Buying an aesthetically pleasing publication, purely for ornamental value. We've all done it. Of course, this exercise is somewhat damning: books are meant to be read, misplaced, then happily rediscovered years later. Treating them as merely glorified drink coasters shouldn’t be the goal. So, in the spirit of balance, peruse our pick of the best coffee table books laced with both style and storytelling substance.
READ: Frida Kahlo. The Complete Paintings, buy here.
There is something endlessly magical about Frida Kahlo. The art she produced and the person she was: both were constantly in flux, purposely mysterious, even to herself. As the Mexican artist said, that is beauty of life (“nothing is absolute. Everything changes, everything moves, everything revolves, everything flies and goes away.”) In this new XXL volume, presenting the most extensive study of Kahlo’s paintings to date, it’s really an unearthing of hidden treasures, joining the dots of her personal and professional self through an intimate display of Frida’s passions via drawings, diary entries, letters and photographs at home with the people she loved.
READ: Women Street Photographers, buy here.
This year has forced us to find new ways of connecting. A new 224-page anthology, Women Street Photographers, born from Gulnara Samoilova’s Instagram platform of the same name champions this, finding beauty in the unexpected moments of intimacy between strangers. Featuring candid public photographs by 100 artists of all ages, hailing from 31 countries.
READ: The Militant Muse: Love, War and the Women of Surrealism, you can pre-order the paperback version - available here.
Dora Maar and Picasso; Lee Miller and Man Ray; Gala Diakonova and Salvador Dali. So often the muse in art history is positioned as a passive figure. Often female, feeding the male artist’s masterpieces. The Militant Muse readdress this creative balance, exploring the intense and wonderfully complex female friendships and solidarity among the Surrealists during the 1930s through to the 1950s. A love letter to the bonds that make us.
READ: Normal People: The Scripts. Buy here.
Remember that period in lockdown when all anyone could talk about was Normal People. Arguably, one of the best book-to-screen adaptations of 2020. As Elizabeth Day said: “Nothing much happens, and yet everything does because it explores John Updike's famous dictum that there is beauty in the mundane; that these everyday interactions are actually the most profound things, rather than car chases and alien invasions.” Here, you can enjoy the complete screenplays of the series. Delightful.
READ: LOVERS, buy here
LOVERS, from artist Alexandria Coe, is a beautiful compilation of memories dedicated to the theme of relationships. Featuring drawings that represent the age old phrase: it’s better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all. It's a book about closeness, and closure. “This body of images and texts follows a deeply reflective narrative which channels the story of toxic love," Coe says. "The selected images are only a small percentage created over the last few years of intimate beings, but they are those that best represent both the pain and pleasure of being human.”
READ: A Woman’s Right To Pleasure, buy here
For a long time, the conversation around female pleasure was something to be had in hushed tones. Thankfully, there seems to be some progression in this department. A Woman’s Right To Pleasure invites the reader on journey of desirable discovery, through never-before-published works by Georgia O'Keeffe to Tracey Emin, alongside original essays from authors Erica Jong and Roxane Gay. Part art book (featuring contributions from photographers like Cindy Sherman and Nan Goldin), part educational tool. A literary and visual feast.
READ: Tarot, buy here
Describe yourself as “spiritual”? Paid £20 for a fortune teller to tell you you will fall in love this year and are destined for a promotion? Or an entirely new career? Up there with Reiki and crystal healing, tarot has nestled in nicely under the umbrella of self-care in recent years. But how much does one really know about this centuries-old tradition? Trace the fascinating, oft hidden, history of more than 500 cards and works of original art - from medieval to modern-day.
READ: LIDO. Buy here
This book may restore your faith in the humble lido – as architecture critic Christopher Beanland takes a deep dive into the fashionable outdoor swimming scene. Profiling the world’s best outdoor pools, with a slew of pop culture references, he explores their history, design and the people behind them in fascinating (and funny) detail. Our favourite segments: ‘Britain’s Lost Lidos’ and ‘Swimming In Art’.
READ: 100 Things to do in a Forest. Buy here
For many, it’s taken a global pandemic to truly appreciate the powers of the great outdoors. Stripped of the daily luxuries that make up the DNA of a working day pre-Covid. For those who want to build upon their connection to the natural world, this book is like an A-Z of all manner of woodland fun, exploring the healing and restorative benefits of wild swimming to forest bathing.
READ: Magnum Artists: Great Photographers Meet Great Artists, buy here
Enjoy the creative splendour of this new art book which, as the title suggests, reveals intimate images of great artists captured by great photographers. Including Salvador Dali having his portrait taken by Philippe Halsman; Andy Warhol by Thomas Hoepker; Picasso by Robert Capa. A unique insight into the public and private personae of iconic creatives. Compulsive reading.
Images | Amazon