Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Judging a Book: New P. G. Wodehouse covers from W. W. Norton

Introducing a new, occasional feature here at The Quivering Pen called "Judging a Book," in which I put a little cover-design eye candy on display.  Before I begin, however, I'll admit I just spent the better part of 30 minutes trying to track down the origin of the phrase "You can't judge a book by its cover."  Some sources say it came from a 1946 murder mystery by Edwin Rolfe and Lester Fuller called Murder in the Glass Room, in which a character says, "you can never tell a book by its cover."  (Maybe not, but I can certainly tell a lot about Murder in the Glass Room by its pulpy cover.)  Much earlier than that, there was this exchange in George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss:
      “Why, what book is it the wench has got hold on?” [Mr. Tulliver] burst out at last.
      “The ‘History of the Devil,' by Daniel Defoe,—not quite the right book for a little girl,” said Mr. Riley. “How came it among your books, Mr. Tulliver?”
      Maggie looked hurt and discouraged, while her father said,— “Why, it's one o' the books I bought at Partridge's sale. They was all bound alike,—it's a good binding, you see,—and I thought they'd be all good books. There's Jeremy Taylor's ‘Holy Living and Dying' among 'em. I read in it often of a Sunday” (Mr. Tulliver felt somehow a familiarity with that great writer, because his name was Jeremy); “and there's a lot more of 'em,—sermons mostly, I think,—but they've all got the same covers, and I thought they were all o' one sample, as you may say. But it seems one mustn't judge by th' outside. This is a puzzlin' world.”
      “Well,” said Mr. Riley, in an admonitory, patronizing tone as he patted Maggie on the head, “I advise you to put by the ‘History of the Devil,' and read some prettier book.
And there you have it.  Now, on to the prettier books....

Here's a set of P. G. Wodehouse lovelies coming from W. W. Norton in early July.  The art design is by Albert Tang, the text design inside the book (which is just as lovely) is by Judith Abbate.  The paperbacks are part of an ongoing series from Norton and neatly capture the whimsical spirit of Wodehouse.  When I opened the box from Norton (advance copies sent to me for review), I literally gasped.  The colors are bold and bright, the fonts are clever and inventive, and there's enough variety in layout between all the books that my eyes didn't skim over the back-cover contents (as they are wont to do when confronted with a series like this).  Here's how much I love these cover designs: I already own a handsome set of Wodehouses released by Overlook Press about a decade ago, but I'm keeping these Norton editions despite my hard-and-fast "no duplicates on the bookshelves" rule.

Heavy Weather, illustration by Siyu Chen

Summer Lightning, illustration by Koren Shadmi

Blandings Castle, illustration by Matthew Taylor

Uncle Fred in the Springtime, illustration by Jordan Crane

And my favorite of all the covers: Leave It to Psmith, illustration by Matthew Woodson


  1. The Blandings Castle cover is very reminiscent an homage to...the art on the posters that the British Railway used to produce. Lovely stuff.

  2. Why all the pigs? And where is the pig on Leave It to Psmith? I love all the colors, though!

  3. Julie,
    That would be the Empress of Blandings, Lord Emsworth's beloved, prize-winning Berkshire sow. The Empress plays a role in "Heavy Weather," "Summer Lightning," and "Uncle Fred in the Springtime"--hence, her inclusion on the cover design. I haven't read "Leave it to Psmith," but I assume the Empress doesn't figure as heavily (ahem) in the plot.

  4. "The fonts are clever and inventive" because they ain't fonts. The very talented Mr Tang appears to have done all the titles by hand, in styles created to suit each individual book. Bravo!