Wednesday 28 November 2012


A while ago I was looking at a poet's website and saw that her next book was a post-apocalyptic blank verse epic, with specially commissioned illustrations. Someone's written a book just for me! I thought to myself. And Marly Youmans has, it would seem, done just that: Thaliad is a marvellous work, an exciting and heartbreaking myth of origin for a society born of a clutch of children who survive a nuclear war. (Youmans' very name suggests a post-English-language attempt to write the name of our species.)
For this and all other images here, click for a much bigger version, showing all the textures and brushstrokes
The book, published by Phoenicia Publishing of Canada , is a really lovely work. The cover and the many internal illustrations are by Clive Hicks-Jenkins.

Clive's process for the internal illustrations is interesting: he makes a sketch of the proposed illustration, and then prepares a number of sheets of thin paper, decorated with various weights and textures of black brushstrokes. From these sheets he cuts various shapes, which are arranged into a collage to form the illustration. Some elements are stencilled in using shapes cut freehand into blank paper. See here for more details of his workings.

Here they are in situ, working with Youmans' text:

Hicks-Jenkins has also created the covers for three of Youmans's other books:

Thaliad comes out at the start of December.

Thursday 15 November 2012

Shameless Self-Promotion

Having long been a fan of the work of Will Schofield, the vast throbbing brain behind 50 Watts (and its forerunner, A Journey Round My Skull) and one of three behind Writers No One Reads, I was thrilled to be asked to contribute the occasional contribution to the latter. My first is about would-be assassin, poet and novelist Peter Kocan.

Wednesday 14 November 2012

A Man Without breath at the Chime of a City Clock

Another new Philip Kerr novel, another cover image duplication...

Due early 2013

Published 2010
This has happened before (see here), and suggests a shortage of sultry femme fatales in the world of stock photographs. The Taylor novel is pretty good, by the way: Patrick Hamilton/Julian Maclaren-Ross reimagined as low-key crime novel.

On another note entriely, I was entertained by this graphic from Delayed Gratification magazine:

Click for much bigger version

Given that only a small part of these books is sex, when that's their only reason for existence, it's astonishing how much woeful prose their devotees are willing to swallow to get to the rude bits. It hardly seems worth it.

Monday 12 November 2012

BFI Film Classics

The BFI (British Film Institute) Film Classics series are an ongoing library of shortish but alarmingly expensive (£11 for 72 pages!) books, each about specific movies. They normally have pleasant but staid covers with a still from the film:

But for the series' 20th anniversary, a number of talented artists were commissioned to create new cover designs riffing on the visual legacies of the films.

Design by Eda Akaltun

Design/sculpture by Su Blackwell

Design by Eric Skillman (briefly considered here)

Cover by Nick Morley (who I interviewed here)

Design by Marc Atkins

Design by Mark Swan (another of his covers is here)

Design by Cristiana Couceiro

Design by Louise Weir

Design by Benio Urbanowicz

Design by Chloe Giordano

Design by Paul Pope

Design by Andy Bridge

Misterioso y evocador

I really like these new redesigns of the Javier Marías backlist for the Spanish-speakers of the Americas. The images used are appropriately mysterious and evocative of the odd worlds Marías conjured up (which is not to neglect his sense of humour). They're from Vintage Espanol. I especially like this first, cleverly oblique, design, for the book known in English as Tomorrow in the Battle Think On Me. All covers are by Katya Mezhibovskaya.

Thursday 8 November 2012

Naked Women in Ice Cubes

This book has been out for a while, but I only just saw it the other day. It's a funny, elegant cover solution for such a book:

Along similar lines, and published at about the same time, was this Australian book (based on a TV series) about how advertisers try to influence you to buy crap:

You may need click it to embiggen it in order to see the effect: the book itself is oversized, and the hidden text isn't so visible at thumbnail size.

Wednesday 7 November 2012

Books on Books on Books

"Often I have slipped away from picnics and birthday parties and children’s soccer games and awards ceremonies to squeeze in a bit of reading while concealed in a copse, a garage, a thicket, or a deserted gazebo. For me, books have always been a safety valve, and in some cases— when a book materializes out of nowhere in a situation where it is least expected—a deus ex machina. Books are a way of saying: This room seems to have more than its fair share of bozos in it. Edith Wharton may be dead, but she’s still better company than these palookas."

A subdued but still eye-catching cover, designer unknown.

A fine new entry in the field of books about books with lots of books on the cover is Joe Queenan's semi-autobiography/essay collection One for the Books. I've long enjoyed his film writing--often hilarious pieces where he does things like being Mickey Rourke for a day, or floats in the icy Atlantic to see if you really can deliver all of dying-Leonardo-di-Caprio's lines from the end of Titanic without freezing to death first. While frequently funny, One for the Books also has a surprisingly elegiac quality--Queenan is a committed real paper book man, and sees that industry withering at the hands of e-readers, and he has a cold-eyed and realistic view of how many years he might have left to live, and how many books will still be waiting unread in the piles when his time is up.

"Hardcover books of yesteryear often had an off-putting, ominous quality; it is entirely possible that their harsh, imperious covers were designed to intimidate the public [...] It was as if publishers wanted to sell books exclusively to readers who would know what to do with them. This policy is now a thing of the past. When Howard Stern’s autobiography was published, in 1993, I saw a man walking down Fifth Avenue who manifestly was not sure how one went about holding a book. Its inscrutable rectangularity perplexed him. He wasn’t sure whether to stuff it under his arm or cradle it like a football. His maiden voyage on the sea of literacy had not prepared him for this daunting adventure; the book-maneuvering skills most of us acquire relatively early in life, via Richard Scarry or Judy Blume, were not available to him. There is no telling what happened when the poor man opened the book and found that it contained words."

The essays, many published previously in magazine form, do create a mosaic-form autobiography of a pretty enviable life, once Queenan was able to get away from his parents. And the man has excellent taste in books, which is always a relief.

"I have rarely been treated especially well in bookstores. I think this is because I do not look like a book lover. I look more like a cop. I certainly do not look like the kind of person who frequents serious cultural establishments. What it all comes down to is this: I do not look like I have ever read a book by Bill McKibben. Though it pains me to admit it, I look like somebody who can’t make up his mind whether to buy the new Clive Cussler or the new W. E. B. Griffin. Bookstore personnel pick up on this."

A book due out early next year that also makes use of many books on its cover is Ron Currie, Jr.'s Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles. I especially like the way all the cover text is incorporated into smaller covers and spines, and that all these covers were created by the designer, rather than using a straightforward photo of existing books. It reminds me of these designs.

Thursday 1 November 2012

He's Undead--Wrapped in Plastic

Varney the Vampyre, probably by James Malcolm Rymer, is one of those books that is more significant than it is readable: a Nineteenth-Century gothic horror novel, two-thirds of a million words long, confused in its plot, setting and era; the quintessential penny dreadful, but very important in its influence on Dracula and other genuinely good books. Here are a few of the original illustrations:

So how best to republish this book in the modern era? Well, if you're an outfit called Borgo Press, you break it up into four expensive print-on-demand volumes, and give each one a cover that makes inexplicable use of Photoshop's 'plastic wrap' filter.

I wonder who the poor bugger is who played Varney for these covers.

Anyway, these covers made me feel like this: