Book Recommendations: Part 3

Unseen, Ordinary, and Quietly transformational Continued

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Picking up from last week, these are some extra books on the unseen, ordinary, and quietly transformational. These books didn’t seem as obvious to me at first since I haven’t read most of them as recently, but I thought that would be a nice conclusion to expand how we think about these things in design and art. 

If you missed my previous book recommendations see them here:

Part 1: Books on Design Processes

Part 2: Book on the Unseen, Ordinary, and Quietly Transformational (Part I)

In Praise of Shadows

Jun'ichirō Tanizaki

While I didn’t love this book as much as I expected, the beautiful poetic writing illuminated new ways of thinking about aesthetics.

“The quality that we call beauty, however, must always grow from the realities of life, and our ancestors, forced to live in dark rooms, presently came to discover beauty in shadows, ultimately to guide shadows towards beauty’s ends.”

“In making for ourselves a place to live, we first spread a parasol to throw a shadow on the earth, and in the pale light of the shadow we put together a house.”

“The sun never knew how wonderful it was,” the architect Louis Kahn said, “until it fell on the wall of a building”

“We do not dislike everything that shines, but we do prefer a pensive lustre to a shallow brilliance, a murky light that, whether in a stone or an artifact, bespeaks a sheen of antiquity. . . . we do love things that bear the marks of grime, soot, and weather, and we love the colours and the sheen that call to mind the past that made them"

Wabi Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers

Leonard Koren

Building on Japanese philosophy and aesthetics, this easy-to-read book supplies further content on beauty through imperfection and incompletion.

“Beauty can be coaxed out of ugliness. Wabi-sabi is ambivalent about separating beauty from non-beauty or ugliness. The beauty of wabi-sabi is in one respect, the condition of coming to terms with what you consider ugly. Wabi-sabi suggests that beauty is a dynamic event that occurs between you and something else. Beauty can spontaneously occur at any moment given the proper circumstances, context, or point of view. Beauty is thus an altered state of consciousness, an extraordinary moment of poetry and grace.”

“Pare down to the essence, but don't remove the poetry.”

“But when does something's destiny finally come to fruition? Is the plant complete when it flowers? When it goes to seed? When the seeds sprout? When everything turns into compost?”

“Things wabi-sabi have no need for the reassurance of status or the validation of market culture. They have no need for documentation of provenance. Wabi-sabi-ness in no way depends on knowledge of the creator's background or personality. In fact, it is best if the creator is no distinction, invisible, or anonymous.”

The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living

Meik Wiking

How can one of the coldest and darkest countries be said to be the happiest countries in the world? Hygge is the art of intimacy and cosiness. I thought about whether to include this book, but since it plays along the lines of finding abstract qualities in everyday moments, I decided to include it.

“Hygge has been called everything from “the art of creating intimacy,” “coziness of the soul,” and “the absence of annoyance,” to “taking pleasure from the presence of soothing things,” “cozy togetherness,” and my personal favorite, “cocoa by candlelight”.”

“Hygge is about an atmosphere and an experience, rather than about things. It is about being with the people we love. A feeling of home. A feeling that we are safe, that we are shielded from the world and allow ourselves to let our guard down.”

“It doesn’t cost money to light a room correctly—but it does require culture.”

“If I cannot ask people directly how happy they are, I ask them how satisfied they are with their social relationships, because that gives me the answer.”

“Hygge is humble and slow. It is choosing rustic over new, simple over posh and ambience over excitement. In many ways, hygge might be the Danish cousin to slow and simple living.”

“We are not paying taxes, we are investing in our society. We are purchasing quality of life. The key to understanding the high levels of well-being in Denmark is the welfare model’s ability to reduce risk, uncertainty, and anxiety among its citizens and to prevent extreme unhappiness.”

“Almost 60 percent of Danes say the best number of people for hygge is three to four.”


Kenya Hara

A final book on Japanese aesthetics; White dives beyond color to get to the essence of what white is: a void, a possibility, a simplicity. I loved reading about white symbolizing such abstract concepts. I also highly recommend “Designing Design” also by Kenya Hara.

“White can be attained by blending all the colors of the spectrum together, or through the subtraction of ink and all other pigments. In short, it is "all colors" and "no color" at the same time.”

“White exists on the periphery of life. Bleached bones connect us to death, but the white of milk and eggs, for example, speaks to us of life.”

“Colors do not exist separately and independently within nature; they are constantly shifting in response to subtle gradations of light. It is language that, magnificently, gives them clear shape.”

“It is easy to think that beauty resides in the realm of creativity. Yet beauty hardly "appears" from nowhere. Recently, I have come to believe that we "discover" it through the cleaning and polishing we do to preserve things as they are... The beauty of a temple garden rests not in the splendid features that were created by a talented designer; rather, its beauty is uncovered through the continual process of cleaning.”

“When we try to imagine color, it may be necessary to erase from our minds all pre-established categories and return to a blank state. The box of twelve crayons we are given to draw with when we are small children shapes our perception for better or for worse - it is from them that we garner concepts like "the color of water," "flesh color," and so on. But what if such parameters did not exist, and the words we had to describe color were far fewer? Would we see color the same way we do in today's world?”

The Book of Delights: Essays

Ross Gay

This book was on my list for nearly a year, but I didn’t get around to it until this past summer. It certainly falls in another category but again, I thought it nice to Clinique in this list as it adopts a new lens for daily life. Poet Ross Gay records all the small joys that occurred in one year from birthday to birthday. The insights of his exercise celebrate the beauty (and terror) of these quiet moments.

“Because in trying to articulate what, perhaps, joy is, it has occurred to me that among other things—the trees and the mushrooms have shown me this—joy is the mostly invisible, the underground union between us, you and me, which is, among other things, the great fact of our life and the lives of everyone and thing we love going away. If we sink a spoon into that fact, into the duff between us, we will find it teeming. It will look like all the books ever written. It will look like all the nerves in a body. We might call it sorrow, but we might call it a union, one that, once we notice it, once we bring it into the light, might become flower and food. Might be joy.”

“If you’re black in this country you’re presumed guilty. Or, to come back to Abdel, who’s a schoolteacher and thinks a lot about children, you’re not allowed to be innocent. The eyes and heart of a nation are not avoidable things. The imagination of a country is not an avoidable thing. And the negreeting, back home, where we are mostly never seen, is a way of witnessing each other’s innocence—a way of saying, “I see your innocence.” And my brother-not-brother ignoring me in his nice red kicks? Maybe he’s going a step further. Maybe he’s imagining a world—this one a street in Bloomington, Indiana—where his unions are not based on deprivation and terror. Not a huddling together. Maybe he’s refusing the premise of our un-innocence entirely and so feels no need to negreet. And in this way proclaims our innocence. Maybe.”

“It didn’t take me long to learn that the discipline or practice of writing these essays occasioned a kind of delight radar. Or maybe it was more like the development of a delight muscle. Something that implies that the more you study delight, the more delight there is to study.”

“I suspect it is simply a feature of being an adult, what I will call being grown, or a grown person, to have endured some variety of thorough emotional turmoil, to have made your way to the brink, and, if you’re lucky, to have stepped back from it—if not permanently, then for some time, or time to time. Then it is, too, a kind of grownness by which I see three squares of light on my wall, the shadow of a tree trembling in two of them, and hear the train going by and feel no panic or despair, feel no sense of condemnation or doom or horrible align-ment, but simply observe the signs—light and song—for what they are—light and song. And, knowing what I have felt before, and might feel again, feel a sense of relief, which is cousin to, or rather, water to, delight.”

“As I write this it’s occurring to me that the books I most adore are the ones that archive the people who have handled them—dogears, or old receipts used as bookmarks (always a lovely digression). Underlines and exclamation points, and this in an old library book! The tender vandalisms by which, sometimes, we express our love.”

Thank you for reading these book recommendations. I intend to keep adding to this list and will certainly share more books in the future. Stay tuned for more