100 Years of Wisdom, Visualized by Milton Glaser

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When you open 100 Years: Wisdom From Famous Writers On Every Year of Your Life, I bet you turn to the quote about your age and I’ll tell you why. Whether enduring or periodic, many of us are on an ongoing search for meaning. That quest might be most fervent as we approach a new decade (29, 39, 49 and so on), however each year commands its own investigative journey.

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Images: Reprinted from 100 Years: Wisdom from Famous Writers on Every Year of Your Life. Selections by Joshua Prager, Visualizations by Milton Glaser. Copyright © 2016 by Joshua Prager and Milton Glaser. With permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

In this book, journalist Joshua Prager has marked a lifetime, from birth to one hundred, with quotations about each age from famous writers, including Maya Angelou, Jane Austen, Toni Morrison, Joyce Carol Oates, Sylvia Plath, William Shakespeare, William Trevor, David Foster Wallace and Virginia Woolf, among many others.

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“These famous writers give articulated form to somewhat developed feelings that people have allowing their feelings to be recognized as real,” explains psychologist Barbara Blum, Ph.D.

I ask myself, then, do we read Prager’s selections seeking a way for the conscious mind to uncover unconscious meaning? “Life passes into pages if it passes into anything,” author James Salter wrote.

“The whole idea of time and aging is pressing for me for various reasons,” Prager said. An illness in his family and his own recovery from a bus crash made it clear that growing old could not be assumed. He was interested in glimpsing the future whether he made it there or not. And when Prager’s wife then became pregnant with their first child as he worked on the book, his investigation took on new meaning. He thought often of the child who would soon be born and embark on this great sequence.

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Prager and Glaser

Designed by the legendary Milton Glaser, the first moment of contemplation begins with Glaser’s 100 circles on the cover of 100 Years. Glaser’s poetic sensibility transports us, as if we are transcending by means of color, placement and exquisite typography (in the back of the book, Glaser included a page titled “NUMBERS HAVE NAMES,” which shows the names of the fonts that he selected for each different number). In 100 Years, lyrical as ever, Glaser visualizes Prager’s literary selections (from novels and poems mainly). A book designer supports the literary or content objectives using all the principles of graphic design. However in the digital age, Glaser noted to Prager, “A book will need to double as a work of art.”

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“Numbers have names” | Click the images to enlarge

For graphic designers, Glaser is a titan who created iconic works, from the 1966 Bob Dylan poster to the “I (Heart) New York,” logo. Visit his studio’s website to read about his celebrated career, “Glaser has had the distinction of one-man-shows at the Museum of Modern Art and the Georges Pompidou Center. He was selected for the lifetime achievement award of the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum (2004) and the Fulbright Association (2011), and in 2009 he was the first graphic designer to receive the National Medal of the Arts award.”

After seeing some clocks Glaser had designed for the Museum of Modern Art, Prager approached Glaser to see if he might be interested in designing a clock that took 120 years to complete one revolution (in Judaism, there is a toast that wishes, “May you live to 120”). Glaser asked Prager if he had other concepts and upon hearing one about a collection of quotations for every year in an individual’s life, Glaser agreed to collaborate. When I asked Prager to tell me about their collaboration, he said, “To be part of something so beautiful—not just meaningful—was a thrill. I stepped back and appreciated the beautiful work he did.” In college, Prager was a music theory major, which helped him to appreciate the creative connections that “felt not only exciting but organic” among the disciplines of design, writing and art.

100years_age9_lr_page_3 Prager wanted to convey the idea of one year leading into the next. Glaser visualized that continuity by having the color at the bottom of the page go to the top of the next page. The first and last selections reference each another by what they mean as well as through color and design. “The first passage about birth on a blue page, Samuel Beckett’s “Birth was the death of him,” and the last passage about being 100 by Meg Rosoff, “I am almost 100 years; waiting for the end, and thinking about the beginning,” includes a strip of blue at the end, referencing the birth page.

Although the book is titled 100 Years, Prager wanted to include a passage about being 101 by Kurt Vonnegut. “I wanted it to be apart from the other passages but still a part of it. Milton designed that passage on a beautiful red ribbon that you could use as a book mark.”

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Vonnegut “101” ribbon. Click image to enlarge.

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“Books tell us who we’ve been, who we are, who we will be, too,” Prager said in a related TED talk. He noted that Glaser told him that, “Like art and color, literature helps us to remember what we’ve experienced.”

Glaser writes about his design concept for 100 Years,

…I wanted to have the reader/viewer experience the book rather than understand it. The annual passage of time is represented by the blended changing of color that runs horizontally through the book. Daily life, including dates of birth, seems to move vertically, and each page in the book also blends in color from top to bottom. The number changes style from page to page, creating a mutable relationship between the words and color.

What I’m hoping for in 100 Years is a work that changes every time you look at it depending on the context: lying open on a table, read in poor light, read in good light, read front to back, sideways or upside down.

Just as Glaser noted that the book is experienced differently depending on where/when it is opened and read (that is, light, etc.), Prager noted that so too is life experienced differently…. and yet, there are constants both in experiencing the book and life—the sequence of numbers, and the patterns of life.

Of our shared human experience, in Joseph and His Brothers, Thomas Mann wrote, “It will happen to me, as to them.”

Explore a selection of pages from the book:

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