Most Frequently Chosen Books

10 Most Frequently Chosen Non-Design Books

June 9, 2014

These 10 books are the most frequently chosen by our designers and commentators in non-design areas—including fiction, children’s books, art and cultural history, and reference books.

Ulysses James Joyce

Serialized first in the Little Review in 1918 and published first in Paris in 1922, although its censorship for obscenity in America and England were not lifted until the mid-1930s. In terms of its story it defies abridgement or explanation except that it all takes place on one day, June 16, 1904, or Bloomsday, which was the anniversary of Joyce’s first walk with his beloved Nora Barnacle. It (very) loosely follows the episodes of Ulysses from The Odyssey of Homer though in a reordered form, with Stephen Dedalus representing Telemachus, Leopold Bloom Ulysses and Molly Bloom Penelope. The central characters explore various sites and happenings around Dublin such as a newspaper office, a brothel, a funeral, and public houses.

Invisible Cities Italo Calvino

Imaginary conversations between Marco Polo and his host, the Chinese ruler Kublai Khan, conjure up cities of magical times.

In Praise of Shadows Jun’ichiro Tanizaki

— Architect Tom Kundig (Olson Kundig Architects) comments on In Praise of Shadows:

“This has been an important book for my career. I’ve read it multiple times—it continues to be meaningful and I don't expect that will change. Shadows are more important than objects because they enter the realm of the mysterious. The white space is more important than the stroke of the pen. Shadows are the silent reason that objects are recognized; they give them shape. Shadows represent the soul of a place or object.”

— Lighting designer Paul Marantz (Fisher Marantz Sone) calls it: “The lighting designer’s basic text.“

— Critic Marco Romanelli describes it poetically: “The silence, the shadow, the lacquer, the beauty, the water, the garden, and the lesson that one flower is often enough.”

On 7 other designers’ Book Lists.

Moby Dick Herman Melville

— On 8 Designers & Books lists: Steven Holl, Phyllis Lambert, Greg Lynn, Margaret McCurry, Eric Own Moss, Jaquelin Robertson, Michael Rock, and Tod Williams

— Greg Lynn comments on Moby Dick:

“I first read this book when I was 14 years old while a volunteer first mate on a concrete sailboat in Lake Erie taking at-risk teens offshore for three to five days at a time.”

Lolita Vladimir Nabokov

When it was published in 1955, Lolita immediately became a cause celebre because of the freedom and sophistication with which it handled the unusual erotic predilections of its protagonist. But Vladimir Nabokov's wise, ironic, elegant masterpiece owes its stature as one of the 20th century's novels of record not to the controversy its material aroused but to its author's use of that material to tell a love story almost shocking in its beauty and tenderness. Awe and exhilaration—along with heartbreak and mordant wit--abound in this account of the aging Humbert Humbert's obsessive, devouring, and doomed passion for the nymphet Dolores Haze. Lolita is also the story of a hypercivilized European colliding with the cheerful barbarism of postwar America, but most of all, it is a meditation on love—love as outrage and hallucination, madness and transformation.

Ways of Seeing John Berger

— Graphic designer Milton Glaser comments on Ways of Seeing:

“Berger is incapable of writing without astonishing you.”

— Graphic designer Mark Fox (Design is Play) comments:

This slim but dense book explores the relationship between art, advertising, desire, and capitalism. One of my favorite passages exposes the sociopolitical dimension of advertising, using the British term publicity: “Publicity turns consumption into a substitute for democracy. The choice of what one eats (or wears or drives) takes the place of significant political choice.”

On 4 other designers’ Book Lists.

The Elements of Style (illustrated) William Strunk
E. B. White
Maira Kalman Illustrator

William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White’s classic writing manual has been enriched to include vibrant, witty, and instantly recognizable images by Maira Kalman, acknowledged by the E. B. White estate as the single artist trusted to illustrate the style guide. The Elements of Style originated in 1918 (authored by William Strunk). The revised version, which includes E. B. White’s contributions, has been in print in multiple editions since 1959.

A Little History of the World E. H. (Ernst) Gombrich

From the Publisher. Toward the end of his long life, Gombrich embarked upon a revision and, at last, an English translation. A Little History of the World presents his lively and involving history to English-language readers for the first time. Superbly designed and freshly illustrated, this is a book to be savored and collected.


Mythologies Roland Barthes

A collection of essays that explores the myths of mass culture, its symbols and signs, embedded in familiar aspects of modern life, unmasking the hidden ideologies and meanings that implicitly affect human thought and behavior.

The Fountainhead Ayn Rand

— Graphic designer (Pentagram) Michael Bierut comments on The Fountainhead:

“The designer as hero.”

— Graphic designer and art director (Knopf) Chip Kidd comments:

“A bit obvious, and more than a little embarrassing, this book nonetheless truly made me reevaluate what it means to be a designer, at a crucial time in my life (late college). It is NOT to be taken as gospel, but more as a cautionary tale of megalomania. Plus, as a soap opera it’s pretty hard to beat.”

— Architect Stanley Tigerman comments:

“I read The Fountainhead when I was 13 years old in 1943, put it down and decided to become an architect. One may question Rand’s politics, even the ideology of the self, but her gripping tale of an architect unapologetically motivated my prepubescent psyche.”

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