Some of Our Favorite Innovative Books Published In 2011

Posted by Eric Smith

Here at Quirk, we love creating unique, innovative books.

And since it IS December, the magical time of year when blogs everywhere are banging out Best Of Lists (David at Largeheartedboy has a great roundup of them), we decided to write up our own. I polled the office and asked for innovative book picks. Whether it was the writing, the design, the illustration, or the packaging, as long as the book caught our eye in some special way, it got featured below.

Have your own picks? I bet you do! Leave them in the comments. We could use some good reads (and inspiration!) for 2012.

Dave Borgenicht (President & Publisher, @davidaborg): Believing Is Seeing: Observations on the Mysteries of Photography by Errol Morris (Penguin)

This fascinating investigation into documentary photography and its relation to the real world would definitely make my list of the most innovative books this year. It’s part history of documentary photography , part detective story, part philosophy book on art and truth. All with astounding photography and filmmaker Errol Morris’s incredible insights. The innovation, to me, is that Morris wanted to put his distinctive documentary storytelling voice and mark on another medium besides film–and he did so beautifully.

Margaret McGuire (Editor, @OinkOink): Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream at Home by Jeni Britton (Artisan)

Since I’m a proud Ohio native, I am tempted to pick Columbus Ohio entrepreneur and ice cream wizard Jeni Britton Bauer’s first book Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream at Home. It’s a tremendous big hardcover cookbook full of gorgeous photography and immaculate recipes that make creamy, flavorful, to-die-for ice cream into an easy project for any home cook.

Jason Rekulak (Associate Publisher & Creative Director): Pulphead: Essays by John Jeremiah Sullivan (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Look, I get it: Nothing sounds more boring than “a collection of essays.” But John Jeremiah Sullivan is no ordinary writer. Maybe you caught his cover story in the June 8 2011 New York Times Magazine (it’s the one about a family vacation to Disney World enhanced by illegal drugs and other criminal behaviors).

As soon as I finished that story, I wanted to read more, and Pulphead delivers the goods — fourteen essays originally published in GQ, Harper’s, and other magazines. Sullivan profiles Axl Rose and Michael Jackson, describes his brother’s near-death-by-electrocution, predicts a coming war between humans and animals, and (in my favorite) rents an enormous RV to attend a Christian rock music festival. Of all the wonderful new writers I’ve discovered in 2011, Sullivan gets top honors. I can’t wait to see what he does next.

Brett Cohen (Vice President): Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (Crown)

I’m a pop-culture fanatic and a child of the 80’s. My favorite movies include Back to the Future and Willy Wonka. Growing up, I played Knight Rider with my friends. I thought I could hack into the US security mainframe with my Commodore 64–well, I wanted to believe I could. The first video game that I beat was The Legend of Zelda. And, the first Matrix film made me stop and say “Whoah.” You can find the book’s synopsis here and see why I geeked out over this book.

To me, this book earns its innovative stripes by telling an original story–which doesn’t happen as often as it should in our industry. It’s a fantastical, geektastical story that captures your imagination and takes you on an “I-do-not-want-this-to-end” journey–much like the video and role-playing games included in the narrative. Sure it”s been described as a “Willy Wonka meets The Matrix”. And, in many ways, that makes it a familiar story–especially when you throw in the 80’s nostalgic points. But, the book utilizes that movie-pitch familiarity as a launching pad into a greater, magical adventure with a group of characters that you care about because you want to be them or be there right alongside them.

Oh… and the author drives a DeLorean which includes a flux capacitor, among its many 80s inspired additions.

Margaret McGuire (Editor, @OinkOink): The Miette Bakery Cookbook (Chronicle Books)

The book that I’ve really loved sharing with people the most this year is The Miette Bakery Cookbook. Miette is a really special little bakery in San Francisco. But what makes this book jump off the shelves is the truly lovely and innovative way that the format supports the content. It’s a pretty jacketed hardcover, and the pages have a die-cut scalloped edge like a big doily!

Eric Smith (Social Media & Marketing Coordinator, @ericsmithrocks): Moby Dick In Pictures: One Drawing for Every Page by Matt Kish (Tin House Books)

Drawing one picture for every single page of Moby Dick? And the 552 page Signet Classic, no less? What an epic undertaking, one that Matt Kish began when he launched his blog Every Page of Moby Dick. His artwork blends a number of mediums, from watercolor painting and upcycling (he used old book pages) to traditional ink illustration with crayon. And the packaging for this book is absolutely gorgeous, hardcover in a fancy, elegant slipcase. An innovative idea put together in an innovative package. Absolutely my pick.

Eric Smith


ERIC SMITH is the cofounder of Geekadelphia, a popular blog covering all-that-is-geek in the City of Brotherly Love, as well as the Philadelphia Geek Awards, an annual awards show held at the Academy of Natural Sciences. He’s written for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Weekly, and