help me build an awesome library
September 13, 2011 9:27 PM   Subscribe

Pretend you have a ton of cash. Help me build an awesome library of interesting art books, reference books, books on nature, crafts, poetry, world cultures, what else?

This all started because I bought a beautiful art book at a Japanese craft store. I had intended to give it as a gift, but I just can't part with it so I'm keeping it myself. It's essentially a long poem overlaid on transparencies over beautiful artwork. It takes my mind on a little journey every time I open it. I want to spend time with it. That's what I'm looking for. But that's not all.

I'm also looking for books that my kids and I are going to want to open and look at, reference, things that provoke wonder, questions, books that we love.

The books that we own that fall into this category are:
Bird Songs: 250 North American Birds in Song
Andy Goldsworthy: A Collaboration with Nature
Material World: A Global Family Portrait
Earth From Above
Kid Made Modern
Wonderful Houses Around the World
Complete Book of Art Ideas
Art books on Georgia O'Keefe and Frida Kahlo

Sorry this is a very broad question, but basically I'm looking for beautiful books you love and that inspire you. I definitely need a new updated atlas if anyone has a recommendation. Looking forward to your suggestions!
posted by hellochula to Media & Arts (57 answers total) 98 users marked this as a favorite
What It Is, by Lynda Barry
posted by hermitosis at 9:34 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you're looking for things you'll come back to, over and over, then you need a collection of the pictures of M.C. Escher.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:04 PM on September 13, 2011

Estate sales and auctions. If you have the cash, why not bid on whole lots (that is as in Lot 49?) and then take your time going through it all later. Those compendia are treasure troves, but not every one has the luxury that is yours.

Hey--maybe you could even employ some unemployed librarians wherever it is you live to help sift through your lots!

One book/title at a time seems extremely inefficient to me, unless you really want lists.

posted by emhutchinson at 10:06 PM on September 13, 2011

Response by poster: Oh sorry. Forget about the mention of cash. I really meant to say that I'd like to build up a collection of really great books. I'll be buying them as I can, asking for them as gifts, so individual titles would be best.
posted by hellochula at 10:13 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

One Million Things

Steven Bietsy's Incredible Cross-Sections

The Films of Charles and Ray Eames
(not a book, but this collection is amazing)
posted by at the crossroads at 10:16 PM on September 13, 2011

Oh, okay, you got me:

Women in the Material World


and I don't mean this to be flippant, not at all, but a favorite: George and Martha, the complete stories of two best friends.

You're going to need a really big coffee table.
posted by emhutchinson at 10:17 PM on September 13, 2011

Previous link got borked. Try this one:
Cosmos: From Romanticism to Avant-Garde, 1801-2001
posted by at the crossroads at 10:41 PM on September 13, 2011

The Complete Calvin & Hobbes
posted by carsonb at 11:20 PM on September 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

Fractals: The Patterns of Chaos

so many wonderful pictures that show how art and math mix - I go back to it again and again
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 11:25 PM on September 13, 2011

Albert Seba's Cabinet of Natural Curiosities
Tord Boontje by Martina Margetts
posted by neushoorn at 12:21 AM on September 14, 2011

David Maybury Lewis' book Millennium: Tribal Wisdom and the Modern World has great pictures and also an inspiring narrative of an anthropologist's journey to, and with, the Xavante people.

The Life and Love of Trees

30 000 Years of Art - I have this open on my dining table all the time.
posted by honey-barbara at 12:31 AM on September 14, 2011

Art Forms in Nature by Ernst Haeckel

Jazz by H.Matisse

Krazy Kat any year, by George Herriman
posted by From Bklyn at 12:46 AM on September 14, 2011

Oh crap, and (since money is no object),

Elephant Foli of Audubon's Birds of America (Amazon link)

Walton Ford Pancha Tantra

posted by From Bklyn at 12:50 AM on September 14, 2011

Pretend you have a ton of cash.
Once you're really getting into it, you will realize you will never have enough. Do like me, order the catalogue Beautiful Evidence: The Library of Edward Tufte. Allow yourself to open it only on Sunday afternoons, because you will curl up in a fetal position and cry yourself to sleep. Every single time.
posted by ouke at 1:04 AM on September 14, 2011

How about a beautiful book on some of the oldest art known? The Chauvet cave in France would be the subject.

Velasquez was one of the finest painters in the history of western art so I would recommend this. I have it and it's amazing.

And one last art related book, a collection of Morton Feldman's essays on art, music, and the New York avant garde of the post war era. A major composer who also wrote exceptionally well on painting.
posted by Phlegmco(tm) at 1:19 AM on September 14, 2011

Charley Harper, An Illustrated Life
posted by TWinbrook8 at 3:05 AM on September 14, 2011

The Bedside Book of Beasts and The Bedside Book of Birds both include beautiful illustrations of the animals as well as various literary excerpts, folk tales and parables from all over the world. They're stunning books and fun to open to random pages, hence its bedside appeal.
posted by zoomorphic at 3:56 AM on September 14, 2011

The Art of Looking Sideways by Alan Fletcher - I won this book as an Arts prize back when I was in high school, and ten years later I still find new and interesting things to discover within it.

The Phaidon publishing house has a great selection of art, design and culture titles of consistently high quality - might be of interest.
posted by guessthis at 3:56 AM on September 14, 2011

Kit Williams is an artist and author (and woodworker, clock maker, inventor, etc) who made little trinkets out of gold and jewels, then made riddle books to invite people to find those items that were hidden.
The riddles are woven into the stories and paintings in the first two books mentioned below. I was only ever able to solve a couple riddles, but as a kid I -adored- these books. The artwork is beautiful and invites closer examination.
Williams also has two giant "cuckoo" clocks in England which he made and placed for the enjoyment of passersby.

Kit Williams' Masquerade

and The Bee on The Comb (previously known as The Book Without A Name)

He also has a book called Out of One Eye, which is a history of how he came to paint and invent, along with several examples of his work.
Another book is Engines of Ingenuity, a story revolving around a clock-cart thing he made, if I remember right.

Examples of his paintings.
posted by DisreputableDog at 4:01 AM on September 14, 2011

You are typing on the most awesome library ever invented!
posted by spitbull at 4:09 AM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

1) Leonardo Da Vinci is probably the most diversely talented person ever to have lived. His notebooks show why, and would make a wonderful edition to your library

2) Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, illustrated by Salvador Dali with 26 original color etchings, 13 of them signed by Dali in pencil. The first and only edition came out 1969, in a limited run of only 300 copies. My parents bought one at auction in the early 1980's, and I can attest to its uniqueness and beauty. With a ton of cash, the $35,000 price tag should be no barrier to getting your own copy today.

3) "The Family of Man" reproduces the 503 images that comprised Edward Steichen's 1955 MOMA exhibition of the same name. Carl Sandurg (Steichen's brother-in-law) wrote the introduction. It's a lovely, lovely book
posted by BadgerDoctor at 4:34 AM on September 14, 2011

All the Foxfire books. Great exploration of traditional crafts and oral history.
posted by rikschell at 4:56 AM on September 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Your art book link reminded me of Maria Kalman (prev). She has several books out.

If you really have a ton of money, look for a copy of Codex Seraphinianus

For photography you might look into Jerry Uelsmann.
posted by DarkForest at 5:09 AM on September 14, 2011

The Human Brain Book

The History of Beauty - Umberto Eco

On Ugliness - Umberto Eco

The Art Pack

I find beautiful art books on the bargain racks at Barnes & Noble all the time, often for less than $10.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 5:28 AM on September 14, 2011

Phaidon Design Classics. Beautiful set of books.
posted by arha at 5:48 AM on September 14, 2011

Taking the Stars
posted by Confess, Fletch at 6:01 AM on September 14, 2011

Cookwise discusses the science of cooking, to explain how certain techniques work, how to get a recipe to behave the way you want it to, and more.

Built to Last, especially for your kids. It's a beautifully illustrated book about architecture in antiquity, and why they've managed to survive into the present day.

D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths is a classic introduction to Greek mythology, lush, lush paintings and illustrations. I loved this book when I was a kid, and I gave a copy to my daughter when she was old enough to read it.
posted by headspace at 6:03 AM on September 14, 2011

The Codex Seraphinianus
posted by mr.ersatz at 6:15 AM on September 14, 2011

A Pattern Language will teach you an interesting way to look at architecture.
posted by Drama Penguin at 6:17 AM on September 14, 2011

Codex seraphinianus - it's a strange, beautiful book, sadly out of print.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 6:20 AM on September 14, 2011

Argh. I owe you a beverage, mr.ersatz!
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 6:21 AM on September 14, 2011

Frederic Chaubin: Cosmic Communist Constructions Photographed
A huge, beautiful book of incredible architecture.
posted by soplerfo at 6:36 AM on September 14, 2011

While First Lady, Jackie Kennedy traveled to India, Pakistan, Rome and London with artist Jacqueline Duheme in tow, who served as her personal illustrator. Duheme's paintings are collected in the very charming book Mrs. Kennedy Goes Abroad.

This is fun to look at alongside One Special Summer, an account of the trip to France Jackie and her sister took. Jackie and Lee wrote and illustrated it themselves as teenagers. I don't recommend this book for a capital-A Art collection, but it is interesting next to Duheme's volume.
posted by apparently at 6:51 AM on September 14, 2011

Also Infrastructure: A Field Guide to the Industrial Landscape. It calls itself a field guide, but it is actually a monstrous coffee table book. Beautifully photographed, with clear explanations of every doodad and whangdoodle dotting the highwayside, from electrical transformers to radio towers to canal locks to storm drains. Amazing. My nine year old has requested readings from this as bedtime stories for the last three years.
posted by apparently at 6:57 AM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Deep: The Extraordinary Creatures of the Abyss by Claire Nouvian. Hundreds of gorgeous, other-worldly color photographs of bizarre seaworms, jellyfish, sponges, etc.
posted by cymru_j at 7:50 AM on September 14, 2011

Realm of the Universe is my favourite astronomy book because it's so well written and organized. A wonderful coffee table book is Galaxies.

Great question.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:02 AM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Sagebrush Ocean. Awesome natural history of the intermountain desert west.
posted by elendil71 at 8:29 AM on September 14, 2011

Die Geschichte der Medezin im spiegle der Kunst
posted by Wilder at 8:40 AM on September 14, 2011

How to Wrap 5 Eggs, or its later slightly revised edition How to Wrap 5 More Eggs. Absolutely gorgeous Japanese package design, traditional and modern. The subtle aesthetics and methods come from a deep way of thinking about the world. Incredibly inspiring. Can't be explained, needs to be seen.

I am always very happy after reading Edward Tufte's books, for instance The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. Probably can't be explained either. The book very elegantly and deeply showcases some highlights in the visual presentation of information through the ages; The clear beauty of little-known maps from centuries past, and gorgeous log-diagrams made by Russian astronauts orbiting Earth.
posted by krilli at 8:50 AM on September 14, 2011

Bird by Andrew Zuckerman...absolutely stunning bird photos, isolated on a white background for even greater impact. I see he has one called Creature as well, I may have to pick that one up.
posted by lemonade at 9:43 AM on September 14, 2011

Passage is a collection of photographs of Andy Goldsworthy's works. He makes art out of found natural objects (leaves, stones, thorns, etc). I can't really describe it well enough to do it justice, but I find it's transience and smallness to be be really, really peaceful and amazing.
posted by troublewithwolves at 9:46 AM on September 14, 2011

Consider visual, multilingual dictionaries!
posted by desertface at 9:51 AM on September 14, 2011

Everything from Taschen
posted by noxetlux at 10:25 AM on September 14, 2011

Response by poster: GAH! Thank you so much! Love them all! There are too many here to mark as best answer. I've never heard of 90% of these. Never would have found them. Thanks...and keep 'em coming!
posted by hellochula at 10:28 AM on September 14, 2011

The Red Book
posted by goethean at 11:22 AM on September 14, 2011

Calders Universe
posted by blacktshirtandjeans at 11:29 AM on September 14, 2011

The Timetables of History is a must have.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:40 PM on September 14, 2011

The Complete Far Side
posted by littleredwagon at 12:46 PM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

The History of Hand Knitting by Bishop Richard Rutt (first edition, NOT the reissued one, which lacks the color illustrations)

Masquerade by Kit Williams (the treasure has been found, but the book is still worth poring over)

Paintings by Masami Teraoka
posted by Lexica at 3:17 PM on September 14, 2011

I'm partial to the American Photography series.
posted by Leon at 3:48 PM on September 14, 2011

Oh man, I love this kind of question. I'm slowly building up such a library. I'm at work so I don't have the HOURS I would like to answer this question, but here are a few thoughts:

1. We have guides to: birds, mammals, forests, trees, edible plants, medicinal plants, animal tracks, mushrooms, insects, and wildflowers. Also a guide of fantastic hikes in our area.

2. The Complete Calvin and Hobbes collection.

3. This amazing book about Earth (science, nature, history). We also own several books of high-resolution pictures of other planets: one shows Mars, another shows Venus, and another shows our moon.

4. An Andy Goldsworthy book, this book on Japanese architecture, a huge fold-out book of the Sistine Chapel, an enormous art/history book of Leonardo da Vinci's science and paintings, a book of photographs of Afghanistan...

5. Books of poetry by Mary Oliver, Rumi, and Hafiz (personal favorites of mine).
posted by Cygnet at 4:26 AM on September 15, 2011

Buy the Fiction Core Collection and the Public Library Core Collection and then start buying the books in there.
posted by davismbagpiper at 6:36 PM on September 15, 2011

The Red Book by Carl Jung. (previously on MeFi)
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 6:49 PM on September 15, 2011

This is exactly what our large and ever-growing library is about, with a focus on painting. But for general eye-popping, desert-island coolness and a wide range, here's a few that spring to mind:

The Deep
Extraordinary Chickens There's a nice series of these…
The Kimono as Art
The Shining Cloth
Glorious Inspirations (not really about needlework, just a truly fine collection of great images/patterns/colors from a guy with an exceptional eye)
A Grain of Sand: Nature's Secret Wonder
Dress in Detail From Around the World (check out the whole In Detail series from the V&A)
The Earth as Art: Views from Heaven
Contemporary Botanical Artists: The Shirley Sherwood Collection
The Dictionary of Butterflies and Moths in Color
The World's Most Spectacular Reptiles & Amphibians
The Visconti Hours
Peerless Images
The Quilts of Gee's Bend
Amish Abstractions
The Shell
Vernacular Visionaries

As for painters, don't miss Grant Wood, Bonnard, Ernest L. Blumenschein, The Group of Seven, Klimpt, Hundertwasser, Klee, Morandi…
Etc. obviously…
posted by dpcoffin at 2:48 PM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Definitely Extraordinary Chickens, Extraordinary Pigeons, Extraordinart Pheadants...
posted by Nattie at 8:08 PM on September 17, 2011

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