Warren Lehrer

Graphic Designer / United States / EarSay Inc.

Warren Lehrer’s Book List

I suppose it’s better to be addicted to books than a lot of other objects of desire and consumption. Still, when the walls of your home and your office are lined with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves filled to capacity—two books deep on a shelf—it can be a sign of problems lurking. Among other hazards of being a polyamorous bibliophile—choosing favorites is nearly impossible.

For this list, I decided to focus on works of visual literature: books (mostly fiction, some non-fiction, a few hybrids) whose visual composition is an integral part of the writing. The authors of these books employ a wide range of visual, typographic, and structural strategies. They seek to discover the shape of thought, give form to metaphors, reflect different kinds of relationships, syntax, rhythms of speech, qualities of character, and ways of reading. Most of these titles also incorporate images as a part of the storytelling. In some, the text becomes image, and images are part of the text. One book on this list uses only images to tell the story. Many of these authors take advantage of the physical properties of the book as a medium. Some put it all together themselves; others collaborate with designers and artists.

Stéphane Mallarmé’s vision (from over a century ago) of a radically new kind of book never really took hold beyond the “lunatic fringes” of the literary, art, or book-reading worlds. Although, now that the second wave of the digital revolution threatens the book (as we have known it), and writers have all kinds of writing machines at their disposal, a greater number of odd-looking novels and works of visual literature are finding their way into the hands of readers. It may not be a revolution, but in light of these interesting times for “vis lit,” here is my list of a few landmark or notable (modern and contemporary) works, and some comments. I also include three scholarly books that chronicle the field.

1 book
Eugene Ionesco
Robert Massin

Just as the Romanian playwright Eugene Ionesco was dissatisfied with the naturalistic theater conventions of his day when he wrote his 1948 “anti-play” The Bald Soprano, the French graphic designer Robert Massin sought to break open the traditions of play scripts in his 1964 page staging of the absurdist work. High-contrast photographs of the cast/actors confront the reader from the very first page, and are used throughout to indicate who is speaking (à la comic books). Each character is set in a different typeface. Instead of a banal setting of monotonous line after line of text, Massin’s layouts of Ionesco’s turned-upside-down scenarios throb with energy, change with the nature of the dialogue, and reflect the whispers, shouts, revelations, and simultaneous talking that take place on stage. Sentences bend around the corner of a napkin, words wobble and warp between the lips of a man and woman who come to realize that they are married to each other, and hell breaks loose in a layered argument that careens across the page at different angles—all done decades before Adobe software and Apple computers became tools of the trade.

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