Saturday 29 December 2007

Casanova's Spines

The autobiography of Giacomo Casanova is one of the wonders of world literature. The man had an incredible life, as a seducer, student, gambler, poet, novelist, spy, political exile, political prisoner, con-man, musician, librettist, and more.

His 12-volume memoirs have been brilliantly translated into English by Willard Trask, and are published by Johns Hopkins University Press. What's particularly nice about this edition, the covers of which all look much like this... that the full set on the shelf look like this.

I think we can all agree that this is very nice.

A similar effect has been achieved by the current Vintage UK edition of Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu (which has a sketch of old Marcel himself spilling across all six spines) and the US editions of Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time, which has the painting of that name across all four spines. Unfortunately I have nothing to show you of these, image-wise. My Proust is made of from 3 different editions, and my Powell is the classic-looking white version put out by Arrow in the UK.

What I can show you are two other Casanova covers. The first is for his short novel, The Duel, from Hesperus Press. It's a great little book, and rather more manageable than his thousands-of-pages-long science-fiction epic, Icosaméron ou Histoire d'Edouard, et d'Elisabeth qui passèrent quatre vingts un ans chez les Mégamicres, habitans aborigènes du Protocosme dans l'intérieur de notre globe.

The second is from the lovely-looking Penguin Great Loves series. These books are gorgeous, though some of them are merely extracts from bigger works. The Casanova is a case in point, being a few episodes lifted from the autobiography.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that the painting in question is Venus in Repose by 17th-Century Dutch artist Dirk de Quade van Ravesteyn. More information on the choice of this painting for the spines can be found here.

Monday 17 December 2007

Simenon! 2: The Retro Edition

Having looked at recent covers for some of Georges Simenon's numerous novels, I thought it might be interesting to show you some older covers. These various Simenons have been gathered in my trawls through the second-hand bookshops of Adelaide, Hobart, Sydney and Melbourne over the years.

First, here's the classic Penguin Crime look, from before they started including illustrations on their books (as always, click on the covers for higher-resolution images).

Here we have two covers drawn by Romek Marber, one of Penguin's great designers.

More on Marber can be found here.

At different times, Penguin went with illustrative covers...

..and photographic covers.

Finally, here are two different approaches to the one Simenon novel. The first is a photographic Penguin cover, while the second is an American edition with a rather more James-Bond-ish feel to it.

And cop a look at that irresistible blurb!

Bizarrely enough, that very blurb has been used by the great Ed Kuepper as the title of one of the instrumental pieces on his The Exotic Mail Order Moods of Ed Kuepper album.

It's also interesting to see on these and the newer covers I discussed earlier that sometimes Simenon loses his first name.

Tuesday 11 December 2007


Some good ones here!

Georges Simenon (1903-1989) was one of the most prolific writers (and shaggers) in history, with almost 200 novels and 150 novellas (and perhaps 8,000 prostitutes) to his CV. Even more startling, most of these novels and novellas are actually very good, with a number of them being small masterpieces.

Simenon is probably best known for the Inspector Maigret novels, a series of low-key detective stories about a wise but not super-brilliant Parisian cop. One of the US covers to this series featured in my first proper post. When Penguin UK reissued 14 of the novels a few years ago, they went with a look that is clever and eye-catching. Here are 9 of those covers (click to see enlarged).

Each graphic element on each cover refers to something from the book--a clue, a red herring, and aspect of Maigret himself, or a location. They're brilliant. Unfortunately, they've also been recently replaced a much simpler, more boring covers.

Penguin also publish several of Simenon's non-Maigret novels as well. These covers have a nice Brassaï/film-noir feel.

Finally, there are the non-Maigret books being put out by NYRB Classics. A number of these also have a similar atmosphere (and you can see the rest here).

UPDATE: The set of 14 Maigret covers discussed above were designed by Jamie Keenan.

UPDATE 2: The redesigns I describe as "more boring" are actyually by the usually wonderful David Pearson.

Sunday 9 December 2007

Punctuation is Important

Oh yes indeedy, it really is.

Below is the cover of a book I have no intention of reading. It's "a powerful message for families and communities ... for people who are stuck because of feelings of low self-esteem, abandonment, anger, fearfulness, sadness, and feelings of being used, undefended and unprotected. The authors aim to help empower people make the daunting transition from victims to victors." And there's nothing wrong with that--it's just not my bag of beans.

It has an ugly cover design, which earns it a place here in any case. There's something reminiscent of those annoying, allegedly 'inspirational' PowerPoint presentations that get emailed around workplaces to it. It must have taken 30 seconds of thought and perhaps 3 minutes of execution to produce.

And, finally, it really, really needs a comma after the second word of the title.