Note: This post mentions "Spark Books," which was coined by author Kyo Maclear in her book Birds Art Life.
When bookseller Kristen told me her idea for making book maps, I reacted with an almost embarrassing amount of excitement. Books and Mind Mapping! Two things I LOVE. I immediately started listing and connecting all the books I’ve read in recent memory. The map that grew the most was this one. These are all books related in my mind to Making - creating things with the hands. Want a quick tour?
I’ll start with the Spark Book, but first we have to go back into my past real quick. Both of my parents were potters at one time, and I grew up helping my mom with her clay classes for kids, so I’ve been playing with clay almost my entire life. After college, with a rekindled interest in ceramics, I started taking classes at the Honolulu Academy of Arts. A visiting ceramic artist named Erin Yuasa came to class one day armed with a stack of books. Out of all of them, she pointed to Craftsmen of Necessity as the must-read, and I took her advice. It was the first time I’d read anything about Craftsmen (as opposed to Artists, tho the difference is a mushy one in my brain and is its own discussion best saved for wine, I think). In school I’d read art history, fine art criticism and theory, artist biographies, stuff like that, but Craftsmen of Necessity was the first book I came across that made a big deal about the act of making and craftspeople. It’s about indigenous craftsmen from different cultures and how they used natural materials to make the things they need to survive. I was obsessed with this book for a long time because the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the people in the book just blew my modern day mind. I also felt a kinship with these people because a lot of my childhood involved playing in the backyard and building and pretending things with the rocks, dirt, branches, seeds and flowers I found there...and of course there was my interest in pottery - seeing how people made pots before electric pottery wheels and kilns is endlessly fascinating!
That interest hibernated for a while… until I came across a reading list created by Nick Offerman (Ron from Parks & Rec!) that included these two books about being a craftsman: Peter Korn’s Why We Make Things and Why It Matters: The Education of a Craftsman, and Michael Pollan’s A Place of My Own. I picked up Pollan’s book because his food books are some of my faves, but this one found a special place in my heart. Pollan wrote about building his own tiny cabin in the woods behind his house, and it reminded me of building a backyard clubhouse with my dad and the excitement of making something grand - like a house! - with my own two hands. Both of these books sparked my interest in exactly what Peter Korn titled his book: Why DO we make things and Why does it even matter!? I’m fascinated by other people’s thoughts on these questions.
So those questions bring me to the whole WHY section of my book map, and it gets into memoirs by artists, writers, makers. The answers differ for everyone, and likely from day to day. However, like most things in life, there seem to be kernels of truth that are the same for everyone. One book led me to another that led to an essay by the scholar Ellen Dissanayake who wrote about those truth kernels in an anthropological study called “The Pleasure and Meaning of Making.” It’s very readable and interesting if you’re into that kind of stuff. You can find it online here.
The WHY on my map also ties in with the HOW. I don’t mean How as in the technical skills. It’s more like How to be a maker. Making is tightly bound up with Living for a lot of people, and it can sure get murky sometimes. I’ve read countless books about navigating a creative life… so I picked two that I’m currently dabbling in. The rest don’t fit on the page.
JAPAN is on the map because having visited that country for a handful of past summers, and being immersed in all that great design and craftsmanship, the country has become a little obsession for me. And then, because Japan has such a strong pottery tradition, a lot of these books fit into the POTTERY section too.
I included a COLOR section on this map because it’s one aspect of making/designing that seems to inspire really fun, wildly different books. It could really be its own book map with Chromophobia as the Spark Book. Chromophobia is a super challenging intellectual theory book that was recommended by the same Erin who recommended Craftsmen of Necessity. I’ll proudly admit that ten years later I’m still stuck halfway through and intending to finish it (we all have that book, don’t we?) … but maybe it served its purpose by sparking my interest in a whole bunch of other books that I love. Super fun essays like those in 100 Whites by the Japanese designer Kenya Hara (Lani’s rec!), and lovely color poetry for the heart like Maggie Nelson’s Bluets (Emily’s rec!).
Obviously I could go on and on…. But let’s pause here. I know some of you readers are nerdy for mind mapping, too. What kind of book map would you make? What are some of your spark books? If you feel inspired to make a book map, please share it with us! I think it’s really fun to follow someone else's journey through books. And by mapping your books, you might discover some notable things about your own reading habits. Until I made this map, I didn’t realize how much time I devote to reading and thinking about making stuff. But it’s not surprising. It’s what I do when I’m not reading.
Mariko Merritt is an artist, illustrator and graphic designer living in Honolulu. She has illustrated several children’s books including Kai Goes to the Farmer’s Market, Hush Little Keiki, and Island Toes. Mariko was born and raised in Hawai‘i, and earned a degree in Graphic Design from Rhode Island School of Design. You can connect with Mariko on Instagram (@heybeachcake) or at her website: www.marikomerritt.com.
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