Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Neon Starr

No Exit Press is primarily a publisher of crime novels, and for the most part their books look like any other bog-standard crime novels: shadowy figures, stock photos of cities at night, author names in massive blocky type. But for some reason they have made an exemption for the books of crime novelist Jason Starr (who I have to admit to having never read, but having seen these covers I will now rectify that). The one I first saw, which really grabbed me, was this:

Click each cover for much bigger versions

These covers, by Sharm Murugiah, make excellent use of overlaid images and eye-popping neon colours. I'd assumed that works riffing on the Marber grid were probably a bit played-out these days, but I like this take on it.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Lesbian Flowers

Vintage Classics has an edition of Rita Mae Brown's Rubyfruit Jungle coming out soon--one of the first lesbian novels that was frequently funny and joyful, rather than a Radclyffe Hall-style doomfest--and while the cover image is in itself rather beautiful (a photo by Mark Vessey), as a choice of image it feels stale: blossoming flower as a stand-in for blossoming female sexuality is an old, old trope.

This is one of those occasions in which the Vintage Classics author formula of 'VINTAGE [SURNAME]' doesn't work: 'Vintage Brown' sounds like the description of a wallpaper you'd rip down as fast as possible upon buying a house last redecorated in 1978.

It does, however, reference the various, rather dull, US covers that many of the books original readers would recognise (image stolen from here):

Much better, to my mind, is this old Penguin Essentials cover from 2001:

The title and author were listed on a removable sticker used in most bookshops to cover the more prominent nipples

Of course, if it's explicitness you're after, you could always try this Italian edition...

Thursday, 9 July 2015


There are a lot of drawbacks to being an Australian at the moment: a government whose malevolence and flat-Earthery is matched only by their incompetence (and whose Catholic-heavy leadership recently changed the law in order to make it easier for refugee children to be sexually abused in concentration camps); an opposition party who has never held a principle that a focus group couldn't break; over-expensive books; a Netflix catalogue only an eighth the size of its overseas equivalents...

But at least we have better-looking Elena Ferrante books than the rest of you.

In the rest of the English-speaking world, the much-acclaimed Ferrante's Neapolitan Tetralogy, translated and published by Europa Editions (and all power to them, as they have an excellent catalogue of books), look like this:

The only excuse I can think of for these wilfully unappealing covers, the sort you might see on the sort of remaindered commercial fiction which ends its days jumbled up on a low shelf in a post office shop, is that they match the original Italian editions of the books.

But in Australia the books are published by Text Publishing, almost all of whose output is designed by the mighty W. H. Chong, He has made them look genuinely lovely, with bold monochromatic photographs that might be stills from lost Italian neo-realist cinema masterpieces, and suprisingky subtle gold text. (Click to embiggerificate.)

The presence of the intriguing and beautifully lit female faces on each of these covers is so much more effective than all the turned-away heads on the originals.

Summary: Australia is fucked, but we've got us some pretty books.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Small Publisher Specials #3: Pariah Press

An unsual Small Publisher Special post this, since the publisher in question has published just the one book (with a second coming very soon); but that book is very good indeed, and designed beautifully. If you take a small press's first publication as a declaration of their style and intent, then Pariah Press is well worth following.

Cover design by Steven Cherry

The book in question is Austin Collings's The Myth of Brilliant Summers, a collection of prose poems and very short stories that felt a bit like the work of Dennis Johnson if he'd grown up in Manchester during the dark, dreary Thatcher years. The book is interspersed with appropriately gloomy or surreally amusing photographs, and opens with two sketches by artist Chloe Steele, which capture scenes of nature encroaching on the urban (or the other way around?) full of silence and a little suggested menace. (Click to enlargenify.)

In an era when a lot of excellent small presses (including my own) have to rely on print-on-demand technology to produce their books, Pariah have gone the other way, with a lovely textured cover and quality paper stock.

I also have to quote Collings himself, from an interview, where he makes a point about the endless series of big, 600+-page novels that get churned out by publishers, usually after a ludicrous 6- or 7-figure advance has been handed over. "The publishing industry remains in thrall to the archaic idea of length; the great Victorian novel that weighs the same as an obese newborn. Far too many books are padding around one or two—sometimes not even that—ideas. It is hard to notice what you see everyday—the world we see in our heads and the world we see daily – but the short story can work as a powerful representation of this universal dilemma by being urgent, subtle and concise." This is very much on the money, and a perfect summary of what is so good about Collings's own work: short, perfectly worded and edited pieces that give a pure literary kick that 100 pages of cod-Dickensian rambling about the social stratifications of New York (as featured in around 3,000 novels published in the past 12 months) can not.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015


I read Adam Roberts's first few novels with great enjoyment, and then somehow drifted away (the combination of the misfiring The Snow and the feeling he was wasting his essence on endless silly stocking-stuffer parody books like The Soddit, The McAtrix Derided, The Sellamillion, Star Warped, The Va Dinci Cod, The Dragon with the Girl Tattoo, etc).

However, a while ago I bought a collection of his SF criticism, Sibilant Fricative, on a whim, and it reminded me just how clever and funny a writer he is. Investigating several of the many, many, many books he has published since The Snow showed me that my loss of interest achieved nothing but the exclusion from my life of some extraordinarily good science fiction, and that I had been an idiot.

So I got his newest, Bête, a splendid story about consciousness, animal rights, prejudice and poor social skills, among other things--the central conceit being the invention of AI chips which, when fed to animals, migrate into their brains and gift them human-style consciousness and the ability to speak.

The cover of Bête is also splendid: the work of Blacksheep (or Black Sheep, I've never been quite sure which), it combines woodcut-style animal silhouettes into a delirious swirl of detail, with little added details like megaphones which play up the themes of the novel. (Click for biggering)

And further hunting around reveals Roberts's forthcoming novel to be entitled The Thing Itself, a brew of John Carpenter and Immanuel Kant that I'm exactly enough of an intellectual show-off to be be able to truthfully state is exactly my cup of tea, and which I want to read right now. The 6-month wait is my punishment for my former foolishness. And it has this great cover, also presumably a Blacksheep design.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Circles & Colours (& Numbers)

One ongoing theory is that you fight the drift to ebooks by making your physical books as lovely as possible. Harvill Secker's imminent edition of Joshua Cohen's Book of Numbers, which looks very interesting, takes this idea very seriously indeed. It features the first circular dustjacket I can recall encountering, as well as using different single-colour overprinted illustrations that show up under different colours of light.

Quoting from Harvill's design blog: "The theme of surveillance was the spark of this cover. We had admired the RGB wallpaper work of Carnovsky for a while (a Milan based artist/designer duo comprised of Francesco Rugi and Silvia Quintanilla.) Their RGB work experiments with the interaction between printed light and colours. Images in these colours are overlaid, lines and shapes entwine but when seen under a filter/coloured light one of the three layers is revealed.

"The duo were given a large list of subjects from the novel, highlighting the ones that felt particularly important to be included. We then gave Carnosky an unusual circular grid. The idea was that this circle would fold down to wrap around the book as a jacket but when opened out would for an extraordinary poster of the novel."

The embossed boards underneath are very nice, too.

More Carnovsky wallpapers are at their site (see above). Here are a few samples. Click to embiggen and break out the coloured cellophane.