Category Archives: Books

Happy Birthday to “Invisible Man” Author Ralph Ellison

“I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allen Poe; nor am I one of those Hollywood-movie ectoplasms.”

American writer, essayist, and musician Ralph Ellison was born March 1, 1914.

One of my favorite books of all time is Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man: a complex, sprawling, and uncompromising rumination on race, class, and identity in Mid-Century America:

Invisible Man, First Edition, 1952.

” I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids–and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.”

It is a book that reveals deeper levels and new revelations with each reading:

“Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass.”

Invisible Man, 2012 cover designed by Cardon Webb.

Considered to be a seminal novel of the 20th century, it is a nightmarish journey of psychological angst and societal madness as told through the narrative of a nameless protagonist.

CODA: If you haven’t read the novel (or if you haven’t cracked it open since high school or college), I would highly recommend the experience:

“When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination–indeed, everything and anything except me.”

 

Emily McDowell’s New Book Expands Upon Her Honest Design About Serious Illness

The book “There Is Not a Good Card For This” expands upon Emily McDowell’s line of cards to address serious illness.

Two years ago, I wrote a feature for TLS about Emily McDowell’s straightforward and often humorous line of empathy cards borne out of her own battle at age 24 with Stage 3 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

This small, personal project has evolved into a larger, collaborative book, There is No Good Card for This (the title, inspired by the name of one of Emily’s cards) with Kelsey Crowe, Ph.D. to help individuals chart a meaningful course of action “when life is scary, awful, and unfair to people you love”.

 

Divided into three parts, the book’s practical,  conversational prose perfectly mirrors Emily’s spare and insightful illustration style—she is masterful at distilling complex subjects and concepts into warm and meaningful forms.

Congratulations Emily and Kelsey on the new book. And thank you for transforming illness, struggle, and pain into meaning, purpose, and beauty that benefits us all.

Todd.

CODA: Listen to Emily discuss the new book on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Make a Mixtape (for Someone Who Doesn’t Know You)

Steal-Like-Artist-Journal

Austin Kleon’s brilliant book “Steal Like an Artist” has a companion journal with invaluable exercises to get one’s creative juices flowing with a bias towards action.

As a music aficionado, I was immediately interested in the exercise: “Make a Mixtape (For Someone Who Doesn’t Know You)”. I wrote down my list and created two playlists (“Make a Mixtape Vols. 1 and 2”) in my iTunes to listen to while I work throughout the day. Hopefully you will create a mixtape of your own and share it with a friend.

Enough writing, here’s the list:

SIDE A

  • Charles Brown—Black Night
  • Nina Simone—Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood
  • Jimi Hendrix—1983 (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)
  • Sun Ra—Calling Planet Earth
  • Madvillian—Shadows of Tomorrow
  • A Tribe Called Quest—Excursions
  • Wes Montgomery (with the Wynton Kelly Trio)—Impressions
  • Bad Brains—Sailin’ On
  • Alton Ellis—Reason in the Sky
  • King Sunny Adé—Sunny Ti De Ariya
  • Rhythm and Sound Featuring Cornell Campbell—King of My Empire

SIDE B

  • Hiatus Kiayote—Breathing Underwater
  • Los Destellos—Onsta La Yerbita
  • The Black Keys—Weight of Love
  • Gary Clark Jr.—When My Train Pulls In
  • Paul Weller—Whirlpool’s End
  • Three Dog Night—Easy to Be Hard
  • Leon Thomas—Echoes
  • Terry Callier—Love Theme from Spartucus (4 Hero No Skins Mix)
  • Arthur Verocai—Sylvia
  • Nostalgia 77—Quiet Dawn (Examples of Twelve Remix)
  • Miles Davis—Flamenco Sketches

Marvel’s Black Panther Gets a High-Octane Update from Author Ta-Nehisi Coates

MacArthur Genius Grant Awardee and National Book Award Winning Author (Between the World and Me), Essayist, and Social Critic Ta-Nehisi Coates reinvigorates the Wakandan warrior Black Panther for a new generation of readers.

Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze's update of Black Panther for the modern era.
Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze’s update of Black Panther for the modern era.

Infused with a social and political urgency uncommonly present in comics, the most advanced society on Earth (Wakanda) is in the midst of revolution and unrest and the warrior/prince T’Challa must deftly balance the duties of superhero and monarch. Brian Stelfreeze’s artwork is cinematic in its scope and movement.

Black Panther will have a major role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) as Director Ryan Coogler (Creed, Fruitvale Station) helms the upcoming film starring Chadwick Boseman (42, Captain America Civil War).

If this comic series is any indication, Black Panther will be the prototypical hero for the new millennium.

Black Panther Marvel Online Update #1
Watch the video recap of Black Panther issue #1 paired with the music of Run the Jewels.

The response to this series (now in its third issue) has been overwhelming and Coates is providing a video update of each issue paired with exciting new music from artists such as Run the Jewels, Mobb Deep, and Prodigy.

 

DJ Shiftee Explores Thirty Years of Turntablism in Fourteen Minutes

Electronic music production and DJ training facility Dubspot has been instrumental educating the public on the history and technique of the DJ and two-time DMC (Disco Music Club) turntable champion and instructor Shiftee’s examination on the craft is an arresting blend of historical lecture and performance art.

This is an excellent primer on one of the pillars of Hip-Hop culture (Break Dancing, Emceeing, DJing, Graffiti Art, and Beatboxing) and for those who wish to explore the subject in detail I recommend the following:

  • Wild Style (Film), Hip-Hop is exposed to the World in Charlie Ahern’s seminal 1983 film
  • Scratch (Film), Doug Pray’s fascinating documentary on the history of Turntablism and the cult of the DJ
  • Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop (Book), Jeff Chang explores the economic, political, and social forces that create and shape what we now know as Hip-Hop Culture
  • Last Night a DJ Saved My Life (Book), Bill Brewster traces the unexpected history of DJ culture through exhaustive research and engaging personal interviews

Cooper Hewitt Exhibit Explores “How Posters Work”

From my childhood I fondly remember staring at Richard Amsel’s Raiders of the Lost Ark poster outside of the theatre box office: it’s clean lines, graphic symmetry, and beautifully rendered images and bold colors inspired me.

100-best-movie-posters-of-the-80-s-a54c61fe-adcd-47b1-981c-681329e10510-jpeg-229448
Richard Amsel’s iconic poster for Raiders of the Lost Ark.

As a designer, I have always loved to create and study posters. They have always struck the balance between information and creativity; often revealing an artist’s distinctive style and singular point-of-view as much as the product or service it’s promoting.

Cooper Hewitt’s How Posters Work Exhibition explores the theory and technique of the poster and is on view from May 8, 2015 to November 15, 2015. I have included samples below, but a detailed look at the curated pieces for the exhibition are online and print in a companion book edited by Ellen Lupton, Cooper Hewitt’s Curator of Contemporary Design.

POSTER, JUNIOR WELLS, 1966 Offset lithograph on white wove paper. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Leslie J. Schreyer. 1979-34-37, Victor Moscoso (Designer). Source: https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18498021/
POSTER, JUNIOR WELLS, 1966
Offset lithograph on white wove paper. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Leslie J. Schreyer. 1979-34-37, Victor Moscoso (Designer). Source: https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18498021/
This object was made for (as the client) Addo-x and designed by Ladislav Sutnar, Source: https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18647331/
POSTER, ADDO-X, 1958 Offset lithograph on white wove paper. Gift of Anonymous Donor. 1994-109-7. This object was made for (as the client) Addo-x and designed by Ladislav Sutnar in 1958, Source: https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18647331/

 

10 Writing Tips From “On Writing Well” Author William Zinesser

Here are 10 writing tips from author, editor, and teacher William Zinesser who passed away last week at the age of 92. I must admit, I didn’t know of Mr. Zinesser’s work prior to his passing, but after hearing an thoughtful appreciation of him last week I intend to read On Writing Well immediately.

Writer, editor, and teacher William Zinesser's book, On Writing Well sold more than 1.5 million copies
Writer, editor, and teacher William Zinesser’s book, On Writing Well sold more than 1.5 million copies (Photo: Walter Daran, The LIFE Picture Collection, Getty Images)
  1. Don’t make lazy word choices: “You’ll never make your mark as a writer unless you develop a respect for words and a curiosity about their shades of meaning that is almost obsessive. The English language is rich in strong and supple words. Take the time to root around and find the ones you want.”
  2. On the other hand, avoid jargon and big words: “Clear thinking becomes clear writing; one can’t exist without the other. It’s impossible for a muddy thinker to write good English.”
  3. Writing is hard work: “A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time. Remember this in moments of despair. If you find that writing is hard, it’s because it is hard.”
  4. Write in the first person: “Writing is an intimate transaction between two people, conducted on paper, and it will go well to the extent that it retains its humanity.”
  5. And the more you keep in first person and true to yourself, the sooner you will find your style: “Sell yourself, and your subject will exert its own appeal. Believe in your own identity and your own opinions. Writing is an act of ego, and you might as well admit it.
  6. Don’t ask who your audience is…you are the audience: “You are writing primarily to please yourself, and if you go about it with enjoyment you will also entertain the readers who are worth writing for.”
  7. Study the masters but also your contemporaries: “Writing is learned by imitation. If anyone asked me how I learned to write, I’d say I learned by reading the men and women who were doing the kind of writing I wanted to do and trying to figure out how they did it.”
  8. Yes, the thesaurus is your friend: “The Thesaurus is to the writer what a rhyming dictionary is to the songwriter—a reminder of all the choices–and you should use it with gratitude. If, having found the scalawag and the scapegrace, you want to know how they differ, then go to the dictionary.”
  9. Read everything you write out loud for rhythm and sound: “Good writers of prose must be part poet, always listening to what they write.”
  10. And don’t ever believe you are going to write anything definitive: “Decide what corner of your subject you’re going to bite off, and be content to cover it well and stop.”

Source: http://www.openculture.com/2015/05/10-writing-tips-from-legendary-writing-teacher-william-zinsser.html

Take Cartoonist Lynda Barry’s Drawing Challenge

Lynda-Barry-Future-of-Ed
Artist, educator, novelist, and playwright Lynda Barry encourages us to draw like children with the Monster Drawing Challenge

Every day I pick up my four-year old daughter from day care and every day each student produces at least two new art projects! I admire and aspire to their level of output (and to have mandatory naps and play time), but what impresses me most is the freedom and joy in their work. Kids aren’t overly concerned about proficiency and perfection, they just want to express themselves and get their ideas out. The results are always creative, interesting, and original—isn’t that what EVERY artist wants?

Enter artist and educator Lynda Barry, whose comics I have been reading for about thirty years, who has a great drawing exercise to access one’s creative inner child (Source: http://www.cbc.ca/radio/q/schedule-for-friday-may-8-2015-1.3065520/cartoonist-lynda-barry-dares-you-to-draw-like-a-kid-1.3065525):

Level one! Monster to-do list:
1. Take an 8 1/2 x 11 inch piece of paper. It’s better if it’s a piece of paper you were planning to throw away.
2. Fold it into four quarters, so it’s divided into four chambers.
3. Take a pencil or a pen. On one chamber, make a squiggle.
4. On another chamber, make a closed shape, like a square or a rhombus.
5. On the third quarter, make another squiggle.
6. Set a timer for two minutes, that’s how much time you have to turn that first squiggle into a monster. You know, eyeballs, teeth, claws, etc. Repeat for all four chambers.
7. Make a list of 10 things you have to do that you’re not doing. (I have to do my laundry, go to the dentist, etc.)
8. Look at that list, and figure out which monster has to do what.
9. Write those tasks above those monsters. It’s an instant comic and the results are often hilarious.

Level two! Monster parenting
1. Fold another sheet of paper into quarters.
2. Take any one of those monsters, and now draw that monster’s parents.
3. Think about the task that monster has to do — like go to the dentist. Make one parent loves the monster “Honey those teeth aren’t important, what’s matter is you’re happy.” Make another parent hate you “Of course you’re not going to the dentist.”
4. Just have them start talking about the problem. It’s instant! And the most important thing is it makes you start laughing.

Bonus: the Counterfactual Drawing Board Project:

Dr. Seuss’ Timeless Advice for Kids and Adults Alike

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…”
—Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

Dr-seuss-1-sized

Like many Gen Xers and Millennials, I grew up with Dr. Seuss: the books, the animated specials, and the movies (in the third grade, my career choice was to be the Cat in the Hat).

I was too old to read his final book, Oh, the Places You’ll Go! when it was first published in 1990, but reading it now to my family I understand why it’s message resonates with adult readers.

This book has been popular with graduates since its first  publication by Random House in 1990
This book has been popular with graduates since its first publication by Random House in 1990

It is a motivational self-help manual masquerading as a children’s book. Inspiring, practical, entertaining and insightful, it is worth the read and is far cheaper than attending a seminar or training!

“You’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting,
So… get on your way!”
—Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!