Wednesday, December 28, 2016
First impressions are often lasting impressions, especially when it comes to book design. The jacket art, the thickness and geometric dimensions, the typeface, the feel of the page—all of those elements impact our attitude toward the words between the two covers. And I’m not just talking about physical dead-tree books. No matter if we take our literature electronically, design elements come into play: the size and type of font, the margins, the brightness of the screen all influence us. Even on a Kindle, the cover art is still floating out there somewhere in electronic bits and bytes for us to get a fix on the book’s character. As Jhumpa Lahiri writes in The Clothing of Books, “As soon as the book puts on a jacket, the book acquires a new personality. It says something even before being read, just as clothes say something about us before we speak.”
Here are the cover designs of 2016 books which spoke loudest to my eyes...
Allegheny Front by Matthew Neill Null
Design by Kristen Radtke
One of the stories in Null’s collection is about an eagle who torments a hunter after he kills her mate. That huge eagle eye on the cover of the book likewise torments me. It seems to warn, “If you don’t read these short stories, I’ll peck your eye out, mister!” Losing my sight would mean I could no longer enjoy beautiful covers like this anymore, so I quickly turn to the first page and begin reading.
This is Where it Ends by Marieke Nijkamp
Design by N. C. Sousa
The high-speed photo of shot-through chalk is dramatic enough, but when we learn that the novel is about a school shooting, the powdery explosion takes on deeper and sadder meaning.
Today Will be Different by Maria Semple
Design by Kelly Blair
This design was the closest thing to an audio-visual cover I saw/heard this year. As I look at the illustration of the woman with her hands over her face behind the blackboard-chalk scrawl of the words, I swear I can hear her muttering the title over and over in an insistent, affirmative chant. (Noteworthy trivia: Semple wrote the repeating title in her own handwriting for the final jacket.)
Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E. K. Johnston
Design by Kristin Logsdon
The cover for Johnston’s Young Adult novel brings to mind another favorite of mine from years past (also for a YA novel): 100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith. In both cases, there is a sense of movement—falling down or rising up—and the anticipation of someone being there to catch the mid-air bodies.
All Things Cease to Appear by Elizabeth Brundage
Design by Mario Hugo
This is probably not the designer’s intent, but every time I look at the cover for Brundage’s novel, I think about words rising from a bowl of milk. No matter how you interpret it, this cover is one of the most haunting ones to appear in bookstores this year.
Barkskins by Annie Proulx
Designed by Jaya Miceli
This is another cover I “heard” this year: the woodsy snap of a treetop falling off to one side. Proulx’s novel is a long one, but I can’t think of a better illustration to hold in my hands for 736 pages.
The After Party by Anton DiSclafani
Designed by Jaya Miceli
Miceli’s design for this novel bears one thing in common with the one for Barkskins: they function simultaneously as works of art as well as illustrations that hint at the book’s themes—whether it’s the wilderness-eating greed of the timber industry, or high-society disdain of a party hostess picking a fleck of tobacco off her tongue.
Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett
Design by Keith Hayes
The deceptively simple-looking cover—black words on a white background—works on two levels: every time the title asks me to imagine someone’s disappearance, the ghost letters whisper “No!” in my ear.
My Father the Pornographer by Chris Offutt
Design by Jamie Keenan
Call me slow, but it wasn’t until about a week ago—after staring at this cover for nearly a year—that I saw the outline of a head. That just adds to the genius of an already-brilliant cover.
Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett
Design by Alex Merto
While the lush, colorful detail from Margriet Smulders’ photo Fair is foul and foul is fair is attractive, it’s the large, stark simplicity of the title’s font that makes all the difference in this design.
American Ulysses by Ronald C. White
Design Eric White
I love this colorized photo of our 18th President so much, I want to frame it and hang it on my wall. Grant’s gaze (nicely placed just above the title) implores me to read the story of his life.
We’ve Already Gone This Far by Patrick Dacey
Design by Lucy Kim
I can’t put my finger on exactly what I love about this cover—the filled-in letters? the weathered and wrinkled look? the deep-freeze suburban scene?—but whatever it is, this is one design I’ve never tired of admiring since I first saw it nearly twelve months ago.
Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine by Diane Williams
Design by Dan McKinley
It’s the scattered zig-zag pattern of the title’s “Fine”s laid over the cover art from a pulpy 1960s novel that keeps me coming back to this one. You want me to buy this book? Okay, okay. Fine, fine, fine, I’ll do it!
Anatomy of a Soldier by Harry Parker
Design by Oliver Munday
Parker’s novel in stories is narrated by objects surrounding the titular warrior: shoes and boots, a helmet, a bag of fertilizer, a medal, a beer glass, a snowflake, dog tags, etc. The cover design makes it clear that, yes, we could assemble the character like a snap-together model, but at what price?
The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware
There is such watery menace in this ship’s porthole that I’m chilled long before I open the book to the first page.
Not All Bastards Are From Vienna by Andrea Molesini
Design by Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich
I’ll confess, I am so in love with this cover design, if I was a cheating man, I’d be making it my mistress. The colors pop and glow, the beauty establishing a sharp contrast to the word “bastards” in the title.