Books We Think Look Cool 2021
Fast cars, fashion, art history, space exploration, arboreal lore, and more.
Remember how people used to say “print is dead” and how depressing that made you feel? No more! This is an era of beautiful, unexpected pleasures provided by the printed page.
This year’s favorites feature classics new and old, spanning fast cars, fashion, art history, space exploration, GANNI girls, dunking on Ayn Rand, arboreal lore, and more.
Bill Cunningham: On the Street: Five Decades of Iconic Photography
One of the great (greatest?) chroniclers of New York City life, Bill Cunningham’s lens always caught more than just fashion. The faces, strides, attitudes, accessories, and clothes conveyed such unexpected depth of emotion from people participating in NYC’s most common yet exciting activity: walking from points A to B.
We’re big fans of Standards Manual, NASA archives, and groovy logos, so The Worm is essentially made for us. The only rule: every photograph has to show the classic visual identity, born in the 70s, unceremoniously dumped in the 90s, and now celebrated as a hall-of-famer.
Slim Aarons: Style
Nobody captured beautiful people doing beautiful things quite like Slim Aarons. He’s one of those artists who, upon seeing their retrospectives, you realize everybody copied and stole from. He defined our collective memory of glamour in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. And, he’s the inspiration for Jimmy Stewart’s character (and apartment) in Rear Window? What!
Treepedia: A Brief Compendium of Arboreal Lore
Utterly, completely charming. Part field guide, part holistic history, Joan Maloof’s Treepedia is a short, accessible book designed equally for naturalists and people who previously have not cared one whit about trees. Recommended for park trips big and small.
What Artists Wear
Fashion and art have been colliding since the inception of both. Charlie Porter’s glorious exploration of artists and the clothes they wore isn’t just eye candy. It directs us to think about how freedom, utility, politics, and transcendence make the artist’s body a palette for sartorial expression. Bonus: listen to this illuminating podcast with Porter and this excellent review in Glass.
Accompanying a triumphant, recently-concluded exhibit at Tate Britain, this accompanying volume affirms the obvious: Paula Rego is perhaps our greatest living artist who has continually stunned, provoked, questioned, amused, and depicted the world, and how women live in it, for 60 years (and counting).
An epic retrospective (600 pages!) of the Japanese designer Masayoshi Nakajo was released earlier this year, and it is a beautiful, bittersweet tribute (he passed away in late October). Over half a century his work showed up everywhere in Japan, and while the global design community knows his work, this is a perfect intro for fans of design at any level.
The Golden Age of Formula One
If Netflix’s Drive To Survive series has (surprisingly) piqued your interest in Formula One racing, check out this stunning collection of photos from F1’s 1960s archives. Dangerous cars, sexy people, big egos, cool outfits, jet-set locales, rivers of champagne, the occasional Beatle … c’mon!
A Dictionary of Color Combinations
Sanzo Wada (1883-1967) expressed the avant-garde through an incredibly fractious time in Japan’s history. And like many avant-garde geniuses, he worked as an artist, illustrator, and (or favorite) kimono and film costume designer. This pocket-sized set of color combinations from the 1930s is an inspiration jump-start for someone looking to learn from a true teacher.
Josef Albers: Interaction of Color
The seminal art education book from the first living artist to have a solo show at The Met still challenges our perceptions of color theory, perspective, boundaries, and intensity. Almost 60 years after publication it works as a guide and tool for artists and designers. Plus it does what all great art books should do: makes knowledge and exploration actually fun.
In the Blink of an Eye: A Perspective on Film Editing, 2nd Edition
The Conversation, The Godfather Saga, Apocalypse Now, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, The Talented Mr. Ripley, The English Patient … Walter Murch’s film and sound editing defined modern cinema. He’s a consummate storyteller who shows us not just how, but why things work (or don’t). Want a fresh way of looking at your creative decisions, no matter your discipline? This should be part of your permanent library.
Ruined by Design: How Designers Destroyed the World, and What We Can Do to Fix It
One of the all-time great book titles (and critiques) from Mike Monteiro. A must-read not just for designers but for the people who live in the world designers made: “The world is working exactly as designed. And it’s not working very well. Which means we need to do a better job of designing it.”