Supermundane has been so good as to provide us with a most excellent selection of texts from a stack of books that appear to be acting as literary wainscotting or something. Somewhat Extra Ordinary with his own words, his choices for inspirational (a unique Portable Thoreau), influential (Herb Lubalin) and educational (“It is easier to run a buffalo off a cliff than to beat it to death with a stick. Do nothing and all will be done”) make very welcome additions to our personal book lists.
In Watermelon Sugar Richard Brautigan
Being one of my favourite authors, I could have picked any number of Richard Brautigan novels: The Wind Won’t Blow it all Away, The Abortion, The Unfortunate Woman, Willard & his Bowling Trophies, all are great, but there is something about this book that I return to often. The story itself takes place in iDEATH (written in 1969, a long time before the iPod) and has a quiet gentleness about it that is both sad and beautiful. Many of the chapters are no more than a page long, some just a paragraph, and can be read on their own, more like a poem, like this one: “Hands. We walked back to iDEATH, holding hands. Hands are very nice things, especially after they have travelled back from making love.” Brautigan’s life is sad one – he killed himself at the age of 49 – but the books he has written have something wonderful about them and the world is a bit of a better place through their existence.
Herb Lubalin: Art Director, Graphic Designer and Typographer Gary Snyder
I first saw this book way back in 1992 when I was at art college in Middlesborogh, it was one of the highlights of a well stocked library. At the time the trend in graphic design was layering and fairly complicated design. Most people on my course were taking their influence from people like David Carson, Vaughan Oliver and The Designers Republic. The simplicity of Herb Lubalin’s work struck a cord with me and, together with Paul Rand and Alan Fletcher, he became a hero of mine. Finally, a couple of years ago, I managed to get my own copy of the book; it has not been reprinted since the eighties and is an expensive book to buy. It seems a real shame that there isn’t an affordable collection of Herb’s work as now is a perfect time for designers to discover him, even if it’s just to see how Avant Garde (the typeface he designed for the magazine of the same name) should be used.
The Museum of Everything #1
The Museum of Everything was, with out doubt, the best thing I saw last year. If you visited the exhibition then the book needs little explanation, being a catalogue of the images and words on display. If you didn’t make it to the exhibition then this is the only way to get any idea of what this amazing collection was like (although a large part of the enjoyment was in the cavernous layout of the gallery). The book is filled with amazing, honest, work by artists who are considered to be on the fringes of society – not that that is always the case. The book itself is a lovely object and it’s great to be able to read all the artist profiles that there wasn’t enough time to read at the gallery.
TAO: The Watercourse Way Alan Watts
I’ve been interested in Taoism ever since I read about it in The Idler about ten years ago. The quote “It is easier to run a buffalo off a cliff than to beat it to death with a stick. Do nothing and all will be done” appealed to my instinctive nature if not to my vegetarianism. This book treats Tao as a philosophy rather than religion and Alan Watts writes about it in a clear, none sentimental way. I read the book in one sitting, staying up to the small hours, and was struck by how much of the principle ideas fitted in with my own way of thinking. The basic idea of not forcing things and going with the natural flow. Alan Watts unfortunately died before finishing the book so a friend of his put it all together, the parts written by his friend, mainly the foreword, are a bit too happy-clappy for me and did put me off reading the book for a while, but, if you get a copy of this book, don’t let it put you off, the rest of the book is wonderful and inspirational.
The Portable Thoreau Henry David Thoreau
This choice is as much about the book itself as it is the words it contains. I bought it from a secondhand bookshop in Bristol a few years ago without any knowledge of who Thoreau was. The book itself is a small, green and clothbound with the word ‘Thoreau’ printed small in a simple calligraphic script and three leaves (that look like Oak) embossed around it. It was printed in New York in 1947. In the back of the book are a couple of hand written notes. One says “Fatal attraction of cruelty, power” and the other says “Jazz – arrangement, appreciation for itself, in itself, or as elaboration, extemporisation on set melody – melody framework, basis – Thus jazz a bastard music”. This was written ten years before On The Road was published – although only 4 years before Kerouac wrote it – and it makes me think of a young jazz loving pre-beatnik, caught up in post World War II optimism in New York. This is the reason I love secondhand books; they are living things and, at their best, contain their own story as well as the printed content of the book. From the essays in this collection Walden is the best and it is still as relevant today as was in 1854. It is an account of two years spent living next to a pond in a house that Thoreau built for himself. It’s a celebration of a simpler way of life, nature and self awareness.