“I own more books than I read, and want more books than I own”: Matt Asato-Adams on the magic of bookshops

In this week’s edition of Bookshelf, Matt shares five influential titles from his shelf including publications on science fiction, design theory and typography.

6 May 2020

We first spoke to the currently San Francisco-based designer Matt Asato-Adams just over a year ago now, where we discussed his effortless, speculative and striking work and exhaustive design process. Now, we catch up with him for this edition of Bookshelf, a series akin to his personal interests.

Through the “materiality, technique, or writing” in these books, each one has profoundly affected Matt in his creative practice. Beyond that, Matt tells us sharing books is “an interesting way to get to know someone, the way one person reacts to the writing.” He explains that “the design and the content is very intimate.” Noting the importance of books and their communal joy, Matt reminisces that “sharing books is something I love doing and many of my favourite memories are centred around friends sharing each other’s libraries.” Acting as our communal online book club for this week, here, Matt introduces the titles that we should all know about.

Gagosian Gallery: Crash: Homage to JG Ballard

I found out about Crash early on in my education when a friend of mine had brought it into class. When I first saw it I remember thinking, “what is that?” It didn’t look like any book or catalogue I’d seen before. There was so much attention to detail: the metal fastener binding, plastic cover with pink fleshy foam, and a black and white photograph of JG Ballard’s crashed Ford Zephyr encased in a bright green photo sleeve. And that is only the front cover. The book itself is a fluorescent and silver foil trip with colour combinations that only work because they really don’t.

Crash was an exhibition put together by Gagosian and designed by GTF as an homage to Ballard who had (at the time) recently passed away. What I find interesting about the catalogue is its ability to successfully translate the themes of the work through material first. The balance exuded in the catalogue completely changed the way I thought about book design. This might be my favourite book, partially because it took me forever to find a copy (also because J.G. Ballard and I share the same birthday).

Ralph Caplan: Notes on Omission: Some incomplete thoughts with room for improvement

This is a series of 4 publications made internally for Herman Miller in 1979, designed by John Massey. They include incomplete thoughts, notes, and musings from Ralph Caplan on topics covering; Attention, Connection, Omission, and Tension. The process of choosing these books has made me think of one of his notes on omission: “I own more books than I read, and want more books than I own. Having books does not make me read more; it only makes me feel guilty about those I haven’t read. To stop the guilt I must either omit some books or read them, both painful prospects.”

I found these in a thrift store for 50 cents a piece when visiting home in Minneapolis. I suppose the previous owner took the former approach to my fortune. They might have been Steven Heller’s copies according to a handwritten letter that was inside the cover from someone in Caplan’s office.

Donald Wall: Visionary Cities: The Arcology of Paolo Soleri

I really love this book, it’s like going into another world. If I’m being honest, it might take me a lifetime to actually read it cover to cover. I find Soleri’s concepts fascinating and Visionary Cities expresses his thoughts and philosophy in a radical way.

The book itself is a void, it’s almost completely black with page after page of type and image sprawling over each other like a concrete wall. You think you’re about to get lost in the typographic density when suddenly, a few pages later, it opens into gate folds that extend four times the length of the book, and you get lost again. It pulls you into a surreal architectural daydream.

Ralph Ginzburg: Avant Garde #8: Picasso's Erotic Gravures

I learned about Avant Garde in my very first design class. At the time, I didn’t understand the cultural and typographic significance of what I was seeing. The impact Herb Lubalin and his work had on the design world is immeasurable and I consider myself lucky to be a collector.

I found this issue in the back of a small shop in Highland Park which sparked the hunt to find the rest of the series, organically without the help of online searches. There’s something magical about wandering into a book store and stumbling upon something unexpected. Vol 8 is Picasso’s Erotic Gravures, a collection of drawings heavily implicit with Greek mythologies, self reflection, and secrets he never intended to share before he finally made and published them as engravings.

Ray Bradbury: The Illustrated Man

Since we have been spending more time at home, my partner and I have been trying to read more. We have started reading short stories to each other, beginning with Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man. I haven’t read any of his works before even though I really should have. The Illustrated Man is kind of my introduction into his work. There are 18 stories strung together by a common narrative: a man tattooed by a woman from the future, each illustration coming to life at night. The stories tell strange tales set in a bizarre cosmic landscape.

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About the Author

Harry Bennett

Hailing from the West Midlands, and having originally joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in March 2020, Harry is a freelance writer and designer – running his own independent practice, as well as being one-half of the Studio Ground Floor.

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