What are the most interestingly designed books?
September 22, 2012 7:30 AM   Subscribe

What are the most innovatively designed books currently in print? Do you know of one that has a particularly interesting layout, perhaps using typography, photos, drawings, or layout in an unusual way? If so, what makes it so great? I am interested in learning about some fun new examples of design.
posted by mortaddams to Society & Culture (22 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
Astronomical is a set of books that represent a scale likeness of our solar sytem.

Unusual and interesting. Can't tell you whether it's great or not.
posted by The Deej at 7:38 AM on September 22, 2012

Jonathan Safran Foer's Tree of Codes, printed by Visual Editions.
posted by neushoorn at 7:43 AM on September 22, 2012

House of Leaves is certainly unusual and interesting in its typography (size, font, color) and layout.
posted by kitarra at 7:50 AM on September 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

Anne Carson's Nox. You can read a review here.
posted by munyeca at 7:51 AM on September 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you want books that do unusual things with their materiality (of which typography is just one aspect), try looking closely at what Dave Eggers and the McSweeney gang are doing (and have done for quite some time). I always enjoy the books, if not always their content.

Looking back almost three decades, Scottish writer & artist Alasdair Gray does some fantastic things with typography in his 1982, Janine in which a whole section deals with a mental breakdown which is depicted visually as well as semantically.

I once wrote an awful lot of pages about Grays' use of the Book as a Material & Aesthetic Object, so bear that in mind when I also recommend his Unlike Stories, Mostly which is an extensively illustrated short story collection. My personal favourite is the "Logopandocy" story in which words, type, layout and illustrations gradually break down.

Having said all that: Eggers/McSweeney, Danielewski, Gray &c are all building upon earlier experiments in book design and thoughts about the book as an object. I recommend looking as far back as the avantgarde Soviet book designers to see what all this play is coming from. Jerome McGann also has some excellent books on the topic - Black Riders is great.

Cavaet: some of this go beyond surface design and definitely look deeper at books as material objects. Be warned ;)
posted by kariebookish at 8:07 AM on September 22, 2012

Oh! And I have heard interesting things about Steven Hall's "The Raw Shark Texts" but I haven't read it myself.
posted by kariebookish at 8:14 AM on September 22, 2012

"Typographic illustrator" Marian Bantjes' I Wonder has some really fascinating page layouts, where she uses a variety of objects/techniques to surround or create the text.
posted by redsparkler at 8:59 AM on September 22, 2012

Daniel Rosenberg and Anthony Grafton's Cartographies of Time: A History of the Timeline (2010) starts with a problem: how do you illustrate timelines, which tend to be long and thin, in a conventionally shaped squarish hardcover book? The result (courtesy of Jan Haux at Princeton Architectural Press) is a wonderfully elegant and intelligently designed book, a joy to read and handle.

I'm also a big fan of the catalogues designed by Purpose for the antiquarian bookseller Simon Beattie. You really have to see and handle them to appreciate them properly, but there are some good images here and here:

They played around with contents pages – one approach was a timeline, another saw the books displayed “as if laid out on the floor by a pathological book stalker.”

After that they were guided by the books they were featuring. “We let scale and drama in so it felt like you were really rummaging around and we used all this typography that was like a wardrobe we could plunder and draw on.”

When trying to shake up a traditional industry like antiquarian book dealing the tendency could be to go too far the other way and create something gratingly loud and attention-seeking, but these are things of real beauty, quality and character – worthy tributes to true bibliophilia.

posted by verstegan at 9:02 AM on September 22, 2012

Some Terry Pratchett books have text in different sizes, styles, places, very cool but its not in all books and is used very rarely (which I think is the best way to do it).
posted by meepmeow at 9:49 AM on September 22, 2012

All of Edward Tufte's books are really well designed. Which isn't surprising since they are about how to explain complex information in various visual formats.
posted by grapesaresour at 10:44 AM on September 22, 2012

Chris Ware
posted by juv3nal at 11:06 AM on September 22, 2012

Also hummument.
posted by juv3nal at 11:07 AM on September 22, 2012

Reif Larsen: The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet. It's a novel, and on each page there's a wide margin with diagrams, footnotes, little drawings etc. that relate to the story. It's very unique.
posted by amf at 11:09 AM on September 22, 2012

Griffin & Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence is pretty interesting. The story is told as a series of postcards and letters; there's no conventional text at all. The letters are inside envelopes that are tipped on to the pages, so the reader has to open each envelope to read them. Beautifully illustrated, as well.
posted by Bron at 11:17 AM on September 22, 2012

Seconding Griffin and Sabine. It's actually the first book in a trilogy, and there's also a follow-up trilogy. All are wonderful.
posted by SisterHavana at 11:26 AM on September 22, 2012

Anne Carson's Antigonick.

Charlotte Salomon's Life? Or Theater? still seems innovative although she completed it while running from the Nazis. It's sometimes available in facsimile editions though I can't quickly find a new one for sale online.

Reviews I pulled up for both these books compared them to theater.
posted by BibiRose at 11:35 AM on September 22, 2012

Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss. The Amazon review calls it a biography-in-collage. You can see some sample pages on the author's website. Just beautiful.
posted by AMyNameIs at 11:43 AM on September 22, 2012

Was coming quick to suggest Chris Ware and Marian Bantjes (I Wonder is incredibly lovely and inspiring) but see I've been beaten to the punch.

Uppercase is doing some neat things with books and their magazine is also great.
posted by looli at 12:49 PM on September 22, 2012

Here's some previous topics that will help you find more examples:
http://ask.metafilter.com/187815/Books-with-unique-structures (somewhat)

Look the books up on Amazon and use the "Look Inside!" option or the user-contributed pictures. There's some really interesting stuff out there - many of them are mentioned again here.

The only reason I have those links is because last night I tracked through all these old askme posts and filled up my Amazon wishlist, looking specifically for experimental uses of the medium. Happy coincidence.
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 3:12 PM on September 22, 2012

ABC3D available here
posted by pink_gorilla at 12:35 AM on September 23, 2012

This magic show book is one of the best-designed books I've seen. It "performs" magic tricks as you read it, and all of them work really well.

At the end of the book are two sets of instructions: 1) How to reset the book without giving away how the tricks are done and 2) How to reset the book while learning about the tricks.

My kids tore mine up and it makes me sad...
posted by tacodave at 3:21 PM on September 24, 2012

« Older RSS to SMS?   |   Let the beat drop(box)! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.