Books by the Pound

A nice side effect of having creative and thoughtful friends is receiving awesome coffee table books as gifts!

Who doesn’t like a coffee table book? (Ok, minimalists. Ignore them for a second.) They’re big! They’re heavy! They are the opposite of a digital portable age. For me, the publisher’s names alone – Rizzoli, Assouline, Taschen – create automatic respect and curiousity. Their catalogues tantalize with descriptions of giant glossy tomes and in-depth knowledge on single topics. I cannot help but want more and more of these books on ever-larger coffee tables! Each book demands a slow perusal and provides a luxurious escape. Worlds of art and periods of history open up. The large format allows details to pop, and I can pore over images again and again, eventually diving into the text.


January 15, 1919 – Cover illustration by Georges Lepape

In December, I received In Vogue, from my friend Em. In Vogue is a seductive Rizzoli book that chronicles the history of Condé Nast’s preeminent fashion magazine. The book takes you from Vogue’s launch to the illustrated covers and beautiful hand-lettered titles of the 19th century. It shows how Vogue captured and set the tone for fashion leading up to and following the war years and later on, how the magazine changed under the editorial directorship of Diana Vreeland, Grace Mirabella, and Anna Wintour.


Mocambo Menu c. 1945 Hollywood, CA (p.233 Restaurant Design in America (Heimann [Ed.], Heller, Mariani)

Last week, Hector received Menu Design in America by Taschen from his friend Nick. It is a compendium of vintage American restaurant menus with a gorgeous layout. Most of the menu designers whose works are featured are unknown, so it is a fascinating window into the popular design – and of course, the actual menus – of various eras.

What is so enchanting about photos and ephemera from the past? Is it the glimpse into who we might have been? I can’t help but wonder what I might have worn or wanted to wear. What would we have chosen to eat, if we’d been alive then and if we’d had a choice? Some things that were commonplace then–ranging from gender and racial stereotypes in articles or images to the actual menu items–are repulsive now. Some things, like decorum and dressing for dinner or illustrated magazine covers seem desirable and unattainable now.

I cherish the illustrations and the photographs created before I was born. These are the artifacts we have to measure ourselves against. These are the things I study to see what I want to dredge from the past and keep, and what I am happy to discard. Hector and I have a lot of love for a wide range of vintage design, but we also realize that we we wouldn’t have even been let in to many of the restaurants whose menus are featured in the Taschen book. However, all of it: the refreshingly normal bodies of the models, and the weird menu trends of yesteryear (“celery/olives/salted nuts”) conjure up different global patterns, different social mores and expectations, and inspire us creatively just by letting us compare our reality to the aesthetic representation of the past.


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