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We haven’t done one of these forever! But we read this incredibly fun book this month and wanted to share the joy.

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

What is it? A sort-of-but-not-really YA novel about a magic school that wants to kill its students. It is a treat for anyone who was ever terrified at the idea of Hogwarts.

Why we love it? This is not a life-changing thinkpiece. It is, however, an incredibly entertaining, engrossing story written in a strong, recognizable narrative voice that immediately makes you know the protagonist, El. You feel all sorts of feelings for her and stan for her not-quite-love relationship. It doesn’t overdo the action scenes and will make you laugh, we’re pretty sure. We did laugh, a lot.

Sorry for the short hiatus, guys. We’ve been discovering recently how truly horrific we can be at this whole time management thing. Seriously, they should revoke our adulthood licence. At any rate, we might not have accomplished much last month but we did re-read Pride and Prejudice. And that is precisely what we want to recommend to you today.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

What is it? As we’re fully aware that you know, it’s Jane Austen’s romantic slash social masterpiece, a proto-rom-com and a wonderfully written novel. The reason we chose it as this month’s recommendation, in lieu of something lesser known, is that reading this book again gave us so much pleasure that modern literature doesn’t always deliver.

Why we love it? As complete saps, we mostly love it for the Lizzie–Darcy romance, which is a fully justified classic. The book sparkles with humor and, sometimes quite nasty, satire, and transports you into a different, and quite enchanting world. We also love all the multiple re-tellings and reinterpretations of the story but the original is definitely the place to start and, especially in light of those later version, proves how well it ages.

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This month’s re:commendation comes illustrated as we are sharing a beautiful picture book by Coralie Bickford-Smith, The Song of the Tree. Ms. Bickford-Smith is the incredibly talented designer behind our beloved Penguin Clothbound Classics, many of which decorate our bookshelves (still not as many as we would like). She uses her skill with ornaments here as well to tell a poetic story of a bird, a tree and the tree’s other inhabitants.

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This is a lovely story about growing up and opening up to one’s surroundings. And we are especially awed by the design and illustrative skill exhibited here as well as by the careful attention paid to the print production. The book is printed with three spot colors creating a vivid, yet minimalist color palette. (It is also clothbound.) Each spread is a carefully planned composition, wowing with the level of detail and reminiscent of the work of a printmaking artist. Finally, something both we and our older son enjoyed immensely, the spreads reward the reader for paying close attention: various characters of the story – the different animals inhabiting the tree – appear and reappear throughout the pages. Sometimes you need to look for them more closely, which recreates the excitement of the explorer in a wilderness (or how we imagine it, anyway). This is one of the prettiest books we’ve acquired for a long time.

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In an exciting first, this month we want to recommend a book. You might have heard of it already because it’s definitely not a new book, but we’d still like to add our personal praise to whatever you already know.

A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley

What is it? A 1992 Pulitzer winner, it retells the story of King Lear, placing his quarreling family in rural Iowa. Basically, it’s Shakespeare among Iowan farmers, with all the passions, feuds and dark psychological insights. It also has a powerful ecological undertone, which is hard to ignore.

Why we love it? Smiley takes the spotlight away from the traditional protagonists of King Lear and instead focuses on the original villains who lose their villainy in the process (there is a villain, just not who Shakespeare envisioned). The narrator is the oldest daughter and her relationship with her younger sister (they’re named appropriately Ginny and Rose) creates the core of the story. The characters are drawn with insight and compassion and the reinterpretation of the classic feels very timely. A great read for any fan of a retelling (which we certainly are).

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The book Miasta skoszarowane (Cities as Military Barracks) by Jan Daniluk was published by the Museum of Gdańsk. This doctoral thesis describes the life in the cities of Gdańsk and Sopot during the Second World War when the German army stationed there and how this affected people’s life. A large part of the book focuses on the daily life under those difficult circumstances.

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Because of the subject matter we chose a strong visual language with some disconcerting elements. Everything is printed in black and vivid red, some elements are framed with thick broken frames symbolizing the oppresion of the period and many typographic elements are broken. We are grateful to the author (and quite impressed by him!) for his openness and trust in our ideas which led to an unusual historic book (and, of course, to the publisher for agreeing to all of this).

The cover with an archival photo. The broken frame is printed with black foil.

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The beginning of chapter three: a title spread and first pages.

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As promised last week, we are sharing with you one of our favorite designs of the last year: the book for the Castle Museum in Malbork, Sapientia Aedificavit Sibi Domum.

The book tells a story of the State of the Teutonic Order in Prussia in over a dozen scientific articles, both in Polish and in English. It accompanied a large exhibition organized by the Museum last year (exhibition design, elements of which we used for the book design, was created by Maciej Bychowski).

The book’s limited color scheme of black, white and silver is derived from the imagery of the Order, including the famous white coats with black crosses on the back that inspired our design of the dust jacket. When the dust jacket is unfolded, it doubles as a two-sided poster. On the silver cover the title is hotstamped in brighter silver and the exhibition logo is printed with spot varnish (only visible after removing the dust jacket). Inside we also used silver extensively, including in the photos and for title pages of the chapters. The proportions of the page are golden ratio. We allowed the elegant, classic typography to be the main design element in most of the pages.

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Dust jacket unfolded into a poster.

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Contents page.

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Title page for a Polish version of an article with two bookmarks visible.

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The beginning of an article.

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Silver photo on black.

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Title page of an English version of an article (silver on white).

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We loved working on this book and hope it shows in the design.

 

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Another trip to the library brought us (and J) another lovely book by Britta Teckentrup. (The previous one is here.) This time we returned with Tree, which tells the story of seasons through a tree in a forest and the animals that live within or near it. The book has a poem commenting on the seasonal changes but it’s really the illustrated part that grabs your attention. It has lovely depictions of animals in their yearly cycle (foxes are, unsurprisingly, our favorites) and a generous use of die-cuts, which make the book more playful. But we are, perhaps, most impressed with the color palettes used for every season (and particularly autumn).

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The owl in its hollow is always in the centre of the tree – and of the book – while the forest around it changes. (Below the minimalist, and lovely, endpaper.)

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Winter snowy mystery (wonder if we’re going to get it this year).

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Spring lushness (our personal favorite real-life season).

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Summer night with its richness of life.

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The beautiful autumn.

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And here we go again.

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As we enter the season of the year that we tend to unreasonably grumble about (it’s cold and it’s gray, guys), this reminder of the beauty of every season comes as very welcome.

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During one of our recent trips to the library our son, who’s got a good eye for books (mostly, I mean; he gets distracted by popular franchises), picked out this little treasure we’re sharing today: The Egg.

The book is written and illustrated by the wonderfully talented Britta Teckentrup (whose work we didn’t know before) and it tells all (well, a lot) about eggs in a style that manages to be both informative and artistic. J loved all the facts about different kinds of eggs, particularly the really large ones. We loved the art, its combination of minimalism and humanism (not an easy thing to pull off). Together we had quite a few fun evenings with the book before the time came to return it.

“Egg collections.” Throughout the book the use of texture and color is marvelous.

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“Egg colors”

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“Inside the egg.” This gave J a pause.

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Size comparison.

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The biggest egg ever. J loved this fact.

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There’s an interesting section on nests.

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A section on eggs not laid by birds.

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And one about the meaning of an egg in art and religion. While J leans towards natural facts, we enjoy the cultural angle.

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What are your favorite lucky finds from the library?