Book List of the Week

Inspirations and Reflections of a Flâneur: Ken Carbone’s Book List

By Steve Kroeter July 12, 2012
Ken Carbone

Graphic designer Ken Carbone: Carbone Smolan Agency (New York)

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“Print is not dead in my life,” writes graphic designer Ken Carbone about his book list for Designers & Books. “I have shelves of books still in their shrink-wrap. I’m a certified book junkie.”

Carbone’s enthusiasm for collecting books is matched by the intensity the designer brings to the act of reading them. Approaching the process as if it were a set of design problems, he incorporates detailed notes and drawings on each book he reads into the pages of his journal. “When I begin a new book I commonly make a reduced color copy of the cover to use as a bookmark,” Carbone explains. “When I finish a book, I glue this into my journal and add notes, comments, and memorable passages as a way of reflecting on what I enjoyed. It’s like reading the book all over again.”

Ken Carbone’s 2008 journal entry for A World Without Us

In the spirit of celebrating his relationship to printed matter, Carbone offered Designers & Books a look inside his personal journal, citing two examples that appear on his book list. The first, The World Without Us by Alan Weisman, “is a profound book. It makes a convincing case that the planet is not in peril, it’s just waiting for us to go.” David Bayles and Ted Orland’s Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking gives “122 pages of valuable advice” and “is one of the most annotated books that I own.”

Ken Carbone's 2012 journal entry for Art & Fear

If reflection can imply an enduring relationship, then perhaps the role of books for Carbone is as lasting as the signage he and co-founder of the Carbone Smolan Agency, Leslie Smolan, designed for the Musée du Louvre 25 years ago. It is still used today. Carbone’s work has earned accolades from AIGA and the New York Art Directors Club as well as many other organizations, and is included in the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum’s permanent collection. His wide-ranging career as designer, musician, artist, author, and teacher resonates, not surprisingly, in his equally varied book list, a compilation of titles dedicated to culture, history, and the natural world.

“Dialog”: What Makes a Great Design Partnership., by Ken Carbone and Leslie Smolan, forthcoming October 2012 (Pointed Leaf Press)

Among the “fodder for inspiration and entertainment” are Winston Churchill’s out-of-print Painting as a Pastime (“if you find one, consider it a lost treasure”), Kirk Varnedoe’s A Fine Disregard (“it is almost impossible for me to look at a work of modern art or design without reflecting on what I learned from this book”), and Edmund White’s The Flâneur: A Stroll Through the Paradoxes of Paris. “‘A flâneur is a stroller, a loiterer, someone who ambles through a city without apparent purpose but is secretly attuned to the history of the place and in a covert search for adventure, aesthetic or erotic.’ That’s White’s definition and I wonder how I can sign up for the job.”

Note: Ken Carbone’s new book, co-authored with Leslie Smolan, “Dialog”: What Makes a Great Design Partnership.will be published this October by Pointed Leaf Press.


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