Inga Sempé

Product/Industrial Designer; Lighting Designer / France / Inga Sempé

Inga Sempé’s Book List

I am mainly interested in books for their text. I never buy or read “design” books. Books have always been important to me (although I'm finding less time to read at present).

Almost 95 percent of the books I have read were given to me by my mother. Usually books that have been suggested by others have turned out to be disappointing and heavy. Now I hardly trust people when they say they liked a book. I am becoming more interested in reading autobiographies—to hear the voice of a person talking about his or her life.

9 books
Pierre Bourdieu
Translated by Richard Nice

In the same vein as Kitsch by Gillo Dorfles, this book contains more sociological explanations about the differences in taste among social classes

Edward Koren

I had a really strict education in cartoonists from my parents (French cartoonist Jean-Jacques Sempé and illustrator Mette Ivers). This is one of the only books by a cartoonist I own, which I read quite often as it is so funny—and I don’t laugh easily.

Louise Fitzhugh

A very unusual children's book that tells the story of an 11-year-old girl in New York being shunned by her friends and classmates, because they caught her writing notes about them in her diary after she spied on them. My mother did the illustrations for the French version of this book (Harriet l’espionne, illustrated by Mette Ivers) when I was already a grownup, but the book is so subtle and original, that I have read it several times.

Georges Simenon

In these thrillers, written by a Belgian, the protagonist, Commissaire (“Inspector”) Maigret, displays a typically French character. Very calm, he doesn’t smile a lot. The guilty party is almost always a man who has killed because his wife, sister, mother, or lover—a mean woman—has driven him to become a murderer. Putting aside this caricatural point, I love the description of a France and a Paris that I haven’t really known, the France of my parents. It gives a very precise portrait of France during the 1940s, ’50, and ’60s, that includes rich and poor, Parisian and provincial people, and the smells of heavy cooking smells or bodies in tiny, badly ventilated rooms. Written in a very simple but wonderful way, I can read the Maigret books again and again, even if I remember who the murderer is!

Marta Hillers

First published with the author listed as anonymous, this diary describes the life of a young woman in Berlin while it was occupied by the Russians immediately after World War II. What I liked was that her voice sounds so contemporary—I had the feeling I knew her, and that she was of my generation.

Gillo Dorfles

I have always been surprised by the strange cycle of good and bad taste. It is never definitive. One thing can be regarded as ugly after having been considered a masterpiece. This analysis of kitsch, which I read as a design student, was really helpful.

Roman Polanski

Roman Polanski’s autobiography, which illuminates the ups and terrible downs he endured throughout his life—from his childhood in the Warsaw ghetto, to his life hidden in the countryside during World War II, up to the 1980s. His strength is impressive. I found especially interesting all the problems he had to work through to produce his movies. This reminds me of the difficulties designers also face in bringing a product into existence. Just like movie directors, we depend on many different people in the design fields, whose aims are not the same as ours.

Vladimir Nabokov

One cries, one laughs, one is surprised. Nothing is caricature in this book. It is not a societal portrait—it is a portrait of characters who are not meant to show an example or give a message. This is what I want from books: to be taken away, transported. (I’m afraid that if Nabokov were to publish this book today he would be accused of being a pedophile and sent to jail.)

Grisélidis Réal

An autobiographical account of a woman who chose to become a prostitute in Switzerland in the second half of the 20th century. She fought for the rights of sex workers for whom she became a militant leader. In the book she describes her daily work in Geneva and the sexual misery of the men she tried to help, outlining all the squalid aspects of her activity with a precise clear-sightedness. Grisélidis Real offers a very interesting view of a subject that is seldom discussed and far too often obscured by a prevailing Manichean moralism.

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