Watch J.S. Bach’s “Air on the G String” Played on the Actual Instruments from His Time

There is no wrong way to listen to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. You may prefer the austere, idiosyncratic piano interpretations of Glenn Gould; you may prefer the groundbreaking analog-synthesizer renditions painstakingly recorded by Wendy Carlos (whose early fans included Gould himself); or you may prefer faithful performances using only the instruments extant in the late 17th to mid-18th century period in which Bach lived. In that last case, the San Francisco early-music ensemble Voices of Music has you covered. You may remember us previously featuring their performances of Vivaldi and Pachelbel; in the video above, you can hear and see them play Bach.

More specifically, you can hear them play the second movement, Aria, from Bach's orchestral suite in D Major, BWV 1068. The instruments they play it on include an Italian baroque violin from 1660 and an Austrian baroque viola from 1680, as well as more recently crafted examples rigorously modeled after instruments from that same era. "As instruments became modernized in the 19th century, builders and players tended to focus on the volume of sound and the stability of tuning," says VoM's explanation of their use of period instruments. "Modern steel strings replaced the older materials, and instruments were often machine made. Historical instruments, built individually by hand and with overall lighter construction, have extremely complex overtones — which we find delightful."

Any lover of Bach's music has heard this piece many times, not least due to its popularization in the late 19th century, in an arrangement by German violinist August Wilhelmj, as "Air on the G String." The original work dates to "some time between the years 1717 and 1723," writes music blogger Özgür Nevres, when Bach composed it for his patron Prince Leopold of Anhalt. It also holds the honor of being the first work by Bach ever recorded, "by the Russian cellist Aleksandr Verzhbilovich and an unknown pianist, in 1902 (as the Air from the Overture No. 3 in D major, BWV 1068)." But no matter how many different recordings from different eras of Bach's orchestral suite in D Major in which you've steeped yourself, if you've only heard it played on modern instruments, a performance like Voices of Music's shows that it still has surprises to offer.

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The Authentic Pachelbel’s Canon: Watch a Performance Based on the Original Manuscript & Played with Original 17th-Century Instruments

Watch Glenn Gould Perform His Last Great Studio Recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations (1981)

All of Bach for Free! New Site Will Put Performances of 1080 Bach Compositions Online

How a Bach Canon Works. Brilliant

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Women Scientists Launch a Database Featuring the Work of 9,000 Women Working in the Sciences

“Why are there so few women in science?” has almost become a tiresome refrain over the years, given how little the answers engage with the thousands of female scientists working all over the world. “Too often,” writes the project 500 Women Scientists, “high-profile articles, conference panels, and boards are filled with a disproportionate number of male voices. News stories are reported by more men by a huge margin, and this imbalance is reflected in how frequently women are quoted in news stories unless journalists make a conscious effort to reach out.

“Most keynote speakers at conferences are men. Panels are so frequently all-male that a new word evolved to describe the phenomenon: manels. These imbalances add up and reinforce the inaccurate perception that science is stale, pale and male.” The next time the question arises—“why are there so few women in science?”—or any other question needing scientific expertise, one need only gesture silently to 500 Women Scientists, a grassroots organization consisting of far more scientists than its title suggests.




Described as “a resource for journalists, educators, policy makers, scientists and anyone needing scientific expertise,” the project began in 2016 as an open letter penned by its founders, then graduate students at Colorado University, Boulder, who decided to re-affirm their values against reactionary attacks by amassing 500 signatures on an open letter. They’ve since built a searchable database of over 9,000 women researchers from around the world, and a resource that helps build local scientific communities.

Since launching last year, their Request a Scientist database has shown “the excuse that you can’t find a qualified woman just doesn't hold,” says co-founder and microbial ecologist Dr. Kelly Ramirez-Donders. It has also provided much more detailed data on women in science, which was published in a paper at PLOS Biology in April. “The group has ambitious plans to keep expanding its reach,” writes STAT. “They’re raising money to start a fellowship for women of color… and they have already launched an affiliate group, 500 Women in Medicine.”

“We’re scientists. We’re lovers of evidence and data points,” says co-founder Maryam Zaringhalam, a molecular biologist. “And so now anytime somebody tells us they couldn’t find someone or there just aren’t enough women in STEM fields, we can point them to [the database] and say, ‘Well, actually, this is the tip of the iceberg, and there’s over 8,000.’… ensuring that women’s voices are represented in the media narratives is really essential for showing that, ‘No, we are here, it’s just that people haven’t necessarily been aware of us or done the work to find us.’”

Correcting misperceptions not only helps reduce biases within scientific communities; it also encourages budding scientists who might otherwise be discouraged from the pursuit. “It’s not that girls are not interested in science,” co-founder Jane Zelikova tells Good Morning America. “Something happens where they don’t see women or girls represented as scientists and they don’t think it’s for them.” 500 Women in Science proves that notion wrong—science is for them, and for everyone who wants to devote their lives to scientific research. Just look at the data.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Very First Picture of the Far Side of the Moon, Taken 60 Years Ago

Sixty years ago, mankind got its very first glimpse of the far side of the Moon, so called because it faces away from the Earth. (And as astronomers like Neil DeGrasse Tyson have long taken pains to point out to Pink Floyd fans, it isn't "dark.") Taken by the Soviet Union, that first photo may not look like much today, especially compared to the high-resolution color images sent back from the surface itself by China's Chang’e-4 probe earlier this year. But with the technology of the late 1950s, even the technology commanded by the Soviets' then-world-beating space program, the fact that it was taken at all seems not far short of miraculous. How did they do it?

"This photograph was taken by the Soviet spacecraft Luna 3, which was launched a month after the Luna 2 spacecraft became the first man-made object to impact on the surface of the Moon," explains astronomer Kevin Hainline in a recent Twitter thread. "Luna 2 followed Luna 1, the first spacecraft to escape a geosynchronous Earth orbit." Luna 3 was designed to take photographs of the Moon, hardly an uncomplicated prospect: "To take pictures you have to be stable on three-axes. You have to take the photographs remotely. AND you have to somehow transfer those pictures back to Earth." The first three-axis stabilized spacecraft ever sent on a mission, Luna 3 "had to use a little photocell to orient towards the Moon so that now, while stabilized, it could take the pictures. Which it did. On PHOTOGRAPHIC FILM."




Even those of us who took pictures on film for decades have started to take for granted the convenience of digital photography. But think back to all the hassle of traditional photography, then imagine making a robot carry them out in space. Once taken Luna 3's photos "were then moved to a little CHEMICAL PLANT to DEVELOP AND DRY THEM." (In other words, "Luna 3 had a little 1 Hour Photo inside.") Then they continued into "a device that shone a cathode ray tube, like in an older TV, through them, towards a device that recorded the brightness and converted this to an electrical signal." You can read about what happened then in more detail at Damn Interesting, where Alan Bellows describes how the spacecraft sent "the lightness and darkness information line-by-line via frequency-modulated analog signal — in essence, a fax sent over radio."

Soviet Scientists could thus "retrieve one photographic frame every 30 minutes or so. Due to the distance and weak signal, the first images received contained nothing but static. In subsequent attempts in the following few days, an indistinct, blotchy white disc began to resolve on the thermal paper printouts at Soviet listening stations." As Luna 3's photos became clearer, they revealed, as Hainline puts it, that "the backside of the moon was SO WEIRD AND DIFFERENT" — covered in the craters, for example, which have become its visual signature. For a modern-day equivalent to this achievement, we might look not just to Chang’e-4 but to the image of a black hole captured by the Event Horizon Telescope this past April — the one that led to an abundance of articles like "In Defense of the Blurry Black Hole Photo" and "We Need to Admit That the Black Hole Photo Isn’t Very Good." Astrophotography has come a long way, but at least back in 1959 it didn't produce quite so many takes.

via Kottke

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Time When Charlie Chaplin Entered a Chaplin Look-Alike Contest & Came in 20th Place

chaplin contest

Charlie Chaplin started appearing in his first films in 1914---40 films, to be precise---and, by 1915, the United States had a major case of "Chaplinitis." Chaplin mustaches were suddenly popping up everywhere--as were Chaplin imitators and Chaplin look-alike contests. A young Bob Hope apparently won one such contest in Cleveland. Chaplin Fever continued burning hot through 1921, the year when the Chaplin look-alike contest, shown above, was held outside the Liberty Theatre in Bellingham, Washington.

According to legend, somewhere between 1915 and 1921, Chaplin decided to enter a Chaplin look-alike contest, and lost, badly.




A short article called "How Charlie Chaplin Failed," appearing in The Straits Times of Singapore in August of 1920, read like this:

Lord Desborough, presiding at a dinner of the Anglo-Saxon club told a story which will have an enduring life. It comes from Miss Mary Pickford who told it to Lady Desborough, “Charlie Chaplin was one day at a fair in the United States, where a principal attraction was a competition as to who could best imitate the Charlie Chaplin walk. The real Charlie Chaplin thought there might be a chance for him so he entered for the performance, minus his celebrated moustache and his boots. He was a frightful failure and came in twentieth.

A variation on the same story appeared in a New Zealand newspaper, the Poverty Bay Herald, again in 1920. As did another story in the Australian newspaper, the Albany Advertiser, in March, 1921.

A competition in Charlie Chaplin impersonations was held in California recently. There was something like 40 competitors, and Charlie Chaplin, as a joke, entered the contest under an assumed name. He impersonated his well known film self. But he did not win; he was 27th in the competition.

Did Chaplin come in 20th place? 27th place? Did he enter a contest at all? It's fun to imagine that he did. But, a century later, many consider the story the stuff of urban legend. When one researcher asked the Association Chaplin to weigh in, they apparently had this to say: "This anecdote told by Lord Desborough, whoever he may have been, was quite widely reported in the British press at the time. There are no other references to such a competition in any other press clipping albums that I have seen so I can only assume that this is the source of that rumour, urban myth, whatever it is. However, it may be true."

I'd like to believe it is.

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in early 2016.

via France Culture/Stack Exchange

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Oscar-Nominated Composer Danny Elfman Teaches an Online Course on Writing Music for Film: A Look Inside His Creative Process


FYI: If you sign up for a MasterClass course by clicking on the affiliate links in this post, Open Culture will receive a small fee that helps support our operation.

To have watched some of the greatest film and television in the last thirty-five years is to have been immersed in the music of Mark Mothersbaugh and Danny Elfman—two artists who have scored Hollywood blockbusters and indie hits alike since the mid-eighties when they started on TV’s Pee-wee’s Playhouse and Tim Burton’s 1985 comedy Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, respectively. They also happen to have played in two of the 1980’s weirdest, most experimental New Wave bands, Devo and Oingo Boingo.

Mothersbough went on to score everything from Rugrats to Thor: Ragnarok, but he’s maybe best known for his work with Wes Anderson. Likewise, Elfman—who has worked with everyone from Gus Van Sant to Brian De Palma to Peter Jackson to Ang Lee—formed a creative bond with Burton, to such a degree that it's near impossible to imagine a Tim Burton film without a Danny Elfman score.

When Burton first approached him for Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, the Oingo Boingo frontman was just about to release “Weird Science,” for the infamous John Hughes film of the same name. Already a band with a massive cult following, they became pop stars, and Elfman became one of the most distinctive film composers of the last several decades.

He scored Beetlejuice, Batman, Edward Scissorhands, Batman Returns, Sleepy Hollow, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Corpse Bride, and, most recently, Burton’s Dumbo. Now he’s sharing his secrets for aspiring film composers everywhere with his very own Masterclass. “I’m going to tell you from my perspective,” he says in the trailer above, “how I do these things": things including instrumentation, orchestration, melody, and tone—"the most important thing you’re going to capture in a film score."

In the screenshots here, see excerpts of the course topics, which include units on the films Milk, The Unknown Known, and The Nightmare Before Christmas, an example of “writing specifically for a character”—a character, Jack Skellington, whose singing voice Elfman also provided.

For those who feel they’ll never measure up to a career like Danny Elfman’s, he introduces all important units on insecurity and failure. Perhaps the most important lesson of all, he says above, with infectious enthusiasm, is learning that “it’s okay to fail, to feel insecure. Doubting yourself, finding confidence and moving forward, and then doubting what you’ve just done…. I think this is the life of a composer. I think it’s the life of an artist.”

Can such things be taught, or can they only be lived? Each teacher and student of the arts must at some point ask themselves this question. Perhaps they only learn the answer when they try, and fail, and try again anyway. Register for Elfman’s class for a single fee of $90, or pay $199 for an all-access pass to 60+ masterclass courses taught by other moviemaking greats like Hans Zimmer, Samuel L. Jackson, David Lynch, and more.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Art Class Instead Of Jail: New Program Lets Young Offenders Take Free Art Classes Rather Than Spend Time in the Criminal System

Art saves lives, and art can also save an individual from the stigma of an arrest record, provided that the arrest is for one of 15 non-violent misdemeanors.

Project Reset, a museum-based early diversion program in three of New York City’s five boroughs, aims to reframe the way youthful (and not so youthful) offenders see themselves, by considering an artwork via a collective interpretive process, before using it as the inspiration for a collage or oil pastel-based project of their own.




The stakes are higher and far more personal than they are on the average public school field trip. Upon completion of a class ranging from 2.5 to 4 hours, the participant’s record is wiped clean and their assigned court date is rendered moot.

Rather than being herded through a number of galleries, participants zero in on a single work.

At the Brooklyn Museum, participants in the under-25 age range get a crash course in Shifting the GazeTitus Kaphar’s intentional palimpsest, in which all the figures in a replica of Frans Hals’ Family Group in a Landscape are whited out so viewers may focus in on the only character of color, a young boy who appears to be a family servant.

Older participants undertake a similarly deep dive on The Judgement by Bob Thompson, an African American artist who was inspired by the constant interplay between good and evil.

While this may strike some as a cushy punishment, it’s a legitimate attempt to acquaint participants with the very real impact their actions could have on future plans—including college admissions and job applications.

Manhattan District Attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr., one of Project Reset’s architects, shared a non-partisan fiscal take with City Lab’s Rebecca Bellan that may persuade naysayers who feel the program rewards budding criminals by giving them an easy out:

If you jump subway turnstiles in Manhattan, you never go to jail. You can do it 100 times and no court is ever going to send you to jail. So we spend about $2,200 to process a theft of services arrest for a $2.75 fare. Our justice system falls most heavily on communities of color, and we really need to rethink how we approach these cases, both to get better outcomes, but also to reduce the impact which is very often viewed as targeted and unfair on particular communities.

Above is a list of the non-violent misdemeanors that can channel first timers toward the aptly named Project Reset.

via Hyperallergic

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC for her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

2,600+ MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) Getting Started in November: Enroll Today

FYI. 2,600+ MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are getting underway in November, giving you the chance to take free courses from top flight universities. With the help of Class Central, we've pulled together a complete list of November MOOCs. And below we've highlighted several courses that piqued our interest.

Here's one tip to keep in mind: If you want to take a course for free, select the "Full Course, No Certificate" or "Audit" option when you enroll. If you would like an official certificate documenting that you have successfully completed the course, you will need to pay a fee.

You can browse through the complete list of November MOOCs here.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

Also consider following Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and sharing intelligent media with your friends. Or sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

How to Find Silence in a Noisy World

“Take a walk at night,” wrote avant-garde composer Pauline Oliveros in her 1974 “Sonic Meditations,” a set of instructions for what she called deep listening. “Walk so silently that the bottom of your feet become ears.” Listening to silence opens up rich new worlds of sound. It can be a life-changing experience.

"It's hard to imagine that a sound can transform someone's life, but it happened to me,” says acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton in the short 360-degree documentary above, “How to Find Silence in a Noisy World.” Hempton learned to walk silently while carrying a microphone, documenting his listening journey through remote places like the Hoh Rainforest in Washington state, considered one of the quietest places in North America.




“By holding a microphone, I became a better listener. I learned that the microphone doesn’t listen for what’s important, it doesn’t judge, it doesn’t interfere.” The microphone, that is, has no ego. Recorded and amplified, the silence of the Hoh becomes cacophony, or a symphony, depending on how we describe it. Maybe any description gets in the way of listening. “Just listen,” says Hempton. “Silence is the poetics of space. What it means to be in a place… Silence isn’t the absence of something, but the presence of everything

If silence is full of sound, why might we crave it when we're stressed? Because we are bombarded by noise pollution, “sounds that have nothing to do with the natural acoustic system.” These sounds have been encroaching on places like the Hoh Rainforest for many decades, and Hempton has documented their incursion over the past 30 years, building a collection of over 100 recordings “equipped with a 3-D microphone system that replicates human hearing,” notes Brain Pickings.

“Emanating from his collection… is the idea that ‘there is a fundamental frequency for each habitat’—a tonal quality that shapes the sense of place and quality of presence.” Hempton’s work complements the nature recordings of Bernie Krause, former musician turned renowned expert on natural sound, whose theory of biophony describes how natural sounds work together to fill in the spectrum, each one establishing its own specific bandwidth so as not to drown out the others.

Natural sounds create a kind of self-regulating harmony. In order to fully inhabit the space we’re in, we must be able to hear them. But as the recordings made by Hempton and Krause show us, humans have a unique ability to feel ourselves deeply immersed in other places, too, by listening to recordings of their silences. Hempton implies that recordings may soon be all we have left.

“Silence,” he says, “is on the verge of extinction. There is not one place left on planet Earth that is set aside and off limits to noise pollution.” It interferes with the cycles of mating animals, disrupts call and response patterns ecosystems use to coordinate themselves. Silence is part of a global biofeedback system, telling us to quiet down, slow down, and become part of all that's happening around us. We ignore it to our great detriment.

via Brain Pickings

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Entire History of the British Isles Animated: 42,000 BCE to Today

The United Kingdom is a confusing place for many people, and their not-quite-answered questions about it go all the way to what does and does not constitute the United Kingdom in the first place. Not to give the ending away, but the animated map above by historical-cartographical Youtuber Ollie Bye eventually reveals that, if you're looking at the British Isles, you're looking at the UK — unless, of course, you're looking at the Republic of Ireland. But taking the long view, the political division of the British Isles has seldom been so simple. We know they were populated by what we now call caucasoids at least 44,000 years ago, but by 700 BC three groups had divided them up: the Britons, the Picts, and the Gaels.

The complications really start at the time of the Roman Empire, when, depending on where in the British Isles you went, you'd have encountered the Icenii, the Parisi, the Caledonii, the Iverni, and many other distinct peoples besides. When the Roman Empire gave way to the Roman Republic, Britannia, or Roman Britain, began its expansion (and its road-building) across the Isles, starting from the southeast.




But with Rome's withdrawal in 410 a great many new borders appear like spiderweb cracks across the land. For centuries thereafter, the British Isles is a place of many kingdoms: Mercia, Wessex, Northumbria, Gwynedd, and Deheubarth, to name but a few. (Not to mention the Vikings.) And then you have a year like 1066, when the Norman conquest redraws a large chunk of the map at a stroke.

Even those most ignorant of British history will recognize a few of the kingdoms that arise later on in this period: the Kingdom of Scotland, for example, or the Kingdom of Wales. Starting from the mid-12th century, a certain Kingdom of England begins to paint the map red. By 1604, the British Isles are cleanly divided between the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland; by 1707, the Kingdom of Great Britain is running the whole place. The situation hasn't changed much since, though anyone who has traveled across the British Isles knows that the ostensible lack of political fractiousness masks many enduring cultural divisions subtle to the outsider: while everyone living everywhere from John o' Groats to Land's End may officially be British, few would countenance being lumped together with all the rest of them.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

Also consider following Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and sharing intelligent media with your friends. Or sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Novel Adaptation

The human imagination can be an extraordinary coping device in times of trouble, a tiny window providing mental escape from whatever cell fate has consigned us to.

Diarist and aspiring professional writer Anne Frank, who died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp at the age of 15, chafed at her now-universally-known confinement in the Secret Annex. She chafed at her mother’s authority and the seemingly effortless saintliness of her older sister. Documenting her daily physical and emotional reality offered temporary respite from it.




The liberating power of the creative mind is one of the aspects writer Ari Folman and illustrator David Polonsky sought to tease out when adapting Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl as a graphic novel.

The graphic novel format decreed that entire passages would be cut or condensed. Polonsky can use a single panel to show logistics it took Anne paragraphs to describe. The interpersonal conflicts she dwelt on are now conveyed by facial expressions and body language.

As with Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón’s 2010 Anne Frank: The Anne Frank House Authorized Graphic Biographythe diary’s small stage is expanded to give readers, particularly those unacquainted with the original text, a historical context for understanding the wider social implications of Anne’s tragedy.

But this graphic retelling is unique in that it traffics in magic realist visuals that should play well with 21st-century youth, who cut their teeth on CGI, fast-paced edits, and streaming teen-focused entertainments wherein characters are apt to break the fourth wall or break into song.

These are the readers to whom the project is most intentionally pitched. As Folman told Teen Vogue’s Emma Sarran Webster:

I truly believe that in a few years, when the very last survivors will have died, the angle that will be taken from the story will be that with every year, we are 10 years further away from the original. [...] There is a severe threat that the things we have to learn from it will not be taught and learned if we don’t find a new language for them. So any new language in my opinion is blessed, as long as it stays within the framework and reaches young audiences by means of their tools, which are now very visual.

Ergo, Kitty, Anne’s nickname for her diary, has been personified, emerging from the little plaid book’s pages like Peter Pan’s shadow, ear attentively cocked toward the secrets Anne whispers into it.

The melodramatic Mrs. van Daan’s prized fur coat has an anthropomorphized rabbit head collar, capable of joining in the dialogue.

Polonsky pays homage to artists Edvard Munch, whose “degenerative” work Hitler had removed from German museums, and Gustav Klimt, who painted many works that were confiscated from their Jewish owners by Nazi decree.

Young readers' modern sensibilities also guided Folman’s approach to the text. The spirit of the original is preserved, but certain phrasings have been given a 21st century update.

The snarky Secret Annex menus and diet tips he allows his heroine harken to the direct address of various meta teen comedies, as well as the blistering parody of the Sarajevo Survival Guide, a purported travel guide written during the Siege.

Noble goal of engaging the next generation aside, there are no doubt some purists who will view these innovations as imposition. Rest assured that Anne Frank's Diary: The Graphic Adaptation is sanctioned by Anne Frank Fonds, the charitable foundation established by Anne’s father, Otto.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, November 4 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain celebrates Louise Jordan Miln’s “Wooings and Weddings in Many Climes (1900). Follow her @AyunHalliday.





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