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What My Coffee Table Books Say About Me

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Hannah Engler

Staff Writer

Hannah lives in New York and works in publishing. In addition to Book Riot, her articles have appeared on, the American Writer's Museum blog, Feminist Campus, and more. When not writing or reading (which is hardly ever), she tweets, eats, and watches Nora Ephron movies. Twitter: @caffeinehannah

What does art have to do with books? For me, absolutely everything. I love both with an extreme ferocity, and could spend all day ogling in the places where they’re housed. When I was little, I wanted to be an artist for years and years until I decided I could be even more fanciful and chose “writer” instead. Those two passions very much intersect for me with the glorious and supposedly superfluous coffee-table book.

Coffee-table books are somewhat controversial items. They’re ridiculously expensive. They’re heavy. They are not what I, as a young person, might ever refer to as a necessity. But I’m hopelessly attached to my coffee table books, because they, like any other art collection or decor choice, express a few little details about who I am.

Here is what my coffee table book collection says about me:

  1. Selfish by Kim Kardashian: I am not going to go into a long-winded defense of my purchase of this item. Rather, I will say that I am a massive proponent of the selfie, and there is no denying that Kardashian was one of its pioneers. This book expresses either earnest participation in pop culture ridiculousness, or showcases my ironic side. It depends on the tone someone uses to say “Oh my gosh, you have that book?”
  2. The Little Paris Kitchen by Rachel Khoo: My sister got this for me after I went on a trip to Paris that ignited an intense, months-long search for a way to move there ASAP. When it became clear that this was kind of a pie in the sky, my Francophilia cooled and I simply took to flipping through this gorgeous cookbook. Khoo modifies exacting French recipes to make them apartment-friendly – even if things like foie gras and crispy rabbit are not exactly college-friendly.
  3. Paris mythique, 100 photos de legende: Did I mention a low-level obsession with Paris? I purchased this on my trip, in the bookstore of the Musee d’Orsay. These photos remind me of how I felt on my trip: like I was walking in a magical, storied land. I guess I was.
  4. Makeup Your Mind: Express Yourself by Francois Nars: A nod to another one of my obsessions – makeup! This book alternates close-up photos of men and women of all ages and races wearing Nars makeup with translucent diagrams of how the products were used to create the looks. I love thinking of makeup in this way – as a medium for art and self-expression, something not to be taken too seriously.
  • Well-Read Women: Portraits of Fiction’s Most Beloved Heroines by Samantha Hahn: I saved the best for last. This is one of my favorite works of art that I have ever owned. It combines absolutely breathtaking illustrations of famous literary heroines with some of their most iconic lines, from Emma Woodhouse to Nancy Drew. I simply never get tired of looking at it.

    I think that the reason I love coffee table books so much is that while they seem purely aesthetic, they serve a very important purpose for me. Like a fantasy or romance novel, they provide an instant escape, not through a narrative but through images that are interesting, provocative, or even just pretty. More than that, I like the idea that someone can walk into my apartment, see my collection, and wonder about the curation process. Of course, I never get tired of talking about my favorite books. But it’s also nice that these five tend to speak for themselves.