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The Workhorse and the Butterfly: Ann Patchett on Writing and Why Self-Forgiveness Is the Most Important Ingredient of Great Art


“The ability to forgive oneself … is the key to making art, and very possibly the key to finding any semblance of happiness in life.” “All makers must leave room for the acts of the spirit,” Ursula K.

Einstein on the Common Language of Science in a Rare 1941 Recording


“Perfection of means and confusion of goals seem — in my opinion — to characterize our age.” What makes Albert Einstein endure as “the quintessential modern genius” isn’t merely his monumental contribution to science but also his unflinching faith in the human spirit and in our civilizational capacity for good even in the face of undeniable evil.

Turning Trauma into Power: Marina Abramovic on How Her Harrowing Childhood Became the Raw Material for Her Art


“You know you are an artist if you have to do art — it’s like breathing and you have no choice. Nothing should be able to stop you.” Let’s get one thing out of the way: Although creative history is littered with tortured geniuses who survived terrible childhoods full of abuse and violence — take Franz Kafka’s abusive father or Maya Angelou’s rape or Eve Ensler’s trauma — and although my own early years contain elements of these experiences (sans the subsequent genius), I am not one who romanticizes pain, upheaval, and adversity as prerequisites for success.

This I Believe: Thomas Mann on Time and the Soul of Existence


“The perishableness of life … imparts value, dignity, interest to life.” “The best thing about time passing,” Sarah Manguso wrote in her magnificent meditation on ongoingness, “is the privilege of running out of it, of watching the wave of mortality break over me and everyone I know.” More than half a century earlier, the great German writer, philanthropist, and Nobel laureate Thomas Mann (June 6, 1875–August 12, 1955) articulated this idea with enchanting elegance in NPR’s program-turned-book This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women (public library) — a compendium of wisdom from eighty contributors ranging from a part-time hospital worker to a woman who sells Yellow Pages advertising to luminaries like Eleanor Roosevelt, John Updike, Errol Morris, Gloria Steinem, Eve Ensler, and Andrew Sullivan.

What Power Really Means: Cheryl Strayed Reads Adrienne Rich’s Homage to Marie Curie


A poetic and precise formulation of what it means to be a great artist, a great woman, and a great human being.

Tell Me What to Dream About: An Illustrated Nocturnal Adventure of Imaginative Possibility


Because who doesn’t want to be eating teeny-tiny waffles surrounded by teeny-tiny animals? “Something nameless hums us into sleep,” Mark Strand wrote in his bewitching ode to dreams — perhaps the same nameless something that has compelled us, for as long as the written record of human thought has existed, to seek an explanation for why we dream at all, what actually happens when we sleep, and how dreaming relates to our waking lives.

Thoreau on Libraries and His Ideal Sanctuary for Books


“Those old books suggested a certain fertility … as if they were making a humus for new literatures to spring in.” “We have an obligation to support libraries,” Neil Gaiman asserted in contemplating our responsibilities to the written word, adding: “If you do not value libraries then you do not value information or culture or wisdom.

Beastly Verse: From Lewis Carroll to William Blake, Beloved Poems About Animals in Vibrant and Unusual Illustrations


“Stories are a meal. But poetry is a glass of water, perhaps even a single drop that will save your life.” Half a century after Beastly Boys and Ghastly Girls, legendary artist Tomi Ungerer’s illustrated compendium of famous authors’ verses about brothers and sisters, another singular illustrator of our own era applies the concept to a different domain of the human experience — the inclination toward thinking with animals in making sense of our own lives.

Are Almonds the New Coal? Wendell Berry on Our Contempt for Small Places and the Perils of Our “Rugged Individualism”


“The extent of our knowledge will always be… the measure of the extent of our ignorance.” Novelist, poet, farmer, and environmental activist Wendell Berry (b.

Charlotte Brontë’s Beautiful and Heartbreaking Love Letters of Unrequited Affection


“When one does not complain … one pays for outward calm with an almost unbearable inner struggle.” Four years after English novelist and poet Charlotte Brontë (April 21, 1816–March 31, 1855) turned down a suitor’s marriage proposal with her assertive yet generous masterwork of the it’s-not-you-it’s-me model, the tables turned and she found herself on the opposite end of unrequited love.

The Art of Stumbling: David Brooks on Character, “Résumé Virtues” vs. “Eulogy Virtues,” and the Humility Code of Living a Meaningful Life


“We are all stumblers, and the beauty and meaning of life are in the stumbling.” “Do not despise your inner world,” philosopher Martha Nussbaum admonished in her letter of advice to the young.

Love After Love: Derek Walcott’s Poetic Ode to Being at Home in Ourselves


“Sit. Feast on your life.” The great Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh has written beautifully about why learning to love others begins with learning to love ourselves — a sentiment that the reactive modern cynic might dismiss as the vacant fodder of self-help books, but one which more considered reflection reveals to be deeply truthful and deeply uncomfortable.

North Brother Island: Haunting Photographs of the Last Unknown Place in New York City


An otherworldly portrait of the eternal dance between life and death, wilderness and civilization. “New York blends the gift of privacy with the excitement of participation,” E.B.

The Virtues of a Wandering Heart: How External Crushes Fortify Your Relationship


“The marriages that last are the ones in which the two members regularly develop (but do not act upon) extramarital infatuations.” Even as we arrive at an actual mathematical formula for lasting love, we remain tragicomically unskilled at anticipating — to say nothing of domesticating — the unpredictable, nonlinear dynamics of the human heart.

The Sea: A Sweet Wordless Story about Pursuit and Surrender, Dread and Desire, Disappointment and Triumph


From the compound to the cosmos, a playful celebration of life’s complementary experiences disguised as counterpoints.

The Storm Whale: A Tender Illustrated Story of Loneliness, Loss, Single-Parenting, and the Redemptive Power of Love


A sweet celebration of what it takes to feel at home in one’s own life. Psychologists have found that presence is the key to great parenting and yet also maintain that growing a capacity for fertile solitude is a developmental achievement for the child.

Young Delacroix on the Importance of Solitude in Creative Work and How to Resist Social Distractions


“Nourish yourself with grand and austere ideas of beauty that feed the soul… Seek solitude.” “One can never be alone enough to write,” Susan Sontag lamented in her journal.

A Questionnaire for the Immodest and Curious: Clever Puzzles, Riddles, and Word Games from Nabokov’s Love Letters to His Wife


“Kisses, my love, from your eyebrows down to your knees and back.” Despite his enormous intellectual and creative achievements, Vladimir Nabokov (April 22, 1899–July 2, 1977) considered one private event the most significant of his life: meeting 21-year-old Véra Slonim in 1923.

Thinking with Animals: From Aesop to Darwin to YouTube


How metaphors of nonhuman beings help us give shape to the human experience and make sense of our inner lives.

Creation: Ancient Indian Origin Myths, Brought to Life in a Breathtaking Illustrated Cosmogony


Consummate visual storytelling about life, death, the rhythms of time, and the beginning of art. “We don’t need to credit an all-seeing God with the creation of life and matter,” Douglas Rushkoff wrote in contemplating consciousness, “to suspect that something wonderfully strange is going on in the dimension we call reality.” And we don’t have to believe in such a god to appreciate the beautiful and imaginative ways in which the origin myths of the world’s various spiritual traditions capture this wonderful strangeness — from our earliest depictions of the universe to the marvelous mythic creatures that populate our legends.


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