30 Aug 2014

Chip Kidd: Designing Books Is No Laughing Matter. OK, It Is

I just came across a wonderful mini-lecture about book design delivered by Chip Kidd.
A real book designer, a real artist of books should always remember that he shapes a form of a text, which is hidden inside the book. And this form has to be coherent and, most importantly, functional in each and every case.

If you're interested in book design - and also if you're not - watch this:

Here are Kidd's most famous books jackets. They are so so cool that it feels like you're missing something using Kindle. 

Do you recognize some of the designs?

27 Aug 2014

Dining With Oscar Wilde

Source: Pinterest

Oscar Wilde was not only a poet, playwright, and famous English wit. He was also a great expert on food and wine. He loved both, and if you read his plays carefully, you can find out that this love to delicacies runs through almost all of his works. From "reckless extravagance" of cucumber sandwiches in The Importance of Being Earnest to the claiming the "partaking of two luncheons in one day would not be liberty. It would be license."

Of course, many of these memorable quips and aphorisms were part of his fictional heroes. But many also attributed to his most famous character: himself.

"When I am in trouble, eating is the only thing that concoles me. Indeed, when I am really in great trouble... I refuse everything except food and drink."
Algernon Moncrieff The Importance of Being Earnest, Act 2 (1895) 

Wilde was appreciated worldwide for his polish phrases, fresh analogies and poetic ingenuity. He managed to express even the most mundane into smart and sharp insights that are quoted until this point.
"A man who can dominate a London dinner-table can dominate the world."
Lord Illingworth,  A Woman of No Importance, Act 3 (1893)
"After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one's own relations."
Lady Caroline, A Woman of No Importance, Act 2 (1893)

"Now I know that all men are monsters [...] The only thing to do is to feed the wretches well. A good cook does wonders."
Duchess of Berwick, Lady Windermere's Fan (1893) 

Wilde's favourite drink was iced champagne, as he confessed during the testimony on his libel trial. In fact, the famous dandy of literature was quite obsessed about champagne. Wilde would drink champagne "at intervals" throughout his "normal" day and also gave elaborate champagne dinners. As well as pre-dinners and post-dinners. But that was at his best times. On the worst days of his imprisonment, Wilde could still order cases of his favourite 1874 Perrier-Jouёt straight to his cell.

- Iced champagne is a favourite drink of mine - strongly against my doctor's orders.
- Never mind your doctor's oders, sir?
- I never do... 
(From the cross-examination by Queenberry's defence attorney, Edward Carson)

Additionally, Wilde's aesthetic standpoint on life demanded meals to be beautifully presented. In general, food played a strong role in many aspects if Wilde's life and his writing. Many Wilde's biographers say, though, that writer's appreciation for splendid dining - emphasized so much in De Profundis - clearly had a destructive effect on him. But at least one can say that, apart from living big, loving big, and writing big, Oscar Wilde ate big, too. 
"I can't stand people who do not take food seriously." - Oscar Wilde

22 Aug 2014

Vintage Photos: Vladimir Nabokov

Vladimir Nabokov was not only a famous writer, but also a lepidopterist - a person who studies or collects butterflies and moths. Throughout his life, Nabokov collected around 4 000 specimens of butterflies, and drew millions and billions of beautiful pictures of the insects in the books he gave to his wife, Vera, and their son, Dmitry. That's how he expressed his sentimental emotions towards the people he deeply loved.

Author Vladimir Nabokov and his wife Vera chasing butterflies.

20 Aug 2014

Wednesday Writers

In 1862 Victor Marie Hugo wanted to find out public's reaction on his recently published novel Les Miserables, so he sent a telegramme to his publisher, which consisted of solely a symbol - "?". Likewise, the publisher also responded with a symbol - "!". This was, probably, the shortest correspondence in history.

Title page of the original, written copy
of Les Miserables by Victor Hugo.
Source: Pinterest

18 Aug 2014

Bats In The Libraries

In the series World's Most Beautiful Libraries, which I started to run in this blog,  I once mentioned Marfa Palace Library. The library is famous not only for its beauty, but also for the little creatures that inhabit its dark corners, hunt insects at night, and are, apparently, book-friendly.

I'm talking about bats.

In a book The Library: A World History, its author James Campbell notices two libraries, Marfa Palace Library and Biblioteca Joanina (both, oddly, located in Portugal), that have been a welcoming home for books and bats since 18th century. During the day, these bats, less than 2.5 cm long, hide behind the "elaborate rococo bookcases" that they leave at night to kill insects, which would otherwise feast on the libraries' books.

However, the service for such pest control has its drawbacks, too: the bats, as Campbell informed The Boston Globe, "leave a thin layes of dropping over everything. So each morning the floors have to be thoroughly cleaned... and the furniture has to be covered at night."

I guess another drawback would be those poor, scarred to death humans, attacked by a colony of bats that suddenly got confused between book worms and bookworms.

Be careful in a library - it's more dangerous than you think!

Source: Pinterest

12 Aug 2014

Writers That Were Addicted to Coffee

The muse is always a serious subject for writers. It's hard to find one's writing momentum, but it's even harder to sustain it. So hip hip hooray to coffee - a thing that brings together all writers and helps them to 'stay tuned'. Caffeine is a drug with minimal drawbacks and powerful effects - it aids focus and attention, wards off sleepiness and tiredness, and speeds the refresh rate on new ideas. For many writers, coffee is a gateway to the creative mood. For example...

1. They say that Honore de Balzac used to drink enourmous amount of coffee - 50 cups a day - to maintain his crazy lifestyle. During the work periods, Balzac used to wake up at 1 a.m., write for seven hours, then take a 1,5 h nap at 8 a.m., then, from 9:30 until 4 he would work again - drinking cup after cup of black coffee. He wrote himself:
"As soon as coffee is in your stomach, there is a general commotion. Ideas begin to move... smiles arise, the paper is covered. Coffee is your ally and writing ceases to be a struggle."
2. Søren Kierkegaard, famous Danish writer and philosopher, had his own coffee ritual. He poured sugar into a coffee cup until it was piled up above the rim. Next he would add an incredibly strong, black coffee to slowly dissolve the white pyramid of sugar. Then Kierkegaard would gulp everything down in one go. 

3. Voltaire, apparently, was just a bit less frenzy about coffee than Balzac - only 30 or 40 cups of coffee every day (mixed with chocolate, though).

4. Gertrude Stein was also a huge fan of coffee. According to herself, coffee "is a lot more than just a drink; it's something happening. Not as in hip, but like an event, a place to be, but not like a location, but like somewhere within yourself. It gives you time, but not actual hours or minutes, but a chance to be, like be yourself, and have a second cup."

5. Benjamin Franklin loved coffee for its little side effects. He said: "Among the numerous luxuries of the table... coffee may be considered as one of the most valuable. It excites cheerfulness without intoxication; and the pleasing flow of spirits which it occasions... is never followed by sadness, languor or debility."

6. Alexander Pope enjoyed his cup of coffee before writing, too. He explained that is made him "see through things with half-shut eyes."

7. Jean Jacques Rousseau sang dithyrambs to the smell of coffee, which he adored: "Ah, that is a perfume in which I delight; when they roast coffee near my house, I hasten to open the door to take in all the aroma."

8. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was also a coffee enthusiast.

9. Jonathan Swift admitted that coffee was his 'fuel' that enabled him to write. He said: "The best Maxim I know in this life is to drink your Coffee when you can and, when you cannot, to be easy without it. While you continue to be splenetic, count upon it I will always preach. Thus much I sympathize with you that I am not cheerful enough to write, for I believe Coffe once a week is necessary to that."

10. Dave Barry, a contemporary American author and columnist: "It is inhumane, in my opinion, to force people who have a genuine medical need for coffee to wait in line behind people who apparently view it as some kind of recreational activity."

Coffee is a writer's best friend. Period.
And if you're merely a reader, you can still be good friends with coffee. Because, as famously declared Anthony Throllope, what can be more luxurious than a book and a cup of coffee? Nothing. Period.

10 Aug 2014

World's Most Beautiful Libraries: Part 2

Expanding the list of the most beautiful libraries in the world, here're five more that every bookworm should visit (first part can be found here).

1. Austrian National Library in Vienna, Austria
This structure was built by Joseph Emanuel Fischer von Erlach between 1723 and 1735, according to a design by his father, Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach, who was also an architect. Both names represent the highest quality in architecture. The Grand Hall of the National Library, which is seen here, is said to be the most beautiful library room in the whole world. 

2. Admont Abbey Library in Admont, Austria.
The library belongs to a Benedictine monastery located on the Enns River in the town of Admont, Austria. Built in 1776, it is the second largest monastic library in the world (after the one in Marfa, Portufal). 

3. Abbey Library of Saint Gall in St. Gallen, Switzerland.
The oldest library in Switzerland (also, one of the richest in the medieval world) holds about 160 000 volumes. The manuscript of the famous Song of the Nibelungs is kept there.

4. Biblioteca Joanina in Coimbra, Portugal
The library belongs to the University of Coimbra - one of the oldest in Europe and the oldest academic institution in the Portugese-speaking world. The library was build in the 18th century and represents one of the finest examples of Baroque. It contains about 250 000 volumes, namely works of medicine, geography, history, humanistic studies, science, civil and canon law, philosophy, theology, and hardly any fiction.

5. Trinity College Library in Dublin, Ireland
The library of Trinity College and the University of Dublin. Built in 1592, it houses the famous Book of Kells that is 1000 years old. 

2 Aug 2014

Book Review: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

First edition, July 1890
Oscar Wilde's only novel has by now become a very mainstream book. People on the Internet have quoted it so mercilessly, that there's hardly anything left from it at this point. Most know what the story is about; nearly all have seen the relatively recent film adaptaion starring Ben Barns (it's horrible, by the way); an everyone, I'm sure of it, once toiled at "art for art's sake"-essay for an English class at school. Portrait of Dorian Gray is one of those must reads that really is one. And it's not for all the topics that Wilde raises in this work and that excite our soul, open our eyes and give us so much food for thought. It's for the language that Dorian Gray is written in - utter, an indisputable masterpiece.

Only when reading this novel, I indeed felt grateful for knowing English. Chained to pages, I read slowly, languidly, imagining characters' voices in my head, putting the book aside once in a while in order to ponder over the wisdoms and theories of Lord Henry - a "collector" of beaufy and innocence that he perceives as merely a glass of wine needed to be drunk. I was, on the other hand, taking little sips, leisurely enjoying the story that was so entailing and so horrifying at the same time. Watching somebody slowly die is a hypnotizing thing indeed, especially if it happens as horridly beautiful as in the case of Dorian. After all, who's to say that his life wasn't beautiful? He surrounded it with art, and he embodied it. His life was a destructive whirlwind of pleasures but, as masterfully shown by Wilde, satisfying them causes more hunger than satiation. Greed for beauty and greed for aesthetic satisfaction does not praise but, rather, belittles the man. And there's no better way to illustrate this than in Wilde's perfect, magical language which by itself is real art. It's so witty, isn't it? I mean, to say "All art is quite useless" but in the most artistic way possible.
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