We first started thinking about book jacket design when we got Lunar Park, the design for which (by Chip Kidd) seemed both totally literal and a little conceptual. Literal in that the title of the book has to do with the moon and there is a big moon on it. See below:
So then it’s conceptual in that it is absolutely never really thoroughly within the internal logic of the book explained why the title is Lunar Park. So it’s a bit of a spinning wheel design. The book’s called Lunar Park because it is, and that’s just what it’s called, and even if it’s not what it’s about, (or maybe it is and we just don’t get Bret although we’ve spent too many years making our way through his knifestyles of the rich and famous, so we think we do, insofar as that’s possible), it’s interesting that the jacket is so literal. And then we started reading A Million Little Pieces (before Oprah, before!) which was completely there in its literalness, almost too much. What could plausibly be interpreted as a million little pills on someone’s hand set against this almost tacky turquoise cover color.
But we’re hardly original thinkers, and we stopped ourselves with those two. We also started reading more about fuzzy rainbows and happy bunnies instead of creepy Terbys and crack addiction. Which is why we were hella psyched when one of our old bffs pointed us in the direction of this John Updike piece on book jacket design in this week’s New Yorker. It’s a very thorough review (obviously so much more, being Updike) of a Princeton Architectural Press book, By Its Cover, which is all about book jacket design. Our favorite part that also made us sad because we like words:
Publishing forms a minor branch of the entertainment industry, and book design is increasingly a matter of fashion–that is, of attention-getting. In the visual clamor of a bookstore, the important thing is to be different; a whisper becomes a shout, and the ugly becomes beautiful if it attracts attention. Yet an utter flaunting of conventional expectations may baffle and repel the public; when the title and the author’s name are left off the front of the book, as in three examples taken from the past few years, it sends a subliminal message of contempt for the written word, the product being packaged.
If we didn’t feel right at home with contempt, we’d be a little nervous.
Updike talks about various seminal book jacket covers, including the original (barely legible) design for Ulysses, as well as each following iteration up until the 1986 version by Carin Goldberg, returned to the original in 2002. He ends the essay by talking about how design has gone from blank-page drawing to more computer collages, a process of appropriation and reconfiguration instead of straight-up authors’ hand design.
So now we’re in the biggest intellectual frenzy ever, because if collecting visual cues and putting them together in a new order to create a new thing to look at isn’t design, then what is? But if it does count as design, we still agree that it’s a little different… ouch.
This is a lot for a thunderstormy Wednesday morning. But we’re curious. Tell us your favorite book jackets. We told you ours. firstname.lastname@example.org.