The Secret Art of Dr. Seuss

A Seuss drawing suggesting that no matter how big, inflated or different the image we try to portray, being ourselves is most important.

TM & © 1995 Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L. P., Secret Art Collection, courtesy of the Museum of Science and Industry

‘Pink-Tufted Small Beast in Night Landscape,’ 1960

TM & © 1995 Dr. Seuss Enterprises

‘The Stag at Eve,’ 1960

TM & © 1995 Dr. Seuss Enterprises

‘Peru 1 (Giant Llama Led Through Village), 1925

TM & © 1995 Dr. Seuss Enterprises

‘Peru 2 (Vultures Waiting for the Fall), 1925

TM & © 1995 Dr. Seuss Enterprises

‘Peru 3 (Cock Fight), 1925

TM & © 1995 Dr. Seuss Enterprises

‘Peru 4 (Angry Pig), 1925

TM & © 1995 Dr. Seuss Enterprises


TM & © 1995 Dr. Seuss Enterprises

‘The Manly Art of Self-Defense,’ 1927

TM & © 1995 Dr. Seuss Enterprises


TM & © 1995 Dr. Seuss Enterprises


TM & © 1995 Dr. Seuss Enterprises

Invisible Cities Illustrated: Three Artists Paint Every City in Italo Calvino’s Classic Novel


The medieval travelogue presents present-day writers and artists with an abundance of material. Writing in an age when the boundaries between fiction and non- were not so sharply drawn, early explorers and sailors had little compunction about embellishing their tales with exaggerations and outright lies. Travelers circulated stories of giants and monsters and credulous readers back home swallowed them whole. Well, sometimes. In the case of the most famed medieval traveler, Marco Polo, scholars have debated whether Il Milione—one of the titles of a narrative based on his accounts—refers to a family nickname or to Polo’s reputation for telling “a million lies.” But whether Polo told the truth or not hardly mattered to Italo Calvino, who found in the explorer’s colorful tales just the inspiration he needed for his 1972 novel Invisible Cities.

Cities-Irene Kuth

More a series of vignettes than a narrative, the book consists of chapter after chapter of Polo describing for Kublai Khan the various cities he encountered on his travels, each one more fantastic and magical than the last. “Kublai Khan does not necessarily believe everything Marco Polo says,” Calvino tells us in his introduction, “but the emperor of the Tartars does continue listening to the young Venetian with greater attention and curiosity than he shows any other messenger or explorer of his.” As readers, we too listen with rapt attention to curious stories of cities like Olinda, which “grows in concentric circles, like tree trunks which each year add one more ring” and Eusapia, where “the inhabitants have constructed an identical copy of their city, underground,” so that the dead can “continue their former activities.”

Cities-Beersheba Connor

Playing on the bizarre nature of travelers’ tales and the imaginative excesses of exotic romances, Calvino’s novel abounds in delightful architectural absurdities and puzzling allegories, almost demanding to be illuminated like a medieval manuscript. Deciding to meet the challenge, artists Matt Kish, Leighton Connor, Joe Kuth began illustrating Invisible Cities in April of 2014. Their tumblr, Seeing Calvino, updates every Wednesday with a new interpretation of the novel’s many strange cities. At the top of the post, see “Thekla,” the “city forever under construction,” by Kish. Below it, Kuth’s imagining of “Irene,” the “name for a city in the distance, and if you approach it, it changes.” And just above, Connor’s interpretation of “Beersheba,” in which it is believed that “suspended in the heavens, there exists another Beersheba … They also believe, these inhabitants, that another Beersheba exists underground.”

Cities-Adelma Kish

Seeing Calvino isn’t Kish’s first foray into literary illustration. Previously, he undertook an illustration of every page of Melville’s Moby Dick, animpressive effort we featured last week. (Above, see another of his Invisible Cities pieces, “Adelma.”) Of the new, collaborative Calvino project, Kish tells us, “the episodic structure really appealed to us and we thought it was the perfect kind of thing to build a tumblr around and share with people.”

Invisible Cities has been fascinating to create… each of us brings a very different approach to the work. Joe’s Cities tend to be far more literal, realistic and representational, which I find kind of staggering because that is so difficult to do with Calvino. My illustrations are far more abstract and conceptual, trying to show in symbolic ways the ideas behind each chapter. Leighton falls somewhere between us on that spectrum, and his work has elements of realism and abstraction. None of us even talked about this before we started, we simply began independently (after settling on a rotation) and watched each other’s work evolve.

The three artists of Seeing Calvino have to date painted 45 of the 56 cities in Calvino’s novel. Kish has also illustrated Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and his blog features many other graphic interpretations of literary and cinematic works. The Moby Dick project saw publication as a book in 2011. We can only hope that Calvino’s publisher sees the value of anInvisible Cities edition incorporating Kish, Kuth, and Connor’s illustrations.

12 Classic Books That Got Horrible Reviews When They First Came Out

  • ‘The Tropic of Cancer’ by Henry Miller
    “Miller stands under his Paris street-lamp, defiantly but genially drunk, trolling his catch mixed of beauty and banality and recurrent bawdry-a little pathetic because he thinks he is a discoverer and doesn’t realize that he is only a tourist on a well-marked tour. We see him at last as an appealingly zestful, voracious, talented hick.”

    The New Republic

  • ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ by Margaret Atwood
    “But the most conspicuous lack, in comparison with the classics of the fearsome-future genre, is the inability to imagine a language to match the changed face of common life. No newspeak. And nothing like the linguistic tour de force of A Clockwork Orange – the brutal melting-down of current English and Slavic words that in itself tells the story of the dread new breed. The writing of The Handmaid’s Tale is undistinguished in a double sense, ordinary if not glaringly so, but also indistinguishable from what one supposes would be Margaret Atwood’s normal way of expressing herself in the circumstances. This is a serious defect, unpardonable maybe for the genre: a future that has no language invented for it lacks a personality. That must be why, collectively, it is powerless to scare.”

    The New York Times

  • ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ by Ernest Hemingway
    “A master of the concentrated short story, Hemingway is less sure in his grasp of the form of the elaborated novel. The shape of For Whom the Bell Tolls is sometimes slack and sometimes bulging. It is certainly quite a little too long.”

    The New Republic

  • ‘Lolita’ by Vladimir Nabokov
    Lolita then, is undeniably news in the world of books. Unfortunately, it is bad news. There are two equally serious reasons why it isn’t worth any adult reader’s attention. The first is that it is dull, dull, dull in a pretentious, florid and archly fatuous fashion. The second is that it is repulsive…

    Past the artistic danger line of madness is another even more fatal. It is where the particular mania is a perversion like Humbert’s. To describe such a perversion with the pervert’s enthusiasm without being disgusting is impossible. If Mr. Nabokov tried to do so he failed.”

    The New York Times

  • ‘The Great Gatsby’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald
    “Scott Fitzgerald’s new novel, The Great Gatsby is in form no more than a glorified anecdote, and not too probable at that…

    This story is obviously unimportant and, though, as I shall show, it has its place in the Fitzgerald canon, it is certainly not to be put on the same shelf with, say, This Side of Paradise. What ails it, fundamentally, is the plain fact that it is simply a story — that Fitzgerald seems to be far more interested in maintaining its suspense than in getting under the skins of its people.”

    The Chicago Tribune

  • ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee
    “Miss Lee’s problem has been to tell the story she wants to tell and yet to stay within the consciousness of a child, and she hasn’t consistently solved it.”

    The Saturday Review

  • ‘Brave New World’ by Aldous Huxley
    “Mr. Huxley has the jitters. Looking back over his career one can see that he has always had them, in varying degrees… [he] rushes headlong into the great pamphleteering movement. [Brave New World] is a lugubrious and heavy-handed piece of propaganda.”


  • ‘On the Road’ by Jack Kerouac
    “It is not so much a novel as a long affectionate lark inspired by the so-called “beat” generation, and an example of the degree to which some of the most original work being done in this country has come to depend upon the bizarre and the offbeat for its creative stimulus.”

    The New York Times

  • ‘O Pioneers’ by Willa Cather
    “Miss Willa S. Cather in O Pioneers (O title!!) is neither a skilled storyteller nor the least bit of an artist.”

    Dress and Vanity Fair Magazine

  • ‘Gone with the Wind’ by Margaret Mitchell
    “I happen to feel that the book would have been infinitely better had it been edited down to, say, 500 pages — but there speaks the harassed daily reviewer an [sic] well as the would-be judicious critic. Very nearly every reader will agree, no doubt, that a more disciplined and less prodigal piece of work would have more nearly done justice to the subject-matter.”

    The New York Times

  • ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’ by Kurt Vonnegut
    “The short, flat sentences of which the novel is composed convey shock and despair better than an array of facts or effusive mourning. Still, deliberate simplicity is as hazardous as the grand style, and Vonnegut occasionally skids into fatuousness…”

    The New Yorker

  • ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ by J.D. Salinger
    “The book as a whole is disappointing, and not merely because it is a reworking of a theme that one begins to suspect must obsess the author. Holden Caulfield, the main character who tells his own story, is an extraordinary portrait, but there is too much of him. …

    In the course of 277 pages, the reader wearies of [his] explicitness, repetition and adolescence, exactly as one would weary of Holden himself. And this reader at least suffered from an irritated feeling that Holden was not quite so sensitive and perceptive as he, and his creator, thought he was.”

Ten Strange Medieval Animals You Might Not Have Heard Of

And may not have existed either! In the Middle Ages, Bestiaries were created to catalogue the various creatures that lived around the world. They would include various animals like horses and lions, along with more fantastical creatures such as dragons and unicorns. Here are ten creatures that are less known but have unusual characteristics. Some were based on real animals, while the origins of others remain a mystery.

Banacle Geese were thought to be birds that grew from trees. Gerald of Wales writes that “they are produced from fir timber tossed along the sea, and are at first like gum. Afterwards they hang down by their beaks as if they were a seaweed attached to the timber, and are surrounded by shells in order to grow more freely. Having thus in process of time been clothed with a strong coat of feathers, they either fall into the water or fly freely away into the air. They derived their food and growth from the sap of the wood or from the sea, by a secret and most wonderful process of alimentation. I have frequently seen, with my own eyes, more than a thousand of these small bodies of birds, hanging down on the sea-shore from one piece of timber, enclosed in their shells, and already formed. They do not breed and lay eggs like other birds, nor do they ever hatch any eggs, nor do they seem to build nests in any corner of the earth.” They were considered to be so strange during the Middle Ages that Pope Innocent III banned Catholics from eating of these geese during Lent.
According to the Aberdeen Bestiary, “in Asia an animal is found which men call Bonnacon. It has the head of a bull, and thereafter its whole body is of the size of a bull’s with the maned neck of a horse. Its horns are convoluted, curling back on themselves in such a way that if anyone comes up against it, he is not harmed. But the protection which its forehead denies this monster is furnished by its bowels. For when it turns to flee, it discharges fumes from the excrement of its belly over a distance of three acres, the heat of which sets fire to anything it touches. In this way, it drives off its pursuers with its harmful excrement.”
The ninth-century Byzantine scholar Photius wrote that “In Ethiopia there is an animal called crocottas, vulgarly kynolykos [dog-wolf], of amazing strength. It is said to imitate the human voice, to call men by name at night, and to devour those who approach it. It is as brave as a lion, as swift as a horse, and as strong as a bull. It cannot be overcome by any weapon of steel.” Meanwhile a 13th-century English bestiary states this animal comes from India and is “swifter than all other wild beasts. It is as big as an ass; it has the hindquarters of a stag, the chest and legs of a lion, the head of a horse and cloven hooves. Its mouth stretches from ear to ear. Instead of teeth it has a continuous bone. So much for its shape; with its voice it imitates the sound of speech.”
Isidore of Seville writes “The echinais has its name because it clings to a ship and holds it fast (echei-naus). It is a small fish, about six inches long, but when it attaches to a ship the ship cannot move, but seems rooted in the sea, despite raging storms and gales. This fish is also called “delay” (mora) because it causes ships to stand still.”
The hydrus lived in the Nile River and was the enemy of the crocodile. When it sees a crocodile sleeping with its mouth open, the hydrus first rolls in mud to make itself slippery, then enters the crocodile’s mouth and is swallowed. It then eats its way out of the crocodile’s belly, killing it. St Antony of Padua explains that the apostles are similar to these creatures: “There is a certain little serpent which rolls itself in the mud, and thus enters the mouth of the sleeping crocodile, who wakes up and swallows it down; on which it eats through his entrails, and comes out through his side. Thus the Apostles, rolled as it were in the mud of poverty and humility, leapt boldly into the mouths of tyrants, and openly contradicted their words of unbelief, and were thus devoured by death. Nevertheless, these tyrants themselves were slain by their means, and the Apostles came forth alive from them, when their death redounded to the augmentation of the faith and to the honour of Christ.”
A creature similar to a Unicorn. According to a 13th century Bestiary from England (MS Bodley 764), “the monoceros is a monster with a horrible bray; it has the body of a horse, the feet of an elephant and a tail like that of a stag. A horn of extraordinary splendour projects from the middle of its forehead, for feet in length, and so sharp that anything it strikes is easily pierced by the blow. It is never taken into the power of human beings while it lives; it can be killed but never captured alive.”
According to Brunetto Latini the Parandrus lived in Ethiopia and had the tracks of an ibex, the branching horns of a stag, the colour of a bear, and, like a bear, it has a shaggy coat. It is believed to change colour into a likeness of whatever it is close to.
From a 13th century Bestiary by Hugh of Fouilloy: “There is a beast in the sea which is called a sawfish, and has immense wings. When this beast has seen a ship making sail on the ocean, it raises its wings above the water and competes with the ship in sailing. (But when it has competed in sailing or racing against the ship) for 30 or 40 furlongs, being unable to sustain the exertion, it gives up, and lowering its wings draws them in. And the waves of the sea carry it back again, tired out, to its own place in the deep.”
Isidore of Seville explains “the wether is named either from its strength because it stronger than other sheep; or because it is male or because it has worms in its head. When excited by an itch they strike one another with great force.”
#10 YALE
According to the Aberdeen Bestiary: “There is an animal called the yale. It is black, as big as a horse, with the tail of an elephant, the jaws of a boar and unusually long horns, adjustable to any movement the animal might make. For they are not fixed but move as the needs of fighting require; the yale advances one of them as it fights, folding the other back, so that if the tip of the first is damaged by a blow, it is replaced by the point of the second.”

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao declared 21st century’s best novel so far

Junot Díaz’s mix of ‘history, comics, sci-fi, and magic realism ‘ tops BBC Culture poll of US critics on the best fiction since 2000

Junot Diaz

 ‘Totally rocks’ … Junot Díaz. Photograph: Sarah Lee

A group of American critics has named Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, an ingenious take on the life of an overweight Dominican-American nerd, as the best novel of the 21st century to date.

BBC Culture, the arts section of the international BBC site, polled “several dozen” US critics to find the greatest novels written so far this century, with 156 novels in all named by experts from papers including the New York Times, Time magazine, Newsday, Kirkus Reviews and Booklist. Díaz’s first novel was top of the list for the most critics, said, with the Latino author’s Pulitzer-winning creation Oscar Wao, a “hardcore sci-fi and fantasy man” desperate to get laid, compared to Philip Roth’s Portnoy and John Updike’s Rabbit by one respondent, the critic and playwright Gregg Barrios.

“Díaz’s deft mash-up of Dominican history, comics, sci-fi, magic realism and footnotes totally rocks,” found Barrios, while critic and author Rigoberto Gonzalez said the debut “re-energised these questions: Who is American? What is the American experience?”

Second for the critics came Edward P Jones’ 19th-century-set novel The Known World, in which a slave turned slave-owner lies dying on his plantation, with Hilary Mantel’s reimagining of the life of Thomas Cromwell, Wolf Hall, third. “I have never felt so completely catapulted into a character’s mind, not to mention a long ago and far away place,” said Mary Ann Gwinn, Seattle Times books editor. Wolf Hall’s sequel Bring Up the Bodies, which also won the British author the Booker prize, drew votes as well, but failed to make the top 12, said the BBC.

Gilead, Marilynne Robinson’s tale of small-town Iowa minister John Ames, was fourth – it “will be read in 100 years”, said Anisfield-Wolf book awards manager Karen R Long – and Jonathan Franzen’s look at the life of the Lamberts, The Corrections, was fifth. It was described as an “astonishing third novel – a masterpiece of voice, character, and storytelling” by New York Times columnist Carmela Ciararu.

The list also includes Zadie Smith’s debut novel White Teeth, Jeffrey Eugenides’ tale of hermaphrodite Calliope Stephanides, Middlesex, Ian McEwan’sAtonement, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun, set amidst the Biafra conflict. Adichie’s Americanah, and Smith’s NW, also feature in the overall top 20, which includes three works in translation: Austerlitz by WG Sebald, My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante, and 2666 by Roberto Bolano.

But it does not feature some of the last 14 years’ most acclaimed works, from Franzen’s latest novel, Freedom, to Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. Instead, BBC Culture’s critics completed their line-up of “The 21st Century’s 12 greatest novels” with Ben Fountain’s award-winning debut Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, distinguished by its “sheer wise merriment”, according to critic Steven G Kellman, Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad and Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. “Chabon’s capacious, propulsive and many-storied novel is exquisitely written, emotionally rich and historically and morally profound,” said Booklist senior editor Donna Seaman.

1. Junot Díaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007)
2. Edward P Jones, The Known World (2003)
3. Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall (2009)
4. Marilynne Robinson, Gilead (2004)
5. Jonathan Franzen, The Corrections (2001)
6. Michael Chabon, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (2000)
7. Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad (2010)
8. Ben Fountain, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2012)
9. Ian McEwan, Atonement (2001)
10. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun (2006)
11. Zadie Smith, White Teeth (2000)
12. Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex (2002)

The runners-up were:

13. Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
14. WG Sebald, Austerlitz
15. Elena Ferrante, My Brilliant Friend
16. Alan Hollinghurst, The Line of Beauty
17. Cormac McCarthy, The Road
18. Zadie Smith, NW
19. Roberto Bolaño, 2666
20. Shirley Hazzard, The Great Fire

Three thousand reasons to choose your reading carefully

Great Expectations

According to the book review website Goodreads I recently finished reading my 1,000th book. They didn’t notify me of this, there’s no gold star on my profile and my book collection did not break into spontaneous applause (Harry Potter high-fiving Humbert Humbert, the Mitford sisters dancing a celebratory can-can). But I knew the second I finished reading my 1,000th book because I have been watching this day creep closer for four years. Four years of diligently maintaining my Goodreads account, including two afternoons carefully uploading every book I’d read since childhood. Give or take a few Where’s Wally? books I can be fairly sure that We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie saw me reach this milestone. Assuming I live into my 90s (which my penchant for pasties and panic attacks suggests is unlikely), I will read just over 3,000 books in my lifetime – which doesn’t seem like an especially high number.

One reason I’d been eyeing up my 1,000th book so apprehensively is that it forces me to once again confront the fact that I don’t like a lot of the books I read. Out of the 1,000, I only enjoyed about 700. The other 300 were books I felt I had to read; classics that everyone told me I was a fool to miss, awkward recommendations from people who thought that as a feminist I love to read about rape, GCSE curriculum titles and a misguided attempt to appreciate Tom Wolfe. Another reason I feel a bit queasy about that 1,000th book is that a few years ago my Aunt Liz was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She was 50 years old. When my phone rang with the news, I was waiting for a light to change at a busy road. When I looked down at the book in my hand, my thumb still marking the page, I realised how much Liz still had left to do. Her wedding would have to be brought forward, goodbyes would be said, a funeral would be planned. She would probably never read another book.

Finding out what the last book Liz read was is one of those questions I’ve never been able to ask. Instead, in the months leading up to her death I read constantly, three, four, five books at a time. Words were a way to push what was happening out of my head, and two years later I realised I was a couple of books off my 1,000th. As Liz’s death had kickstarted a period of compulsive reading, I wanted the book to be relevant to her, something that would somehow make up for all the books she would never read. Obviously no one book would ever manage that (although for my activist aunt, Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists comes closer than most) but the idea of a worthy book has stayed with me.

But what is a worthwhile read? If we can calculate how many books we will read in an uninterrupted lifetime, at what point should we draw the line? Life is short and books are long. We don’t get to read many of them and I’m starting to realise that some books don’t deserve to be among my theoretical 3,000. Life is too short for Martin Amis. Life is too short for Ayn Rand. Life is too short for 1,000-plus pages of Infinite Jest and life is too short to give Philip Roth another chance. I’m beginning to suspect that life might be too short for Virginia Woolf and John Updike. I’m undecided on whether life is long enough for George Eliot, but it’s definitely too short to miss out on Octavia Butler’s work because of being busy trying to like Joseph Heller.

The books that deserve a place among my remaining 2,000 reads are those with an idea that excites me. I’m making room for novels like Blonde Roots by Bernardine Evaristo, Sirius by Olaf Stapledon, The City and the City by China Miéville, Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor, We Were Liars by E Lockhart, The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane and The Suicide Club by Robert Louis Stevenson. I’m going to spend more time reading authors I enjoy and relate to, either because of their use of language (Jackie Kay, Toni Morrison, Monique Roffey, Andrea Levy and Orhan Pamuk) or their subject matter (Jenni Fagan, Jhumpa Lahiri, HG Wells and Kazuo Ishiguro). In short; I’m going to demand more from the books I read. I’ve got 2,000 books left to read, at best, and I intend to be ruthless in choosing them.