Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Books I Love: Part Two of My Homage to Books Old and New, Ripped and Pristine — Plus Lots More Collection Books for Your Pleasure

Last December, I spontaneously (everyone was away) started taking iPad images of my books. That lead to a post in late December—and an overwhelming response from my gorgeous readers. You are all book lovers.

Hundreds of emails followed, and lots of delight. Many said you loved the Vreeland collections. A reader in Paris liked the French design books. A friend in London loved the ripped covers of the Beaton books. Others of you admired the helter-skelter stacks and piles.

One reader commented that I only had ‘one Proust’. Others went directly to Amazon or their local bookshops and started ordering books that had inspired. I hope you find lots of inspiration. Many new books have come since Last December..

I’m Crazy for Books. I Read Them, I Write Them. I Collect Them. I Can’t Live Without Them

Come with me for a Stroll and Perusal Around my Library, an Informal Tour of my Book Collection, my Reference Books, my Favorites.

Books Everywhere

I like my books to be piled up as they arrive…so that new ones are added on top of old ones, and then I find a shell or a picture and throw them in the mix.

Torn pages and all, I do not ‘arrange’ my books and I never ‘style’ them…they are collected and read and used for research. These are working books…not for ‘shelfies’. The gatherings are always changing as I read, buy, gather, fine, and edit.

Every so often I edit. I usually ask a friend to come and help, for moral support. I don’t like to part with a single book, but often ‘weeding’ reveals books I’d forgotten I have. (You’ll see that I often have two or three versions of the same books…because I see one at a flea market or used book shop, and buy it just in case.)

As you know, when I am in Jaipur, I stay at the Rambagh Palace hotel because I’ve always loved it, but also because MR. NAVEEN JAIN’S BOOKSHOP is there. I visit many times a day.

Above are some (a few) of the books on India I have had custom hand-bound and gilded and tooled from Mr. Jain’s shop. Highly recommend when you are in India.

I have lots of ‘fetish’ authors and topics and collections. Over the years, since high school or before, I’ve collected Dylan Thomas biographies and poetry collections and later I started collecting all the Patrick Leigh Fermor books, which lead to all the Devonshires/ Mitfords. And then Cecil Beaton books, books on Katherine Mansfield, and many other biographies. I shunt them together to keep each other company.

Books by Irving Penn are treasured, and so are all the Vogue collections, and books on the Maharajahs and Indian art. ‘Made for Maharajahs’ has collections of art and design made for the father of my friend, Richard Holkar.

Design books clump and clutter and gather and converse and move around constantly … these books work hard.

Notice that a few of my books are hidden here or there. I love them. And I usually focus on the one I’m currently writing and don’t look back.

I keep reference books on gardening, biographies, and odds and ends of interest. One thing leads to another. A line of research leads to many more books. I hope you’re inspired to go immediately to your local bookstore.

My Post from December 2013:

I’ve taken some pictures for you—images of books on my shelves, books I love. You might call them ‘shelfies’.

As we perambulate, I hope you discover books you’d like to add to your collection, information you’d love to glean.

My books are working books—for reference, inspiration, ideas and images.

Their words and ideas enrich my work and my life. 

The books on my shelves are ripped and foxed, chipped and torn and faded. They’re read and book-marked and stashed. They are stained with morning coffee and evening ink, and they’re bumped and sometimes falling apart.

They are not in collectible order. They’re not perfect. They work hard. They’re not trophies, on display. I like that. I don’t care that they are not pristine. I like signs of time passing.

They are endlessly inspiring company.

I hope you will discover new books and authors. Come with me and take a look.

My New Year’s wish for everyone: more books. 

As I sit here writing, I’m surrounded by William Dalrymple, Diana Vreeland and Bruce Chatwin (‘Chatty’), Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen) , and the Duchess of Devonshire with Paddy Fermor, alongside Francoise Sagan (smoking, bien sur) and Colette.

Over there are Tom Wolfe and J.D. Salinger, and Jhumpa Lahiri and Jack Kerouac with Edith Wharton, unlikely friends, but essential reading.

Dylan Thomas and Yeats are peering over at the quiet but mighty C. P. Cavafy. His poem 'Ithaca' is the best inspiration anyone could discover.

For fresh design insight I turn to Axel Vervoordt, Andrée Putman and Elsie de Wolfe. For images I have Cy Twombly, Lucian Freud, Brancusi. Irving Penn and Richard Avedon and Peter Beard .

And up there is Pablo Neruda jousting with Gerard Manley Hopkins and Rilke, perfect companions, and then dear Cecil Beaton in conversation with Evelyn Waugh.

To set dreams in motion, there are Lesley Blanch, Elizabeth David and Christopher Alexander.

And at the moment, I’m on Page 233 of ‘The Luminaries’ by Eleanor Catton. Highly recommend. Set in New Zealand, where I grew up.

And let’s never forget Nancy Mitford, Giuseppe di Lampedusa and the Bronte sisters. 

Sometimes I group authors and concepts together. The Chatwin books are adjacent, and the Dylan Thomas are close, and old Salinger copies and Tom Wolfe are stacked together. But I see that Lucian Freud is all over the place, and Diana Vreeland is scattered. I admit that I have several copies of some books. When I see a great book, and I’m not quite sure where my copy is…I buy it to be sure I have the book on hand. 

Many books have ripped covers, others were acquired with plastic Brodart covers to stop them from falling apart.

I found some at Paris flea markets like the funky Place d'Aligre and the atmosphere old pavilion on rue Brancion, near Parc Georges Brassens.

I inherited books from designer friends and collectors. They’re personal, not especially valuable because they’re used, read, piled up, jammed on shelves, and dusted a bit aggressively by my housekeeper.

Yes, the stacks get topply. It's an opportunity to find old favorites—or to de-accession certain books no longer of passionate interest. I long ago de-accessioned almost all cookbooks—I don't cook—except a few early volumes by Alice Waters.

I de-accession books and donate them to Friends of the San Francisco Public Library or to San Francisco charities’ shops I support.

1. Chasing Diana Vreeland

Diana Vreeland, she of the fervent opinions and loopy directives, worked with top art directors and photographers and together they produced some of the most alluring books.

Allure’ and ‘The World in Vogue’ and an old tattered copy of ‘Harper’s Bazaar’, an early compilation, are vivid. Every year there are more Vreeland ‘Memos’ books (I have a portfolio of her printed memos) and collections. No other fashion editor has been so inspiring. 

2. The Lives of Others: Biographies I Love

Hermione Lee’s biography of Edith Wharton or the Mitford sisters’ memoirs and letters, or writing by Patrick Leigh Fermor or Willy Dalrymple are among my favorite books. I seldom read fiction, although sometimes I drift into detective novels like those by Colin Cotterill about Dr. Siri, the national coroner of seventies chaotic Laos. Highly recommend. 

3. India On My Mind 

I’ve been collecting books about India most of my life. Volumes on Indian jewelry, the Mughals, the Nizams, biographies of maharajahs and maharanis, Indian history, the Raj, on Ghandi-ji, on geography and travels and regions are all on hand. 

When I’m in India I’m looking for new research books—so I drop in to Mr. Jain’s bookshop at the Rambagh in Jaipur, or linger at the authoritative Bahrisons bookshop at the Khan Market in New Delhi.

In Paris, Gallignani on the rue de Rivoli always has rare books on Indian culture and architecture. 

4. Torn Pages: Some Favorites 

Many of my books are coming apart and I love that. I like worn pages, turning ivory. These books are the best company, with history and signs of life. 

I re-read my original school reference books on Gerard Manley Hopkins or Dylan Thomas. I'm reassured by favorite covers, scuffed and friendly, of books I've had since college. 

5. Design, Art and Fashion 

Design books are my essential references. I’ll always have Axel Vervoordt’s books on hand—as well as books on the great English country houses. Billy Baldwin always rates a special place on my shelves—and authoritative books on French décor, architecture and design have their own section. 

Fashion, yes, I collect designer monographs (Lanvin, Dior) and biographies. And lots of Chanel. 

Art: I’m always studying Lucian Freud perfectionism, and Cy Twombly makes a case for spontaneity. 

6. A Few by DDS

You may be wondering if I keep copies of my own books. 

Some of them are on my shelves and many are archived and locked away.

I’ve written twenty-two books. 

When I glance at the covers—‘Santa Barbara Living’ or ‘Michael S. Smith Elements of Style’ or ‘Ann Getty Interior Style’ or ‘Seaside Interiors’ (translated into eight languages) and ‘Orlando Diaz-Azcuy’ (all designed by the great Paul McKevitt) I observe. And there is the California Design Library series that is still selling like mad at Kunokuniya in Tokyo. 

I admire the many talented people I have worked with, my fantastically great editors and Paul McKevitt, a superb art director.

I thank my genius publishers and all the designers and architects and photographers and publicists I work with. I'm incredibly fortunate to work with the best of the best. I appreciate them every day. That’s the thrill. The great people I work with and write about.

My eyes are usually focused on the book I’m writing now—but I am grateful for every book I’ve published. Always. 

A Great New Year!

I wish my friends and wonderful readers every happiness for 2014.

I wish everyone, everywhere, a year of delicious reading, fervent discoveries and fearless turning of pages. Happy Reading!

Please let me know some of your favorites—and some great books I may have missed.

All images here by DIANE DORRANS SAEKS. 


Windlost said...

Hello dear Diane,

This is such a beautiful and touching post.

I feel like these photos reveal the true you, very intimately - your deep down passion for knowledge, culture, words, beauty - which is the very core of you. I can read your many and varied posts, but I feel like this one really reveals YOU to me!

I love that your books are used and moved and organically deposited here or there, or displayed gingerly on the edge of a shelf, following whatever whim arises, whatever pleases you in the moment.

Serendipitous arrangements are so true, the unstyled is so perfect in this overly self-conscious world where out every movement is orchestrated for the public. I love that I can see how you really live and what you really love without you having to say a word!

(oh and I love the "shelfie" word - too funny and so apt!).

With love and admiration, Terri

Francine Gardner said...

I read this post with a huge smile on my face, devouring all the references, the titles...I, also, love the Rambagh palace, and I even buy books in foreign language, hopping to find their traduction either in french or english...although, to my despair i am running out of room...I have a library with built in bookshelves, added an industrial bookshelf as well in the room, books piled in my bedroom, my study's bookshelf overflowing with books, the garden books fill my entry hallway, let's not mention the dining room where I have of my beloved photography and african, asian books, art books in the living room, an entire wall in my media room is dedicated to travel books...I can't even go into the french, english, italian and US magazines...I need help!! gave away all my kids books to our local hospital and a slew of novels. What would become of me if I were to move, which my husband threatens to do, wanting to move to warmer climate.

Blue said...

Your fascinating photographs appear as I'm in the process of culling my library of books I'll never read again. The building I live in has its own library so donation is my plan. It was pointed out my my husband that, if I rid us of books we have not looked at from year's end to the next, we should be able to place the stacks that litter the place onto shelves. My response is that I'm willing to cull and clear the stacks only if I may redecorate the whole library. I see a green and white room in my future.

Lovely essay about one of my favourite subjects – books. Thank you.

ArchitectDesign™ said...

thank you for yet another look at your library! I suspect you are right and many of your readers are book lovers (I know I am!). Down with the 'shelfie' - only readers DESERVE to have books! Can you recommend any bookshops in San Francisco, Carmel, or Napa? I'll be visiting next week and would love any recommendations you could make.

The Peak of Chic said...

Diane, What a truly enviable collection of books you have. I plan to spend time this evening studying- yes, studying!- every photo. I do, however, have a rather mundane question: On what kind of shelves do you store your books? I am on the verge of devoting yet another room in my home to books, and I'm trying to decide if I want to go to the expense of having custom shelves made.
P.S.- Have you and I discussed Library Thing? If not, we must do so soon.

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...


How lovely to hear from you.

Yes…these are books collected and used and read and referred to and loved and moved around.

The images show just a few of my 'collection'…books I've collected over time.

I do edit them…and give bags and bags of books to charity shops ….and then I return home and everything look the same (as if I had not removed a single book).

All of the shelves are full now, and that never stops me from getting new passions and collections. I recently got a signed copy of the DRIES VAN NOTEN book…that goes with the fantastic show in Paris now (I hope you saw it).
The book is superb…so inspiring.
And yes, when in India…I collection bound and gilded books from Mr Jain.
I'll also be writing soon about a new BOOK SHOP DISCOVERY in New Delhi…coming soon.
I hope to see you one of these days..DIANE

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...


There are no rules about what books to keep or not…some of my books (poetry etc, French etc) are books I received as prizes at High School (end of year prize giving…I always won poetry and French prizes…nice for my library…with the prize label still inside).
But…one reason I don't read much current fiction, new fiction) is that after I've read it I'll pass it on to friends…who pass it on…).
I buy and collection most books to keep…
Yikes…don't start clearing out, simply edit or move them or stack them somewhere…for me the edit is only rare. I give them to a charity shop or th San Francisco Public Library…but then quickly more books arrive.
My books are continuous in my life--not for decor, not for styling…and never…horrors…color-coded.
Lovely to hear from you…and keep all of your books…and do go ahead with the library…very best DIANE

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Dear Terri-

I always think of you when I'm about to post a blog…and recall that you start reading my blog on the treadmill early…then continue during break at work…and then bookmark…and then complete later.
I'm pleased.

Yes…the books are a biography and perhaps they also reveal me as somewhat orderly (all the Bruce Chatwin or 'Devonshires' or Dylan Thomas together over the years--but also not obsessed with exact order. These are not books for decor…not at all…and they reflect never-ending love of books. The favorites…Penn and Avedon and Freud and Balthus and some obscure topics and people…are always being collected. Lovely to hear from you, as always…DIANE

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...


Thank you so much…and…I wish you were here ten years ago or even more (before AMAZON) when you and I would go and spend a whole SATURDAY AFTERNOON looking through lots of used book shops (one of which, I later discovered…sold stolen books…)…but all over SAN FRANCISCO and Berkeley…there were fantastic used and literary and collections and obsessive book shops…esp. Berkeley…pretty much none…repeat…none…of them exist now.
Carmel…not a book town. Berkeley…goodness..check out MO'S ON TELEGRAPH AVEN…must still be there…Google it…that was a great place to find collector books…perhaps still is…have not been there for a while…and as for DESIGNER BOOKS or photography…even in Paris it is harder to find all the great book shops, though there are some in the Marais and around rue de Seine etc…keep me posted…DIANE

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...


Lovely to hear from you.

BOOKCASES and BOOKSHELVES…I had some excellent ones made some time ago…and added more…(and that many no longer makes bookshelves…which he did impeccably…not that my shelves, loaded with books…do not bend or wiggle or sag…his woods were solid).
I think…really…any bookshelves you like and that hold your books and that work for your decor…are great. And really …take a look at photos of JACQUES GRANGE apartments…the one at the Palais Royal for example…he has books everywhere and I love that…on chairs and on tables, and stacked and piled on the floor…that's the spirit…It's the 'book arrangements' and the -styled books…and horrors…of horrors…the books arranged by color…that seem so artificial though amusing and witty and I've seen them done really well…but for a long term collector it's anywhere and anyway you like…I love the idea of custom-made shelves or cases or cabinets…and I love seeing books on IKEA shelves…or modules all in white…or stacks not he floor…it's LIVING WITH BOOKS that counts, don't you think. It's the books that animate the room…ripped and ravaged and torn and some in plastic sleeves to keep them together…and others kind of ragged…
Look into having a cabinet made for you…it would be wonderful and you'd love it every day. My shelves are supposed to be adjustable…but I've never changed the shelves…look into that, thought.
fondest to you DIANE

Parisbreakfasts said...

the only thing I miss about New York since moving to Paris is all the fab books I left behind. I had no idea I would be so bereft.
A real loss. what a source of inspiration...

Karena said...

Dear Diane,
You are a woman after my own heart. Your love and interest of books speaks volumes about you! From the time I eight and was given my first (very own) book by an older cousin who mentored me, books have traveled with me through life. We have many of the same interests and seeing your libraries is a thrill! Thank you!

The Arts by Karena

Dean Farris said...

Dear Diane,

I also greatly enjoyed this very personal post.
Recently, I had written about you on my blog, regarding your Ann Getty book- am sure all the bloggers on design have now done so as well!
I'm beyond impressed with your library, and your books! Keep up the good work! Your subject matter has never ending potential- how utterly exciting! Would you ever consider a book about Michael Taylor? I know there already is one out, which i have a copy of, but feel that there is even more to the story- perhaps a collaboration? Thanks for the beautiful post on TSS !

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

dear friends-

I also received the following lovely comment. Thank you so much.

Loved your post.So fun to survey your shelves. i recognized so many of the titles ,just like running into old friends.
I always look forward to your posts.I'm never quite sure where we are headed but always enjoy the journey!
Thank you,
Sharron Saffert

P.Gaye Tapp at Little Augury said...

A beautiful bunch of books-some old friends I spy and new ones I'd like to know. My somewhat ordered library shelves-have spilled out into my bedroom adding bookcases there-the table the floor-a more recent reacquisition of the dining room as office has driven books there. I wouldn't have it any other way!pgt

Star Girl said...

Hello. I've just discovered your blog. What a glorious post. I love books. And people who also love books are high in my estimation. Thank you for allowing us into your library - it's such an intimate and generous thing to do. Beautiful. Thank you.
Best Star