We stumbled onto the Reading Room at do you read me?! by accident, the way you do when you are wandering around an unfamiliar city without any real destination or goal. I discovered later that their Potsdamer Strasse branch (or, as it says on their website, a place for lectures, exhibitions, debates and all the still slumbering ideas and projects) is a sister location to their ‘bespoke’ magazine shop (which will compile a personal assortment based on your interests) and lecture space in Mitte. It is an indication that the area around Potsdamer Strasse is going to be Berlin’s next big art destination, as there are already lots of galleries opening in the area.
Berlin is not short of galleries, nor of bookshops, and so it seems logical that the two should come together in some way. It is therefore also logical that you can ‘curate’ a bookshop, in the same way you might ‘curate’ an exhibition (Berlin is a place where even the trees are curated: see below). Thus the simple but brilliant idea of asking inspiring personalities in art, culture and design to select their current favourite books. It’s not a new idea: literary pages of magazines and broadsheets have been asking authors and cultural figures to chose their books of the year or to name their bedside reading for some time, and here in England, Waterstones, one of the most enlightened of the large chains, has always had a policy of asking their booksellers for personal picks (indeed, most bookshops seem to do that these days).
But what is new (and exciting) here is the presentation. Long thin sheets entitled what do you read?! hang from the walls on pegs (for browsers to take away). One side lists the inspiring personalities who have been asked for their picks, and on the reverse, is an individual selection. For example, the artist Jonathan Monk has been reading The Complete Writings of Donald Judd, American English by Richard Prince, The Jeff Koons Handbook, and lots of magazines, including i-D, Wallpaper, and Hello (yes, Hello). Each title has a short personal description by the selector. So Monk says that Judd’s Complete Writings are ‘A comprehensive guide to very little’ and that Wallpaper magazine is ‘To be read on the toilet. ‘ The inspiring personalities’ comments are generally humorous and meaningful, and give us equal insight into books and readers. A list of what someone is reading is a window into his / her mind and soul.
Each of the inspiring personalities’ books are available for sale, with bright pink cards tucked inside their pages (like library cards) saying which personality has chosen the book and why, so that the selections are cross-referenced.
There are chairs to sit in while perusing. There is coffee.
In another room are general selections of books: art, architecture, design, fashion, typography, cultural essays. Again, baggage restrictions prevented me from going completely crazy, but I came away with a few selections:
I like your work: art and etiquette is Paper Monuments answer to Miss Manners meets Andy Warhol. Various artists were interviewed for their opinions on courtesy in the art world. Jessica Slaven is asked ‘What is the role of etiquette in the art world?’ to which she replies, ‘ The art world should have a separate code of behaviour from civilized society to indicate its self-impressed and savage nature.’ Roger White, in a section entitled ‘How artists must dress’ states that ‘The relationship between an artist’s work and attire should not take the form of a direct visual analogy. A stripe painter may not wear stripes.’ And Wendy Olsoff, when asked ‘When does breach of etiquette play a role in embarrassing or awkward encounters?’ simply answers ‘One kiss, two kisses, or three? One is never sure.’
I also bought when you travel in Iceland you see a lot of water by Roman Signer and Tumi Magnússon, described as a ‘travel book’, but which is an illustrated road trip and conversation between the two artists. It is a beautiful book, with an old map of Iceland as the endpapers, and photographs charting the journey.
But my best purchase was the Sternberg Press edition of Sung Hwan Kim’s Ki-da Rilke, which is the artist’s illustrated interpretation of Rilke, presented like someone’s secret notebook (interleaved with pink sheets that are not bound, so that they are like interventions or asides), or dog-eared copy with doodles in the margins. Rilke becomes a kind of tour guide or ghostly presence, his poems written out in the artist’s long hand (the way I used to write out poems I liked in a notebook, before the days of computers.
http://www.sternberg-press.com/index.php?pageId=1321&l=en&bookId=216&sort=year DESC,month DESC&PHPSESSID=1d1c226bc171edd2817c997bd7addd90
Eventually, I had to leave the shop. I restricted myself to those three books, as I knew they would be hard to find in London. But I’ll be back.