If I’ve learned anything from browsing the home decor area of our collection, it’s that people named Judith seem to have some sort of leg up on the interior design industry. But if I’ve learned anything else, it’s that beautiful books on a coffee table never go out of style. From Judith’s Guide to Country Chic to Japanese-Inspired with Judith, it’s agreed that a good ol’ book on a table will help make your home homier and say to your houseguests, “Hey, I think about things.”
Except sometimes beautiful coffee table books are really expensive. And so instead, your coffee table is saying, “I fold laundry.” or “I bought a ceramic dish intending to also buy pretty things to put in it but now it’s where we put the cat toys” or “I watch Game of Thrones and eat macaroni and cheese and then I leave the bowl here so the noodles dry up and stick to it.”
That’s fine. You do you. But, if you ever want your coffee table to say something else, your local library has a collection of beautiful, smart books, in all shapes and sizes, that will start great conversations with your guests. And the best part is that you can switch them out whenever you want. If you’re feeling goofy and bright one day and dark and down and why-aren’t-we-freaking-out-about-climate-change-all-the-time!!!!-ey the next, we’ve got books for that, and for everything in between.
So, what do you want your coffee table to tell your friends? Here are just a few examples:
“I appreciate beauty.”
Though your curtains may be old sheets and your couch covered in Slurpee stains, you can still display something of beauty in your living room:
Sharon Tate: Recollection by Debra Tate: Sharon Tate was, among many other things, actually the most beautiful person that ever lived. Even as a young child, she is stunning. This collection of photographs and personal stories compiled by her sister Debra, with a foreword by Roman Polanski, focuses on her joy and her life, rather than her brutal death by the Manson Family. You and your guests will stare. You’ll gaze. Note: Don’t keep this book on your table if you have hopes of making out with a date. Both of your faces, lovely as they may be, will only look sadly ordinary in comparison. Mood killer.
Other Worlds by James Trefil: These images of the cosmos are almost as breathtaking as Sharon Tate’s face. We have a lot of gorgeous books of space photos, but the nebulae in this collection are particularly stellar.
“I’m socially responsible.”
A smart-looking book haphazardly lying around to make it look like you’ve read it says more than a 24-hour news channel blaring in the background, and it says it quietly:
Posters For The People: Art of the WPA by Ennis Carter: These bright posters were created by the artists sponsored by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s and 40s, part of Roosevelt’s New Deal. I particularly like the ones about books and not burning them. It’s too bad some of the illustrators of these posters are anonymous because they deserve big-time credit.
The Innocents by Taryn Simon: Taryn Simon interviewed and photographed 45 men and women who were wrongfully accused and imprisoned for crimes they did not commit and then, eventually, freed. The portraits are quiet and thought-provoking. Most of them take place at the scene of the crime. And the author gave a voice to the accused that they might not have otherwise had.
“I like things you probably haven’t even heard of. I’m hip.”
Everybody wants to be tastemaker or turn their friends on to something they might really love. I find that people are more likely to respond favorably when I leave the new thing I love out for them to find instead of talking incessantly about it and accidentally spoiling the plot:
Acme: Our Annual Report to Shareholders and Rainy Day Saturday Afternoon Fun Book, a Library of Novelty by Chris Ware: Really anything by graphic novelist, Chris Ware is going to be colorful and intricate and attention-grabbing. But Acme‘s size and browsability make it a perfect coffee table book. This collection of comics is complex and inventive and weird and just fun to look at. I might also recommend Hand-Drying in America by Ben Katchor as another good graphic coffee table book…if it were not currently checked out and placed on my own coffee table.
The Inventor of the Modern Album Cover by Kevin Reagan: Alex Steinweiss is the guy who first said, “Let’s illustrate album covers!”. Aren’t you glad he said that? He created quite the art form and music and art lovers will be very impressed with you and these illustrations (more the illustrations than you, it’s really cool looking).
“I am one with nature. Every day is Earth Day up. in. here.”
If the scent of your vinegar-based cleaning products and your vegan cashew-cheese hors d’oeuvres aren’t enough to let people know you’re crunchy, let your table tell them:
The Life and Love of Trees by Lewis Blackwell: Glorious (and I don’t use that word lightly) pictures of trees from every angle, in every season, everywhere on Earth. And awesome tree quotes too like “Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.” This book is so deep it’s got roots.
Seeds: Time Capsules of Life by Rob Kesseler and Wolfgang Stuppy: Seeds are super crazy looking close up. This should be the only sentence on the book jacket. Just kidding, the book jacket has lots of important facts about seeds that will help you enjoy the book even more. Like, “No matter how small, packed into every seed is the complete genetic code needed to produce a new plant, whether it is a tiny herb or a giant rainforest tree.” The more you know. Cue rainbow.
Earthsong by Bernhard Edmaier: Did you know that the color flourescent rave party green exists in nature? It does. In South Iceland. This book of aerial photographs shows us parts of our planet untouched by humans. Volcanoes, sea floors, and glaciers in all their grandeur.
“I know about art.”
The above phrase is really best said with a coffee table book since it would sound really dumb coming out of your mouth. Please don’t ever say, “I know about art” with your mouth. Say it with your library card:
Magritte by David Sylvester: I feel like even if you’d never heard the word “surreal”, it would appear in your head as soon as you looked at a Magritte painting. This book is a biography as well as an art book, with full color reproductions of his work. A good ice-breaker when entertaining friends and looking at this book would be, “So what is reality?”
Robert Frank: Story Lines by Robert Frank: Frank traveled the world and captured graceful and intimate photos of it. This collection takes us to Paris, Wales, and London in the late 1940s and early 50s, and then back to America where his portraits of regular everyday people come together to tell a story of the time. I really love his pictures of Detroit in 1955.
Check out these books and get that coffee table saying something flattering about you. Maybe it will say such nice things, your guests will forgive you for having to share a seat on one old beanbag. Maybe. As long as one of your guests isn’t Judith.