white books

When we rebuilt some of our bookshelves last October, J had proposed to re-arrange our books according to the colour of their spines.

The literature student in me was appalled. Trust a designer to judge a book not only by its cover, but by its spine!

The designer persisted and had his one shelf - just one - of books with white spines. The literature student considered it a compromise - they were mostly his books on design anyway.

It's been some time since this blog talked about books. Friends, here are some recent white (well, white-ish) books we relented and bought that may be of interest to you too:

A - Z and sugarcube (top left, top right), Atelier Hoko
We found these slim, almost wordless picture books at Supermama some months ago. There is only 1 word I seldom have use for, to describe these 2 books: charming.  

Tools 2012: Real Stuff for Future Classics (top centre), Kodansha, 2012 
I think of this book as a glorified catalogue.  But according to J, the book is actually inspired by the Whole Earth Catalog, a publication by Stewart Brand starting from 1968 that listed objects and tools informed by the following criteria that represented Brand's ideals for a sustainable, industrial society:
  1. Useful as a tool
  2. Relevant to independent education
  3. High quality or low cost
  4. Not already common knowledge
  5. Easily available by mail
How does one read Tools 2012? No doubt they are beautifully but also thoughtfully made objects. The book itself is well designed. But in 2012, with the internet and our globalised consumerist culture, I cannot help but wonder if Tools 2012 does indeed educate like its predecessor, or does it end up simply fueling a wasteful consumption.

Created in Taiwan (bottom left), ed. Yang Jia Wu, 田園城市, 2011 
This book arose from a question asked by a designer (again!) in Taiwan: "Is Design the exclusive domain of designers?" He ended up interviewing 108 non-designers, ordinary citizens, during which he posed several open-ended design "briefs". The book collects 51 ideas that arose from these interviews, sketches and models.

The ideas collected in this book, by teachers, housewives, retirees, accountants, office workers etc, are not groundbreaking or brilliant (in that none solve any world problems nor are they even "practical"), but how freely they expressed ideals, values, aspirations.

The first illustration in the book is a wooden wheelchair. The creator is Ms Lo, a 57 year-old retiree from sales. Her hobbies are to watch movies and volunteer, and she aspires to pursue higher studies overseas. Her wooden wheelchair is a design brief J and I also often give ourselves - how can we improve the wheelchair. Ms Lo responds simply to an oft-neglected user need - not only mobility, but self-image. Her starting point is a wheelchair that is "warm and cosy" and "sensitive" to the user's image not as a "patient",

The book concludes that creativity is not the exclusive domain of any one profession. And this is a liberating conclusion that does not, at the same time, deny or undermine the professional knowledge, skill and attitude required of a designer.

If we did a similar project in Singapore, would we end up with ideas that focus only on the functional? What picture of creativity will we get?

Lao Fu Zi, Vol.1 (bottom centre), 王出版社
Old Master Q needs no introduction. We bought the comic one lazy Saturday afternoon from a stall in the market. It started to rain once we got home. Ah, perfect for reading a Lao Fu Zi comic in bed. Some of the panels actually offer sharp observations of life, but most are just plain silly.

Malay Sketches (bottom right), Alfian Sa'at, Ethos Books, 2012
Among all the titles listed here, this book has the most text (ha!), although it does feature an illustration at the start of each story or portrait.

I've left the best for last. Friends, if there is one book in this list I would recommend that you buy, it would be this. The writing is excellent - I have always admired Alfian Sa'at's craft. The stories are tight, powerful and do not shy away from difficult questions we don't ask enough as a society.


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