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amreading

John Porcellino’s time machine: From Lone Mountain

This collection of King-Cat comics is a time machine. Not a whirling pod that splits atoms and breaks open new dimensions, but instead a glimpse of John Porcellino’s life in the early 2000s.

As I read each page over and over, I found myself playing this game. I call it: Where was I when?

Here’s how it goes. At the bottom of a comic it may read MARCH 2005.

From there I light a swisher sweet, jog with my memory, imagine, and ask the question, where was I in March 2005?

Was I failing college algebra again?

Was Episode One still the dopest movie ever?

What were my go-to pair of Nikes?

It’s a fun game. Try it at home. But it does make me wish I kept record of those days. A journal, a heart and key locked diary, or, then it’s it heyday, a blog.

We can’t change the past, but we can revisit it. Even if it’s a bit blurry.

Buy your very own time machine here!

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amreading Commonplace Book writer's inspiration

Forgotten Photojournalists: Robert Capa

Eyes of the World winked at me from the top shelf.

On the cover, Robert Capa was rockin’ a knit tie, Gerda a beret. I didn’t know who they were, but I knew they were special. I turned to chapter one and gave the first sentence a read:

As Robert Capa tells it: A metal ramp cranks open and lands with a splashing thud. Chilly dawn fog rushes into the craft where thirty soldiers sit shivering, crouched on benches. The floor sways, slick with vomit; the seas have been rough.

Reading that first sentence I realized, pictures of D-Day are so ubiquitous I never asked the question: Who took those photographs?

It’s easy to forget that amongst the soldiers, bullets, and death, were photographers like Robert Capa on the ground. Pioneers documenting war in a brave new way.

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amreading Commonplace Book writer's inspiration

Forgotten Photojournalists: Gerda Taro

Gerda putting in work

Before reading Eyes of the World: Robert Capa, Gerda Taro, and the Invention of Modern Photojournalism, I’d never had an interest in photojournalism or photography. Photography was my fathers thing. Not mine.

I’d never read about Robert or Gerda in a text book. Or heard their names in a history lecture. No mention of them in photography class. Hell, Amazon didn’t even list the book in my recommendations.

But Gerda’s story is irresistible, as Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos‘ book proves. The story is a mix of art, love, and living for something beyond yourself. Of stepping forward even when all is unknown. Gerda and Robert’s photography helped usher in a new form of journalism – photojournalism.

But before she became a pioneer, Gerda, then named Gerta Pohorylle, was a Jewish refugee struggling to adapt to life in Paris. Managing the demands of a starting a career. Navigating falling in love. And resisting the rise of fascism in Europe at that time.

As Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos write of Gerda’s early time in Paris:

For a brief while, she and Ruth roomed with Fred Stein and his wife, Liselotte, who had an enormous apartment with extra bedrooms. Fred had originally studied to be a lawyer in Berlin, but when he was unable to practice under Nazi law, he too picked up a camera and was making a go of it professionally.

What good parties they all had there – putting colored bulbs in the lamps, dancing! Fred snapped pictures of Gerta, mugging away. Yes, being poor, a stranger in a strange city, was awful, but to have the solace of friends, all in the same situation, made it easier. Maybe that’s why, as Ruth put it, “we were all of the Left.” That is, they belonged to a loose collection of groups opposed to fascism and in favor of workers’ rights.

Gerta was never exactly a joiner. Her sympathies, her ideas, came from her years in Leipzig. She hated the Nazis and knew how dangerous it was becoming for her family. But she wasn’t one of those who debated every political point. She wasn’t part of the Communist Party, which took its direction from the Soviet Union. But she did care about social issues, about the future ahead. They all did.

For now, there was food and coffee at the Café du Dôme and talk with friends. And photographs. Above all, photographs.

Eyes of the World is an underrated gem. A historic and important book that belongs on the shelf of every historian, photographer, professor, and curious and wonderful soul out there.

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amreading

Discovering the Whole Earth Catalog

I’d never seen an issue of The Whole Earth Catalog before, but I was browsing through Fire and Riots and POW! There it was:

At first, I didn’t realize this was Whole Earth Catalog page. But I kept returning to The Natural way to Draw, and The Way of Chinese Painting excerpts, and thought – This layout has a Whole Earth Catalog feel.

It would take three more passes before I noticed the or WHOLE EARTH CATALOG text after the publishing line.

Then, a few pages later:

We’ve landed

This chance encounter intersects with the Kevin Kelly/Stewart Brand kick I’ve been on. The podcasts, the video interviews, The Manual for Civilization

It’s funny how the universe knits together your interests without permission.

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amreading writer's inspiration

The Manual for Civilization: a curation of books for our future

The Long Now Foundation has scrambled up the the idea of a reading list.

Instead of the typical what we’re reading now list. Or, our favorite summer reads list. They’ve asked us to imagine reading beyond our lifetimes by posing the question:

What Books Would You Choose to Restart Civilization?

With the the goal of:

Gathering essential books and democratizing human knowledge for future generations.

It’s ambitious. It’s thoughtful. It’s called:

The Manual For Civilization.

There have been 11 contributors to date, but Kevin Kelly’s list via Medium introduced me to the project.

Kevin, the author of the Inevitable, and host of the stupid-dope-fresh podcast Cool Tools, assembled a list of nearly 200 tomes.

Below are three titles from Kevin’s list that piqued my immediate interest.

The Manual for Civilization has me meditating on this idea of a reading list for the future. I’m asking myself:

What books would I select, and why? 
Which books would a scholar or intellectual from an eastern culture select?
Which books would you select?

Check out Kevin’s list in full here, and the rest of the contributors here.

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amreading

Lost on the shelf. The power of an unread book.

The Story of Astronomy has lingered in my library, unopened, for years.

Not a crease across the spine. Not a dog ear between the pages.

I pulled it down from the shelf, hoping it would inspire a poem.

My hope was mislead. But I did learn the sky has a remarkable influence on the Muslim faith:

Allah had put these signs in the sky for a purpose. The stars helped Muslims to work out the direction to Mecca; while the Sun indicated the five times of day when they must pray. The first appearance of the crescent Moon marked the beginning of a new Islamic month. And – by investigating the heavens – Muslim scholars would literally get closer to knowing the mind of God.

Faith and science speaking with each other.

Rare.

Keep those unread books close. Someday they’ll reveal a new truth.

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amreading Art

Drawing with Adam Savage

Chapter 6 from Adam Savage’s new book Every Tool’s a Hammer ripped me in by the necktie.

I knew Adam would talk about screws and cardboard. I knew there would be tips on organizing your workspace. But an entire chapter on how drawing will transform your critical thinking?

I’m in.

First Adam reminds us, despite all of the planning technologies that exist, a piece of paper and pencil are still formidable planning tools:

Today, the maker space is not lacking in planning tools. There are software and mobile apps and various mechanical apparatus, and they all work the way they’re designed, but none of them seem to do what a simple pencil and piece of paper can. Because unlike those other methods, drawing out your idea shares the physical, tactile character of the building and making it is meant to precede and facilitate. Drawing is your brain transferring your idea, your knowledge, your intentions, from the electrical storm cloud at its center, through the synapses and nerve endings, through the pencil in your hand, through your fingers, until it is captured in the permanence of the page, in physical space. It is, I have come to appreciate, a fundamental act of creation.

Then fellow maker savant Gever Tulley provides a solution to the timeless excuse I can’t draw:

“The pushback I often get is, ‘I don’t know how to draw,’ and my response is ‘Well, how about you go home and spend the summer drawing every day and then we’ll talk about it in the fall when you show me your notebook,” Gever said, rightfully indignant. “Because we know that practice can move your mark making over to something more precise and controllable.”

Adam explains how drawing works as a translation tool:

From a planning perspective-whether it’s for current or future projects-I look at drawing as a translation tool from my brain to the physical world, where I have frequently found words wanting in the explanation of complex objects and operations, which, of course, is the entire purpose of every plan ever made. What is a plan if it isn’t helping you understand what you’re building and how you’re supposed to build it?

Adam also uses drawing to topple creative blocks:

I frequently use drawing as a tool or a technique to break through that dam. Drawing always gives me a new vantage point on the project and allows me to see the thing I’m building with enough distance to identify the next step more clearly. In that regard it’s almost immaterial what I draw. I might draw some reference pictures for a collaborator to understand what I need from their contribution, or to see where their contribution fits in the wider picture. I might draw some mechanical subassemblies that are kicking my ass. I might re-draw the item I’m making for fun, just to stay inside the construction in my head. I might draw a case for an object, or a case I’d like to build for it when it’s done. Sometimes the exercise of thinking about what might contain the thing I’m working on can help me define better what it is I’m actually building and help illuminate what has me stuck. It’s all information. A conversation between my brain and my hands.

And shares his drawing inspirations:

I draw inspiration from the drawings of others. I never tire of poring over the drawings and graphic novels of Moebius, for instance. I get a lot out of looking at Ridley Scott’s storyboards (he’s a wonderful draftsman). Since I was a kid I loved all those old drawings from the mid-century issues of Popular Mechanics. Something about their clean lines and multidimensionality and the way the artists kept all the pieces separate yet constantly oriented to each other, spoke directly to how my brain looks at ideas.

Remember young ones:

You don’t have to be great with a pencil for this to work. Like I’ve said, I’ve never considered myself particularly good at drawing. For the longest time it never felt like the line did what I wanted it to do, yet I continued to draw. One, because it continued to be useful, and two, because it clearly helped me get better at communicating my ideas more precisely.

Enough reading about drawing. Grab a stack of paper and draw.

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amreading Commonplace Book

Spoiled Brats: A Collection of Voices

Simon Rich is a literary shapeshifter. A master impersonator.

With his the short story collection Spoiled Brats, I was no longer reading words. My earlobes were nailed to each sentence, listening for the voice.

Whether it was a desperate, widowed, classroom pet hamster:

They buried my wife in a shoe box in Central Park. I like to imagine that the funeral was respectful, that her body was treated with a modicum of dignity. But of course I’ll never know. I wasn’t invited to the ceremony. Instead, the guests of honor were the students of homeroom 2K.

Her killers.

Or a time traveling, pickle factory worker, adapting to a modern Brooklyn he doesn’t recognize:

As the saying goes in Slupsk: “Sometimes you must drink milk right out of the goat, because it costs two rubles instead of the three rubles.”

I think about this saying as I walk the streets of Brooklyn. There are so many decadent restaurants, each one more luxurious than the last. I pass one named in honor of the pirate Long John Silver, which serves assorted treasures from the sea. Then I pass one that serves chicken that is crisped, in the style of Kentucky. Most amazing to me is a large white castle that sells Salisbury steaks between two breads. Their food is so rich I can smell it from the street. My stomach is rumbling, but I know that these places are beyond me. Their signs are spelled out with electric flashing lights. If I want to survive, I must find someplace more humble.

Or even Death himself, picking up some pro bono work:

“Then why are you here?” Tim asked, a slight edge in his voice.

“To kill your dreams.”

He topped off Pete’s scotch.

“It’s a new thing I’m doing,” he explained. “Claiming lives is depressing. I mean, it can be fun, in a ‘gotcha’ sort of way. But it doesn’t do the person any good. By the time I show up at a guy’s doorstep, it’s too late for him to change his ways. That’s why I’ve decided, pro bono, to tell people when their dreams have definitively died. So they can move on with their lives.”

Rich’s encyclopedia of voices alone, is a reason to keep Spoiled Brats on your nightstand.

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amreading Commonplace Book

Whales on Stilts! – A fun, thrill packed adventure tale…

BY JACK F.

This was fun.

I met Whales on Stilts! in a used book store and fate took it from the there.

Real talk, author M.T. Anderson sprinkled in all the essential storytelling spices and herbs, including words like:

cada man who behaves dishonourably, especially towards women.

vestibulean antechamber or hall just inside the outer door of a building.

cetaceanan order of marine mammals comprising the whales, dolphins, and porpoises.

sinister – suggestive of evil or harm.

(you’re welcome for that jump in your SAT scores)

dialogue that burns with Shakespearean fire:

“I am cleverly disguised,” he explained, “as the photocopier repairman of the future, when man, through his ingenuity, will conquer even the farthest reaches of space, and need to make duplicates of things.”

– Jasper

“Everyone wants to get back to the place the know best,” said Lily’s grandmother. “When you are old, though, sometimes that place is not just far away on the map but far away in time. How do you get home, then when home is in another era?”

– Lily’s grandmother

thrilling 5 fisted action:

Cars were stopped in the middle of roads so people could run into discount clothing stores. Smoke was pouring out of the gas station. A pop machine had ruptured; dogs licked up Dr. Pepper from the pavement.

And somewhere in all of that chaos, Lily’s grandmother lived.

and all the 3,000 leagues below the Mariana Trench deep stuff:

A whale. It was a whale, a walking whale on stilts, with deadly laser-beam eyes. Her grandpa had always said this time would come.

M.T. had me turning pages, underlining bits of dialogue, and writing back at him in the margins.

Whales on Stilts! is a worthy read. You’ll laugh from your belly, and cry from your ears – and isn’t that all we want from a book?