Photo (c) Kevin Day Photography
Celeste Ng, author of Everything I Never Told You, shares some of her favorite conversation-sparking coffee table books with the Penguin Hotline:
For me, these books spark stories, but they make great gifts for almost anyone, too: I guarantee people will pick them up to flip through and become totally immersed.
Retronaut: The Photographic Time Machine (Chris Wild) – I’ve long been a fan of the Retronaut blog, which collects vintage color photographs. The photos challenge your perception of the past—but they’re also just delightful, like a shoe-shaped delivery car form the 1920s, or Lyndon B. Johnson driving his “Amphicar” into the water to startle his friends.
Letters of Note (Shaun Usher) – Who can resist reading other people’s letters? From Elizabeth II’s letter to President Eisenhower (sharing her recipe for scones) to Jack the Ripper’s taunting note to the police to the Campbell’s Soup Company’s thank-you to Andy Warhol—sent with a case of tomato soup—every page is fascinating.
Found: The Best Lost, Tossed, and Forgotten Items from Around the World (Davy Rothbart) – A collection of intriguing, funny, and just plain odd lists, notes, and objects that give you a glimpse into other people’s lives. One of my favorites: the angry note left on a boyfriend’s windshield that begins “You said you had to work then whys your car here at HER place?…. I hate you” and ends “p.s. page me later.”
Earth From Above: 365 Days (Yann Arthus-Bertrand) – The title is self-explanatory—aerial photos of the earth—but the pictures inside are breathtaking and will remind you of the beauty and diversity on our planet. They’ll make you feel small, in the best way.
Part Asian, 100% HAPA (Kip Fulbeck) – Fulbeck’s intimate portraits of part-Asian people are paired with their handwritten responses to the question “What are you?”–making for thought-provoking reading.
Food Landscapes (Carl Warner) – These whimsical, amazingly detailed “foodscapes”–from a Taj Mahal made of onions to a forest of broccoli studded with potato boulders–will delight both kids and kids at heart.
The Art of Clean Up: Life Made Neat and Tidy (Ursus Wehrli) – Swiss Artist Ursus Wehrli likes things tidy—so in this collection of “before” and “after” photos, he’s alphabetized his alphabet soup, sorted his fruit salad, and arranged a group of sunbathers by towel and umbrella color. The results are beautiful and hilarious.
Big Appetites: Tiny People in a World of Big Food (Christopher Boffoli) – A tiny man mows a neat strip of orange peel; pea-sized poachers pry out strawberry seeds with crowbars; miniature miners hike through a sea of coffee beans—Boffoli’s humorous photos and captions create tiny, mesmerizing stories.
Humans of New York (Brandon Stanton) – Stanton’s streetside portraits of New Yorkers, paired with quotes and anecdotes about each, is pure people-watching in book form: a cross-section of the vibrant, diverse population of the city.
Fictitious Dishes: An Album of Literature’s Most Memorable Meals (Dinah Fried) – Designer Dinah Fried pairs famous literary passages—from Proust’s madeleine to Queequeg’s clam chowder to the avocado-crabmeat salad of The Bell Jar—with artfully staged photos of each meal. Perfect for foodies and book lovers alike.
Thanks, Celeste Ng! The Penguin Hotline can’t help but recommend one more book that sparks conversation (and, incidentally, would look great on just about any table): Everything I Never Told You. Read an excerpt here.
And for more custom book recommendations, check out the Penguin Hotline!