Books with Words and Images

I recently (<1 year?) finished Rings of Saturn by W. G. Sebald and was completely moved by the book. The fact Sebald can write fiction with such conviction that it sounds like truth is amazing, and the depth of his knowledge here on all things is itself a sight to behold. One thing that is interesting in the book as well is that there are pictures in it that go along with the narrative of the book. Some are photographs, some maps, some diagrams. Examples:

I think it was one of the first books I read that treated images like this, as both themselves the topic of discussion and a minor accessory to prose. They were also spaced out enough that each image, when it appeared, felt special. Inspired by this idea I also recently picked up Uncertain Manifesto by Frédéric Pajak where:

The utterly original book that he produced is a memoir born of reading and a meditation on the lives and ideas, the motivations, feelings, and fates of some of Pajak’s heroes: Samuel Beckett and the artist Bram van Velde, and, especially, Walter Benjamin, whose travels to Moscow, Naples, and Ibiza, whose experiences with hashish, whose faltering marriage and love affairs and critique of modern experience Pajak re-creates and reflects on in word and image.

Though Pajak’s book has more of a graphic novel feel than Sebald’s, I’m now really interested in this idea of “books with words and pictures”. In searching for some of the images from Rings of Saturn, I also ran across this site that seems to be a good resource on the topic as well and theorizes the idea:

From the site:

My main subject, then, is fictional narratives, written in continuous prose, with interposed images, usually photographs.

Using this as a jumping off point, do any other people here have experience with books like this or further recommendations in this area?

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Love this topic! Both these books look fantastic, thanks for sharing. Trying to think of similar ones…Some of the first that come to mind are nonfiction.

A Pattern Language is a fantastic and lengthy treatise-cum-taxonomy on urban design and architecture…but really kind of goes beyond that to discuss all kinds of ideal ways of building not only physical space / cities but societies. The book is beautifully made and organized, and there are lots of nice images and diagrams that break up the text and make it more digestible while also serving to clearly illustrate all the design “patterns” being discussed:

Along similar lines, The Origins of Form is a really cool book about materials and physical structures, scientific constraints and qualities of physical form. Here, the images are nice detailed drawings of particular materials / textures, e.g. looking at close-up crystalline structures, organic forms, ways materials interact with forces, etc.:

Edward Tufte comes to mind too, though his books are basically all about design and visual representations of information, so I think feels like a bit of a different balance than the prose + images combo I think you’re describing (maybe all these nonfiction books are a bit different than the more poetic memoir direction of this kind of thing). But his work definitely seems notable generally for beautiful books that blend the written and visual. For example:

Two that are a bit closer to the examples you give here—

Autonauts of the Cosmoroute is very cool, a kind of weird travelogue…the premise is: Julio Cortázar and his partner Carol Dunlop turn what would normally be a day-long drive on the Paris-Marseilles freeway into a meandering month-long adventure, stopping at every rest stop along the way! I like the format — mixing letters, journal entries, lists, drawings, photos…gives the sense of a very fun, whimsical personal project, and lovingly assembled book:

Second, Patti Smith’s Just Kids is lovely, great blend of writing and photos. M Train is good as well though if I recall a bit less focused. Both great examples of poetic memoir with visual elements:

Oh! Final example, a bit different but really interesting, What We See When We Read is all about…okay I’m just going to quote from the description blurb:

A gorgeously unique, fully illustrated exploration into the phenomenology of reading—how we visualize images from reading works of literature, from one of our very best book jacket designers, himself a passionate reader.

An almost cinematic blend of text and images, kind of collage style…and a very interesting topic!

Also, definitely going to have to bookmark and come back to this…looks like a ton of good stuff on that site!

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