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The Moby Awards for Best and Worst Book Trailers

What zero-gravity intercourse has to do with the future of information and the fate of the printed page.

We have a soft spot for brilliant book trailers here at Brain Pickings, so it was a delight to stumble upon the 2011 Moby Awards for best and worst book trailers, who revealed the winners last week. Zany rather than brainy, and yet uniquely illuminating, the Moby winners — selected by a panel of judges from literary tastemakers like Slate, Flavorpill, GoodReads and The Millions — are a treat of creativity, humor and an occasional profound human truth. Drumroll please…

GRAND JURY AWARD

Subtitled “We’re Giving You This Award Because Otherwise You’d Win Too Many Other Awards,” the quasi-epic mega-award was bestowed upon Gary Shteyngart for his Super Sad True Love Story — a dystopian, profane and, in its own twisted way, relentlessly entertaining vision for the future. (This, friends, is no Optimist’s Tour of the Future, mind you.) Veiled in the love story between a middle-aged man obsessed with eternal life and a 20-something Korean American oppressed by her overbearing parents is a faceted commentary on the obsessions and catastrophes of the information age, adding to the ongoing conversation on what the future of information and the internet may hold.

The James Franco cameo also landed the trailer the award in the Most Celebtastic Performance category.

BEST SMALL HOUSE

Jonathan Safran Foer‘s Tree of Codes, dubbed the “impossible book” for its ambitious production vision, landed atop our list of the best art, design and photography books of 2010 — a remarkable literary remix created by cutting out chunks of text from Foer’s favorite novel, The Street of Crocodiles by Polish author Bruno Schulz, and rearranging the text to form an entirely different story. Its trailer, just as meta as the book itself, scored the Moby Award for Best Small House.

BEST BIG HOUSE

After two excellent books at the intersection of the curious and the macabre, and a controversial TED talk, Mary Roach has done it again with Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void, in which she explores the psychology, physiology, technology and politics of sending humans into space. Roach looks beyond the shiny techno-luster of space travel to explore its most fundamental human concerns — eating, having sex and bathing, going to the bathroom, not dying when reentering Earth’s atmosphere — in her signature style of irreverent curiosity, wry humor and irresistible science writing.

Admittedly, however, I was rooting for Steven Johnson in this category with his Where Good Ideas Come From (which topped our list of the best books in business, life and mind for 2010), brilliantly animated by The RSA, a longtime Brain Pickings darling.

STAND-ALONE ART OBJECT

The Book Trailers as Stand-Alone Art Object award went to How Did You Get This Number — a collection of nine thoughtful essays by Sloane Crosley exploring the delights and distresses of youth, from foreign travel to social awkwardness to heartbreak, complete with ten quasi-innocuous federal offenses Crosley has consciously broken in the past 10 years of being, well, a young person with a restless mind and a creative itch.

WORST PERFORMANCE BY AN AUTHOR

Though Jonathan Franzen recently delivered one of the smartest, timeliest, most poignant graduation addresses I’ve ever had the joy of hearing, he didn’t fare so well on the book trailers front, where he scored the Worst Performance by an Author.

And that’s quite unfortunate, because the book the trailer is for — Freedom: A Novel — is commonly considered some of the best fiction to come by in years.

WHAT ARE WE DOING TO OUR CHILDREN?

It’s a Book by award-winning children’s book author Lane Smith is part playful pastime for your favorite tiny human, part poignant manifesto for the printed page in the digital age.

It rightfully snagged the Moby Award in the children’s lit category, edging out Laura Vaccaro Seeger’s excellent The Hidden Alphabet, and is also an honoree in our own selection of 7 best book book trailers.

Want more? See the full list of winners and the finalists with whom they battled it out.

BP

Cultural Connectives: Understanding Arab Culture Through Typography

What typography has to do with cross-cultural understanding and linguistic minimalism.

I’m obsessed with language, such a crucial key to both how we understand the world and how the world understands us. In today’s political and media climate, we frequently encounter the Middle East in the course of our daily media diets, but these portrayals tend to be limited, one-note and reductionist. We know precious little about Arab culture, with all its rich and layered multiplicity, and even less about its language. On the heels of last month’s excellent Arabic Graffiti comes Cultural Connectives — a cross-cultural bridge by way of a typeface family designed by author Rana Abou Rjeily that brings the Arabic and Latin alphabets together and, in the process, fosters a new understanding of Arab culture.

Both minimalist and illuminating, the book’s stunning pages map the rules of Arabic writing, grammar and pronunciation to English, using this typographic harmony as the vehicle for better understanding this ancient culture from a Western standpoint.

The book jacket unfolds into a beautiful poster of a timeless quote by Gibran Khalil Gibran, rendered in Arabic:

We shall never understand one another until we reduce the language to seven words.” ~ Gibran Khalil Gibran

Beautifully designed and conceptually thoughtful, Cultural Connectives is another gem from my friends at Mark Batty Publisher, firmly planting them as one of the most ambitious, creative and culturally relevant independent publishers of our time.

BP

Children and Established Artists Draw Autism

What the spectrum of difference has to do with 12th-century demons and Google Earth.

Autism is one of the greatest modern mysteries of cognitive science, a highly faceted condition that remains largely misunderstood. We’ve previously explored several notable autistic outliers — British savant Stephen Wiltshire, who draws remarkable 3D panoramas of cities from memory; animal scientist Temple Grandin, who is equally well-known for her innovations in livestock herding and her autism advocacy; and autistic savant Daniel Tammet, who was able to learn Icelandic in a week, among other remarkable feats of memory. But what is the actual experience of living with autism in a deep felt sense, beyond the social stereotypes and headline-worthy superskills?

Drawing Autism, a celebration of the artistry and self-expression found in artwork by people diagnosed with autism, explores just that.

The stunning volume, with an introduction by Grandin herself, features works by more 50 international contributors, from children to established artists, that illustrate the rich multiplicity of the condition — which we hesitate to call a “disorder” as we subscribe to the different, not lesser view of autism — and the subjective experience of each autistic individual. Thanks to Will of 50 Watts for the wonderful images.

Felix: Imaginary City Map, Age 11

Who are some artists that you like?

None. I study road maps and atlases in detail and generally I scroll the full track of our trips on Google Earth.

Eleni Michael, Dancing with the Dog, 1995
Josh Peddle, Changing Seasons, 2006 (at age 12)
Vehdas Rangan: A. (India)
David Barth, Vogels (Dutch for ‘birds’), 2008 (at age 10)
Emily L. Williams, Leap Years
Wil C. Kerner, Pals (collage), age 12

Wil’s grandmother explains:

The key in understanding Pals is the brown rimmed off-white donkey ear. Four facial expressions depict the bad boys turning into donkeys in the movie Pinocchio: purple-faced Pinocchio is stunned by his new ear and considering what to do; it’s too late for the horrified yellow face; the green trapezoid is oblivious to his pending fate; the blue head is looking away hoping he’s not included.”

Eric Chen, Mirror Mind poster 3, 2005
Jessica Park: The Mark Twain House with the Diamond Eclipse and Venus, 1999

Drawing Autism comes from Mark Batty Publisher — one of our favorite independent voices at the intersection of visual art and thoughtful cultural commentary, whom you may recall from The Unruly Alphabet, Drainspotting, Pioneers of Spanish Graphic Design, and Noma Bar’s fantastic Negative Space illustrations.

Images via 50 Watts

BP

An Eyeful of Sound: How Synesthesia Works

The color of Friday, or what the absence on silence has to do with the presence of light.

I have a long-standing fascinating with synesthesia, the rare neurological condition that leads stimulation in one sensory pathway to trigger an experience in another — a neural short-circuiting that enables such strange phenomena as hearing colors, seeing sounds, and tasting smells.

The ongoing effort to understand the synesthetic experience stretches from beautiful ways of visualizing music in color to studying the brain of a synesthetic autistic savant. Now comes An Eyeful of Sound — a remarkable animated documentary about audio-visual synesthesia, which attempts to add an intimate, visceral layer to our intellectual understanding of the peculiar condition.

All sounds have color. The alphabet has color. Days of the week have color. Each day has a color and a certain shape.

What makes strange phenomena like synesthesia all the more fascinating is that they raise unsettling questions about some of the most fundamental givens of the “normal” brain: Does color even exist, or is it merely a product of our fancy? (Goethe had some thoughts on the subject.) Do things have inherent, static smells, tastes, sounds and colors, or do we arbitrarily confer those qualities by manufacturing them in our own minds? Are life’s sensory qualities static and permanent — is the sky always blue, lemons always sour — or are they fluid and dynamic attributes on a spectrum of which we just happen to experience arbitrary slices?

HT @kirstinbutler

BP

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