and of course the subject of killing Baby Hitler comes up. Turns out, the idea of using time travel to kill Adolf Hitler was first used by writer Ralph Milne Farley in 1941, before the US ever entered World War II or before the world learned the horrifying scope of the Holocaust.
I’m currently reading Gleick’s book and the most surprising thing so far is how recently time travel was invented…it’s only about 120 years old. The idea of progress was not really evident to people before the pace of technology and the importance of history became apparent in the 19th century. Progress made time travel relevant…without it, people couldn’t imagine going back in time to see how far they’d come or forward in time to see how much they’d progress.
Small Spanish publisher Kronecker Wallis is doing a Kickstarter campaign to print a well-designed version of Isaac Newton’s Principia, one of the most important texts in science.
We have spent several months working on a desire. The desire to have a new edition of Isaac Newton’s Principia in our hands that is on a par with the importance of the text and of modern editorial design. To put it back on our shelves so that we can leaf through it from time to time and feel the pages beneath our fingers.
An opportunity has now arisen. Taking advantage of the fact that the original publication is to celebrate its 330th anniversary in 2017, we wish to republish it with an editorial design that pays attention to every last detail.
I am enjoying this trend of reviving old classics through the lens of modern design and packaging; see also the NYCTA Graphics Standards Manual, the NASA Graphics Standards Manual, and the Voyager Golden Record.
From James Lovelock, The Earth and I is a look at our planet and the living things on it…how Earth came to be, what we understand about our planet, and how we live today. Lisa Randall, Martin Rees, Edward O. Wilson, and Eric Kandel have contributed writing to the book.
Anil Dash recently asked his Twitter followers: “If you could get everybody to read one book, what would it be?” Dash followed up right away with his answer: The Power Broker by Robert Caro.1 Here are some of the other interesting responses:
Letters from A Self-Made Merchant to his Son by George Horace Lorimer.
George Horace Lorimer was an American journalist and author. He is best known as the editor of The Saturday Evening Post. His Letters From A Self-Made Merchant To His Son is a timeless collection of Gilded Age aphorisms from a rich man — a prosperous pork-packer in Chicago to his son, Pierrepont, whom he ‘affectionately’ calls ‘Piggy.’ The writing is subtle and brilliant.
A Simpler Way by Margaret Wheatley and Myron Kellner-Rogers.
Constructed around five major themes — play, organization, self, emergence, and coherence — A Simpler Way challenges the way we live and work, presenting a profound worldview. In thoughtful, creative prose, the authors help readers connect their own personal experiences to the idea that organizations are evolving systems.
Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63 by Taylor Branch.
In volume one of his America in the King Years, Pulitzer Prize winner Taylor Branch gives a masterly account of the American civil rights movement. Hailed as the most masterful story ever told of the American civil rights movement, Parting the Waters is destined to endure for generations.
Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit.
In her comic, scathing essay, “Men Explain Things to Me,” Rebecca Solnit took on what often goes wrong in conversations between men and women. She wrote about men who wrongly assume they know things and wrongly assume women don’t, about why this arises, and how this aspect of the gender wars works, airing some of her own hilariously awful encounters.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men-bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?
Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton.
Cry, the Beloved Country is the deeply moving story of the Zulu pastor Stephen Kumalo and his son, Absalom, set against the background of a land and a people riven by racial injustice. Remarkable for its lyricism, unforgettable for character and incident, Cry, the Beloved Country is a classic work of love and hope, courage and endurance, born of the dignity of man.
A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn.
Since its original landmark publication in 1980, A People’s History of the United States has been chronicling American history from the bottom up, throwing out the official version of history taught in schools — with its emphasis on great men in high places — to focus on the street, the home, and the workplace.
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance.
Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis — that of white working-class Americans. The decline of this group, a demographic of our country that has been slowly disintegrating over forty years, has been reported on with growing frequency and alarm, but has never before been written about as searingly from the inside. J. D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hung around your neck.
Kindred by Octavia Butler.
Dana, a modern black woman, is celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday with her new husband when she is snatched abruptly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South. Rufus, the white son of a plantation owner, is drowning, and Dana has been summoned to save him. Dana is drawn back repeatedly through time to the slave quarters, and each time the stay grows longer, more arduous, and more dangerous until it is uncertain whether or not Dana’s life will end, long before it has a chance to begin.
That’s a nice little syllabus for a What Is America? class. I’m not entirely sure what my answer would be. Infinite Jest is my favorite book, but I’m wary of recommending it to people — it was an important book for me but perhaps not for others. Maybe A People’s History of the United States or Isabel Wilkerson’s amazing The Warmth of Other Suns?
More than 40 years ago, food enthusiast and artist Salvador Dali published a cookbook called Les Diners de Gala. The book mixes Dali’s surrealist imagery and with dozens of recipes, including some that originated from the top restaurants in Paris at that time. The original book is quite rare and valuable now, but Taschen is reprinting it; it’s available for pre-order here.
This reprint features all 136 recipes over 12 chapters, specially illustrated by Dal’i, and organized by meal courses, including aphrodisiacs. The illustrations and recipes are accompanied by Dal’i’s extravagant musings on subjects such as dinner conversation: “The jaw is our best tool to grasp philosophical knowledge.”
See also The Artists’ and Writers’ Cookbook. (via colossal)
Designing Your Life is one of the most popular courses at Stanford. Taught by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, the class teaches how you can use design thinking and techniques to shape your life and career. Burnett and Evans just came out with a book based on the class, Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life.
In this book, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans show us how design thinking can help us create a life that is both meaningful and fulfilling, regardless of who or where we are, what we do or have done for a living, or how young or old we are. The same design thinking responsible for amazing technology, products, and spaces can be used to design and build your career and your life, a life of fulfillment and joy, constantly creative and productive, one that always holds the possibility of surprise.
The course itself isn’t available online, but there are a couple of lectures from the class available on YouTube: Reframe Your Passion and Prototypes for Personal Success.
I first ran across the work of designer Olly Moss several years ago, when he designed some super-simple alternate posters for iconic movies. He’s since worked on a whole bunch of great stuff, like Firewatch and posters for Studio Ghibli. Just the other day, while the kids and I were finding out what our Patronuses are,1 I discovered that Moss not only designed the cover of the forthcoming ebook of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them but also did the covers for all seven of the Harry Potter ebooks.
Moss’ main technique, of combining two or more aspects of the story into a single image, is on full display in the Potter covers — the prison on a rock shaped like a dog for Azkaban, Voldemort as Harry’s scar for Hallows, and Dumbledore’s spell casting forming the pages of a textbook for Half-Blood Prince.
In a 1959 talk at Caltech titled There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom, Richard Feynman outlined a new field of study in physics: nanotechnology. He argued there was much to be explored in the realm of the very small — information storage, more powerful microscopes, biological research, computing — and that that exploration would be enormously useful.
I would like to describe a field, in which little has been done, but in which an enormous amount can be done in principle. This field is not quite the same as the others in that it will not tell us much of fundamental physics (in the sense of, “What are the strange particles?”) but it is more like solid-state physics in the sense that it might tell us much of great interest about the strange phenomena that occur in complex situations. Furthermore, a point that is most important is that it would have an enormous number of technical applications.
In a reaction to Elon Musk’s plan to colonize Mars, David Galbraith suggests there might be plenty of room at the bottom for human civilization as well. Don’t colonize Mars, miniaturize humanity. Create nano sapiens.
If we think of this as a design problem, there is a much better solution. Instead of expanding our environment to another planet at massive cost, why wouldn’t we miniaturise ourselves so we can expand without increasing our habitat or energy requirements, but still maintain our ability to create culture and knowledge, via information exchange.
The history of information technology and the preservation of Moore’s law has been driven by exactly this phenomenon of miniaturization. So why shouldn’t the same apply to the post technological evolution of humankind as it approaches the hypothetical ‘singularity’ and the potential ability for us to be physically embodied in silicon rather than carbon form.
When humans get smaller, the world and its resources get bigger. We’d live in smaller houses, drive smaller cars that use less gas, eat less food, etc. It wouldn’t even take much to realize gains from a Honey, I Shrunk Humanity scheme: because of scaling laws, a height/weight proportional human maxing out at 3 feet tall would not use half the resources of a 6-foot human but would use somewhere between 1/4 and 1/8 of the resources, depending on whether the resource varied with volume or surface area. Six-inch-tall humans would potentially use 1728 times fewer resources.1
Galbraith also speculates about nano aliens as a possible explanation for the Fermi paradox:
Interestingly, the same rules of energy use and distance between planets and stars would apply to any extraterrestrial aliens, so one possible explanation for the Fermi paradox is that we all get smaller and less visible as we get more technologically advanced. Rather than favoring interstellar colonization with its mind boggling distances which are impossible to communicate across within the lifetimes of individuals (and therefore impossible to hold together in any meaningful way as a civilization) perhaps advanced civilizations stick to their home planets but just get more efficient to be sustainable.
Humans are explorers. Curiosity about new worlds and ideas is one of humanity’s defining traits. One of the most striking things about the Eames’ Powers of Ten video is how similar outer space and inner space look — vast distances punctuated occasionally by matter. What if, instead of using more and more energy exploring planets, stars, and galaxies across larger and larger distances (the first half of the Eames’ video), we went the other way and focused on using less energy to explore cells, molecules, and atoms across smaller and smaller distances. It wouldn’t be so much giving up human space exploration as it would be exchanging it for a very similar and more accessible exploration of the molecular and atomic realm. There is, after all, plenty of room down there.
Update: I knew the responses to this would be good. Galbraith’s idea has a name: the transcension hypothesis, formulated by the aptly named John Smart. Jason Silva explains in this video:
The transcension hypothesis proposes that a universal process of evolutionary development guides all sufficiently advanced civilizations into what may be called “inner space,” a computationally optimal domain of increasingly dense, productive, miniaturized, and efficient scales of space, time, energy, and matter, and eventually, to a black-hole-like destination. Transcension as a developmental destiny might also contribute to the solution to the Fermi paradox, the question of why we have not seen evidence of or received beacons from intelligent civilizations.
Before we get there, however, there are a few challenges we need to overcome, as Joe Hanson explains in The Small Problem With Shrinking Ourselves:
As it often seems in such matters, science follows science fiction here. In Kurt Vonnegut’s Slapstick (Amazon), the Chinese miniaturize themselves in response to the Earth’s decreasing resources.
In the meantime, Western civilization is nearing collapse as oil runs out, and the Chinese are making vast leaps forward by miniaturizing themselves and training groups of hundreds to think as one. Eventually, the miniaturization proceeds to the point that they become so small that they cause a plague among those who accidentally inhale them, ultimately destroying Western civilization beyond repair.
Blood Music by Greg Bear (Amazon) has a nano-civilization theme:
Through infection, conversion and assimilation of humans and other organisms the cells eventually aggregate most of the biosphere of North America into a region seven thousand kilometres wide. This civilization, which incorporates both the evolved noocytes and recently assimilated conventional humans, is eventually forced to abandon the normal plane of existence in favor of one in which thought does not require a physical substrate.
James Blish’s short story Surface Tension tells the tale of microscopic human colonists. (via @harryh, @mariosaldana, @EndlessForms, @vanjacosic, @chumunculus)
Update: For some years, director Alexander Payne has been working on a film called Downsizing:
“Downsizing,” after all, starts off in Norway and takes place in a not-too-distant future where humans are now able to shrink themselves to 1/8 their size as a means to battle over-consumption and the rapid depletion of earth’s natural resources, thanks to enlightened hippie-like Scandinavian scientists. “Smalls” get small, then become members of small cities (the main characters moves to a city called Leisureland) protected by large nets (keeps the bugs out) and built like Disney’s Celebration Town (all planned, all pre-fabricated). Small people cash-in their savings and retire small; 1 big dollar equals 500 small dollars. Smalls live on less food, less land, and produce less trash. As the story progresses, Americans are free to get small, but in Europe, where resources are beginning to truly run out, legislation arises suggesting 40% of the population get shrunk (whether they like it or not). For the big, the world grows smaller and scarier; for the small, the world grows bigger and scarier.
Word is that Matt Damon will play the lead role. Mr. Payne, consider a title change to “Nano Sapiens”? (via @stephenosberg)
Photo by Poy.
The Daily Overview has been serving up gorgeous satellite imagery of Earth for a few years now and they’ve taken some of their greatest hits and packaged it up into a book called Overview: A New Perspective of Earth.
Inspired by the “Overview Effect” — a sensation that astronauts experience when given the opportunity to look down and view the Earth as a whole — the breathtaking, high definition satellite photographs in OVERVIEW offer a new way to look at the landscape that we have shaped. More than 200 images of industry, agriculture, architecture, and nature highlight incredible patterns while also revealing a deeper story about human impact.
I got my hands on an early copy and it’s a beautiful book.
Contemporary culture has a way of making everything seem daunting, even something as simple as meditation. This 2-minute video presents a very straightforward way to start meditating: sit up straight and concentrate on your breathing for five minutes.
Your brain’s gonna go nuts, and that’s fine. The whole game is to notice when you’ve gotten lost, and then to start over. And then start over again. And again. And again. Every time you do that, it’s like a bicep curl for your brain. […] Meditation is unlike anything you do in the rest of your life. Failure is actually success.
The video is narrated by Dan Harris, the author of 10% Happier, which has a subtitle many of you might be able to relate to: “How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works”.
This looks quite good… A Proper Drink: The Untold Story of How a Band of Bartenders Saved the Civilized Drinking World.
A Proper Drink is the first-ever book to tell the full, unflinching story of the contemporary craft cocktail revival. Award-winning writer Robert Simonson interviewed more than 200 key players from around the world, and the result is a rollicking (if slightly tipsy) story of the characters — bars, bartenders, patrons, and visionaries — who in the last 25 years have changed the course of modern drink-making. The book also features a curated list of about 40 cocktails — 25 modern classics, plus an additional 15 to 20 rediscovered classics and classic contenders — to emerge from the movement.
I know bits and pieces of the story, but it’d be cool to hear the whole thing. Simonson also wrote the book on The Old-Fashioned, which would probably be my desert island cocktail. Ok, maybe a daiquiri if there were limes on the island. (via @buzz)
From Nylon, Kristin Iversen compiled her list of the best pieces of nonfiction — books, essays, memoirs — from every state in the US (plus DC and NYC). Here’s a sampling:
Alaska: Coming into the Country by John McPhee.
Connecticut: The Story of How, and Why, Martha Stewart Became the Queen of Living Well by Margaret Talbot.
Florida: The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean. (Love this choice!)
Illinois: The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. Strong runner-up here is the amazing The Warmth of Other Suns (which I reviewed here).
Vermont: Where the Roads Have No Name by Geoff Manaugh.
In June, ecologist Suzanne Simard gave a talk at TED about her 30 years of research into how trees talk to each other. Underneath the forest floor, there is a communications network on which trees — even those from different species — trade carbon with each other, send warnings, and trade messages. Simard described one of her first experiments (from the transcript):
I pulled on my white paper suit, I put on my respirator, and then I put the plastic bags over my trees. I got my giant syringes, and I injected the bags with my tracer isotope carbon dioxide gases, first the birch. I injected carbon-14, the radioactive gas, into the bag of birch. And then for fir, I injected the stable isotope carbon-13 carbon dioxide gas. I used two isotopes, because I was wondering whether there was two-way communication going on between these species.
The idea was to use the isotopes to track whether the trees were trading carbon when some of them were shaded and less able to make their own energy.
The evidence was clear. The C-13 and C-14 was showing me that paper birch and Douglas fir were in a lively two-way conversation. It turns out at that time of the year, in the summer, that birch was sending more carbon to fir than fir was sending back to birch, especially when the fir was shaded. And then in later experiments, we found the opposite, that fir was sending more carbon to birch than birch was sending to fir, and this was because the fir was still growing while the birch was leafless. So it turns out the two species were interdependent, like yin and yang.
Fascinating. German forester Peter Wohlleben came out with a book this week called The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate (Simard contributed a note to the book). From a Guardian review:
Trees have friends, feel loneliness, scream with pain and communicate underground via the “woodwide web”. Some act as parents and good neighbours. Others do more than just throw shade — they’re brutal bullies to rival species. The young ones take risks with their drinking and leaf-dropping then remember the hard lessons from their mistakes. It’s a hard-knock life.
The Monthly, Maclean’s, and Scribd all have excerpts of Wohlleben’s book if you’re interested.
Update: See also this episode of Radiolab, From Tree to Shining Tree. (via @Chan_ing)
This is weird. Super-prolific author James Patterson, who has written hundreds of books and earns millions of dollars a year from royalties, has co-authored a book called The Murder of Stephen King. King is, of course, a merely prolific author who also publishes popular novels with massive appeal, including one about a writer being victimized by his biggest fan.
Stephen King is being hunted by a killer obsessed with his novels. How far will their reenactments go?
All of Stephen King’s greatest villains, rolled into one.
Stephen King is facing a nightmare. A stalker is reenacting the horrors from his novels. And he won’t stop until he kills the master of suspense himself — unless King puts him out of his Misery first.
Misery! Get it? Patterson is quoted on the front cover of the book:
I am a Stephen King fan, but Stephen did not participate in the making of this novel, nor is he affiliated with it in any way.
According to this AP story, King and Patterson do not know each other and King is not complimentary about his fellow writer’s skills.
While Patterson speaks warmly of King, King has not returned the compliments in the past. In a 2009 interview with USA Weekend, he said Patterson was “a terrible writer but he’s very successful.” Speaking to the AP, Patterson is dismissive of King’s remarks, calling them “hyperbole,” in the style of Donald Trump.
“I know I’m not a terrible writer,” Patterson says. “That’s a little over the top.”
Update: Upon reflection, Patterson has decided not to release the book.
In a statement released Thursday through Little, Brown and Company, Patterson said he didn’t want to cause King or his family “any discomfort.” The book was intended as a tribute to King, a King-like story of an obsessed fan out to get the writer. But Patterson, who co-authored the 150-page novel with Derek Nikitas, said he had learned that fans in real life had “disrupted” King’s home.
“My book is a positive portrayal of a fictional character, and, spoiler alert, the main character is not actually murdered,” he said. “Nevertheless, I do not want to cause Stephen King or his family any discomfort. Out of respect for them, I have decided not to publish ‘The Murder of Stephen King.’”
RIP, The Murder of Stephen King. (via @koaostrem)
Ooh, this looks good: Medieval Europe is Oxford historian Chris Wickham’s “spirited and thought-provoking history of the vast changes that transformed Europe during the 1,000-year span of the Middle Ages”.
Tracking the entire sweep of the Middle Ages across Europe, Wickham focuses on important changes century by century, including such pivotal crises and moments as the fall of the western Roman Empire, Charlemagne’s reforms, the feudal revolution, the challenge of heresy, the destruction of the Byzantine Empire, the rebuilding of late medieval states, and the appalling devastation of the Black Death. He provides illuminating vignettes that underscore how shifting social, economic, and political circumstances affected individual lives and international events.
Here’s a short excerpt on the Yale University Press blog.
The Middle Ages get short shrift in tellings of European history (as evidenced by the term “Dark Ages”…and even “Middle” implies something moving between two better eras), but recently historians have been working on filling out the story and rehabilitating that period. I really enjoyed Wickham’s The Inheritance of Rome, so I’m looking forward to digging into this when it comes out in November.
The Illustrated Book of Poultry by Lewis Wright, first published in 1870 and revised several times in the decades following, was “regarded as the most desirable of the English poultry books”. Poultry was very popular in Victorian England and the book housed a tremendous amount of practical poultry knowledge. From a Harvard Library blog post:
“Hen Fever”, as it became known during the Victorian Age, was an unprecedented obsession with owning, breeding, and showing the finest chickens in the world. The genesis of the poultry fancier owes much to Queen Victoria and her royal menagerie. In 1842, she acquired exotic chickens from China, and whatever the Queen did, the public would soon try to imitate and incorporate at home. The Illustrated London News reported “Her Majesty’s collection of fowls is very considerable, occupying half-a-dozen very extensive yards, several small fields, and numerous feeding-houses, laying-sheds, hospitals, winter courts, &c.”. From this point forward, poultry was no longer viewed as common farmyard critters, but valued and appreciated throughout the classes of Victorian Britain. The import and breeding of poultry was not just a leisurely hobby, but a profitable endeavor with sky rocketing price tags for the finest examples.
But the books also contained many wonderful illustrations of the finest examples of chickens and other poultry in the style of Audubon. The different breeds have amazing names like Buff Orpingtons, Plymouth Rocks, Dark Dorkingtons, and Gold Pencilled Hamburghs.
I pulled the images above from a 1911 edition of the book. (via @john_overholt)
Update: I removed a link to a reproduction of the book on Amazon because a reader reported that the quality was not great. (thx, alex)
Humans of New York recently caught up with Hillary Clinton and she talked about how her public persona came to be.
I know that I can be perceived as aloof or cold or unemotional. But I had to learn as a young woman to control my emotions. And that’s a hard path to walk. Because you need to protect yourself, you need to keep steady, but at the same time you don’t want to seem ‘walled off.’ And sometimes I think I come across more in the ‘walled off’ arena. And if I create that perception, then I take responsibility. I don’t view myself as cold or unemotional. And neither do my friends. And neither does my family. But if that sometimes is the perception I create, then I can’t blame people for thinking that.
Clinton is just a different type of politician than her husband or Obama, for good reason.
Women are seen through a different lens. It’s not bad. It’s just a fact. It’s really quite funny. I’ll go to these events and there will be men speaking before me, and they’ll be pounding the message, and screaming about how we need to win the election. And people will love it. And I want to do the same thing. Because I care about this stuff. But I’ve learned that I can’t be quite so passionate in my presentation. I love to wave my arms, but apparently that’s a little bit scary to people. And I can’t yell too much. It comes across as ‘too loud’ or ‘too shrill’ or ‘too this’ or ‘too that.’ Which is funny, because I’m always convinced that the people in the front row are loving it.
When she says “it’s not bad,” that’s a perfect illustration of not being able to say exactly what you want how you want. A woman gets excited and she seems deranged or unhinged but a man gets excited and he’s seen as passionate? That seems bad to me.
P.S. Clinton is reading Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels!
“You know what I have started reading and it’s just hypnotic is the Neapolitan novels by Elena Ferrante,” she tells Linsky, commenting on Ferrante’s intoxicating novels about female relationships in Naples, Italy that have an intense cult following. “I had to stop myself so I read the first one. I could not stop reading it or thinking about it.”
They’re the best fiction I’ve read in ages…so sad I’ve finished them all.
Craig Mod and Dan Rubin recently walked the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage path in Japan, taking thousands of photos along the way. They made a book of the photographs and have launched a Kickstarter project to make more copies of the book and do some other fun stuff.
The book, of course, is beautiful — Rubin and Mod are great photographers and designers - but direct your attention to the economy of their project description:
In March of this year, Dan Rubin and I went on a walk. The walk was along Japan’s 1,000+ year old Kumano Kodo pilgrimage path.
From that walk, we made one copy of a book of photographs called Koya Bound.
Together, with your help, we’d like to make/do a whole lot more…
This is what we did, here’s what we made, and we’d like your help to do more. That’s how you do Kickstarter, folks.
From cartoonist John Atkinson, the plots of some classic books distilled down to just a few words. Like The Grapes of Wrath:
Farming sucks. Road trip! Road trip sucks.
Atkinson followed this up with two additional cartoons: (more) abridged classics and (even more) abridged classics. (via @mkonnikova)
Update: From back near the web’s Big Bang comes Book-A-Minute, which contains ultra-condensed versions of classic books. Here’s the summary of War and Peace:
History controls everything we do, so there is no point in observing individual actions. Let’s examine the individual actions of over 500 characters at great length.
James Hamblin, the dishy brainiac doctor who does those entertaining and informative videos for The Atlantic, is coming out with a book in December called If Our Bodies Could Talk. He calls it “a FAQ about human bodies”.
Now, in this original and entertaining book, Hamblin explores the stories behind health questions that never seem to go away — and which tend to be mischaracterized and oversimplified by marketing and news media. He covers topics such as sleep, aging, diet, and much more:
Can I “boost” my immune system?
Does caffeine make me live longer?
Do we still not know if cell phones cause cancer?
How much sleep do I actually need?
Is there any harm in taking a multivitamin?
Is life long enough?
Late last year, actor Ethan Hawke published a book called Rules for a Knight. The book consists of a letter from one of Hawke’s ancestors, a 15th-century Cornish knight, written to his children outlining the rules for being a good person. The letter and ancestor are fictional, but Hawke wrote the book as a guide on living a virtuous life for his own children.
A knight, fearing he may not return from battle, writes a letter to his children in an attempt to leave a record of all he knows. In a series of ruminations on solitude, humility, forgiveness, honesty, courage, grace, pride, and patience, he draws on the ancient teachings of Eastern and Western philosophy, and on the great spiritual and political writings of our time. His intent: to give his children a compass for a journey they will have to make alone, a short guide to what gives life meaning and beauty.
I missed this when it came out, but I’ve run across it twice in the past two weeks, so it appears to be one of those books — perhaps like The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up — that’s hanging around and resonating with people. Shane Parrish of Farnam Street wrote about the book last week and shared the book’s 20 rules for being a knight.
2. Humility. Never announce that you are a knight, simply behave as one. You are better than no one, and no one is better than you.
6. Friendship. The quality of your life will, to a large extent, be decided by with whom you elect to spend your time.
10. Grace. Grace is the ability to accept change. Be open and supple; the brittle break.
14. Discipline. In the field of battle, as in all things, you will perform as you practice. With practice, you build the road to accomplish your goals. Excellence lives in attention to detail. Give your all, all the time. Don’t save anything for the walk home. The better a knight prepares, the less willing he will be to surrender.
“Don’t save anything for the walk home.” That’s a nice little homage to Gattaca, in which Ethan Hawke’s genetically flawed character is asked by his brother how he’s been able to excel in society and Hawke answers, “I never saved anything for the swim back.”
In his new book The Kingdom of Speech, Tom Wolfe argues that speech and not evolution is responsible for the many achievements of humans. Wolfe, the author of The Right Stuff and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, went on NPR the other day to talk about the book. This comment about Darwin’s view of speech stuck out (emphasis mine):
He could not figure out what it was. He assumed, because of his theory, that everything evolved from animals. And didn’t even include it in his theory, language, until he decided that it came from our imitation of the cries of birds. And I think it’s misleading to say that human beings evolved from animals — actually, nobody knows whether they did or not. There are very few physical signs, aside from the general resemblance of apes and humans. The big evolution, if you want to call it that, is that this one species, Homo sapiens, came up with this ingenious trick, which is language.
It’s one thing to say that speech did not evolve from the utterances of previous animals and was instead invented by humans, but it’s quite another to assert that humans did not evolve from animals at all.1 Gonna be fun to sit back and watch the controversy roil on this one. (via @JossFong who said “lazy saturday, just listening to @NPR when ….. WHAT”)
From Accio to Wingardium Leviosa, this is a supercut of every spell uttered in the 8 Harry Potter movies. Lots of Expecto Patronum, Expelliarmis, and Stupefy. As supplementary reading, here’s a list of spells in Harry Potter from Wikipedia.
Frodo (and Sam) made their way from Hobbiton to Mordor in six months and now you can see the route they took on Google Maps. “This route has trolls.” LOL. Full size image here. (via bb)
Update: From 2002, Mapquest directions for walking from Hobbiton to Mt Doom. (thx, seth)
In 1944, the OSS (the precursor to the CIA) produced a document called the Simple Sabotage Field Manual. It was designed to be used by agents in the field to hinder our WWII adversaries. The CIA recently highlighted five tips from the manual as timelessly relevant:
1. Managers and Supervisors: To lower morale and production, be pleasant to inefficient workers; give them undeserved promotions. Discriminate against efficient workers; complain unjustly about their work.
2. Employees: Work slowly. Think of ways to increase the number of movements needed to do your job: use a light hammer instead of a heavy one; try to make a small wrench do instead of a big one.
3. Organizations and Conferences: When possible, refer all matters to committees, for “further study and consideration.” Attempt to make the committees as large and bureaucratic as possible. Hold conferences when there is more critical work to be done.
4. Telephone: At office, hotel and local telephone switchboards, delay putting calls through, give out wrong numbers, cut people off “accidentally,” or forget to disconnect them so that the line cannot be used again.
5. Transportation: Make train travel as inconvenient as possible for enemy personnel. Issue two tickets for the same seat on a train in order to set up an “interesting” argument.
Ha, some of these things are practically best practices in American business, not against enemies but against their employees, customers, and themselves. You can also find the manual in book or ebook format. (via @craigmod)
The White House just released President Obama’s summer reading list. Here’s what’s on it:
Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
I’m currently reading Seveneves and The Underground Railroad is next. More convinced than ever that a) Barry and I would be good friends if such an opportunity arose, and b) he should be reading kottke.org if he isn’t already. He could peruse it between his fifth and sixth almonds at the end of the day. Think about it, Mr. President.
Play Anything is a forthcoming book by game designer and philosopher Ian Bogost. The subtitle — The Pleasure of Limits, the Uses of Boredom, and the Secret of Games — provides a clue as to what it’s about. Here’s more from the book’s description:
Play is what happens when we accept these limitations, narrow our focus, and, consequently, have fun. Which is also how to live a good life. Manipulating a soccer ball into a goal is no different than treating ordinary circumstances — like grocery shopping, lawn mowing, and making PowerPoints — as sources for meaning and joy. We can “play anything” by filling our days with attention and discipline, devotion and love for the world as it really is, beyond our desires and fears.
Reading this little blurb, I immediately thought of two things:
1. One thing you hear from pediatricians and early childhood educators is: set limits. Children thrive on boundaries. There’s a certain sort of person for whom this appeals to their authoritarian nature, which is not the intended message. Then there are those who can’t abide by the thought of limiting their children in any way. But perhaps, per Bogost, the boundaries parents set for their children can be thought of as a series of games designed to keep their lives interesting and meaningful.1
2. This recent post about turning anxiety into excitement. Shifting from finding life’s limitations annoying to thinking of them as playable moments seems similar. Problems become opportunities, etc.
3. Ok, three things. I once wrote a post about bagging groceries and mowing the lawn as games.
Two chores I find extremely satisfying are bagging groceries and (especially) mowing the lawn. Getting all those different types of products — with their various shapes, sizes, weights, levels of fragility, temperatures — quickly into the least possible number of bags…quite pleasurable. Reminds me a little of Tetris. And mowing the lawn…making all the grass the same height, surrounding the remaining uncut lawn with concentric rectangles of freshly mowed grass.
What I’m saying is, I’m looking forward to reading this book. See also Steven Johnson’s forthcoming book, Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World.
Using Gillian Flynn’s screenplay for Gone Girl as an example, Michael Tucker walks us through some important aspects of screenwriting techniques. This makes me want to read a book on screenwriting and watch Gone Girl again. (via one perfect shot)
Update: As expected, I got recommendations from readers for screenwriting books: Lew Hunter’s Screenwriting 434 and Invisible Ink. There is also Story by Robert McKee, who you may remember as the screenwriting guru consulted by Donald Kaufman in Adaptation. (via @byBrettJohnson & @poritsky)
Martin Pedersen recently reread Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities and came away with ten lessons.
3. Jacobs was remarkably prescient on gentrification.
She didn’t invent the term or even use it. But she observed (and I don’t know how, since most cities were in decline at the time) that lively diverse neighborhoods are always at risk for becoming victims of their own success, because newcomers invariably alter the characteristics that made these neighborhoods appealing to them in the first place. Today this seems obvious and self-evident, but that’s largely because of Jane Jacobs.
Yeah, it’s time for a reread…it’s been more than 12 years for me. (via @michaelbierut)