The New Yorker's design team shares its favourite books in this mammoth Bookshelf

8 February 2017

The first issue of The New Yorker came out in 1925 featuring an illustration of the fictional dandy Eustace Tilley, created by Rea Irvin. 92 years later this enigmatic figure appears on the cover of the magazine with every anniversary issue, a small reminder of its humble beginnings.

Over the decades, The New Yorker has cemented itself as a print publication that offers witty criticism, detailed analysis and original reportage. It’s also become a beacon of great commissioning with both the cover and internal illustrations now seen as coveted spots. Illustrators including Christoph Niemann and Malika Favre have created covers for the weekly mag and have also been involved in testing out new medias for the first time such as Christoph’s augmented reality cover last year.

Here, some of the designers, directors and photo editors who help make these things happen share their favourite books. In this mammoth edition there’s classic children’s books, colour theory and a collection of Israeli posters celebrating International Workers’ Day.

William Steig: CDB!

At first glance, the words look like scrambled code or Dadaist poetry, and the drawings look as if they were scrawled on a paper napkin. Separately, they make no sense. Taken together, the drawings provide clues to deciphering the words. Though seemingly un-designed, this book is a perfect metaphor for design communication: word + image = meaning. I O-P U L-I-K T 2.

– Nicholas Blechman, creative director

Jason Fulford and Tamara Shopsin: This Equals That

Made up of a photographic pairing, this children’s book, which is sized for little hands and bound with a board cover, asks its readers to look for visual connections, both obvious and obtuse. It’s good for anyone, ages five – 105 as the note on the back says, interested in helping their eyes get better at seeing.

– Max Campbell, photo coordinator

Dana Lixenberg: Imperial Courts

Dana Lixenberg connected with the residents of the public housing project Imperial courts in 1993, when a Dutch magazine commissioned her to document the aftermath of the Rodney King verdict and the Los Angeles riots. She went on to photograph the community for 22 years, finishing the work that became this book in 2015. That timespan allows her to pair photographs of a mother and daughter, both shot with the same camera at the same age, and, most interestingly, to map connections between her subjects in wonderful photographic genealogies.

– Max Campbell, photo coordinator

Floc’h: 15 Life Covers

Floc’h’s elegant and petite book of imaginary LIFE covers is wonderful and accomplished. It offers a glimpse of his design sense, humor, and drawing skills. He is a wonderful artist, and it is a pleasure and privilege to work with here at The New Yorker!

– Chris Curry, art director

Johannes Itten: The Elements of Color

Johannes Itten’s, The Elements of Color is a condensed version of his larger work, The Art of Color. The book approaches colour theory in a way that is technical and practical, but also explores intangibles like feeling, psychology, and relativity. Vibrant swatches and diagrams illustrate the relationships described, and subtleties reveal themselves the longer you study them. These simple comparisons begin to transform the way we see. The same grey swatch, when surrounded by yellow instead of blue, takes on a different tone altogether. Over the years I continue to come back to these exercises again and again and it serves as a reminder that in design and in life, it’s all relative.

– Deanna Donegan, senior designer

Eamonn Doyle: ON

I recently encountered the work of Irish photographer Eamonn Doyle and was quickly taken by his energetic and graphic street photography. Eamonn primarily photographs his own neighborhood, Dublin’s Parnell Street, and has published three books on the subject in quick succession. A standout for me is ON, an arresting series of black and white photographs that he self-published in 2015, boldly designed by London’s Pony Ltd. Often shot from a low angle, his subjects tower over his lens many confronting the camera and the viewer. The pages of this book pulse with humanity as Doyle masterfully renders the unfolding drama of daily life in his corner of Dublin.

– Genevieve Fussell, senior photo editor

David Mamet: On Directing Film

If you had walked up to David Mamet in the late 1980s, around the beginning of his film career, and been able to snap a Polaroid of his creative ethos, this book is what you would get. Film students are the intended audience, yet Mamet frames his core beliefs in narrative storytelling by looking at films as designs that you can assemble using logic. Each scene is a unit, and, with enough planning and foresight, every unit in the design can fit together seamlessly.

– José Ginarte, digital photo editor

Donald E Knuth: The TeXbook

The TeXbook is a manual for the programming language TeX. (Disclaimer: I have probably written fewer than one hundred lines of TeX in my life; however, I use LaTeX, a language built on top of it, daily.) TeX bears much resemblance to a markup language like HTML, but instead of producing web pages, its output is well-set, book-quality PDFs. It is a powerful system, able to do just about everything you can do with a GUI-based application such as Adobe InDesign, based entirely on written instructions. The connection between language and graphic form is what resonates most with me, when using TeX. It requires me to consider every design decision, line by line.

– Lily Healey, art associate

Zkhut Hatze’aka (The Right to Shout)

Zkhut Hatze’aka” (The Right to Shout) is a collection of Israeli posters celebrating 1 May, the International Workers’ Day, from 1920–1980. These works, which owe a heavy debt to Soviet-era agitprop, combine typography and illustration to loudly encourage solidarity and shared responsibility, a message frighteningly relevant today.

– Aviva Michaelov, design director

Alec Soth: Songbook

Songbook collects the timeless, yet modern photographs made by Alec Soth on a series of road trips through the United States, and the book’s design and production are a perfect match for the tone of his stirring take on the American experience.

– Joanna Milter, director of photography

Karel Martens, Robin Kinross and Jaap van Triest: Karel Martens, printed matter = Karel Martens, Drukwerk

Karel Martens’ book has influenced my work since the day it was published in 1996, with a curious mix of media. Martens’ “street-to-table” philosophy taught me a slow, non-commercial approach to design. Anything can be a canvas (or theme), and there is a place in design for art and personal expression in visual communication. His unique and radically different approach to design using a fascinating mix of mathematics, classic and experimental typography, bold colour, and everyday shapes and objects, manages to always combine function and beauty.

– Nico Schweizer, design director for consumer marketing

Batia Suter: Parallel Encyclopedia #2

Last year, while browsing the shortlist of Aperture and Paris Photo’s 2016 PhotoBooth Awards, I discovered Batia Suter’s Parallel Encyclopedia #2 (Roma Publications, 2016). The book is comprised of over 500 pages of archival material, from a number of centuries, that Suter has gathered and collaged according to common themes, lines and/or shapes. The unexpected pairings are delightful, and when seen in this context, prompts one to think about their content in new and intriguing ways.

– Thea Traff, photo editor

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About the Author

Rebecca Fulleylove

Rebecca became staff writer at It’s Nice That in March 2016 before leaving the company at the end of 2017. Before joining the company full time she worked with us on a freelance basis many times, as well as stints at Macmillan Publishers, D&AD, Dazed and frieze.

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