Monday, December 14, 2015

A Year of Reading: Best Book Cover Designs of 2015

As it turns out, you can judge a book by its cover...or at least I do. Unfair or not, the art and design of book covers can sometimes be the one factor that either persuades or dissuades me from initially picking up (or clicking on) a book with which I’m not familiar. True, I’ve read some really great books which were dressed in lousy clothes; but the opposite is also true: some truly beautiful jacket designs turned out to be window dressing for some meh writing inside.

We’re now in the “best of” seasons when everyone starts trotting out their lists of cultural favorites. I’ll be sharing my lists between now and the end of this year, starting today with my top picks for cover designs of books published in 2015. Wherever possible, I’ve tried to limit myself to U.S. releases, but some handsome British cousins may have photo-bombed the list. I’ve done my best to give the designers proper applause for their work, but if I’ve mis-credited anyone, please feel free to drop me a line and set me straight.

by Laura van den Berg
Design by Nayon Cho
The words on the cover are just fuzzy enough to make me think I’m looking at something trapped under lake ice. Everything harmonizes here—color, typeface, size and placement—to make this one of the outstanding covers of 2015. Click here to read about Cho’s design process for Find Me.

by Kathy Fish and Robert Vaughan
Design by Bud Smith
While the front cover of this collection of short fiction by Kathy Fish and Robert Vaughan is appealing, it’s when you see the full jacket spread that the design by Bud Smith, using a photo by Casey McSpadden, really leaps out at us.

by Rick Moody
Design by Keith Hayes
The worn look of the match-strikes really gives this one some verisimilitude. Plus, that red really pops!

by Vanessa Blakeslee
Design by Alban Fischer
I like the use of white space on this cover—in this case, “fog space”—which creates an eerie sense that something ominous is about to engulf the characters and events.

Boring Girls
by Sara Taylor
Design by David A. Gee
Nothing boring here, folks.

by Lucia Berlin
Design by Justine Anweiler
While I like the U.S. cover for Berlin’s short story collection just fine, I think I prefer the U.K. version. Like the design for Hotels of North America, both transform mundane objects into literary signifiers (a motel key for the U.S. cover; here, a clothing tag), hinting at the blue-collar lives we’ll find inside. Here’s the full spread of the book jacket (click image to enlarge):

Click here to read about how the cover was designed.

by Lauren Groff
Design by Rodrigo Corral and Adalis Martinez
A big, bold cover design for a big, bold novel. I’ve thought about this cover a lot this year (since, for a time, it seems to be omnipresent on the web and in bookstores). I can’t quite figure out what that blue and white pattern is: feathers? mountain peaks? I prefer to think of them as storm-tossed waves—which is what I felt cast adrift upon while reading Fates and Furies.
by Anne Tyler
Design by Kelly Blair
Yes, this design is a literal take on the title, but man oh man, I love that shade of blue.

by Mindy McGinniss
Design by Erin Fitzsimmons
The protagonist of Mindy McGinnis’ novel is sent to an insane asylum. I love how the stunning illustration is bisected by the floor. I can feel the anguish of what lies beneath.

by Amber Tamblyn
Design by Gregg Kulick
The focus of Amber Tamblyn’s poetry collection is female actresses who died before their time. To most of us, some of the names are unfamiliar or half-forgotten; thus, the anonymity of that head on the cover is an appropriate twist of the knife: we are all complicit in these deaths, we have all blanked out these lives. The entire book is a visual delight, with illustrations by Adrian Tomine, David Lynch, Marilyn Manson and others (we also see that cover image pop up here and there). It’s a happy marriage of art and word.

by Mary Rickert
Design by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant
As I said earlier here at the blog : “Take a minute to admire that cover design. Notice how, through the magic of perspective, this woman seems to fly right at you with a pair of hands serving as wings. (The photo by Emma Powell is called ‘Angel.’) It’s the kind of off-putting, and yet beautiful, reaction one can get from reading Rickert’s fiction, short stories designed to scrape the skin from within.”

by Andrew Malan Milward
Design by Fritz Metsch
At first glance, they look like clouds—burnt orange by sunset and piled high as peaks of whipped cream. But when I look closer at the jacket art for Andrew Malan Milward’s short story collection, I realize those clouds are actually plumes of billowing smoke. Which leads me to think these pages burn with incendiary fire.

by Markus Gabriel
Design by David A. Gee
If it takes a unicorn to make me read a book of philosophy, then so be it. The font size is wisely small enough so that it doesn’t compete with that beautiful image.

by Anna North
Design by Spencer Kimble
It would have been so easy for the handwritten font to overwhelm the face and obscure it behind distracting ink. But it doesn’t. Instead, the lettering actually illuminates the flesh and brings it forward.

by Salman Rushdie
Design by Kelly Blair
The fury of life’s storm ultimately comes down to a small, solitary man being stabbed by lightning.

by Tania James
Design by Gabriele Wilson, photo by Chris Clor
Poised to rip right through your eyes.

by Joe Meno
Design and art by Jon Resh and Joe Meno
For me, this is one of the most unforgettable designs of the year. Ever since I saw it, thumbnail-sized on my computer monitor nearly a year ago, I’ve been obsessing over it. There’s some great movement and perspective-shift at work here.

by Ruth Ware
Design by Alan Dingman
How I feel when I look at this cover: like I’ve just walked into an impenetrable forest and the thick undergrowth is tearing my skin with its thorns. In other words, I love this cover!

by Vicki Pettersson
Speaking of ominous, this might be one of the most chilling covers I came across this year. I could quibble about a couple of unnecessary design elements like the blurb and “a thriller,” but overall, this cover makes dread rise like bile in the back of my throat. Something bad is going to happen out there in the desert.

by Naomi J. Williams
Design by Jonathan D. Lippincott
Every time I pick up this book, I worry the ocean is going to spill into my lap.

Related posts:
A Year of Reading: Best Books From Other Years
A Year of Reading: Best Poetry of 2015
A Year of Reading: Best Gift Book of 2015 for Bookworms
A Year of Reading: Best Short Stories of 2015
A Year of Reading: Best First Lines of 2015


  1. wow, thanks for sharing, these are all awesome. I have prepared a post on my best book covers of the year, it will be live on Dec 30th, it's a part of a blogging event with something everyday. By the way, I joined #SundaySentence (@wordsandpeace) today for the 1st time! Thanks for the inspiration

    1. I can't wait to see your cover picks.
      And thanks for chiming in on #SundaySentence today--loved the sentence you chose!