You might not know Bob Staake’s name, but chances are high you’ve seen his eye-popping illustrations on New Yorker covers, not to mention in a long list of national publications. Staake also produces inventive children’s books at a near manic pace in his studio in Chatham. His latest is “Bugs Galore.”
BOOKS: You’ve said looking is reading, how does that work?
STAAKE: I can’t tell you how important that concept has been to my life. The way I read as a kid is I would flip through Esquire magazine or National Geographic Magazine, and I would fixate on whatever caught my attention, a photograph, an illustration, or an ad. That was reading to me. That is the way kids start to read, and parents don’t respect it enough. The idea that looking at things is not as important as reading the written word, that’s BS.
BOOKS: What were the books that had a big impact on you as a kid?
STAAKE: I was raised on Dr Seuss. I also loved “The Five Chinese Brothers” by Claire Huchet Bishop, the most un-pc book you’ve ever seen. I remember it so distinctly. There was also “Minn of the Mississippi” by Holling Clancy Holling about a turtle swimming the river. It was enthralling.
BOOKS: Do you still look-read like this as an adult?
STAAKE: No question. My quote-unquote reading is mostly looking. In my wall of books I have this big monotype “Saul Bass” of the great 1960s designer by Jennifer Bass and Pat Kirkham. I am interested to read about his life, but I’m looking at the images first. I just finished “Diane Arbus” by Patricia Bosworth, which I liked, but I’d rather look at a book of her photos than read about her life.
BOOKS: What other kind of books do you have?
STAAKE: It’s a big combination on the shelves. A book on the houses of Frank Gehry by Mildred Friedman, which is next to “Edward Hopper,” a biography on the artist by Gail Levin. “Dr Seuss & Mr. Geisel” by Judith Morgan is next to a collection of contemporary comic books called “Misery Loves Company.” There’s a biography on N.C. Wyeth by David Michaelis next to “The Tower of London” by Christopher Hibbert. I have two copies of “N by E” by Rockwell Kent for some reason.
BOOKS: If you are going to read-read a book what do you like?
STAAKE: I go between fiction, nonfiction, and biography. I just finished the Wyeth biography, which I liked. Now I’m just finishing “Just My Type” by Simon Garfield. It’s a complete nerd-out on typography and font. It’s one of those books that as I get close to finishing it I really slow down because I don’t want it to end.
BOOKS: When you read fiction, which authors do you like?
STAAKE: It’s all over the place. I went through this period 15 years ago when I felt like I had to read every single Beat writer, from Allen Ginsberg to Jack Kerouac to William Burroughs. I hate Burroughs. It’s soulless. He’s not like Ginsburg, who had magic in his soul. And I’ll re-read anything by Charles Bukowski. I’ve probably read “Ham on Rye” six times. I give that to friends. “Factotum,” same thing.
BOOKS: What do you have on your bedside table?
STAAKE: There’s a biography of Lewis Carroll by Morton Cohen. I’m designing an opera based on Frank Baum’s Oz, so I have his “The Road to Oz.” A book on industrial design from 1935 to 1965 by Paul Johnson, a biography on the poster artist A.M. Cassandre by Henri Mouron, a couple of children’s books and a catalogue of an exhibit of Chuck Close’s work at the Museum of Modern Art. I hate to say this, but I have to keep a pile there because it helps me prop up my iPad.