Book List of the Week

The Well-Written Sentence as an Act of Design: David Weeks’s Book List

By Steve Kroeter March 5, 2013
David Weeks

Product/Industrial designer David Weeks: David Weeks Studio (New York)

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Why do fiction and narrative hold such a great appeal for designers? One well-put answer comes from product designer David Weeks. “Whether it's a minor character in The World According to Garp who has halitosis and is described as ‘dying from the inside out‘ or Sartre’s description of finding his hand on a doorknob in Nausea, the fleeting imagery created from reading a well-written sentence is an act of design in itself.”

For Designers & Books, Weeks, acclaimed for his sculptural lighting and furniture, selects Primo Levi’s The Periodic Table (also on Jasper Morrison’s book list), in which the elements of the periodic table are springboards for mediations and memories on people, events, and objects. Weeks says, “This was required reading for the classes I taught at Parsons, in 1999–2004. The final chapter on carbon is so insightful and makes our relationship with the planet captivating.”

Weeks also recommends Vladimir Nabokov’s witty love story Ada, or Ardor, chosen for its “impeccable writing” and as a reminder of “how we lose our youthful passions as we accept the monotony of adult life.” He cites Michael Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion with the comment: “The drifting passages feel so close to how one’s memories and stream of disassembled thoughts tie themselves together and inform how we see our life in the present.” And in the savagely funny London Fields, Martin Amis’s “prose and cynicism are perfectly matched,” observes Weeks. “It’s rare that I read a book where the sentences form effortlessly before my eyes, and end up where I’d never expect.”

Giant Cubebot lounger (shown with Cubebot robot toys), by David Weeks with Quinze & Milan at Tom Dixon's MOST, Milan, Italy, 2012. Photo courtesy of David Weeks Studio

A sense of wit and play shows up in David Weeks’s work as well as in much of what he likes to read. In recent years he has designed a series of wooden robot toys called Cubebots, which come in various sizes, in addition to a line of award-winning wooden animals for Areaware that includes Hanno the Gorilla and Ursa the Bear.

With kids on his mind, we wondered, is there a children’s book he thinks is an “act of design”? Weeks came back with two favorites: Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl and The Great Pie Robbery by Richard Scarry.

“The point of view of Dahl’s books are so unexpected,” says Weeks. “Danny and his father live in a tiny carnival wagon behind a gas station, and have an opportunity to get back at a disrespectful customer—Danny’s father introduces him into the secret life of professional poachers, so they can poach the customer’s game hens. Dahl's book manages to create a father-and-son story, address the English class system, all while making poaching sound like an honorable endeavor.“ And for his other book choice, Weeks relates a story of his own: “Scarry's sure-handed illustrations are indelibly imprinted on my mind. I was in Faneuil Square in Boston when I was 17 and there was a pie shop whose pies were dead ringers for those drawn in Scarry’s book. I couldn't stop myself from pointing this out to the clerk, and she replied. ‘I know, everyone says that.’ It seems impossible that anyone else could draw a picture of a pie that is so memorable to so many people.”


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