According to Charles Dickens, ‘There are books of which the backs and covers are by far the best parts.’ On the whole the best I expect is that a book’s cover does not detract from its contents. But some book covers enhance what lies inside. And a few are works of art on their own. In this post I celebrate some excellent covers together with links to my reviews of the books.
Grief is the thing with feathers by Max Porter
This short but lyrical novel plays with the idea that Crow, from the poems of Ted Hughes, comes to assist a family through their grief when the mother dies. Sometimes it is amusing, sometimes poignant, and everybody I know who has read it has been moved by it.
The sparseness and simplicity of the cover design exactly matches the book’s contents. The cover was designed in-house by Faber using an illustration by Eleanor Crow.
Grief is the thing with feathers by Max Porter, published in 2015 by Faber & Faber 114pp
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
Among its many achievements, this classic novel displays Virginia Woolf’s perceptiveness. Here is an example, as Mrs Ramsay concludes the book she reads to her youngest son James.
‘And that’s the end,’ she said. And she saw in his eyes, as the interest of the story dies away in them something else take its place; something wondering, pale, like a reflection of a light, which at once made him gaze and marvel. Turning, she looked across the bay, and there, sure enough, coming regularly across the waves first two quick strokes and then one long steady stroke, was the light of the Lighthouse. It had been lit. (71-2)
The cover of the first edition was by Vanessa Bell, Virginia Woolf’s sister. It was published by the Woolfs’ own Hogarth Press.
To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf (1927) published by the Hogarth Press. Available in the Penguin Modern Classics edition (1964) 237pp
The Sleeping Beauty by Elizabeth Taylor
Not a traditional fairy tale, but The Sleeping Beauty is the story of an awakening. The central characters are not in the first flush of youth but love manages to awaken them from inner deadness. It is set in a seaside backwater and begins with a dreamy walk along the cliff. This cover was an inspired choice for an early Virago edition. By Winifred Nicholson it is called The Gate to the Isles (Blue Gate) and was painted in 1980. It is on display at the Falmouth Gallery until mid-September.
Many readers find the more recent cover designs for Elizabeth Taylor’s novels insipid in contrast to the original Virago choices such as this one.
The Sleeping Beauty by Elizabeth Taylor was published in 1953, now available in the Virago Modern Classics series.
The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
It was the cover that first attracted me to this novel. Its intricate, dense and convoluted patterning of natural objects reflects the storyline. It was designed by Peter Dyer, with acknowledgement to William Morris. Morris was contemporaneous with the setting of the novel. It’s a mystery and an investigation about beliefs and science all at the same time.
The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry, published in 2016 by Serpent’s Tail. 418pp
The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff
I reviewed this children’s classic recently accompanied by a photo of the cover of my copy. Many people commented on it, saying they had read it in a much drabber schools editions. This cover captures the rituals of the Seal people north of Roman Britain. It was also inspired by the mysteries and dark dangers of the ancient world. It is by C Walter Hodges.
The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff, first published in 1954 by Oxford University Press and still on their list.
Thinking about … Book Covers was a blogpost from January 2014, which includes more examples and links to archives etc.
A post from Louise Harnby’s blog The Proofreader’s Parlour: The Design Essentials: creating a stand-out book cover. Advice for authors. It draws on work for Salt Books that frequently have captivating covers.
Over to you
Do you have any covers to nominate as adding something to the book? Or is an exceptionally pleasing cover?
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