Wednesday 26 September 2007

Full Frontal Nudity

In attempting to jam more books into my already crammed shelves, I came across a couple of books I'd forgotten about, both of which feauture full-frontal nudity on the cover. In both cases it's female nudity, and in both cases the books were published in Australia (the first by Picador, the second by Vintage).

Both books fall into the realms of both literary fiction and thrillers. Off-hand, I cannot think of any books of this sort that feature full-frontal male nudity. This may be because the male nude is a basically foolish-looking object, but given that women are by far the biggest consumers of both literary fiction and crime fiction, you'd think there might be a couple. Then again, perhaps the glimpses of female pubic hair are there to lure male readers into a purchase. And has full-frontal nudity of either kind appeared on a serious, non-art book outside of Australia? I can't think of any examples.

Far more common is the turned-away-boobs image. Examples? Here:

It's worth noting that, "prize-winning cult classic" though it may be, Hitomi Kanehara's book is also a load of balls.

Monday 24 September 2007

Black and White

A short post today, inspired by the effective and appealing cover design for Ben Dolnick's Zoology, which I'm currently enjoying (with a few minor reservations). It's credited to Neil Simpson, and well suits the story of a man who works in a zoo, alongside a Nubian goat called Newman.

This is also reminiscent of two other recent books, John Harding's comedic One Damn Big Puzzler (the title a pidgin corruption of 'To be or not to be, that is the question.") and Robert Löhr's The Secrets of the Chess Machine, a novel based on one of the most famous hoaxes in history.

All three are simple in concept, intricately complicated in execution, and very nice indeed.

Tuesday 18 September 2007

Mikhail Bulgakov

One of Russia's greatest (and most suppressed) Twentieth-Century writers, Mikhail Bulgakov produced several wonderful books, the most famous of which is The Master and Margarita. Given the relative dearth of modern Russian literature in English translation, it's heartening to see just how many competing editions of Bulgakov's books are available. Here we'll look at some of their covers.

The Master and Margarita is the obvious starting point. It's a very hard book to describe. One blurb tries thus: "The devil comes to Moscow wearing a fancy suit. With his disorderly band of accomplices--including a demonic, gun-toting tomcat--he immediately begins to create havoc. Disappearances, destruction and death spread through the city like wildfire and Margarita discovers that her lover has vanished in the chaos..."

The covers below are from 7 current editions. As you can see, the cat (a remarkable character) features heavily:

They are the [top row] Penguin Classics, Vintage Classics, Oneworld Classics and Penguin Red Classics editions, and the [second row] Picador, Avalon and Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics editions. The particular winner here must be the first, created by Matt Dawson and the winner of a competition run by Penguin and the Guardian newspaper. More on Matt Dawson below.

This post was inspired by my having just read Bulgakov's A Dog's Heart, the tale of Polygraf Polygrafovich Sharikov, a dark political satire about a dog turned into a man. The covers below are for the Penguin Classics, Vintage Classics, Hesperus Modern Voices and Avalon editions. The Penguin is again by Matt Dawson.

A third great novel, sadly left unfinished at Bulgakov's death in 1940, is variously translated as Black Snow or A Dead Man's Memoir. It's a savage comedy about the theatre, censorship and suicide. Below are the Penguin (by Matt Dawson) and Vintage Classics editions.

Finally, we have two other Bulgkov books--the early White Guard, set during the Revolution, and The Fatal Eggs, a science fiction satire on Soviet politics. The first is from Vintage Classics, and the second from Hesperus.

Matt Dawson has a lovely website where he shows alternative versions of his Bulgakov cover designs, and also images inspired by The Fatal Eggs, as well as some other clever and playfu artwork. It's well worth a visit.

Also worth a visit is this site, which is a goldmine of information for anyone reading The Master and Margarita. Even better is the set of links to other artwork inspired by the book: there's some inspired stuff there, much of it featuring the tomcat.

UPDATE: Commenter Readymade also posted about some of the different Master covers they have encountered--head over to Walking Without Rhythm to see them.

Thursday 13 September 2007

Photo of a Fictional Woman

Jamilia, by Tchingiz Aïtmatov, may be the only example of literature from Kyrgyzstan currently available in English. It's a lovely novella from 1957, newly translated and rereleased by the independent Telegram Books.

From the blurb: "Jamilia's husband is off fighting at the front. She spends her days hauling sacks of grain from the threshing floor to the train station in their small village in the Caucasus. She is accompanied by Seit, her young brother-in-law, and Daniyar, a sullen newcomer to the village who has been wounded on the battlefield. Seit observes the beautiful, spirited Jamilia spurn men's advances, and wince at the dispassionate letters she receives from her husband. Meanwhile, undeterred by Jamilia's teasing, Daniyar sings as they return each evening from the fields."

I'll leave it there, as the next line of the blurb actually tells you pretty much the end of the story.

What's intriguing about the cover to this beautiful book is that what I assume to be a stock photo so well represents the title character. The woman in the picture is exactly right. I can't remember seeing such a phorographic likeness on a book cover before--normally blondes are represented by brunettes, lanky men by brick shithouses, and so forth. This usually doesn't matter--the covers of literary novels are usually abstractions based on the story's feel, and that's fine. But when a publisher gets a photo that's just right, they should be commended.

Wednesday 12 September 2007

Speaking of Eileen Chang

While we're on the topic of Eileen Chang, the New York Review Books (NYRB from now on) edition of Love in a Fallen City has a very different but also very striking cover.

NYRB books in general are lovely to look at, and I'll be doing a post on them later. Interestingly, the design of the line has a lot in common with the Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics discussed in my last post. Compare the contained text boxes which allow the well-chosen cover images plenty of room to breathe.

It's also worth noting that the invariably excellent Ang Lee's next movie (Lust, Caution) is based on a story by Eileen Chang.

Tuesday 11 September 2007

Penguin Modern Classics

One of my favourite series of books, in both content and design, are the Penguin Modern Classics. They've been around in one form or another since the middle of last century, and I'll be looking at the earlier versions in a later post.

Since the 1990s, however, they have had several redesigns, illustrated in this photo (click for a larger view).

1.) This is a Penguin Twentieth-Century Classic (as they were known for a while), with the characteristic blue-green spine, non-orange Penguin Logo, and white cover/title text box. This was the look from the 1990s, although some books are still in print in this format today, not having yet been updated.

2.) In 2000, Penguin hired designer Jamie Keenan to redesign the Twentieth-Century Classics, and restored the original Penguin Modern Classics name. The spines became silver, with the author/title text limited to a narrow silver band on the cover. This meant that the unobstructed cover image took up the majority of the cover--usually rather effectively.

3.) In 2004, this design was slightly altered by the addition of a white band containing the Penguin logo and the words 'MODERN CLASSICS', bringing the Modern Classics into line with the 2001 redesign of the "black" classics (see the Phil Hale covers for the Joseph Conrad books for an example of these).

4.) Starting in September 2007, the Modern Classics have undergone probably their most substantial redesign ever. The spines are now white (matched by narrow white bands at the top and bottom of the front cover), and the restrained text has turned into huge silver and white lettering which obscures a large chunk of the image. I was not at all sure about this to start with, but it can be very effective: look at these lovely covers for two collections of the great Eileen Chang's stories and novellas, to be released in December this year.