What Makes a Baby: A Playful Illustrated Primer for Every Kind of Family and Every Kind of Kid

An inclusive and imaginative take on reproduction. Benjamin Franklin’s oft-cited proclamation that nothing in the world is certain except death and taxes omits another existential inevitability, and arguably one no less pleasant — the question every parent dreads and no parent ever escapes: where do babies come from? After illustrator Sophie Blackall’s sweet and honest...

Charity and Sylvia: The Remarkable Story of How Two Women Married Each Other in Early America

“For 40 years… they have shared each other’s occupations and pleasures and works of charity while in health, and watched over each other tenderly in sickness.” In 1897, a man by the name of Hiram Harvey Hurlburt recorded in his diary: “Miss Bryant and Miss Drake were married to each other.” Nine decades earlier in...

Truth and Tenderness: Ralph Waldo Emerson on Friendship and Its Two Essential Conditions

“What is so delicious as a just and firm encounter of two, in a thought, in a feeling?” It’s been argued that friendship is a greater gift than romantic love (though it’s not uncommon for one to turn abruptly into the other), but whatever the case, friendship is certainly one of the most rewarding fruits...

Jane Goodall Answers the Proust Questionnaire

A dead writer meets one of the greatest scientists alive. A century before today’s popular personality quizzes, Victorian “confession albums” served essentially the same role, presenting a series of simple questions designed to reveal the respondent’s sensibility and aspirations. In the 1880s, teenage Marcel Proust was given one such questionnaire by his friend Antoinette, the...

Bukowski’s Letter of Gratitude to the Man Who Helped Him Quit His Soul-Sucking Job and Become a Full-Time Writer

“To not have entirely wasted one’s life seems to be a worthy accomplishment, if only for myself.” “Unless it comes unasked out of your heart and your mind and your mouth and your gut,” Charles Bukowski wrote in his famous poem about what it takes to be a writer, “don’t do it.” But Bukowski himself...

Bad Feminist: Roxane Gay on the Complexities and Blind Spots of the Equality Movement

“Feminism is grounded in supporting the choices of women even if we wouldn’t make certain choices for ourselves.” “Those who travel with the current will always feel they are good swimmers,” science correspondent Shankar Vedantam wrote in his excellent exploration of our hidden biases. “Those who swim against the current may never realize they are...

David Foster Wallace on Writing, Self-Improvement, and How We Become Who We Are

“Good writing isn’t a science. It’s an art, and the horizon is infinite. You can always get better.” In late 1999, David Foster Wallace — poignant contemplator of death and redemption, tragic prophet of the meaning of life, champion of intelligent entertainment, admonisher against blind ambition, advocate of true leadership — called the office of...

Nietzsche’s 10 Rules for Writers

“Style ought to prove that one believes in an idea; not only that one thinks it but also feels it.” More than a century before Elmore Leonard’s ten rules of writing inspired similar sets of commandments by Neil Gaiman, Zadie Smith, and Margaret Atwood, one of humanity’s greatest minds did precisely that. Between August 8...

The ABC Bunny: A Sweet and Unusual Alphabet Book from 1934

“X is for eXit — off, away!” In 1934, six years after creating the oldest American picture-book still in print and a year before her brilliant proto-feminist children’s book, pioneering artist, author, illustrator, and translator Wanda Gág released The ABC Bunny (public library). Given my enormous soft spot for alphabet books and my deep admiration...

Allergy to Originality: Mark Twain and the Remix Nature of All Creative Work, Animated

Why why all creative culture is built on “plagiarism, literary debt, appropriation, incorporation, retelling, rewriting, recapitulation, revision, reprise…” When Helen Keller was accused of plagiarism, her dear friend Mark Twain wrote her a heartfelt and lively letter of support, in which he asserted that “all ideas are second-hand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million...

Art & Physics: Leonard Shlain on Integrating Wonder and Wisdom

“Art and physics, like wave and particle, are an integrated duality … two different but complementary facets of a single description of the world.” “It’s part of the nature of man,” Ray Bradbury told Carl Sagan and Arthur C. Clarke as they peered into the future of space exploration, “to start with romance and build...

This Land Is Mine: Nina Paley’s Animated History of the Israel-Palestine Conflict

“A brief history of the land called Israel / Palestine / Canaan / the Levant.” Ever since her remarkable 2008 animated feature film Sita Sings The Blues, I’ve been a great admirer of animator, cartoonist, and free-culture activist Nina Paley’s creative and meta-creative work. The recent situation in Gaza makes Paley’s 2012 animated short film...

Margaret Mead on Female vs. Male Creativity, the “Bossy” Problem, Equality in Parenting, and Why Women Make Better Scientists

“In the long run it is the complex interplay of different capacities, feminine and masculine, that protects the humanity of human beings.” Margaret Mead is celebrated as the world’s best-known and most influential cultural anthropologist, having not only popularized anthropology itself but also laid the foundation for the sexual revolution of the 1960s. She brought...

How Susan Sontag Possessed New York and Subverted Sexual Stereotypes

“Sontag seemed to exude an irresistible mixture of intelligence, hipness, sex, and beauty.” In addition to being a great personal hero of mine, Susan Sontag endures as one of the most influential intellectuals of the past century. But her most enchanting quality was a singular blend of fierce, opinionated intellect and vast emotional capacity —...

A Guide for the Perplexed: Mapping the Meaning of Life and the Four Levels of Being

How to harness the uniquely human power of “consciousness recoiling upon itself.” “Never to get lost is not to live, not to know how to get lost brings you to destruction,” Rebecca Solnit wrote in her sublime meditation on how the art of getting lost helps us find ourselves, “and somewhere in the terra incognita...

A Field Guide to Getting Lost: Rebecca Solnit on How We Find Ourselves

“The things we want are transformative, and we don’t know or only think we know what is on the other side of that transformation… Never to get lost is not to live.” “On how one orients himself to the moment,” Henry Miller wrote in reflecting on the art of living, “depends the failure or fruitfulness...