As anyone who’s walked past the CR team’s bank of desks will tell you, we are fortunate enough to be sent a good few books over the course of a year. And 2017 has certainly been no exception. If anything, it has brought more variety in print than ever.
So with this in mind, our ten books of the year range from ‘graphic memoir’ to monograph, film script to photobook. There are histories of type and of an iconic style magazine; books on graphic design for New York City and also North Korea; a look at a life in charge of a leading theatre and a detailed study of a movie monster first created in the 19th-century (in a book, naturally).
We hope you enjoy our diverse selection of good reads.
Made in North Korea: Graphics from Everyday Life in The DPRK by Nicholas Bonner, Phaidon; £24.95
This fascinating collection of ephemeral design sourced from North Korea offers a rare glimpse of everyday life in the secretive state. Bonner’s examples include everything from stamps and tickets to postcards and packaging, the latter group providing the most revealing selection.
Even with a proliferation of traditional motifs, heritage palettes and functional design (there is no requirement to promote one product over another because there is little to no competition), the DPRK’s graphic designers still have room for visual appeal and flair.
Buddhist and Confucian influences appear alongside USSR-inspired artwork and, since the early 2000s, an international influence has also started to seep in. The design of these mundane objects also, of course, speaks volumes about the conditions in which they were created. Read our interview with Bonner here.
Buy it from phaidon.com
I Am Not Your Negro by James Baldwin, edited by Raoul Peck, Penguin Classics/Vintage; £8.99
A text assembled from 30 pages of notes written by the American writer James Baldwin that became a film script for a documentary about the civil rights movement may seem like an unusual choice for our list, but Raoul Peck’s handling of the material both in print and on screen is masterful. “My job was to find the unwritten book,” Peck writes in the introduction to this fascinating work, which became the backbone to his film I Am Not Your Negro.
Designed by Christopher M Zucker the book incorporates numerous stills from the film and becomes a collage of fragments of Baldwin’s own unrealised work, of photographs of him and of the rights movement’s main protagonists – Medgar Evers (d. 1963), Malcolm X (d. 1965) and Martin Luther King Jr (d. 1968) – each of whom was assassinated.
While Baldwin nails America’s position on race in the turbulent years of the mid-20th century, Peck takes his words and retransmits them for our time, where, perhaps, they have never been so relevant (or more necessary). Read our review of the book and the film, here.
Buy the book at penguin.co.uk
Two-Dimensional Man: A Graphic Memoir by Paul Sahre, Abrams Press; £26.99
Designer Paul Sahre’s ‘graphic memoir’ provides a welcome change from the typical design monograph. While featuring plenty of examples of his work, it also tells the story of his evolution as a designer – from his early interest in record sleeves and job as a sign-painter, to his celebrated book designs and collaborations with some of the world’s biggest bands.
The main difference is that this exploration is placed within the context of his family life and how those formative figures around him have affected his wider experience and professional work. The result is a book that describes less a career in graphic design, but a life full of creativity. Read our interview with Sahre here.
Buy it from abramsandchronicle.co.uk
Paula Scher: Works, Unit Editions; £65
Few graphic designers can claim a profile quite like that of Paula Scher. Revered as a practitioner, a long-term Pentagram partner and a visual artist, Scher also has a wealth of experience and knowledge of a wide range of industry topics.
Unit’s extensive monograph offers an insight into the designer’s work to date: from her early years in the music business, first studio Koppel & Scher and her many Pentagram projects that, while gaining an international audience, have also become a part of the urban landscape specific to New York City – from The Public theatre to MoMA via the High Line.
The book also includes a good selection of what is often referred to as ‘personal work’ – art projects, social and political campaigns. Here, these things are shown as being very much part of Scher’s creative life as a whole – and elements that can come in and out of professional work as she needs them. There’s great work and great advice throughout.
Buy it from uniteditions.com
The Story of The Face: The Magazine that Changed Culture by Paul Gorman, Thames & Hudson; £34.95
Few books this year were as highly-anticipated as Paul Gorman’s extensive history of The Face, the UK style magazine that “changed culture” during the 1980s and 90s.
With an approach more akin to that of a BBC4 music doc in printed form, Gorman charts the eventful course of Nick Logan’s title and acknowledges the importance of The Face’s visual contributors – in particular, the role that Neville Brody and, later, Phil Bicker played in establishing its graphic language and willingness to use new, experimental photographers.
The book also celebrates the sheer passion involved in bringing a new voice into the world of publishing, not to mention the value in trusting one’s talent to create a magazine that your readers simply cannot do without. Read our review of the book, here.
Buy it from thamesandhudson.com
The Visual History of Type by Paul McNeil, Laurence King; £60
The success of Paul McNeil’s huge volume dedicated to typography is in part down to replicating the original type specimens (or their earliest printing) of particular landmark typefaces. If it sounds like a relatively simple idea, it works brilliantly well here – as the generous imagery is supplemented with a brief history and exposition of the key aspects of each of the 320 typefaces in question.
It’s accessible, highly readable and, moreover, a type book to pore over and simply enjoy as the history of the medium evolves chronologically from page to page.
We asked our Art Director, Paul Pensom, to pick some of his favourites from the book – a tricky job that saw him focus on a range of stylistic approaches from Thorne’s Modern to Walbaum, via Figgins Antique. You can read about his choices, here.
Buy it from laurenceking.com
Can Graphic Design Save Your Life? by Lucienne Roberts and Rebecca Wright, GraphicDesign&; £17.50
Published to coincide with GraphicDesign&’s exhibition at the Wellcome Collection, co-curated with Shamita Sharmacharja, this well-researched book featured 40 projects for healthcare. As a record of examples of graphic design working in the field, the book sheds more light on the role that design can play in saving lives and improving wellbeing through the clear delivery of information.
Structured thematically like the exhibition – sections include Persuasion, Education, Hospitalisation, Medication, Contagion and Provocation – the book features a wide range of projects, from unbranded cigarette packaging and anti-smoking stamps, to STI self-testing kits, identities for hospitals, the design of a health magazine and various public awareness campaigns.
Buy it from graphicdesignand.com
Frankenstein: The First Two Hundred Years by Sir Christopher Frayling, Reel Art Press; £29.95
Since its publication on New Year’s Day 1818, Mary Shelley’s novel has continued to transfix readers, but her story has also evolved a second and third life in the theatre and on film, where the image of the creature – ‘Frankenstein’s monster’ – has become an icon of the horror canon.
In his new book on the subject, Christopher Frayling looks at how the image of the monster and the elements of his formation – from his mad scientist creator and laboratory, to the thunder and lightning – are so embedded within our visual culture.
The book is of course rich with imagery – some of it rarely seen or previously unpublished – but it is the skill with which Frayling charts the story of this character (and his knowledge of its mythic conception) that takes the book into new territory. Following The 2001 File, this is another great book from Frayling that interrogates a specific part of screen culture and reveals its wider influence on our world. Read our extensive interview with him, here.
Buy it from reelartpress.com
Generation Wealth by Lauren Greenfield, Phaidon; £59.95
Lauren Greenfield’s enormous book of photography examining our materialist obsessions won book of the year in our recent Photography Annual. The collection looks back on 25 years of excess and examines a range of themes from the increasing presence of affluent lifestyles in our media to how advertising has encouraged our addiction to goods and superficiality.
While the subjects of Greenfield’s book might seem tightly enclosed within the super-rich bubble, the photographer forces the reader to examine their own place within the culture. In a way, Greenfield’s pictures read like a visual history that ends with one man: Trump. Read our interview with Greenfield, here.
Buy it from phaidon.com
Balancing Acts: Behind the Scenes at the National Theatre by Nicholas Hytner, Jonathan Cape; £20
Nicholas Hytner ran London’s National Theatre for 12 years but his book recalling his time there would have you believe his length of service was much longer. Balancing Acts offers a glimpse of the job he took on, including the successes he enjoyed and the challenges and failures he endured.
In terms of detailing the creative process, some of the most interesting aspects of the book concern how modern theatre is made, from the transformative aspect of a play’s journey from script to stage, to the ‘balancing act’ of mixing art and commerce and how an institution might attract new audiences (the Travelex cheap tickets scheme and the innovative NT Live cinema broadcasts were both established under Hytner’s tenure).
Two of the biggest plays staged during Hytner’s time at the NT – visual spectacles War Horse and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – suggest that the way we ‘experience’ theatre is enjoying something of a transformation, too. Read an extract from the book, here.
Buy it from penguin.co.uk