By reducing well-known texts to their component parts, Sam Winston is an alternative wordsmith. But what is it about the books he sources for his work? Why Letters to a Young Poet and not the Narnia series? He tells us that his decade-long project, Orphan is constructed out of some very specific literary works: “These are not just books I like but also books that, I feel, have enough depth to create multiple readings. These books are by writers that seem to use language in a non-traditional way.” And with that, we invite him to tell us more about each choice in a special edition of Bookshelf…
“I wanted to bring oxygen into an area that sometimes only looks inward for its inspiration – instead of taking great design books as the point of departure, for me great literature is as valid a starting point.”
If This Is a Man / The Truce, Abacus – New edition edition (1988) p198 Primo Levi
I can’t really call this a favourite book because it seems to do more than just tell a story. If you were to read the cover, it would say it’s a man’s tale of survival in Auschwitz but that doesn’t explain what the book’s about. For me this is a story both about the darkness and most brilliant parts of what it is to be human. It’s one of the few books that I’ve read that stops being literature and becomes an essential part of our cultural history. If there is any book I’d wish anyone to read, it is this.
The Invention of Morel, New York Review Books (2003) p66 Adolfo Bioy Casares
The Invention of Morel starts off as diary entries of a man marooned on an island, and as the plot unfolds you find that he is not alone. The thing that is interesting within this story is that you’re unsure as to whether the main character is fictitious, or if we’re experiencing his fantasies. His diary entries record his relationship to mysterious people, yet they never seem to acknowledge him. You’re reading a story but you don’t know whose story it is.
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Penguin Classics; New Ed edition (2000) p91 James Joyce
The thing that’s interesting for me about Joyce was that he was one of the first authors I encountered that seemed to write in a way that was sympathetic to how thought can be wild and non-linear. “Pride and hope and desire like crushed herbs in his heart sent up vapours of maddening incense before the eyes of his mind. He strode down the hill amid the tumult of sudden risen vapours of wounded pride and fallen hope and baffled desire. They streamed upwards before his anguished eyes in dense and maddening fumes and passed away above him till at last the air was clean and cold again”
Letters to a Poet as a Young Man Rainer Maria Rilke
This book felt important because it was as if you were being spoken to by a voice from a different generation. A creative who’s had a lifetime’s worth of experience in making, writing and dealing with what it is to be an artist. In his letters to the young poet, he manages to convey a very genuine and sincere care for the dilemmas of this aspiring creative.
This book makes you want to create, and also work out what’s worth saying.
Orpheus: A Version of Rainer Maria Rilke, Faber and Faber (2006) p31 Don Paterson
I don’t know how many designers or visual artists read poetry but, for me, I see a great correlation between how poets work with language and how designers operate in the visual sphere. By being able to pull references from multiple directions and tie them into a cohesive whole – poet and designer share many commonalities.
One of the most important things in my learning has been reading outside of my comfort zone. That for me has led me to some of the more interesting discoveries. In truth, if I was to recommend one thing and one thing only, it would be this – read something that challenges what you know.