The Editors | Essays

2005 Holiday Reading List

The holidays are always a great time to catch up with reading, and to make gifts to friends and relatives. We've put together a list of some of our favorite books — recent and not so recent — by Donald Albrecht, Nicholson Baker, Stuart Bailey, Phil Baines, John Berger, Michael Berman, Peter Bilak, Svetlana Boym, Margaret Brentano, Edward Burtynsky, John Christie, Colin Davis, Jim Dine, Umberto Eco, Leo Fabrizio, Jonathan Safran Foer, Lisa Gitelman, Tim Harford, Janfamily, Ricky Jay, Marla Hamburg Kennedy, Emily King, Brian Ladd, Erik Larson, J. Robert Lennon, Kristine McKenna, Jennifer New, Geoffrey Pingree, Graham Rawle, David Remnick, Simon Reynolds, Mark Stevens, Susan Stewart, Ben Stiller, William Strunk Jr., Deyan Sudjic, Annalyn Swan, Jonny Trunk and E.B. White. We hope you enjoy them.

Donald Albrecht

The Mythic City: Photographs of New York by Samuel H. Gottscho, 1925-1940 (Princeton Architectural Press, 2005)

Only a picture book, but what pictures! Commerical photographer Samuel Gottscho doesn't enjoy the same level of respect afforded Berenice Abbott and Paul Strand, but if you're looking for the quintessential images of the American metropolis at mid-century, here they are, in a book beautifully designed by Paul Carlos. [MB]

Nicholson Baker and Margaret Brentano

The World on Sunday: Graphic Art in Joseph Pulitzer's Newspaper (1898 - 1911) (Bulfinch, 2005)

Baker's crusade to challenge the premises of modern library science has led to an ongoing effort to preserve century-old newspapers; what Baker and Brentano show in this lavishly illustrated volume is a revelation. [MB]

Stuart Bailey and Peter Bilak

Dot Dot Dot X (Princeton Architectural Press, 2005)

Dot Dot Dot has become, in only a few short years, a leading design journal of essays and commentary. We want to support them: buy their newest issue and then subscribe. [WD]

Phil Baines

Penguin by Design: A Cover Story 1935-2005 (Penguin, 2005)

British graphic design during the early and middle part of the 20th century lacked the fizz and swagger of American design, nor did it have the studied introspection of European design. But in Penguin book jackets, Britain came close to producing, over a number of decades, a consistently dazzling body of design work that rivals any of the great monuments of graphic design. [AS]

John Berger

I Send You This Cadmium Red: A Correspondence between John Berger and John Christie (Actar, 2000)

A correspondence between two friends, this book follows a dialogue and art project that evolved from a single printed square of Cadmium Red. A remarkable book with the actual letters between these two thinkers. [WD]

Michael Berman and Kristine McKenna

Semina Culture: Wallace Berman & His Circle (D.A.P., 2005)

A deeply historical look into the work of Beat artist/ poet/printer/impressario Wallace Berman and all of the contributors to the short-lived but extremely influential proto-zine Semina, published in Los Angeles between 1955 and 1964. [LW]

Svetlana Boym

The Future of Nostalgia (Basic Books, 2001)

Like many theorists, Boym is skeptical of nostalgia's contribution to a kind of widespread
cultural amnesia. Her book is really an investigation of longing as a deeply human attribute:
compelling reading for anyone thinking (as I do) about how what you make reaches people
in ways you can't possibly see. [JH]

Edward Burtynsky

China (Steidl Publishing, 2005)

Stunning work of massive proportions. Highways that loop into infinity, factories whose assembly stations stretch into the horizon, virtually unimaginable extractions of natural resources. [TV]

Colin Davis

The Prefabricated Home (Reaktion Books, 2005)

Architectural historian Davis gives the definitive history of modernism's long-sought-after
shangri-la — the factory-made home. [TV]

Jim Dine

The Photographs, So Far (Volume 1-4) (Steidl Publishing, 2003)

This is monograph is a total surprise in my collection: I never thought of Jim Dine as a photographer. This 4-volume, slipcased edition is the photography collection of the season. [WD]

Umberto Eco

The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana (Harcourt Books, 2005)

A fictional tale of a rare book dealer who loses his memory, only to be reawakened through
an extended visit to his country home, where he rediscovers the early twentieth-century paper
ephemera of his youth. [JH]

Leo Fabrizio

Bunkers (Infolio, 2004)

The Swiss have the world's most advanced civil defense structure in the world — a bunker in every home — and photographer Fabrizio catalogs the curious variety of subterranean shelters as they peek out from the Alpine landscapes, lurking under ersatz rocks or hidden in the shadows of vernacular architecture. [TV]

Jonathan Safran Foer

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Houghton Mifflin, 2005)

I was not a fan of Foer's first novel, Everything is Illuminated, but after a spirited discussion here at Design Observer, I read his second, and was knocked out: great storytelling, memorable characters, and inventive visuals that make the book a design achievement as well as a literary one. [MB]

Lisa Gitelman and Geoffrey B. Pingree, eds.

New Media 1740-1915 (MIT Press, 2003)

I am a sucker for anything that debunks hype, so I was easily drawn to this collection of essays
that reconsider the notion that new media are "new" relative to existing forms of expression. [JH]

Tim Harford

The Undercover Economist: Exposing Why the Rich Are Rich, the Poor Are Poor—and Why You Can Never Buy a Decent Used Car! (Oxford University Press, 2005)

Freakonomics fans will find more delightful exceptions to the "dismal science" to digest here as Harford unpacks the beguiling mysteries of everything from Starbucks escalating price structures (and why the large price gap between a grande mocha and a regular coffee has more to do with attitude than real costs) to the myth that Whole Foods (a.k.a. 'Whole Paycheck') is more expensive than competing supermarkets. [TV]


Plans for Other Days (Booth-Clibborn Editions, 2005)

Recently emerged from the postgraduate course at the Royal College of Art, the Janfamily occupy a dreamy hinterland between art and graphic design. The work of Nina Jan Beier and Marie Jan Lund, and a host of friends also with the adopted name Jan, is too un-rhetorical to be seen as contemporary art, yet too ethereal to qualify as graphic design. [AS]

Ricky Jay

Extraordinary Exhibitions: The Wonderful Remains of an Enormous Head, The Whimsiphusicon & Death to the Savage Unitarians (Quantuck Lane Press, 2005)

This collection of broadsides captures the bizarre and extreme interests of Ricky Jay; they also contain wonderfully rich collages of typography and illustration. One of the best gift books of the year. [WD]

Marla Hamburg Kennedy and Ben Stiller

Looking at Los Angeles (Metropolis Books / D.A.P., 2005)

A rich visual compendium on archival and contemporary photographs of
the city that defies description. [LW]

Emily King

Robert Brownjohn: Sex and Typography (Princeton Architectural Press, 2005)

Well-researched biographical account of the life of a great graphic auteur. The late English music critic Ian MacDonald had a theory that you could tell the worth of someone by whether they made a suitable subject for a biography. Not many graphic designers would pass MacDonald's test. Brownjohn does. [AS]

Brian Ladd

The Ghosts of Berlin: Confronting German History in the Urban Landscape (University Of Chicago Press, 1998)

I spent my sleepless jet-lagged pre-dawn hours in Berlin recently devouring Ladd's fascinating survey of the contested landscape of this perpetually evolving city — more essential than any guidebook, architectural history as post-Cold War thriller. [TV]

Erik Larson

The Devil in the White City (Vintage, 2004)

An entertaining non-fiction account, now in paperback, of how architect Daniel Burnham created Chicago's Columbian Exposition of 1893, and of a deranged serial murderer who preyed on its visitors, told mostly in alternating chapters; unlike the general public, readers of Design Observer may find the story of the architect's travails more harrowing than that of the murderer's. [MB]

J. Robert Lennon

The Mailman: A Novel (W.W. Norton, 2003)

Picture an anti-hero from Celine transported to a small upstate New York City and put in the employ of the Postal Service. Biting, disturbing, scabrously funny. [TV]

Jennifer New

Drawing from Life: The Journal as Art (Princeton Architectural Press, 2005)

A refreshing and inspiring art book, this volume chronicles the work of thirty-one artists through their notebooks and diaries. There is a lot of raw art — and methodology — revealed. [WD]

Graham Rawle

Woman's World: A Novel (Atlantic Books, 2005)

I owe this recommendation to Rick Poynor, who led me to order a copy from England. "Has anyone ever created a novel quite like collage artist Graham Rawle's new book, Woman's World? First he composed a conventional 40,000-word story. Then he spent five years reconstructing the narrative as closely as he could, using words, phrases, sentences and little images cut from women's magazines of the early 1960s. He stuck these down in narrow columns, divided into chapters, to make a collage text 437 pages long." Anyway, it's worth the order from Amazon UK. [WD]

David Remnick, Introduction

The Complete New Yorker : Eighty Years of the Nation's Greatest Magazine (Random House, 2005)

That little old lady in Dubuque is going to need a faster laptop: here is very article, every cartoon, every illustration, every advertisement, exactly as it appeared on the printed page of America's most venerable magazine, in full color, on eight searchable DVDs. [MB]

Simon Reynolds

Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984 (Penguin, 2006)

Reynolds is the sharpest voice in contemporary music criticism. His examination of the postpunk era is timely: many of the bands he writes about are currently lionised by a new generation of pop musicians. In retrospect, this era, distinguished by the rise of Thatcherreganism, is revealed as the last flowering of the concept of 'independence' in pop music. After 1984 pop music became corporatised, and the spirit of independence was reduced to the bat squeak it is today. [AS]

Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan

De Kooning: An American Master (Knopf, 2004)

As Amazon tells it, "Raised by a mom who beat him with wooden shoes, de Kooning escaped
Rotterdam as a stowaway on a freighter and found a second family in New York's rampageous art
bohemia. He subsisted on ketchup and booze, and broke through around 1950 with dazzling
abstract expressionist canvases inspired by what was in the air: cubism, surrealism, jazz, and
film noir." Read on! [JH]

Susan Stewart

The Open Studio : Essays on Art and Aesthetics (University of Chicago Press, 2005)

Susan Stewart is a keen observer of contemporary art, and her book speaks, in general, to the open minded nature of the creative process. I find her much more readable than, say, Barbara Stafford, and I appreciate her love of language and her great philosophical strides. (When not writing criticism, Stewart is a poet.) [JH]

William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, illustrated by Maira Kalman

The Elements of Style Illustrated (Penguin, 2005)

If there is anyone who already is attempting to work in the world of language and communication without their own copy of "Strunk and White," Maira Kalman's wonderful illustrations should provide reason alone to buy this indispensible book, elegantly designed by Peter Buchanan-Smith. [MB]

Deyan Sudjic

The Edifice Complex : How the Rich and Powerful Shape the World (Penguin, 2005)

One of the world's best design critics offers a timely analysis of how politics and economics shape architecture. [MB]

Jonny Trunk

The Music Library: Graphic Art and Sound (Fuel Publishing, 2005)

A compilation of record covers, mainly from the 60s and 70s, that housed library music. This was music produced by session musicians for use on TV and radio, and in movies and advertising. Intended for a purely professional audience, much of the music has an outsiderish glamour and is highly prized by a new generation of sample-hungry DJs and producers. The sleeves are wonderful specimens of outsider graphic art. The book is designed and published by Murray & Sorrell Fuel. [AS]

Comments [6]

Tom, J. Robert Lennon wrote Mailman, David Brin wrote The Postman. Consider yourself outed as a Kevin Costner fan! (Don't fret, I like his films too)
m. kingsley

M. Kingsley, thanks for the correction, which has been made to our list.
William Drenttel

I would like to say that the revision Strunk & White's,The Elements of Style is absolutely gorgeous. The book now reads like a novel. Maira Kalman has a truly wonderful spirit.

I'm so glad that you liked Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close enough to put it on the Holiday Reccomendations list, Michael! Your suggestion of Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go was spot on; I loved it and would definitely add it to this list as well. It's a new favorite to lend out to enquiring minds.

Right now I'm reading Basbanes's Every Books Its Reader, and am enjoying the writing (the H&J's though . . .). Happy holidays/reading.

I greatly appreciate this list.
Benoit Brookens

Thank you for the list. I ordered "Woman's World: A Novel." I loved "The Humument" and this is going to be right up my alley!


Jobs | June 17