Archive for category Cool Stuff
Book of the…(week? month? depends on the next great book, I guess) is So Yesterday by Scott Westerfeld. It’s about Hunter, a seventeen-year-old who’s paid to find the latest, greatest trends for mass-marketing, and Jen, an “Innovator”–one of the kids inventing the latest, greatest before anyone else . Because, of course, once everyone is wearing it, it’s just not cool anymore. Initially I thought this story was about whether an innovator (someone who invents crazy new styles) and a trendsetter (someone who steals those inventions and sells them on the retail market) can be friends. Instead it quickly blows up into something bigger: there’s a pecking order here, from global companies to mindless consumers to late adopters to the I-would-rather-die-than-adjust-to-something-new. Everyone I know fits in somewhere. And it’s a dangerous, brand-maniacal world out there.
In my opinion, what Scott Westerfeld does really, really well is take one aspect of culture and magnify it, twisting it to see what happens when it goes just a nudge farther. In his trilogy Uglies, Pretties, and Specials, it was the idea of beauty. What would happen–these books ask–if we invented the perfect formula for beautiful people? And then did surgery on everyone? It’s a fascinating series, one that asks questions about human dignity, the growing-up process, and the role of science as authority. And they’re ridiculously engrossing sci-fi novels. Maybe more on them later.
Well, in So Yesterday, he’s done it again. This time, it’s the idea of cool. Here, in almost the same New York City we have today, cool is absolutely king. Mass marketing is moving at breakneck speed, and what was IN last week is so pathetically OLD today you shouldn’t bury your grandmother in it. The main character, Hunter, is paid by companies to advertise and collect data, but he’s not paid to talk about them them–so he doesn’t. He refuses to name any name brands whatsoever in the book, referring to them obliquely instead (phones made by “a certain company in Finland”, a quote from a certain “dysfunctional father” in a television show), because otherwise it would be advertising. He makes an exception for the ubiquitous Google. (Hmmm.)
This book only increased my desire to rail loudly at the mass-media advertising constantly streaming toward my skull. I can’t even walk into a grocery store anymore without being overwhelmed by seventeen brands of peanut butter and four hundred varieties of the snack-I-didn’t-know-I-needed-but-now-I-will-clearly-die-without. It makes me physically ill. Seriously, people! …But I digress.
It was refreshing to read a book about consumer culture with brand names so conspicuously absent. I also appreciated Westerfeld’s balanced look at the ways “cool” culture develops a life of its own. I became sadly reconciled to the fact that I will never, never be an early adopter. I can’t even figure out how to work the microwave properly. (Apparently you’re supposed to take it out before the smoke starts pouring around the edges. Who knew?)
It’s a great book; I’d recommend it. Check it out, and the trilogy, by clicking on the pictures. (There are no links to burned brownies, sorry. But I can recommend some tips if you want to make it yourself.)
Sometimes the most unique art comes from twisting one established form into something completely different. In this case, a book becomes entirely unreadable. But then, that’s not the point.
Today I’m excited about this photoglut of art made from books. (“Photoglut” is a snazzy word that I thought everyone knew. Nope, turns out it’s coined by Stupid Ugly Foreigner, a funny and fascinating blogger. Pretty soon “photoglut” will come into common usage because it’s awesome.)
We use books so often, for everything—they become so throwaway. Martin Frost adds some mystery with his fore-edge scenes. Sometimes the paintings are not visible unless the book is open.
With a name like Robert The, he’s simply got to work with words.
An unknown artist thinks outside the box/book/bird…
Edit 6/6/11: Thanks to careful reader Jason Smith for noting: the above piece is not by Donald Lipski (now attributed correctly as anonymous). But Donald Lipski can, in fact, be found here with many more sculptures of books and other interesting things. One of his famous “book” sculptures is called “Good as Gold”—check it out, it’s cool.
My favorite, Su Blackwell.
What do you think? Comments are welcome!
(This is an understatement. I sit at my desk anxiously refreshing the page in the hopes that you’ve left a comment.)
(This is only a slight exaggeration.)
(Help! Don’t leave me to drown in my own self-corrections!)
It’s Children’s Book Week! From May 2nd to 8th the streamers will be thrown and the little bookmarks handed out in celebration. Hooray! The packaging is half the fun. I think the poster by Peter Brown above is sort of heartwarming.
And I don’t know about you, but I rarely used the bookmarks they gave us in school because it would mean putting down the book. But they’re still pretty!
Today I’m stealing a bookmark from the happy colorful Children’s Book Week 2011 website. Jeff Kinney, the author and illustrator of Diary of a Wimpy Kid (which I haven’t read but may yet), has designed us a bookmark. And not just a bookmark. No. A full-fledged, disclose-your-bookworm-self, fill-in-the-blank list.
Whoo! Exciting! Disclosure time. I had a hard time whittling this list down to one answer per blank. Here we go:
1. The longest book I’ve ever read: based on thickness, Harry Potter #6—you could kill a person with this book (I’ve written about that before); based on length, the Bible.
2. A character in a book I’d like to have as a friend would be: as opposed to an enemy? Gandalf. God. The Dread Pirate Roberts.
–Oh, oh, you meant a friend… Anne of Green Gables, definitely.
3. A book whose title sounds like the story of my life is: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Haha. That’s not every day, but my life sounds more dramatic that way.
4. A book I tried to read but couldn’t get past the first page was: The Count of Monte Cristo. I’ve started it three times. Maybe I need a large print copy.
5. A great book for reading in the bathroom is: a page-turner, that way you don’t even hear the pounding on the door. Kidding! I much prefer reading on the couch, or in front of a fireplace, or sometimes in a tree. (But rarely. Just when you get comfortable you fall out.)
I clearly had difficulty keeping the answers down—it was too much fun.
What about you? Tell us your answers to the list!
There’s really nothing like an imagination. Nobody can teach it to you; nobody can force you to have one. People can help you along, I suppose—but it has to be yours, and yours alone.
Maybe this is why kids with “big imaginations” can sometimes feel like outsiders. I know I did. I remember being overwhelmed with the feeling of being stuck in my own skin; I stared into mirrors, pondering the mystery that I was ME and not somebody else. And really, nobody else can know what it’s like, to be me, just like I can’t know what it’s like to be you.
It can be a very lonely feeling. Words are an approximation, we can’t really understand each other, why do we bother: I could go on a long postmodern-leaning spiral here until I work myself into a depressed funk. I don’t think I’ll do that.
Because the great thing about being ME, and not somebody else, is that I see things nobody else will, and I can share them. I’m a sharer from way back. If I had a kaleidoscope, I’d want a camera attached so I could show you a picture of every cool thing I saw. When I find something I love, I have a burning need to show it to someone. I actually get really agitated about this. This happened the other day: the roommates were gone, internet went down, and I had just read a REALLY COOL AMAZING ARTICLE! (You know it’s amazing when it’s in all caps.) A person gets desperate. She takes drastic measures. She starts a Twitter account. (It’s also this kind of desperation that leads people to start blogs…cough…just sayin’…)
I love reading because I can see what other people are thinking. I can’t quite get inside their skin—but I can get awfully close. The beauty of words is the bridge they string between people: you describe, and sometimes I can see it! I feel like I should break out into song right about now.
The hills are alive!
With the sound of music!
Okay, I’m done.
Of course, half the time I love something, people don’t get it, or love it for entirely different reasons. This is also the beauty of imagination—you see an apple, I see an apple pie. (Haha! I’m so cute! I couldn’t think of a better example.)
This whole blog is a product of my massive sharing impulse, so here we go. I’ll share some stuff. I’m restraining myself. Here’s a few articles that I have really enjoyed—for your perusal. Let your imagination run like a banshee.*
The Rabbit Room–a group of artists and writers in the vein of the Inklings (C.S.Lewis, Tolkien and others). I like them because they’re more interested in making good art and being good human beings than in marketing themselves. It’s a breath of fresh air.
The Ennobling Fantasy of J.R.R.Tolkien–First in a fantastic four-part blog on why Lord of the Rings is not just another sloppy fantasy, and it can’t be blown off as ”religious fiction”. It’s much better than that. (This was the all caps article.)
Kaleidoscope Heart is the first song on Sara Bareilles’ latest album, and I think she’s outdone herself. (If that’s possible–she’s harmonizing with herself, so…) Stop by her site to listen to the rest of the album.
“Confessions”–I first read James Calvin Schaap in writing classes, but it wasn’t till I read his essay “Confessions” that I realized we should be friends. At least on paper–I’ll read what he writes. He talks about the difficulties of writing, or making art, and also living in community with others. For those of you who’ve tried this, you know it’s tough. If not–it’s harder than it looks. Either way, it’s worth a thoughtful read.
I know I’m a compulsive sharer because just writing this post has made me ridiculously happy. One more for good measure: The hilarious Stephan Pastis writes the comic Pearls Before Swine, and it brings joy to my life.
I’d love to hear what you think!
*Note: I just looked this up. Banshee is perhaps not the correct metaphor. Laugh away, but I always thought it was a crazy monkey. Whoops. Correction: Let your imagination run like a wild monkey.
Puffin Books will soon be bringing books to the breakfast table, at least for children in the U.K. The Telegraph reports that this month Puffin will be releasing a set of cereal boxes with quotes on them from well-loved British author Roald Dahl. The extracts, from books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The BFG, will be short, exciting, and hopefully encourage kids to read. My favorite quote was from Francesca Dow, managing director of children’s books at Penguin (which owns Puffin Books):
The great thing about a cereal box, is that it potentially is reaching millions of households that just don’t read any literature outside of school. There could be an enormous number of children discovering Roald Dahl for the first time, bleary eyed over the breakfast table.
Ms. Dow made me laugh. I was trying to picture bleary-eyed victims viewing anything besides the milk jug as a thrilling discovery. Clearly, Ms. Dow has not had the pleasure of breakfasting with my family.
Nevertheless, there might be some definite advantages to a sort of “book-teaser” on the back of a cereal box. I find this appealing precisely because it’s not ad space for the latest in publishing (to which I would cry–Is no space sacred? Shall even my breakfasting be defiled by shameless promotional clamoring?? IS THERE NOTHING GOOD LEFT IN THE WORLD?!?) But I digress.
It seems to be a genuine effort to introduce a classic children’s author to new kids. Which is cool. I hope that it goes beyond mere “quotables” and actually encourages reading. If anyone can do that, Roald Dahl probably can.