s Thoughts from the Physics Chick: Book Review: The Art of Looking Sideways

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Book Review: The Art of Looking Sideways

The Art of Looking Sideways / Alan Fletcher. – Phaidon, 2001

This is, by far, the coolest book that I own. I love it so much that this entry is likely to become a book gush instead of a book review. The author, Alan Fletcher, is an English graphic designer.

This book is one of many books on design I have read, and forms part of my “Creativity Food Storage.” (I.e. the group of books to which I turn for creative inspiration when I have none of my own.) It is a loosely organized collection of quotes, pictures, anecdotes, poems and illustrations, gathered into 73 thematic chapters. The typography and design itself is splendid and innovative. (The design includes dozens of typefaces, full-bleeds, varying paper stock, and a signature binding with headbands. – The spreads are numbered, not the pages, and there is no title page – this is a problem when it comes to cataloguing!)

Page (spread) 100, in the chapter titled “Noise” is a quote by Emile Zola, in white on pink: “If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, I will answer you: ‘I am here to live out loud.’” The words of the quote get progressively larger until the last word takes up nearly half the page.

Spread 200 (chapter: “Perception”) features a silhouette of St. Petersburg, a drawing of some street markings, and several anecdotes, including this one:

“I’d like to be a Gecko, not permanently, but for ten minutes or so. Geckos are charming small lizardy creatures with suction pads for feet. They live vertically. Walls are their terra firma. For them trees grow sideways, hills are sky, pavements are walls. Our heads may be in the clouds but our feet are always on the ground and even if you wear spectacles which make you see the world upside down, you adjust in a day or so, and see everything the right way up. Take the glasses off and you’ll have another few upside-down days until everything reverts back to normal.”

Spread 500 (“Names”) is a somewhat abstract watercolor and pen illustration of Brussels sprouts, duly labeled as such.

I found this book on the sorting shelves of the HBLL 5th floor. I checked it out, brought it home, and read it straight through (1066 pages) in a couple of weeks. (It is not really the type of book that’s meant to be read straight through – but that’s never really stopped me from approaching reference works as if they were novels.) I showed it to Melyngoch once, who said something like “This is how your mind works, isn’t it?” Fair enough, although I’m not nearly so creative. I think it’s more how I’d like my mind to work, or the kind of stuff I’d like to be able to produce. (Melyngoch is the same person who once called me “a repository of random information,” and told me it was my favorite thing about myself, sending me into an egotistical panic.)


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