We're pleased to present our 7th year of collecting Summer Reading Lists. As in the past, we've got book recommendations coming from a range of artists, writers, shopkeepers, designers, and other interesting people we admire. And, as usual, we're starting off with a list by Book/Shop founder Erik Heywood. We'll post new lists every few weeks here on The Book/Shop Journal, so check back often. You can also explore past lists here. Happy Reading!
NICO: SONGS THEY NEVER PLAY ON THE RADIO by James Young
We live in an interesting historical moment, where much discussion has been given over to how we should feel about the works of problematic artists. Ever since seeing the excellent documentary NICO ICON in the 1990s, my enjoyment of Nico's music has been tinged slightly by the knowledge of some hard-to-forgive aspects of her life. But I still find myself drawn to her, like I am to so many artists, the level of whose work rose higher than that of their personal choices. There aren't that many books about the former Velvet Underground singer, so I couldn't resist picking this one up when I found it. Written by James Young, who toured with Nico in the 1980s until her death, it's been on my shelf for months, waiting for the sunny hours of summer to offset its darkness.
THE COUNTRY HOUSE LIBRARY by Mark Purcell
I admit I'm somewhat under-awed by the large stately homes of England. The old oil paintings of forgotten aristocrats & the fussy formal furniture filling mostly unused rooms do little for me. But that prejudice crumbles at the mention of a Country House Library. Even the words hold an incredible romance for me. The thought that in the heart of an otherwise lifeless-feeling mansion lies a cozy wood-paneled room, with high windows looking out onto gardens, a seemingly endless array of deep couches and upholstered chairs resting on large expanses of old oriental carpets, and of course, wall after wall of books kept at the ready in tall, glass-fronted cabinets. What can I say? It's hardly egalitarian, but I'd love to know a room like that awaited me when I wanted it. Mark Purcell has created a beautiful study on this very specialized subject, illustrated to the teeth and incredibly in-depth. Produced with the co-operation of the National Trust, Purcell had access to private rooms usually off-limits to the tour groups that visit England's famous landmark homes, and the result is a truly special record of these fantasy spaces.
DAYBOOK by Anne Truitt
There is a tendency in creative fields to present oneself as an artist above all; parenthood or family life are usually an undiscussed sidenote in the lives of major artists. But in American Minimalist sculptor Anne Truitt's Daybook, she shares her journals from the late 1970's to show her examination of the balance between motherhood and a rigorous artistic practice. It's a refreshing exploration in a field too often ruled by Cyril Connolly's famous statement of 1938: "There is no more somber enemy of good art than the pram in the hall." (Later, Doris Lessing was even more blunt about the challenge, writing that "There is nothing more boring for an intelligent woman than to spend endless amounts of time with small children.") Truitt places very personal observations on motherhood alongside the mental work of her art-making. Refusing to split her experience into several selves, she seeks to understand the connectedness of the roles she inhabits; the noted artist, the woman in modern society, and the single parent of 3 children. Daybook is one of the few books I know of (The Paper House by Françoise Mallet-Joris is another) to explore the subject so well. I started reading it a while back before giving it to a friend. I just picked up another copy & plan to pick up where I left off, somewhere around October of 1974, where Truitt follows an observation while watching the stars ("The line of gravity holding us to the earth, plumb from the sky to the globe under our feet, is the given element from which we abstract the concept of straightness in our own personal experience") with an entry about being broke ("All told, I now have available about one hundred dollars in ready money. It's too low an ebb. Yesterday my heart pounded all day and my left eye is jumping and jerking."). What artist can't relate?
I AM MY BROTHER by John Lehmann
John Lehman was an incredibly energetic "man of letters" of the kind England once excelled in producing. He seems to pop up everywhere in my reading of English publishing in the first half of the 20th century. He helped run Leonard & Virginia Woolf's highly influential Hogarth Press; he launched the careers of countless aspiring writers through the Penguin New Writing Series of the 1940s; he founded and edited the unfailingly excellent London Magazine (recently relaunched), as well working as a poet, essayist, and prolific biographer. "I Am My Brother" is the second volume of a three-part autobiography by Lehmann, which covers his activities during the years of World War II. He writes with a light, urbane touch, full of immediacy & fascinating inside detail, giving an authentic behind-the-scenes look at cultural production during intensely uncertain times. A keeper of the flame of the great literary tradition of England, Lehmann nevertheless worked tirelessly to give new voices an audience, even in a city under the continual siege of war, paper shortages, a crumbling market for serious literature, and his own personal struggles. It's inspiring to see how someone can keep their creative energies up, even under the incredible pressures of a world coming apart around them.
ART IN AMERICA: 1945-1970, ed. Jed Perl
An excellent collection of writing by and about the artists of the American mid-century, when New York stole the center-of-the-art-world title from Paris & never gave it back. This is perfect summer reading, a book to dip in and out of to find, say, the brilliant & mischiveous dissections of the 60s art world by the painter Ad Reinhardt, or the meditative memoirs of sculptor Isamu Noguchi. Barnett Newman's combative philosophies rub shoulders with Fairfield Porter's examinations of Yves Klein. Anni Albers writes on the art of Tapestry, Alexander Calder on what Abstract Art meant to him. The poet Randall Jarrell's arguments against Abstract Expressionism sit alongside Peggy Guggenheim's championing of that same movement. Louise Bourgeois shares her thoughts on the creative process, Jack Kerouac & Truman Capote write about Photography. Susan Sontag on Happenings, Marcel Duchamp on Readymades. John Cage on Jasper Johns. I can't begin to cover the breadth of this compact 850-page collection, but I look forward to unloading this treasure box a little at a time over the coming months.
VARIOUS VINTAGE PENGUIN PAPERBACKS
Try as a I might, when it comes to light reading I just don't enjoy reading newer paperbacks on the beach or at a park nearly as much as I enjoy packing & reading their Penguin counterparts from the 50s & 60s. The smaller size, the softness of the paper, the wonderful Jan Tschichold and Hans Schmoller layouts & typography, the charming illustrations. They are books that say 'summer leisure' in a way that's unmatched by the always bigger and usually over-designed editions of recent years. I have rows of these orange-spined beauties at home & to grab any one of them as I head out the door is to guarantee good company when I get to where I'm going.