Themed Book Lists

15 Books About Books

August 6, 2014

From our archives, now updated! Fifteen books that look at the book as designed object—from Irma Boom, Warren Lehrer, Peter Mendelsund, Ed Ruscha, and other contributors.

Frontispiece of Various Small Books: Referencing Various Small Books of Ed Ruscha, edited by Jeff Brouws (2013, The MIT Press)
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Bibliographic Jason Godfrey

From the Publisher. A fantastic compilation of the best design books of the last 100 years.

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The Book of Books Mathieu Lommen Editor

From the Publisher. Since the 15th century, the printed book has been an essential carrier of information. And, for more than 500 years, there have been designers, printers, and publishers who have extended the boundaries of their professions aesthetically and technically, producing books that are masterpieces of graphic art.

This sumptuous collection tells the history of the printed book through milestone publications and little-known treasures of the art of the book. The noted originators range from Jenson and Bellaert in the 15th century through Piranesi, Bodoni, and Bewick to Morris, Gill, Tschichold, and Birdsall in the modern age. The featured publications include The Nuremberg Chronicle from 1493—a masterpiece of integrated text and illustration; Maria Sibylla Merian’s book of insects from 1719; Muybridge’s 1887 Animal Locomotion; a photomontage book by John Heartfield published in 1929; and a 1937 edition of The Frogs by Aristophanes, produced by the Limited Editions Club of New York.

Mathieu Lommen has published several books on type and book design. He is a curator and teacher of graphic design history at the University of Amsterdam.

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By Its Cover Ned Drew
Paul Spencer Sternberger

From the Publisher. We all know we're not supposed to judge books by their covers, but the truth is that we do just that nearly every time we walk into a bookstore or pull a book off a tightly packed shelf. It's really not something we should be ashamed about, for it reinforces something we sincerely believe: design matters. At its best, book cover design is an art that transcends the publisher's commercial imperatives to reflect both an author's ideas and contemporary cultural values in a vital, intelligent, and beautiful way. In this groundbreaking and lavishly illustrated history, authors Ned Drew and Paul Sternberger establish American book cover design as a tradition of sophisticated, visual excellence that has put shape to our literary landscape. By Its Cover traces the story of the American book cover from its inception as a means of utilitarian protection for the book to its current status as an elaborately produced form of communication art. It is, at once, the intertwined story of American graphic design and American literature, and features the work of such legendary figures as Rockwell Kent, E. McKnight Kauffer, Paul Rand, Alvin Lustig, Rudy deHarak, and Roy Kuhlman along with more recent and contemporary innovators including Push Pin Studios, Chermayeff & Geismar, Carin Goldberg, Chip Kidd, and John Gall.

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Cover Peter Mendelsund

From the Publisher. Peter Mendelsund has enjoyed years as a much-sought-after book cover designer and art director. Among the many recognizable jackets he has created are those for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; collections of the works of Joyce, Kafka, Dostoevsky, de Beauvoir, and Foucault; the contemporary works of Martin Amis, Tom McCarthy, Ben Marcus, Jo Nesbø, and James Gleick; and many more. All have greatly benefited from the care and touch Mendelsund gave them. Cover abounds with Mendelsund’s completed book jackets along with ephemera from his previously unseen creative method, including jacket sketches, interior art and editorial illustrations, and scores of rejected drafts. These images are punctuated by Mendelsund’s reflections on his work and his process, as well as by texts from writers with whom he has worked and designed for. Cover is a compendium of beautiful design and a beautiful design object itself; a profile and celebration of one of the publishing world’s most talented and prolific contemporary creators, and a brilliant showcase of his deft touch for balanced and innovative design.

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Fully Booked: Ink on Paper Robert Klanten Editor
Matthias Hübner Editor
Andrew Losowsky Editor

From the Publisher. Fully Booked: Ink on Paper is a showcase of innovative books and other print products at the vanguard of a new era for printed publications—one that is likely to be the most exciting in their entire history.

This book is structured into five chapters that each represent a key role that print plays today: The Storyteller, The Showmaster, The Teacher, The Businessman, and The Collector. From personal projects with the smallest print runs to premium artist books or brand publications, the selection of work presented here celebrates the tactile experience. Featuring innovative printing and binding techniques as well as radical editorial and design concepts, this work explores the distinctiveness of design, materials, workmanship, and production methods—and pushes their limits.

 

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Irma Boom: The Architecture of the Book Irma Boom
Introduction by Rem Koolhaas
Text by Mathieu Lommen

— Brain Pickings founder and editor Maria Popova, called the mini edition of Irma Boom: The Architecture of the Book:

“A micro-manifesto for the printed book at its most alive.”

#1 Design Best Seller at Van Alen Books, New York (January 2014).

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A Life In Books Warren Lehrer

From the Publisher. A Life In Books: The Rise and Fall of Bleu Mobley is an illuminated novel containing 101 books within it, all written by Lehrer’s protagonist, author Bleu Mobley, who finds himself in prison looking back on his life and career.

Nearly a year after the controversial author is thrown into a federal prison for refusing to reveal the name of a confidential source, he decides to break his silence. But it’s not as simple as giving up a name to the grand jury. Over the course of one long night, in the darkness of his prison cell, he whispers his life story into a microcassette recorder, tracing his journey from the public housing project of his youth, to a career as a journalist, then experimental novelist, college professor, accidental bestselling author, pop-culture pundit, and unindicted prisoner.

In A Life In Books, Mobley’s autobiography/apologia is paired with a review of all 101 of his books. Each book is represented by its first-edition cover design and catalogue copy, and more than a third of his books are excerpted. The resulting retrospective contrasts the published writings (which read like short stories) with the author’s confessional memoir, forming a most unusual portrait of a well-intentioned, obsessively inventive (but ethically challenged) visionary.

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Little Big Books Robert Klanten Editor
Hendrik Hellige Editor

From the Publisher. Featuring the work of the best up-and-coming illustrators and creators of picture books for children, Little Big Books is a captivating showcase of what is state-of-the-art in today’s children’s books.

Despite, or because of, the ubiquity of televisions and computers, picture books have remained popular with kids and parents. These books have also not lost their appeal for illustrators and publishing houses—not least because a hit children’s book can serve as the lucrative basis for TV programs, video games, toys, or other merchandising. In addition to its presentation of cutting-edge visuals from around the world, Little Big Books offers insightful texts for those who hope to create or market visual content for children. These include interviews with experts about the educational aspects, make-up, and psychology of children’s picture books as well as the significance of children’s book awards and practical advice on publishing rights and licensing. The publication is rounded out with an introduction that puts current work into the historical context of classic books by the genre’s seminal pioneers.

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Living with Books Dominique Dupuich
Roland Beaufre

From the Publisher. A home filled with books can be a place of inspiration in more ways than one. Bookcases, bookshelves, entire rooms; far from being simple storage spaces, home libraries reveal the personalities and lifestyles of their owners. They are always very personal and unpredictable, whether they have been specially created in a separate room of fitted into nooks and crannies all over the house.

Artists, interior decorators, graphic designers, fashion designers, writers, collectors, journalists, and business people: all have different ways of engaging with books as a design challenge. Here we see how they have built the libraries of their dreams, and we explore the many ways of striking a balances between style and practicality, modern trends and classic styling, strict organization and carefree clutter.

The illustrations show how the right combination of shelving, lighting, and accessories can be brought together with a dash of imagination to create a truly unique interior.

Dominique Dupuich is a journalist who has worked for Marie Claire and Glamour, among others. Roland Beaufre's photographs have appeared in numerous books and magazines. Both live in Paris.

10
75 Artist Books Clemens von Lucius

From the Publisher. In this abundantly illustrated catalogue raisonne, collector and Kaldewey devotee Clemens von Lucius presents in detail all seventy-five books published to-date including books published in cooperation with artists such as Mischa Kuball, Jonathan Lasker, Heribert C. Ottersbach, Richard Tuttle, and Hans Peter Willberg. 75 Artist Books includes an introductory essay describing the design process and an interview with the publisher himself.

11
Sorted Books Nina Katchadourian
Introduction by Brian Dillon

From the Publisher. Delighting in the look and feel of books, conceptual artist Nina Katchadourian’s playful photographic series proves that books’ covers—or more specifically, their spines—can speak volumes. Over the past two decades, Katchadourian has perused libraries across the globe, selecting, stacking, and photographing groupings of two, three, four, or five books so that their titles can be read as sentences, creating whimsical narratives from the text found there. Thought-provoking, clever, and at times laugh-out-loud funny (one cluster of titles from the Akron Museum of Art’s research library consists of: Primitive Art /Just Imagine/Picasso/Raised by Wolves), Sorted Books is an enthralling collection of visual poems full of wry wit and bookish smarts.

12
Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books Leah Price

From the Publisher. A gorgeous second volume in the popular Unpacking My Library series, this book explores the bookshelves of thirteen favorite novelists and uncovers the stories behind their lifetimes of reading and writing.

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Unpacking My Library: Architects and Their Books Jo Steffens

From the Publisher. How do books map the intellectual tastes of their readers? This alluring volume provides an intimate look at the personal libraries and top ten reading lists of twelve of the world’s leading architects.

14
Various Small Books: Referencing Various Small Books of Ed Ruscha Jeff Brouws Editor and Compiler
Wendy Burton Editor and Compiler
Hermann Zschiegner Editor and Compiler

From the Publisher. In the 1960s and 1970s, the artist Ed Ruscha created a series of small photo-conceptual artist’s books, among them Twentysix Gas Stations, Various Small Fires, Every Building on the Sunset Strip, Thirtyfour Parking Lots, Real Estate Opportunities, and A Few Palm Trees. Featuring mundane subjects photographed prosaically, with idiosyncratically deadpan titles, these “small books” were sought after, collected, and loved by Ruscha’s fans and fellow artists. Over the past 30 years, close to 100 other small books that appropriated or paid homage to Ruscha’s have appeared throughout the world. This book collects 91 of these projects, showcasing the cover and sample layouts from each along with a description of the work. It also includes selections from Ruscha’s books and an appendix listing all known Ruscha book tributes.

These small books revisit, imitate, honor, and parody Ruscha in form, content, and title. Some rephotograph his subjects: Thirtyfour Parking Lots, Forty Years Later. Some offer a humorous variation: Various Unbaked Cookies (which concludes, as did Ruscha’s Various Small Fires, with a glass of milk), Twentynine Palms (29 photographs of palm-readers’ signs). Some say something different: None of the Buildings on Sunset Strip. Some reach for a connection with Ruscha himself: 17 Parked Cars in Various Parking Lots Along Pacific Coast Highway Between My House and Ed Ruscha’s.

With his books, Ruscha expanded the artist’s field of permissible subjects, approaches, and methods. With Various Small Books, various artists pay tribute to Ed Ruscha and extend the legacy of his books.

15
What We See When We Read Peter Mendelsund

From the Publisher. A gorgeously unique, fully illustrated exploration into the phenomenology of reading—how we visualize images from reading works of literature, from one of our very best book jacket designers, himself a passionate reader. What do we see when we read? Did Tolstoy really describe Anna Karenina? Did Melville ever really tell us what, exactly, Ishmael looked like? The collection of fragmented images on a page—a graceful ear there, a stray curl, a hat positioned just so—and other clues and signifiers helps us to create an image of a character. But in fact our sense that we know a character intimately has little to do with our ability to concretely picture our beloved—or reviled—literary figures. In this remarkable work of nonfiction, Knopf's Associate Art Director Peter Mendelsund combines his profession, as an award-winning designer; his first career, as a classically trained pianist; and his first love, literature—he considers himself first and foremost as a reader—into what is sure to be one of the most provocative and unusual investigations into how we understand the act of reading.

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