The Reading Life: Coffee Table Books

Say what you want about coffee table books, but I really love these large-format, aesthetically-pleasing, cerebrum-numbing tomes. They make great gifts, too.

Sometimes, there’s nothing better than sitting in the living room with a glass of iced tea and a big, shiny picture book for grown-ups. These books speak to the visual side of us all; I’m usually more of a words person, so when these visual moods hit me, I take full advantage. I own several coffee table books and they actually sit on my coffee table. Stacked up, they sort of sum up the surface part of my personality, which might be sort of sad.

For your consideration, here’s a list of some of my favorite coffee table books.

The Clash

The Clash is my favorite band; you’ve heard them before, probably. (Here’s a link to some of their music.) I own several non-fiction books about them, but it wasn’t until about a month ago that I owned this fantastic volume. It’s bright pink, which is neat, but it also contains the most complete listing of Clash shows, concerts, and venues that I’ve ever seen. There are extensive interviews with the band’s members and loads of photographs. For a Clash-obsessed person like me, this is a great book to own. However, it also makes me sad; Joe Strummer, the lead singer of The Clash, died in 2002. Mick Jones, on the other hand, who was The Clash’s lead guitarist and supporting vocalist, is still alive and kicking. He is currently working on a really cool project, the Rock N Roll Public Library.

The Stephen King Illustrated Companion: Manuscripts, Correspondence, Drawings, and Memorabilia from the Master of Modern Horror, by Bev Vincent

I love Stephen King, as you are all painfully aware. Reading this book made my fascination with him even more acute. Bev Vincent has included photos I’ve never seen before, replica manuscript pages that reside in pockets throughout the book, anecdotes about writing various novels, and more Stephen King content than you could possibly need (but probably want). I flip through this book once a week or so, and every time, I find something I didn’t know about King.

The Great American Pin-Up

Most of the time, I think I was born about sixty years too late. Maybe even seventy or eighty years too late. I would have done quite well in the 1920s, 30s, or 40s, and I would have looked good doing it. I have gone as a pin-up girl for Halloween at least three times; I love the aesthetic and the glamour of that era. This coffee table book was another gift, and another one that I treasure. The book divides pin-up art by era and then by artist. If you appreciate both art and sassy ladies, this book deserves a place on your table.

Keith Haring: Editions on Paper, 1982-1990

You know his work: the baby radiating beams of light, the dogs jumping through each other’s stomachs, the joyful figures vibrating with life. Keith Haring was one of the great pop artists, and he died in 1990 from complications from AIDS. I mention this because a lot of his art deals with AIDS/HIV prevention and homosexuality in general. I saw an exhibit of his art at the Whitney Museum in 1997, when I was twelve.  It was amazing, and this book contains images of many of the pieces of art I saw that day. Haring’s art isn’t as prevalent as it used to be, which, to me at least, is a shame.

Open Here: The Art of Instructional Design by Paul Mijksenaar and Piet Westendorp

As far as art goes, I tend to like things along the lines of Keith Haring: colorful,bold, and weird. I also like instructional drawings, like the little scissors on packets of instant noodles, or the card in the back of the airplane seat that tells you how to use your flotation device. I never really thought about how to visually depict motion so that people from all walks of life can understand the instructions, but it’s harder than you would think. This book contains examples from all over the globe, and it made me think about how difficult it must be to get one’s point across visually. (It also makes me think of this.)

What do you peruse when you have some idle time? Let us know in the comments!


About Amanda K

Amanda K holds a master's degree in Library and Information Studies. She's a housewife, a Planned Parenthood volunteer, a sewist, and an aspiring gourmet home cook. View all posts by Amanda K

7 responses to “The Reading Life: Coffee Table Books

  • Marissa

    DO WANT:
    Pin-ups (Curvy and sassy!)
    Instructional Design (I LOVE those little scissors)

  • Bev Vincent

    I’m thrilled to hear that you are getting so much enjoyment out of my book!

  • Amanda Lanyon-LeSage

    I might have just had a small heart attack.

    Mr. Vincent, I love your book! It’s wonderful.

  • Rob

    Interesting. Glad I stopped. Made a mental note to after hearing WPR show. Gotta love Stephen King (as some snobbish readers don’t).

    I’m reading the Dome right now. And have 1/2 of the Tower series to finish (I quit reading them when SK quit writing them and now don’t know if I should start over.???) Maybe I should pick up the Bev V book as a primer.

  • Bev Vincent

    As a note — the book is currently unavailable at, but a second printing is coming very shortly. If you use the ZIP CODE finder at, though, you can find stores near you that still have it in stock.

    It’s also being printed in Italian later this year, which is quite exciting.

    Rob: You might be interested in my book The Road to the Dark Tower, which covers the series. If you don’t want to start from the beginning, I have chapters on each book that would bring you up to speed!

  • Amanda Lanyon-LeSage

    My boyfriend’s mother went on a wild goose chase (your book being the wild goose) around Christmas to find it for me… but she persevered! It’s definitely worth picking up.

    I’m starting the Dark Tower series today, actually, so after I read those, I’ll read The Road to the Dark Tower!

    • Rob

      I think I might start over with the towers myself once I read the last 10 lbs of Dome.

      (Thinking doors on the beach and big lobsters – sure been awhile.)

      Bev: I went to your site – did see that title there. Does look interesting.

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