Thursday, 27 September 2012

A Bilious Attack

Every bloody bookshop I've ever gone into or used online has been bombarding me with emails letting me know that J. K. Rowling's "first novel for adults" is now available. Whoop-dee-fucking-doo; I don't care. The plot sounds like that of a minor money-losing British movie starring Judi Dench, the prose looks boring, and the cover is dull--but then, I suspect they could have jacketed it in poo-flecked human skin and it would still sell by the truckload.

Designer: don't know, don't care

I only wish they'd done a children's version of the cover, to match the "adult" covers for the Harry Potter books that self-deluding grown-ups bought so they could pretend they weren't reading children's books.

Sorry for the bile, but I used to work in a bookshop and I'd happily never hear about this writer and her books again.

The other incessant emails I'm getting are from Amazon: buy one post-apocalypse novel from them and they never stop sending you plugs for self-published/small-press zombie novels. I was particularly struck by the odd pathos of the plug on the front of this one.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Chucking Out the Whores

This is an unusual case. Usually when a book goes from hardback to paperback, it gets a new cover. In this case, though, the book keeps almost the same cover, but gets a new title--presumably Penguin were told that the original, 'Whore'-containing title was putting people (women?) off. (UPDATE: Author Neil Ansell explains that "I met the author when we appeared at the same literary festival, and she explained that the reason for the name change was because the chain WH Smith was refusing to stock the book with that title.")

In either case, the cover, drawn by Max Schindler, is a nice attempt at mimicking the illustrated boards of books from the era of the novel's setting, 1887.

The original hardback trade paperback...

..and the new paperback...

Monday, 17 September 2012


One of the bookshops I haunt has a specialist area where they sell textbooks and the like: whenever I visit that section, I sually see an array of programming textbooks from O'Reilly Media. Given that these books are usually about the complex minutiae of various computer languages, database implementation and other coding problems, it must be hard to come up with dynamic cover images that represent the topic. So I have to admit to admiring the way they just said, "That's impossible, so fuck it, let's put animals on them all!" (this is not sarcasm, by the way--these books really do stand out from the other books on the same theme, which usually have abstract CGI blobs or stock photos of young people looking amazed at monitors).

UPDATE: Designer Edie Freedman talks about the cover designs here.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

One of These Things is Almost Exactly Like the Other One

The original:

The wannabe:

This is so shameless that it shows a certain kind of chutzpah. The same font (in the same colour), a nearly identical name,  a riduclously similar image, and even the original author's name snuck on there. I'd be interested to know the philosophy behind this copycat cover: is it just to create a Pavlovian 'I-liked-that-so-I'll-like-this' response, or are the actually hoping that people will end up buying the wrong book, like the confused parents who rent or buy Asylum Video rip-off DVDs for their kids under the impression that they're getting them something else entirely. Depressing as it is, I'd hope for the former (especially since both have the same publisher, Harper Voyager), but stories about customers like these make me suspect they're hoping for at least some moron dollars.

And while we're in this vague neighbourhood, here's another duplicate cover.

They're both novels set in small Southern US towns. I have no idea what the Carolyn Wall is like, but The Member of the Wedding is an ace book, maybe McCullers' best (she reins in the Southern Gothic madness a bit).

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Going gooey-eyed over NYRB Lit

On a number of occasions I've drooled, both privately and publicly, over both the contents and covers of the New York Review Books series. It seems to me that, unless you're trying to create a massive, all-encompassing library of "classic" books--more, to be honest, than any one person is likely to ever read--along the lines of Penguin Classics, then the NYRB way is the way to go.

Since the 1990s it has grown into an extensive collection of frankly amazing diversity and quality: about the only times I don't buy one of their new releases is when the book is either one I already own (usually in a much uglier version), or else the topic is of narrowly American-centric focus. This means that each year still seems to provide a couple of dozen books of staggering awesomeness. I mean, I just looked at their upcoming books on Amazon, and my mind is boggled: Thomas Tryon! Erich Kastner! Natsume Soseki! Renata Adler! Kingsley Amis! Saki and Edward Gorey! Russell Hoban! Holy shit!

Anyway, to calm down and get to what I'm here for, they've just published the first in their ebook-only series, NYRB Lit. I assume the rationale here is that these books are those that are unlikely to make back the costs of physical publishing, but which are too good to languish unpublished in the US market. I've been lucky enough to read two of them, Lindsay Clarke's The Water Theatre and Zena el Khalil's Beirut, I Love You: A Memoir, both of which are marvellous in entirely different ways. The former reminded me at times, in the best possible way, of two of my favourite writers: Graham Greene and Ronan Bennett. The later is a superb and funny autobiography about growing up a dishevelled artist in Lebanon (and Lagos and New York). Zena el Khalil  also provides a wonderful alternative to the usual po-faced author photograph.

As with all ebooks, discussions of the covers is potentially difficult, in that the books don't exist as objects. NYRB have not used their usual Katy Homans-created series design. Instead they've gone with the covers-as-icons idea, using a nearly square format, with each one designed by Ian Durovic Stewart. Click for bigger versions...

I really like these. Looking at them, I was reminded what designer Ian Shimkoviak said in his guest post here in July:

[M]any people doing e-books will ask that the title type be very big and legible at a small thumbnail size. This is not a critical request in my opinion as most reader devices clearly list the name of the product next to it in a legible font. Most people will probably click on something because the image is strong and enticing rather than the type being massive. So this request I often find naive and irritating as it really sets the tone for a cover that is ugly and obnoxious looking.

These NYRB Lit covers seem to me to idealise the ebook cover possibilities. They do have large type, legible at small sizes, but it's well-integrated into the design, and very attractive. The images are well-chosen, and the overall effect, with its layering and texturing, makes you wish these were physical objects you could look at in the real world. I hope they do sell well enough to spawn paper editions.

I know this all sounds like something of a love letter. But I'm not ashamed to admit that I've frequently shared  my bed with a NYRB book, and sometimes more than one. If we must have ebooks, and it seems we must, let these be the sort of ebooks that triumph.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Alphabetical Order

I've long enjoyed Daily Drop Cap, a design blog by Jessica Hische, where she posts an initial letter she has designed pretty much each day (and has done so for nearly three years). The range of forms and styles she has created from the 26 basic letter shapes is quite amazing.

Penguin obviously think so too, as they've commissioned her to create letterforms for the covers for their new Penguin Drop Caps classics series: 26 deluxe paperback editions of classics books, chosen for the initial letters of the authors' surnames. For example, the first three books are by Austen, Bronte (Charlotte) and Cather: Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre and My Antonia. Click for bigger versions of the first six books... (All cover designs by Jessica Hische and Paul Buckley).

As you can see, the spines will match, and the changing colours of the set will create a full spectrum by the end.

I'm in two minds about this set: on the one hand, they will undoubtedly be gorgeous, while on the other they are probably entirely unnecessary (this will be Penguin's 235,623th in-print edition of P&P, for example); but then, the classics are probably getting harder to shift in these days of free public domain ebooks, so making the paper versions as pretty as possible is probably the way to go.

As for Jessica Hische, she has an extensive set of beautiful type-centric book cover designs in her portfolio. Here are some of my favourites, starting with different desigsn for two of the classics above, these versions done for Barnes & Noble. Click an image for much larger versions.

An as-yet unpublished project by Hische herself

Above and below, a pair of dramatic, Jazz Age designs

I wasn't sure whether to risk Eggers again after some disappointing past experiences, but this cover design has pushed me into spending my money

Sadly, not yet a real cover: part of the Lolita Cover Project

Monday, 3 September 2012

The Boca Breeze

In July I posted these four tremendous new covers for B. S. Johnson reprints. A helpful commenter told me they were the work of La Boca. by chance, I was just admiring their Louise-Brooks-meets-puffy-paint-in-a-shredder cover for the Booker-nominated The Teleportation Accident. So it seems a good time to do a round up of their various cover art jobs.

Click for a bigger version

Those Nicholas Blake (pen-name of Cecil Day-Lewis) covers make me want to try his Nigel Strangeways amateur detective books again, even though past experience suggests that his non-Strangeways crime novels are far superior (see especially the sadly neglected The Private Wound, out of print now for 25 years.)