The “Sullen Punk Rock” Version of Vidal & Didion

By Neal Comment


When The Runner and Only Love Can Break Your Heart showed up together in my mailbox, I was impressed not only that David Samuels was getting two hardcover nonfiction books published simultaneously, but that he’d designed the jackets himself—so, I asked him recently, is that his own handwriting on the cover? No, he emailed back:

“It is a freehand approximation of the handwriting of the 1980s graffiti artist and clothing designer Stephen Sprouse that was scanned into a computer and reformatted as a character set. I have always loved Sprouse’s handwriting and I thought there was something about the Sprousian sensibility that connected with my own writing style.”

Samuels had originally recruited Milton Glaser to do the cover design, but after some creative differences emerged, he decided to tackle the project himself—negotiating into his contract with the New Press that he’d get three tries at creating his own covers before they approached anyone else. “I felt confident that I had enough command of the basic language of design to turn out something that would speak to the reader about the form and content of the work, though my chief virtue as a designer is probably the fact that I read my own books,” he says. The American flag on Only Love Can Break Your Heart is his handiwork, drawn in magic marker in a deliberate homage to Gore Vidal‘s United States; “I wanted it to look like a version of Vidal’s book as imagined by a precocious, sullen punk rock fan in the back of his high school English class.”

He adds that the books were always conceived of as one grand project. “The idea was to publish a Slouching Towards Bethlehem-style collection in tandem with an LP version of one piece to form a two volume set of my American-themed works, ” he explains, observing that in practice, readers often wind up liking one volume way more than the other: “Reviewers who love The Runner tend to be a bit bored by the collection, and reviewers who love the collection see The Runner as baggy and too personal.” You can judge for yourself tonight at Brooklyn’s Book Court, where Samuels will be reading from at least one of his books…