(I spotted this in my neighborhood recently.) Can’t find a brick? Use some old books to prop up your air conditioner!
Artist Nina Katchadourian, in a take off on the sometimes serendipitous placement of books on bookshelves, has created micro-stories told only in the words on the spines of books.At the site of UK bookstore Any Amount of Books (which also runs the blog Bookride), one can view “The Incredible Bookman,” a bookshelf that takes the form of a human, one who is perhaps charged with enticing you to read more books.The Guild of Book Workers is a 100 year old organization created to “establish and maintain a feeling of kinship and mutual interest among workers in the several hand book crafts.”
I’ve always thought that British book covers, generally speaking, are nicer looking than their American counterparts, with the latter seeking to target a demographic rather than to dazzle the eye. With this in mind, the following is an incredibly unscientific experiment in aesthetics. I’ve taken as a sample the Tournament of Books contenders whose American and British editions differ. The American covers are on the left, and clicking through takes you to a larger image. Your equally inexpert commentary is welcomed in the comments.Both are dark and complex, but I think I like the American one here. It’s the big red 2666 that does it for me, and I’m not crazy about the digital clock action on the British cover. The American cover wins this one going away. I love the serious elegance of the bent arm and smoky cigarette and the mysterious juxtaposition of yellow and red lights. I appreciate the playful fonts and colors of the British version, but it is treading too far into “chick lit” territory for my taste. Even though I find the color a bit jarring, the boldness of the British cover is something you rarely seem to find in American covers. The American cover meanwhile seems to be trying terribly hard to be interesting. The American cover has a nifty diorama quality to it, but I love the British cover with its bold yet grainy font and its washed out, almost painterly quality. The American cover is nice enough, but it seems to be begging to be named an Oprah pick. The British cover, meanwhile, is my favorite of this little exercise. The wave motif is Eastern, but closer inspection shows that it is not merely an appropriation of the style. There’s a charming, cartoonish, anthropomorphic quality to the wave crests that I find really engaging. And the colors are terrific. In this case, its the reverse. The British cover looks like the Oprah pick, while the American cover offers up more mystery. I particularly like the font on the American cover, all pock-marked like that of a 300-year-old text.
If you are a popular and prolific enough author, an interesting thing happens to your books, they all begin to look the same. This is the primary outward manifestation of an author as a brand. As a large oeuvre gets rounded out to perhaps a dozen or two titles, the publisher picks a certain design and rereleases all the titles to have that design. This makes a lot of sense. If you are a fan of Prolific Author A and are working your way through his body of work, you’ll soon be on the lookout for the distinctive style his publisher has chosen for his paperbacks. The problem is that all too often, these uniform designs are ugly. My prescription, however, is to scale back on the shared elements and to try to present each book more uniquely so that it feels like as much effort has gone into packaging each individual book as went into to writing it.From my days in the bookstore, I know how important, often subconsciously so, book cover design can be. With that in the mind, there are some very well-known authors whose uniformly designed books are doing them a disservice and deserve an overhaul:The Vintage paperback editions of William Faulkner’s novels have it all: terrible fonts, jarring colors, and strange, bland art. The covers betray none of the complexity of Faulkner’s work and instead promise soft-focus confusion. They feel dated and badly in need of a refresh. Better versions: Check out the prior paperback covers of As I Lay Dying from Penguin and Vintage.Maybe it’s the frames around the Ballantine John Irving paperback covers, but they remind me of hotel art. Irving’s masterful narratives have been reduced to representative but inanimate objects – a nurse’s uniform, a motorcycle – that occupy the safe middle ground that Irving’s books eschew. Better versions: There is a certain dignity to the text-only designs that once graced Irving’s covers.
For a writer as inventive and unique as Kurt Vonnegut, it sure seems like a shame to just slap a big “V” on all his covers and call it a day. Better versions: They may not offer a uniform look, bit I prefer the energy of the old pocket paperback versions of Vonnegut’s novels.
Far better are the Vintage Murakami paperbacks, which evoke some of the most jarring and surreal qualities of Murakami’s fiction. They also maintain a consistent aesthetic and yet they still vary from title to title. Even better versions: The Chip Kidd-designed British hardcover of Wind-Up Bird Chronicle captures the vivid imagery while hinting at the underlying complexity.