A timeless guide to “understanding the truth that does not merely inform the mind but liberates the soul.” “What is essential is invisible to the eye,” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry memorably wrote in The Little Prince.
“I don’t put off to tomorrow doing what I must do, right now, to find out what my secret self needs, wants, desires with all its heart.” Ray Bradbury (August 22, 1920–June 5, 2012) was not only one of the most celebrated writers of the past century and an invaluable source of practical advice on the craft, such as the creative benefits of list-making and the secret to a fruitful daily routine, but also a modern sage with a seemingly bottomless well of quotable wisdom on everything from failure to space exploration to the interplay of emotion and intelligence to the importance of working with love.
“The strongest and fieriest emotions of life defy all analytical insight.” Something magical happens when a great artist interprets a great author — one need only look at William Blake’s paintings for Milton’s Paradise Lost, Picasso’s 1934 drawings for a naughty ancient Greek comedy, Matisse’s 1935 etchings for Ulysses, and Salvador Dalí’s literary illustrations for Cervantes’s Don Quixote, Dante’s Divine Comedy, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and the essays of Montaigne.
The chemistry of ridable explosions. In recounting the riveting experience of what it’s like to launch on a Space Shuttle, pioneering astronaut Sally Ride vividly recalled how “the shuttle leaps off the launch pad in a cloud of steam and a trail of fire.” But what produces this fiery magic?
“Love is the only way to rescue humanity from all ills.” In 1908, Indian revolutionary Taraknath Das wrote to Leo Tolstoy, by then one of the most famous public figures in the world, asking for the author’s support in India’s independence from British colonial rule.
“The war of an artist with his society is a lover’s war, and he does, at his best, what lovers do, which is to reveal the beloved to himself and, with that revelation, to make freedom real.” “The sole purpose of human existence,” Carl Jung wrote in his reflections of life and death in 1957, “is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.” Five years later, in one of his least well-known but most enchanting works, the great novelist, playwright, poet, essayist, and cultural critic James Baldwin argued for this existential kindling of light as the sole purpose of the artist’s life.
A gentle reminder that everything is a matter of perspective. It’s hard enough for grown-ups to grasp that distances shape how we relate to the world, so how is a child to comprehend the importance of positional relationships in making sense of the world?
“Something is always far away… After all we hardly know our own depths.” “To see the Earth as it truly is, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence where it floats,” the poet Archibald MacLeish wrote after Apollo 8′s legendary “Earthrise” photograph made its debut in 1968, “is to see ourselves as riders on the Earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in the eternal cold…” Its unprecedented perspective of distance seemed, paradoxically enough, to bring us earthlings closer together, to desire connection to one another more strongly than ever before.
“Catering to bad taste, which we so readily attribute to the average reader, merely perpetuates that mediocrity.” “Paul’s a gem [who] works on perfecting the exterior of a curmudgeon,” Steve Jobs reminisced about working with legendary art director and graphic designer Paul Rand (1914–1996), adding, “He’s perfected it to new heights, actually.” Indeed, Rand is remembered as much for being one of the most significant visual communicators and commercial artists in history as he is for his famous grouchiness — a fact that renders his little-known vintage children’s books a doubly intriguing paradoxical curiosity.
“There is nothing quite so tragic as a young cynic.” In 1982, nearly a decade after their spectacular conversation about freedom, beloved poet, memoirist, dramatist, actor, producer, filmmaker, and civil rights activist Maya Angelou and celebrated interviewer Bill Moyers traveled together to the beautiful Texas countryside to discuss the ugliest aspects of human nature at a conference titled Facing Evil.
“It’s annoying for others to have to hear you.” We live in a culture that often romanticizes books as the tender and exhilarating love-making to the “orgasm without release” of Alan Watts’s admonition against our media gluttony — an antidote to the frantic multitasking of modern media, refuge from the alleged evils of technology, an invitation for slow, reflective thinking in a fast-paced age obsessed with productivity.
“If your project has real substance, ultimately the money will follow you like a common cur in the street with its tail between its legs.” Werner Herzog is celebrated as one of the most influential and innovative filmmakers of our time, but his ascent to acclaim was far from a straight trajectory from privilege to power.
“Maps are errors to arrive at truth.” For all the spiritual benefits of getting lost, we humans are habitually driven to orient ourselves to the world and find our place in it.
“To maintain the state of doubt and to carry on systematic and protracted inquiry — these are the essentials of thinking.” Decades before Carl Sagan published his now-legendary Baloney Detection Kit for critical thinking, the great philosopher, psychologist, and education reformer John Dewey penned the definitive treatise on the subject — a subject all the more urgently relevant today, in our age of snap judgments and instant opinions.
“Our fear of failure … assures the progressive narrowing of the personality.” “If I limit myself to knowledge that I consider true beyond doubt,” E.F.
“My Captain does not answer … he has no pulse nor will.” In the introduction to Quack This Way — the remarkable record of Bryan Garner’s wide-ranging conversation with David Foster Wallace — Garner makes a passing mention of the email address Wallace used in their correspondence: ocapmycap@… The email provider following the @ symbol changed over the years, but Wallace kept his moniker — one that takes on a special, wistful meaning in light of his subsequent suicide.
“It is essential of the happy life that a man would have almost no mail.” I’ve had a longtime fascination with the daily routines of notable writers and their creative rituals.
“You’re never just a spectator: unless you put a stop to it, you’re a participant.” “It would be a kind of blasphemy to read poetry at table,” C.S.
A playful illustrated primer for every kind of family and every kind of kid. Benjamin Franklin’s oft-cited proclamation that nothing in the world is certain except death and taxes omits another existential inevitability, and arguably one no less pleasant — the question every parent dreads and no parent ever escapes: where do babies come from?
An inclusive and imaginative take on reproduction. Benjamin Franklin’s oft-cited proclamation that nothing in the world is certain except death and taxes omits another existential inevitability, and arguably one no less pleasant — the question every parent dreads and no parent ever escapes: where do babies come from?