Thinking about … Book Covers

A book’s cover is part of its aesthetic pleasure. This is one reason why I don’t warm to kindles. I’m not a luddite. I felt this way when LP albums gave way to CDs and we needed magnifying glasses to appreciate the cover art. Put it another way, book covers are an art form.

Of course they say you shouldn’t judge a book – and all that – but covers play an important role in placing a book, especially within a genre. I was brought up on Penguins, and not just the orange ones, but the green whodunnits, blue intellectual texts, black classics. Even before they stopped being purely typographical they gave out some information about the contents. Did pretentious youths of both sexes really wander about with the blue ones to impress people with their intellectualism? Oh yes they did!

75 VW mugThe penguins have been such a strong brand that they are marketed on all kinds of merchandise. What booklover hasn’t got at least one mug, tea-towel, totebag adorned with a favourite novel?

75 Steb mug

Among my favourite livery in the ‘70s and ‘80s were the green covers of Virago books, and the zebra stripes of The Women’s Press. When I moved to London in the early ‘80s I visited an English teacher who lived in Camden. Her bookcase full of the green-backed Virago books made a huge impression on me. The reproduction of a painting on the cover of those books were additional delights. The new livery is nothing like as pleasing. Blogs sometimes comment that the original Virago cover was an improvement on the current jackets, especially for Elizabeth Taylor’s novels.

Today the elegant dove-grey Persephone books, with the addition of the delightful endpapers, have replaced Virago’s covers in my affection. It helps that Persephone is mainly dedicated to women writers and to neglected books. The Persephone endpapers are photographs of colourful fabrics associated with the period of the book’s original publication. And at the shop you get a matching bookmark. Love it!

Of course, these covers, identified by their uniform colour might appeal to people who organise their books by either publisher or colour. There are people who do both, see the blogpost How do you organise your books? People like the Camden English teacher. Or my nephew.

The cover of a book has always been key to my memories of it. I remember the colour and size, even if I can’t remember where it is now I have moved after 30 years.

The Guardian’s paper version of Geoff Dyer’s tribute to Albert Camus in the series my My Hero was accompanied by six different penguin covers for The Outsider. For some reason the on-line version here has a moody black and white picture of le grand homme, smoking. The six covers are fascinating, of their time and all saying something about the alienation of the novel’s narrator.

75 Etr covers

And here are a further two covers from my shelves. (The French version is nearly 50 years old!)

75 2 more Camus

I am getting interested in the production of book covers. Some of the smaller independent publishers have encouraged innovative and imaginative book covers – Peirene Press and Salt Publishing for example. My co-author and I are excited about the cover of our forthcoming book, Retiring with Attitude. Retiring is a word that describes what is no longer, difficult to capture visually. We wait to see what the designers will produce.

Here are some links to other sites looking at cover design.

London Fictions has a great page exploring some of the covers of historical London fiction. You can find it here. Actually it’s a great blog, celebrating a rich seam of fiction, lots of it.

In 2012 one hundred artists from 28 countries were asked to draw attention to illiteracy by the Belgian graphic design studio beshart by designing covers for the Observer’s 100 best novels of all time, plus 10 Belgian novels. I can’t remember where I first came across this wonderful site, but I could browse for hours among doedemee’s 100 covers here. Great project.

And this one does what it says on the tin: The Book Cover Archive. I think this might be book designer’s porn.

Authors, especially self-publishing authors, might want guidance about covers. Here’s some from Writer.ly blog, three articles. They cover colour, legibility focusing on fonts, and DIY covers.

 

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1 Comment

Filed under Books, Publishing our book

One Response to Thinking about … Book Covers

  1. Eileen

    I liked being tagged on between Albert Camus and Elizabeth Taylor!
    I’ve got a Vile Bodies mug and a Garden Party deckchair. All delightful stuff.
    Yes, the covers of non-fiction are particularly tricky I think and hate the idea of a travel clock on the front of a retiring book. I’d much rather an abstract image in really bright colours. But not purple – too much of a cliche.
    Thanks for another fascinating read, love, Eileen.

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