A Bulgarian settled in New York, Maria Popova in her spare time digs for books that one won’t find at first glance in bookshops. And for seven years now she has been religiously creating a database of these interesting finds and sharing it with others.
The canary yellow that greets you when you open her web site, brainpickings.org, clues you immediately towards her taste in books: very pop art-ish. For someone who learnt about the world around her through her grandmother’s encyclopaedias, shuttered as she was in the hidden depth of the communist world, she has a distinct taste for all things colourful.
Digging through her web site is worth your time (she spends 450 hours a month to put them together for you, btw) as you are likely to find a gem of a book that you like.
We picked a few of her 2012 favourites...
BOOK 1 : Drawings from the City
Publisher : Tara Books
Price : Rs 750
From visionary Indian indie publisher Tara Books, who for nearly two decades have been giving voice to marginalised art and literature through a commune of artists, writers, and designers collaborating on beautifully crafted books celebrating Indian folk art traditions. Their latest gem, Drawing from the City by artist Tejubehan, is both more exquisite and born out of a more moving personal story than just about any book I’ve come across. Its gorgeous black-and-white pen-and-ink drawings, brimming with expressive lines and dots somewhere between Yayoi Kusama and Edward Gorey, tell the partly autobiographical, partly escapist tale of this self-taught artist who came of age as a woman trapped between unimaginable poverty and a wildly imaginative inner world in a patriarchal society.
Tejubehan takes us on a journey from her small village into the big city, where her poor parents move to find work. At its heart, however, the story is really a feminist story — a vision for women’s liberation in a culture with oppressive gender norms and limiting social expectations. In envisioning the woman of the city — biking, driving, flying — Tejubehan is really envisioning what it might be like to live in a world where to be female means to be free to move and free to just be.
Like many of Tara’s other books, Drawing from the City has been silkscreen-printed and bound by hand on handmade paper. The cover is colored with traditional Indian dyes, emanating an enchanting earthy smell that reminds you what it’s like to hold an analog labour of love in your analog human hands.
BOOK 2: Building Stories
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday
Price : Rs 2885
Building Stories is a remarkable storytelling artifact by cartoonist Chris Ware, more than a decade in the making — a giant box containing 14 individual print ephemera (books, booklets, comic strips, magazines, and even a gold-rimmed hardcover and a board game), each telling the interlocking tales of different residents of the same three-story Chicago brownstone, from the couple caught in a loveless relationship on the second floor, to the elderly spinster grappling with her own aging, to the bee trapped in the basement. Somewhere between Paula Scher’s vintage children’s book The Brownstone, the Cold-War-era experimental Polish short film Blok, and artist Yasmine Chatila’s Stolen Moments series, the project — which I hesitate to call a ‘book’, since it’s a lavish deal more — is at once voyeuristic and deeply intimate, exploring the boundless complexities of inner worlds, relationships, and the hopeful hopelessness of being human.
BOOK 3: 100 Ideas that Changed Graphic Design
Publisher : Laurence King
Price : Rs 1728
Design history books abound, but they tend to be organised by chronology and focused on concrete-isms. From publisher Laurence King, who brought us the epic Saul Bass monograph, and the prolific design writer Steven Heller with design critic Veronique Vienne comes 100 Ideas that Changed Graphic Design — a thoughtfully curated inventory of abstract concepts that defined and shaped the art and craft of graphic design, each illustrated with exemplary images and historical context, and one of the year’s best design books. From concepts like manifestos (#25), pictograms (#45), propaganda (#22), found typography (#38), and the Dieter-Rams-coined philosophy that “less is more” (#73) to favorite creators like Alex Steinweiss, Noma Bar, Saul Bass, Paula Scher, and Stefan Sagmeister, the sum of these carefully constructed parts amounts to an astute lens not only on what design is and does, but also on what it should be and do.
BOOK 4: 100 Diagrams That Changed the World
Publisher : Plume Books
Price : Rs 1443
Since the dawn of recorded history, we’ve been using visual depictions to map the Earth, order the heavens, make sense of time, dissect the human body, organize the natural world, perform music, and even concretize abstract concepts like consciousness and love. 100 Diagrams That Changed the World by investigative journalist and documentarian Scott Christianson chronicles the history of our evolving understanding of the world through humanity’s most groundbreaking sketches, illustrations, and drawings, ranging from cave paintings to The Rosetta Stone to Moses Harris’s color wheel to Tim Berners-Lee’s flowchart for a ‘mesh’ information management system, the original blueprint for the world wide web. But most noteworthy of all is the way in which these diagrams bespeak an essential part of culture — the awareness that everything builds on what came before, that creativity is combinatorial, and that the most radical innovations harness the cross-pollination of disciplines.
BOOK 5: Abstract City
Publisher : Abrams
Price : Rs 1440
Since 2008, Christoph Niemann — LEGO-lover, imagination instigator, metaphorical chicken-chaser — has been delighting us with his visual blog for The New York Times, in which he has explored everything from his love-hate relationship with coffee to the fall of the Berlin Wall to his obsession with maps to the familiar drudgery of red-eye flights. Abstract City gathers 16 of his visual essays, infused with his signature blend of humour, thoughtfulness, and exquisite conceptual freshness. An additional chapter on his creative process, echoing his excellent Creative Mornings talk on the same subject, presents the ultimate cherry on top.
For more, log on to Maria Popova’s web site, brainpickings.org