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Hollywood, Behind the Camera

Hollywood Frame by FrameThe following is excerpted from Hollywood Frame by Frame: The Unseen Silver Screen in Contact Sheets, 1951-1997.

Introduction, by Author Karina Longworth

In the pre-digital era, contact sheets offered a quick, visual summary of a photo shoot, and photographers, editors, and even subjects would make marks directly on the printed contact sheet pages to signify which images should be printed (and which absolutely shouldn't), how they should be cropped, and whether or not more shooting was needed. Once a frame of film was exposed, it couldn't be deleted, so contact sheets always include "mistakes" -- moments which the photographer, or the subject, may not want anyone to see. The contact sheets in Hollywood Frame by Frame are interesting for all of these reasons, and more. Most movie stars are given approval over which images of themselves are used for publicity purposes, and from the 1950s through the 1970s, the key way stars approved images was by making marks on contact sheets. Publicity departments, too, would use contact sheets to select the right, and wrong, ways to present the images representing a specific film or star. In allowing a glimpse into which images of stars like Grace Kelly, Cary Grant and James Dean commercially useful and which weren't, these contact sheets tell stories about how star personas are invented, while also exposing aspects of the individual celebrities' personalities which the entire industry of celebrity myth-making usually tries to squeeze out. 

 

Breakfast at Tiffany's
Breakfast at Tiffany's (Paramount/The Kobal Collection/Howell Conant)
 
Bus Stop
Bus Stop (Archive Photos/Getty Images)
 
Giant
Giant (© Sid Avery/mptvimages.com)
 
Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar (Photo by Peter Stackpole/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)
 
Once Upon a Time in the West
Once Upon a Time in the West (Photo by Bill Ray/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)
 
Raging Bull
Raging Bull (Christine Loss)
 
Rear Window
Rear Window (Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
 

Goodreads Interviews David Mitchell

Our thanks to our friends at Goodreads for this interview with David Mitchell, whose new novel, The Bone Clocks, is Amazon's Best Book of the Month Spotlight pick for September.

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MitchellIn the literary world David Mitchell is the stuff of legend. He's been nominated for the Man Booker prize five times, with critics and legions of fans consuming his works. Some of his forays are straightforward, such as the linear historical novel The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. Others not so much. The novel Cloud Atlas rubber bands from time period to time period and back and forth between genres with dizzying acuity. The works are always formally complex, opus-like, ambitious—and funny. Mitchell's latest is just another piece of the puzzle. The Bone Clocks centers around Holly Sykes, a divining rod for psychic phenomena who is somehow caught in the middle of a war between two immortal groups: one that needs to devour humans to subsist, the other that can reincarnate without killing. We coaxed the Irishman writer to tell us about opera, Scully versus Mulder, and how he loves Goodreads member questions.

Goodreads: Let's start with not your average question. Joseph Formaggio, a Goodreads member and associate professor of physics at MIT, has a question for you. He says, "In his book Ghostwritten (which I very much enjoyed and placed as my top ten books I have ever read) he invokes a physicist named Heinz Formaggio as a character. As a physicist whose last name happens to be Formaggio, I was always curious whether he completely fabricated the name or somehow flipped through some list of graduate students and settled on mine. :) I could also say it was complete coincidence, but that seems to go against much of the theme in Ghostwritten anyway."

BoneDavid Mitchell: Ooooooh, I love that question. Well, in 1989, I taught English at a summer school for Italian high school kids in Edinburgh. I had a student named Nicola Formaggio. I know that the name means "cheese," and what a name. I keep a name bank in my notebook where I write great names that I find that I could never make up. Formaggio was there. Heinz is somehow Germanic. Formaggio is Italian. I think that section of the story happened in Switzerland, which is both German and Italian, so I imagined a German woman falling in love with an Italian man and them having a kid called Heinz Formaggio. That's my answer. What an original question! Never answered it in my life.

Crowd-sourced interviews are kind of my favorite. Of course the questions are going to be more diverse than any sane individual journalist could ever think of. Bring them on!

GR: Well, many of our members are interested in how you structure your work, "the multiverse"—the interlocking narratives, fragmentation, and jumping from one story to another, often skipping from the past to the future. Goodreads member Simone Mailman compares your work to "a fugue or a symphony." What draws you to that approach?

DM: I think it has something to do with the fact that I basically write novellas, not novels. My optimum parabola is about 80 to 120 pages long, rarely much shorter, rarely much longer. This means to build up novels from these novellas I need to interlock, interconnect, and insert hyperlinks.

GR: Goodreads member Alonso declared, "Fragmentation is an essential part of your narrative form." He adds he'd like to know if it comes from the decentralized and fragmentary Internet age as described by Marshall McLuhan or if it's a personal preference.

DM: Fragmentation is an essential part of my work—is it? I haven't been asked to think of this before. I can see why a reader would say that. I do leave a narrative in midair and move on to the next narrative, apparently having left the previous character dangling off a cliff. However, I do come back to it eventually. I would respectfully suggest that my narratives are more apparently fragmented than they are really fragmented.

GR: Then there is the concept of time in your work. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet was historical fiction, "Cloud Atlas bent genres and jumped from the historical past to the recent past, the modern era and present, and finally to two versions of the distant future," and The Bone Clocks similarly skips from one time period to the next. Goodreads member Ted Flanagan asks, "Do you find one period more or less suited for your brand of thematic storytelling or narrative devices? Do you enjoy one more than the other?"

DM: It's not that I tailor what I want to write to narrative styles of the past, present, and future. It's just...I have ideas for books. Some attract me more than others and beat the competition, and that becomes the book at hand. I then have to sit down and work out how to tell it. I will use any means at my disposal in the past, present, and future of literature to help me do that. It makes a weird sort of sense...the book decides what the narrative style will be. It's the book that decides whether I use tricks from past masters, from present masters, or I try to concoct my own, which you might want to call the future because it hasn't happened yet.

GR: In The Bone Clocks several of the characters from your previous novels make an appearance, such as Luisa Rey from Cloud Atlas and Dr. Marinus from The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. It's a unique aspect of your work, the level of interconnectedness between books. To take it a step further, Goodreads member Marlon would like to ask, "Do you see your work as an artist [creating] one contiguous whole and view each progressive novel as a continuation of what came before? Or is it just something a bit clever and fun for you as a writer to include as an aspect of your work?"

DM: For my first two or three books it was the latter. Now more and more it's the former. I'm beginning to see an über-book that overlays everything I write. Everything I write is an individual chapter. The answer has changed over time. I see it as an architect of an ever-morphing building that puts out tentacles, adds stories, and billows deeper. Very interesting!!

GR: For readers—and I imagine you as well—having those characters reappear in your books is almost like being able to spend time with an old friend.

DM: It means I never have to say good-bye to anybody. It's less like spending time with an old friend and more like hiring an actor who you know will bring the certain character traits to the new production.

GR: That comment indicates that you are in complete control over your characters. Some writers we interview feel as if the characters are leading them around.

DM: I'm in control of the hiring and firing, but when you take somebody on, you then need to read the story from inside their skin and through their retinas. How they see things can still surprise you. I don't want to make that sound mystical. It's not really mystical. You can't always predict what your imagination will do—and amen for that.

GR: In The Bone Clocks Holly Sykes is a lightning rod for psychic phenomena...

DM: It gets even madder by part five. She's not only a lightning rod—by that point she's a chess piece in a wildly fluctuating game of chess between two circles of immortals. So what you just said gets amplified, and the knob gets turned up to 11 in part five.

GR: Speaking of psychic phenomena, do you believe in much of it? Reincarnation? Telepathy?

DM: I believe in the possibility of reincarnation. I can't believe in the certainty of it because I've got no proof. I went to a psychic at a seaside resort in Kent, and he was rather like Dwight Silverwind in The Bone Clocks. He's generally perceptive, clever, fake, but occasionally he's quite sure of some things. I would be more of a Scully than a Mulder.

GR: Did the psychic in Kent tell you anything that was true?

DM: I think he was reading me, and that's a valid skill. Just because a psychic is fake and has no psychic ability (because arguably there is no such thing), that doesn't mean the psychic is incapable of doing good for the person who has gone to see them. Sometimes a fake psychic can function as an untrained counselor or inadvertently help a person with a problem understand something about himself or herself. Now very often that doesn't happen, and they just take the money of the gullible. I don't want to dismiss every psychic as a charlatan, because even if there is no such thing as psychic phenomenon, it can sometimes be good for someone to have an objective pair of ears—[even] if they need to pay for them.

GR: Your work takes you to some very dark places. Do you ever get nightmares while writing your books?

DM: No, in a way my novels are the lightning rods for my nightmares. I do love a good nightmare. I kind of wish I had a few more—well, that's a very rash thing to wish for because people have been in war situations and really do have them, so it's vaguely rude to them to express what I just expressed. But certainly I love hearing about people's nightmares. If my daughter wakes up with a nightmare, then I'm first there to parasitically extract the juicy details. You can't really invent them. You get some really good nightmares from your kids sometimes.

GR: You have a personal connection with Japan; you've lived in Hiroshima, and your wife is Japanese. Goodreads member David asks, "In several of your books (number9dream, Jacob de Zoet, Ghostwritten) you have portrayed Japanese characters in an extremely convincing manner, not only in characterization but in the actual style of narration that I have come to be familiar with as an avid reader of Japanese fiction (not to mention spending much time in Japan). I have never seen another Gaijin writer who has been able to so closely ape Japanese conventions of narration and characterization (not James Clavell, certainly not Arthur Golden). I would love if you could relate some of the means and processes by which you did your research and 'got into the mind-set' of this particular cultural style."

DM: Thank you very much. Means and processes? Lived there. Learned some of the language. Married one. Read the seminal texts. Read some of the great turn-of-the-century Japanese novels and think about what they have in common: certain austerity of style, certain poetry of understatement. Apparently there is no word in Spanish for "understatement," but I think it would be very easy to say in Japanese.

If you live anywhere for eight years and keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth closed, then you tend to understand what it is about that culture that makes it distinct. You can then relate that to your characters. You come to understand the invisible, unwritten constitution by which Japanese people live. You ensure that your characters obey the same constitution or abide by the same constitution of behavior and of speech. No mystery really. Just observation.

GR: Could you recommend a few Japanese books?

DM: Sure. I recommend The Makioka Sisters by Jun'ichirō Tanizaki. Another one I'd recommend is a book called Silence by Shusakū Endō.

GR: What books have influenced you as a writer?

DM: About 2,000 ones. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. Also The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin.

GR: You've written several librettos for opera. How did you decide to embark on that experience, and how does it compare to writing novels?

DM: I've only written two. Just to learn from. I wanted to learn about the opera world for a novel I'll write one day. It's a peculiar form—a total art form. You have narrative, visual arts, costume, choreography, orchestral, and vocal music. All glued together with the logic of dreams. It's a strange, beautiful art form, and I am intrigued by it, but for the time being I'll be concentrating on novels. I would view my way as a librettist as a foray.

GR: The way you describe it sounds a bit like the concept often attributed to Wagner: Gesamtkunstwerk, the idea of creating a work of art that synthesizes multiple forms and creates a sort of über-artwork.

DM: I think I just unintentionally plagiarized Wagner. Thank you for pointing that out. That's who I must have heard it from. He's dead, right, isn't he?

GR: Wagner definitely made art on a grand scale. Your written work has a similar element of Gesamtkunstwerk, pulling from various narrative techniques, styles, visions to create something larger and impactful. It's very symphonic, your work. You've got the brass trumpeting, the strings pushing the melody forward in big curlicues, the layers of drums and woodwinds.

DM: I do build bold, big narratives from novellas, in that I do build them up more than publish novellas one by one. I suppose that I'd agree that I'm a maximalist, so analogies, metaphors with symphonies or operas would not be inappropriate. I use transitive double-negatives like that: "would not be inappropriate." That's a bit of an operative trait in itself, isn't it?

GR: It's unique, that opera world.

DM: I think if you're in that world, opera is the real world. Our world is just a pale, inconsequential hive of bland little people.

GR: Tell us about your writing process.

DM: I drink tea and write at the kitchen table when the kids are at school. It's a nice, airy room in the house, and it's out of Internet range, so I can't be tempted to waste time, looking stuff up on news websites. I feel wasting time brings postponement.

GR: Last one! What's next?

DM: Not as immersed as I'd like to be, but I'm knee-deep into my next one. I'm writing a novella before I start on the next novel. Some bits and pieces that I wanted to give a home to. So yeah, I'm knee-deep in my next shortish project.

~

> See more author interviews at Goodreads

 

Portrait of "The City": San Francisco, 1940-1960

San Francisco: Portrait of a City 1940-1960As a fourth-generation San Franciscan, few are as familiar with the City by the Bay as photographer Fred Lyon. His new book, San Francisco: Portrait of a City 1940-1960, not only captures it iconic sights and sites--the Golden Gate Bridge, Chinatown, cable cars, the hills and the fog--but also the iconoclastic, if sometimes off-beat geniuses that made it great--a group to which Lyon firmly belongs. We're thrilled to present dozen incredible images from the book, accompanied by Lyon's own captions.

Learn more about Fred Lyon in the "Living Through the Lens" trailer at the bottom of this page.


San Francisco in the 1940s was irresistible. It still is, but for a brash young photographer recovering from New York’s fashion world, it was feast. Two bridges, steep hills with tiny cable cars, fog, Chinatown, plus a booming postwar optimism, all fed my hungry camera. It seldom had a chance to cool off.

In those headlong days it was impossible to imagine living past thirty.  Anyhow, who would want to hang around when life’s over?  Now however, as I turn 90, Princeton Architectural Press has given these San Francisco images a new life in our book San Francisco: Portrait of a City 1940 – 1960. What a birthday present!  

Seen again, from this distance and in the context of change, the content displays a relevance  beyond nostalgia. The City isn’t static, it’s a work in progress.  Still, as we plunge forward, our recent history can guide us, perhaps soothing and even providing an occasional chuckle.

Notes on a handful of images:

Telegraph Hill and Coit Tower, seen from atop Russian Hill, framed by the windshield of my Riley drophead coupe (separate fenders and headlights!).
 
Cityscape looking south from a plane over the bay.  In the foreground, Telegraph Hill and Coit Tower, while downtown fills the distance with newer buildings and the south waterfront.
 
Above the Golden Gate Bridge:  The pilots of the small seaplanes I used for aerial photography never wanted to go as low as I did during our flyovers of the Golden Gate Bridge, but this viewpoint has an immediacy that excites me.  Old Fort Point nestles under the South Anchorage (at top).  And just look at that traffic.  It hasn’t been that sparse in decades.
 
The crew that paints the Golden Gate Bridge works from one end to the other and then starts all over again.  During the weeks of shooting this story my role  changed from a curiosity and the painters became protective, averting several reckless moves of the demented “camera guy”.
 
This display of laundry was a familiar sight in North Beach, traditionally an enclave of Italian immigrants and Chinese, in the days before automatic appliances.
 
Seen through a telephoto lens from Telegraph hill, the Lombard Street grapevine zig-zags down Russian Hill.  Headlights trace autos’ wiggly brick path.
 
Small boys at play on a steep hill above Broadway in North Beach.  This vertical city encourages imaginative vehicles for a swoop down the slope.
 
A pair of old skates and a couple of young buddies often equaled two “coasters” for the steep sidewalks of North Beach.  Daring races often ended abruptly, with a scrape or two.
 
A cable car at the foot of California Street prepares for its crawl up from the waterfront and the financial district to the top of Nob Hill.
 
On Grant Avenue in Chinatown, a street lamp is readied for the annual festivities of Chinese New Year.
 
Castle Street, on the south slope of Telegraph Hill, frames Coit Tower and epitomizes San Francisco’s reputation as the capital of film noir.
 
A foggy night at Land’s End, above Sutro Baths.
 

Exclusive: Senator John McCain Reviews Bill O'Reilly's "Killing Patton"

Senator John McCainThrough their series of best-selling books--including Killing Kennedy: The End of Camelot and Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination That Changed America Forever--Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard have revisited the sudden, unexpected deaths of several of history's most significant figures, and how those terrible events echoed across time and the world. We are honored to present this guest review by Senator John McCain of the latest volume, Killing Patton: The Strange Death of World War II's Most Audacious General.

Senator McCain is the author of several books, including Faith of My Fathers: A Family Memoir and Thirteen Soldiers: A Personal History of Americans at War, due in November 2014.


In Killing Patton: The Strange Death of World War II’s Most Audacious General, Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard have written a lively, provocative account of the death of General George S. Patton and the important events in the final year of the Allied victory in Europe, which Patton’s brilliant generalship of the American Third Army did so much to secure.

The fourth book in the bestselling Killing series is rich in fascinating details, and riveting battle scenes. The authors have written vivid descriptions of a compelling cast of characters, major historical figures such as Eisenhower, Churchill, Roosevelt, Stalin, Hitler, and others, as well as more obscure players in the great drama of the Second World War and the life and death of Patton.

O’Reilly and Dugard express doubts about the official explanation for Patton’s demise from injuries he suffered in an automobile accident. They surmise that the General’s outspokenness about his controversial views on postwar security, particularly his animosity toward the Soviets, our erstwhile allies, might have made him a target for assassination. They cast a suspicious eye toward various potential culprits from Josef Stalin to wartime espionage czar “Wild Bill” Donovan and a colorful OSS operative, Douglas Bazata, who claimed later in life to have murdered Patton.

Certainly, there are a number of curious circumstances that invite doubt and speculation, Bazata’s admission for one. Or that the drunken sergeant who drove a likely stolen truck into Patton’s car inexplicably was never prosecuted or even reprimanded. But whether you share their suspicions or not this is popular history at its most engrossing.

Killing Patton by Bill O'Reilly From accounts of the terribly costly battle for Fort Driant in the hills near Metz to the Third Army’s crowning achievement, its race to relieve the siege of Bastogne in the Battle of the Bulge, the reader experiences all the drama of the “great crusade” in its final, thrilling months.

The authors’ profiles of world leaders and Patton’s contemporaries are economic but manage to offer fresh insights into the personalities of well-known men. Just as compelling are the finely wrought sketches of people of less renown but who played important parts in the events.

There is PFC Robert Holmund, who fought and died heroically at Fort Driant having done all he could and then some to take his impossible objective. PFC Horace Woodring, Patton’s driver, who revered the general, went to his grave mystified by the cause and result of the accident that killed his boss. German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel’s young son, Manfred, exchanged a formal farewell handshake with him after learning his father would be dead in a quarter hour, having been made to commit suicide to prevent the death and dishonor of his family.

These and many other captivating accounts of the personal and profound make Killing Patton a pleasure to read. I enjoyed it immensely and highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in World War II history and the extraordinary man who claimed Napoleon’s motto, “audacity, audacity, always audacity,” as his own.

Guest Review: Kilometer 99, by Tyler McMahon

99Tyler McMahon’s Kilometer 99 begins with perhaps the most transcendent and moving description of surfing I’ve ever read. The opening pages find Peace Corps volunteer Malia gliding along a powerful and perfectly formed wall of water while contemplating her life. She is 3,000 miles from home in coastal El Salvador and is about to embark on a once-in-lifetime trip--driving with her boyfriend Ben to the southernmost point of Chile, hitting every surf spot along the way.

But Malia’s ideal plan is abruptly halted by a large-scale earthquake that devastates the country and by marauding drug-addicts who steal her money and passport. Malia is now forced to choose between abandoning her trip and raising fast money. She opts for the latter and assists an enigmatic but reckless land developer, whose dream of opening a pristine oceanside resort stands to destroy the town’s natural geography as well as the livelihoods of local workers who she first came to El Salvador to support.

What to do ... follow one dream or protect another?

With a prevailing grace, McMahon tells this story like a wave committed to breaking itself upon the rocks. The plot drives relentlessly forward through magnetically depicted landscapes of Central America and euphoric surfing scenes, balanced in moments of belonging, contemplation, suspense, and tragedy. Must young love and a life full of promise have such painful realities arrayed against it? In Kilometer 99, the answer is yes. But disaster forces the worst and brings out the best in people and literature.

--Patrick Magee

Five Tips for Dinner Party Success

BigBeautifulMessHandmadeHomeI have a crafty spirit but if I'm REALLY going to make something it better have simple instructions and require a minimum of easy-to-find supplies.  This is why I love Elsie Larson and Emma Chapman's book, A Beautiful Mess Happy Handmade Home (an August Best of the Month pick). 
 
In sections for each room of the house, as well as outdoor spaces, the authors emphasize making the design fit your lifestyle and offer enough ideas to cover about any decor direction.  From how to revamp a piece of garage sale furniture, arrange pictures or collectibles in an interesting way, or take a plain vase and turn it into something special, the ideas in this book are all things even I feel like I could do--and I'm actually inspired to do them!  
 
Besides all the great projects, A Beautiful Mess Happy Handmade Home also has a few ideas for hosting a simple gathering with ease.  Here are a handful of suggestions from the authors on how to set yourself up for a fun, low stress, dinner party that still has those special touches but won't leave you regretting the cost.

 

Five Tips for Hosting a Budget-Friendly Dinner Party
By Emma Chapman and Elsie Larson, authors of A Beautiful Mess Happy Handmade Home


When faced with the task of hosting a dinner party it can be easy to have a freak-out moment. What if you don't have enough chairs and someone is left standing all night? What if you run out of food or booze? What if everyone is bored? What if someone is allergic to sugar, garlic AND gluten? Also, what is gluten? Why does all your furniture all of sudden look threadbare and cheap? Or worst of all, every host's biggest fear, what if no one comes?

First off, take a deep breath. Next, know that you already have what it takes to throw the most epic dinner party—you just need to think creatively. No matter your budget here are five tips to host the perfect dinner party. WineCheese

1. Make personalized menus. These could be handwritten, formatted like a ransom note or crafted from nothing more than construction paper and crayons. Get creative. Be funny or formal, whatever your style. For a few dollars you've just elevated your dining room into a restaurant-grade atmosphere. You've shown your guests there was thought and planning put into the night and it's gonna be delicious.

2. Get creative with seating. Oh, you don't already own a million fancy chairs? Not to worry. Why not rearrange your furniture to suit your night's needs? It will totally add a bit of whimsy to the evening. You could even enlist guests to help you if needed. Or what about hosting your dinner party on the floor or around a camp fire in your backyard? Whatever you decide, you can be sure it will make the night more memorable to guests.

RecycledCenterpieces3. Reimagine items to use for decor. Sometimes people call this upcycling. The basic idea is you reuse an old item that you would have discarded for another purpose. Save all your empty wine bottles, beer bottles, or soup cans, then clean them and reuse as flower vases for a pretty and inexpensive centerpiece.

4. Fancy up your table settings. Even if all you own are mismatched plates from various flea market trips, add unity, color and personality to your table with handmade cloth napkins. You could sew your own or purchase plain napkins and add designs with fabric paint. You could even make extra sets and send some home with guests!

5. Collaborate with food costs. As fun as it would be to create a seven course meal paired with a different wine for every course, it's likely your budget just isn't going to stretch that far. It doesn't need to. Allow guests to help provide a portion of the meal or make it BYOB. A true friend never expects others to pick up the full tab on everything.

Above all, have fun and focus on connecting with your guests. Dinner parties, despite the name, are not actually all about the dinner, they’re about creating memories with people you love. So get out of the kitchen and don't stress about all the little details: be fun, have fun and enjoy the ones you’re with!

Weird Science

What if everyone on earth aimed a laser pointer at the moon at the same time? What if you could drain all the water from the oceans? What if all the lightning strikes in the world hit the same place at once? What if there was a book that considered weird, sometimes ridiculous questions, and it was so compelling that you found yourself skimming its pages to find out what would happen if you threw a baseball at light speed?  With What If, Randall Munroe has written such a book. In the same style of his extraordinarily popular xkcd webcomic, Munroe applies reason and research to hypothetical conundrums ranging from the philosophical to the scientific (often absurd, but never pseudo) that probably seemed awesome and inscrutable in your elementary school days--but were never sufficiently answered. 

Enjoy this exclusive thought-experiment from the author (and it's not even included in the book). What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions will be available in hardcover and Kindle on September 2, 2014.

 

Q: If you built a very smooth ramp from the highest point on Earth (Mt. Everest) to the lowest (Dead Sea), then stood at the top on a rolling office chair, would you roll down? How fast would you go?

So you got bored in a meeting and decided to take your chair for a ride.

What If by Randall Munroe



Bring oxygen tanks. And food.

A ramp connecting Mount Everest to the shore of the Dead Sea would have a very gentle slope of only 1/10th of a degree. If you were standing on it, it would seem flat.

The slope would be so gentle that the chair would need precision bearings or a pneumatic air cushion to reduce friction enough to roll—and even then, air drag would limit you to a terminal velocity of about running speed.

What If by Randall Munroe



You'd also need the ramp to be enclosed. The top of Mount Everest pokes up into the jet stream, a river of hurricane-force wind wrapped around the planet. Unfortunately for you, that wind is going in the wrong direction. Without something to shield you from it, it would blow you back up the ramp.

Ok, let's go!

What If by Randall Munroe



You depart the peak of Everest, trundling slowly west, and the ground falls away beneath you. You glide out over the peaks and valleys of the Himalayas without coming close to touching another mountain.

After two days, you leave the mountains behind and slide across the Punjab region of India and Pakistan.

What If by Randall Munroe



You then cross southern Afghanistan and pass into Iran, where you finally sink low enough to breathe without oxygen tanks.

In central Iran, you hit the ground for the first time since you started rolling. Your track intersects a mountainside near the peak of Shahan Kuh. You pass through a convenient tunnel and emerge on the other side.

What If by Randall Munroe



You cross from Iran into Iraq, sinking lower and lower. Because the air is several times denser here than at your starting point, your terminal velocity has dropped from running speed to jogging speed.

A little over two weeks after you started rolling, your ramp sinks low enough to touch the desert. In western Iraq, you fall beneath ground level and enter another tunnel. You cross from Iraq into Jordan over 600 meters below the border.

What If by Randall Munroe



You roll through the darkness for four days, passing completely under Jordan, and finally emerge into the light on the shores of the Dead Sea.

After twenty days, you and your faithful chair have reached the end of your journey from Earth's highest land to its lowest. You take a swim; in the dense saline water, you float much higher than normal. Be careful not to get any in your eyes.

What If by Randall Munroe



And now you should probably get back to that meeting. They'll get mad if you don't return the chair.

What If by Randall Munroe




What If by Randall Munroe

Kill Your Darlings: The Art of Jacket Design

Peter Mendelsund, over a long and influential career as a book jacket designer, has added his deft touch to many volumes--many of which would be recognizable to any book lover. Martin Amis, James Joyce, Franz Kafka, Jo Nesbø, and James Gleick are just a few of the authors to benefit from his work, and his striking jacket for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo certainly contributed to its success. Forget the cliché; a well designed jacket can boost attention for a book of modest expectations, and transform a good book into a phenomenon.

Mendelsund is now the author of two books of his own, both of which consider the visual--and vital--power of literature, but in different ways. What We See When We Read is an examination of the gestalt of reading: How words on the page enter our brains and are internalized, becoming pictures, sensations, and emotions. There are many titles about books and reading, but What We See goes far beyond simple enthusiasm in its search for meaning.

Cover presents some of Mendelsund's most iconic work, illustrating his creative process through early sketches, interior art, and many, many rejected drafts. He has shared some of that insight here, offering examples of his unrealized inspirations, commentary on why they didn't work, and the final results (the drafts are presented first, followed by the finished jacket).

 


The Fallen

by Peter Mendelsund

 

My cover ideas get killed. (Pretty frequently, actually.) Whether killed by dint of a client's caprice (or good sense) or culled by my own hand, a lot of my ideas never make it to the printing press. Here are a few of those which never saw the light of day....

 Plato’s Republic

The obvious thing here was to attempt some version of the allegory of the cave. This, the image below, seemed like a more modern version of same (The "shadows on the wall" that Plato’s cave-dwellers watch is a television—natch). Perhaps, in retrospect, this one was a tad too cool and knowing. It resembles nothing so much as a Vampire Weekend LP. (Though: Is that really so wrong?)

Plato's Republic comp   Plato's Republic final

 

The Castle, by Franz Kafka


My initial idea for a cover for Kafka's The Castle was this impossible chess game below. Kafka's books always seem to me like games in which the protagonists are not privy to the rules.

The Castle comp  

The Castle final

 

Dangerous Laughter, by Steven Millhauser

I love the drama inherent in a book jacket covering up a book. Lift the jacket—something is revealed. This, the comp below, would have had a three-quarter-sized jacket, which, when slid up, revealed the case beneath. The idea here was to play off Millhauser's title, and somehow represent the same tension between the pleasurable and the hazardous. I also wanted to accomplish this in a cartoon vernacular (one of the great stories of this collections is "Cat 'n Mouse," a kind of existentialist Tom and Jerry). I illustrated this one myself.

Dangerous Laughter comp 1   Dangerous Laughter comp 2
"Dangerous

 

Peace, by Richard Bausch

A gripping, penetrating, little single act drama. The moral quandaries faced by a squadron of US soldiers trudging through Italy in the winter of 1944. The idea here was to make a landscape which, itself, comprises camouflage; as if the war and the world itself had merged. The style here is very mid-century—almost as if Hemingway had written a WWII novel.

Peace comp   Peace final

 

By Peter Mendelsund

What We See When We Read   Cover

Chip Kidd, on Designing Haruki Murakami's 5-Fingered Book Cover

Murakami2 Murakami-kidd

“You know, in a sense we were the perfect combination, the five of us. Like five fingers.”

So declares Ao Oumi--better known as Blue--to Tsukuru Tazaki, otherwise known as Colorless. They and their other three friends--Aka (Red), Shiro (White), and Kuro (Black)--were inseparable in high school. But that changes abruptly when, during the summer break of Tsukuru’s sophomore year of college, the other four suddenly cast Tsukuru out. They forbid him to ever contact any of them again, for no apparent reason, and thus begins his agonizing journey to find out why.

When considering the design of Haruki Murakami’s masterful Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, I wanted to make something that not only demanded to be held, but decoded too. I guess you could say the same thing about 1Q84, but this was going to be completely different, because it’s such a different book. Just logistically, the title is so much longer, while the text itself is so much shorter. That demanded a smaller trim size, which also bulked the book out to feel like a box that needs to be opened.

The five fingers analogy is only mentioned that one time, but it really stuck with me. I decided to make Tazaki the ‘thumb,’ the anchor that unifies the other four yet is separated from them. When you first look at the book, you may or may not see the hand, but  it doesn’t really matter. What you definitely see is that there is something going on behind the facade. The ‘fingers’ are actually windows, holes that give onto an entirely different scene that relies on the visual iconography of Tokyo’s subway/rail system--a universe unto itself where Tsukuru finds solace and eventually a livelihood as an engineer. The friends become train lines, and Tsukuru intersects each them, one by one.

As with every book by Mr. Murakami, this was a thrill to work on. I was able to design the interior too, and I should add here that along with Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and 1Q84, there is definitely something weird going on with the page numbers. I can’t really say what it is, but if you search carefully enough--definitely a theme of the story--you’ll come to understand.

--Chip Kidd 

~~

1Q84

YA Wednesday: A Picture is Worth...

AddisonStoneWhen I heard the premise of The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone I was intrigued. I figured it would be really good or really bad with not much wiggle room in between.  So I sat down to read a chapter or two and didn't get up until I was finished. 

Author Adele Griffin has written a memoir of the life and mysterious death of Addison Stone, a young artist-turned-celebrity, as told by her fans, friends, and enemies.  The book comes with photographs of the beautiful, petulant Stone and her art.  Addison Stone has a mesmerizing story. Addison Stone isn't real.  And the more I read, the harder it got to remember that none of these people are real.  So good.  Best of the Month good.

In the guest essay below, Adele Griffin shares the story behind the story (behind the story).


The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone is an imagined memoir about a small town girl who burns through the New York art scene as bright as a comet, and goes out just as fast. Inspired by the oral history Edie: American Girl, I saw the interview style of that groundbreaking book as a way to release myself to writing exclusively what I loved most: voice.

Addison’s story unfolds in memories and anecdotes as her family and friends, peers and rivals, dealers and buyers, all bear witnesses to her troubled, startling, wondrous life. As I created each voice in the drama, I was always conscious of how vividly I saw these people, and how hard I wanted to hear them.

The more real it became, the more I wanted to deliver “proof.” I’d always envisioned a photo insert as a way to showcase Addison’s talent, but soon it was clear to me that if the book was a layer cake, the next layer would have to be full-color illustrations.

And so Addison was ultimately a compendium of four women—three professional artists and one Pratt student—who all came together as a portfolio of talent that would define one artist’s gifts. With real art on the page, now my characters never needed to describe imaginary art, which can get stale or precious pretty fast, especially when it transports us to nowhere specific.

But a memoir also requires biographical intimacy. I had Addison in sketches and paintings, but where was Addison the girl, the young woman? Fate or a lucky break brought the electric Giza Lagarce into my home, and from the first photograph we took, I could feel Addison’s soul touch down. Giza also licensed me her childhood snapshots, family photos and candids. This all became the stuff of Addison Stone’s life, and again I was able to hold onto my cast of narrators without diluting them as vehicles for dumping in the description.

Oral histories are tantalizing glimpses of people as perceived by themselves and others. The roundtable style fascinates me because the endless rotating point of view allows us to enter the story and draw our own conclusions. In my “final Addison” Michelle Rawlings’ haunting portraits, that rotation is visually echoed in a looped reflection of identities that blurs the line of muse, model, artist, author. But for me the best visual gift of ADDISON STONE is that I was liberated to create a story of characters simply for character’s sake. This is where the story feels most real and pure as a work of my own imagining. And this is where I hope it will resonate. --Adele Griffin

Omnivoracious™ Contributors

October 2014

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