Matthew Giordano is an artist and writer based in Austin, TX. We sat down with him in his Brooklyn apartment to talk about Calvin and Hobbes, his favorite places to source books, and a modern take on collection archiving.
Farsighted: How did you start Book in Hand? It’s one of our favorite Instagram accounts and we’re always excited to see what books you post.
Matthew: I think it was like a year or two ago my brother suggested that I should start cataloging my books in an Excel spreadsheet. It became such a pain in the ass to do with ten to a dozen columns with each different category, including the edition and the publisher of the books. As a designer of art books, my brother was interested in compiling printing resources. Book in Hand reflects my interests: art, theory, philosophy, and politics, with the occasional literature thrown in of course.
Where did the idea come from to catalogue in the way that you did?
M: Well, I modeled mine after Will Holder, who had one that he posted for his library. He now runs Uh Books as part of a research program at KW Institute for Contemporary Art. Yale Union in Portland, Oregon also has a fantastic library, which is searchable online here.
In addition to creating a collection of books, you've also created a collection of design – How important is cover design to you?
M: I care more about the edition of the books but design and typography is also important and usually the cover is impacted by the edition. My bookshelf is organized by either the artist or author.
Do you have a favorite book cover?
M: Issue 18 of Dot Dot Dot. Karel Martens did it. It’s mesmerizing. I really like marbelization in general.
Where do you source your books?
M: My favorite source is Les Presses Du Réel, they distribute a lot of books you can’t really find anywhere else.
Are there certain types of books that you gravitate towards more often than others?
M: Lately one of my favorite publishers has been Fitzcarraldo Editions because they put out really good books and their designs are very uniform. The essays or the non-fiction they publish has white covers with blue writing and the literature is blue with white writing. So, on the shelf if you want to organize them that way you can alternate. All of their books look exactly the same, except the title and authors are different. They do a lot of awesome translations of a lot of Eastern European authors and stuff that maybe goes out of print an edition before it.
Where do you get your recommendations, or is there somebody whose opinion you trust and you get books that they recommend?
M: I just usually find them myself. If I can find deals I'll get the deals but then ultimately if it's an artist whose work I really like then I'm going to buy their books, or if someone recommends to me the person's work then I'll check it out and maybe I'll get it.
Who is the person that you talk to most about books?
M: Probably my brother. He designs art books, so he’s always on top of what’s going on as well. There’s a bit of overlap, however our different artistic practices means that when sharing conversation, we’re able to cover a lot of ground. He’s frequently showing me something or someone new to me.
What are your top books that you think every person on the planet should read?
M: Giorgio Agamden's “Homor Sacer” - It covers a whole lot of ground. To quickly summarize the whole project: he takes the modern notion of the Western juridical suspension of law in times of crisis, and traces its history back to legal roots in Post-Republican Rome and Early Christian Theological practice. It interests me to see how concepts evolve, especially with such omnipresent topics as law.
Thomas Mann's “The Magic Mountain” because it messes with time when you’re reading it. The reader is like "Ah, I can completely relate to how he sets it up, this is what it's like when you're new to something.” You're more aware and you remember things so vividly. And then as the book progresses it flies by a lot faster and it all blends together. It could be disorienting.
This Momus book called “The Book of Japans” just because it's hysterical. It's a book about these Scottish men who all have Japanese fetishes who believe that you can travel to Japan at various points in the future by crawling into the uteruses of calving cows. And, so, it's essentially this really hysterical tale of some bestiality but done humorously 'cause like a Scotsman wrote it. His previous book was “The Book of Scotland” but I couldn't really get it because I wasn't Scottish. So, you don't really get all the jokes. The cover of the book is awesome. It's just the inverse of the Japanese flag so it's a green background with a white circle and it says, "Things are conspicuous in their absence." I thought it was such a great mantra.
Also, any Calvin and Hobbes book would be a favorite. “Scientific Progress Goes ‘Boink’” or “Attack of the Deranged Mutant Killer Monster Snow Goons” or some of the stuff towards the end. You read it as a kid and you kind of align yourself more with Calvin's actions and attitude. And then you read it as an adult and it still holds up but from the angle of—you understand—you read more the reasons for him doing it rather than his direct actions and it's just as good.
Any books that you feel like you should have read but didn't and now it's too late?
M: I feel like I could have said David Foster Wallace, but then I'm kind of glad I didn't read all of those because it's kind of become a pejorative at this point. “Infinite Jest” became one of those things I think people pretend to read. It's like a totem. Like no apartment is complete without “Infinite Jest” in it.
Do you prefer paperback to hardcopy?
M: Only for the fact that if I'm reading it on the train it's a lot easier rather than having this massive hardcover. For this reading group I go to we read that Benjamin Bratton book “The Stack” and it's massive and there is no way I can take that to a public place and not be in someone else’s space. Whereas paperback you can crease it a little bit. I don't really care.
Do you ever feel self conscious about what you're reading on the train?
M: I did with this book called “Complete Love” because it got really graphic and I was reading it on the subway. Sitting next to someone makes you pay attention to it so much more, because sometimes I glance over to see what people are reading.
Do you ever feel like you ever see a kindred reading spirit on the train that you want to talk to?
M: I'm usually buried with my head down. Everyone's on their phones nowadays so I don't even know what they're reading. I can’t recall anything in particular right now, but whenever someone is reading philosophy or art criticism, I'll quickly make a note of and add it to my list!
Do you ever feel the compulsion to finish books even if you don’t like them?
M: Yeah, even if I don't like it. I just make myself finish it. It's rare that I'll put it down because it's that bad even if I just speed read it.
Are you part of any reading groups in the city?
M: I used to be a member of an art magazine reading group that some friends organized and then there's this one, CBIC: Cloud-Based Institutional Critique, that I kind of am in but everyone's kind of in it but we don't really meet a lot. The group is called Cloud Based Institutional Critique. One of my friends organizes it and it's always a good time. It just tends to happen in clusters. It’s cloud based as in it's online it’s kind of a joke where art and technology meet. In terms of critiquing from within the cloud or whatever.
Do you read books online?
M: I sometimes read articles. I never read books online. I'll always buy the book edition. I prefer to do it that way. I have never bought an eBook — I don't know how I would download it. I read articles or essays online. I just get too distracted reading books online and move on, the Internet is made for quicker digestion so it's end’s up feeling like you’re sitting there staring at a computer screen surrounded by ads.
Do you write in your books or do you feel like you'll ruin them if you write in them?
M: I never do. Only once. My friends and I did a reading group for “Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia” by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari and we still haven't finished it. It's been like three years. But, it's the only book I've really marked up. I feel like if you're in a reading group you just open to the section and find it and use it as the talking points.
Thank you Matt – Follow @book__in__hand and subscribe for more Farsighted interviews.