Monday, August 24, 2009

Tapjacketing #1

I was a bookseller for a long time before I turned full-time to writing and teaching, and I've still got that strange disease a lot of booksellers have - it's incurable: we're afflicted with the need to touch new books. We need to hold them (I'm telling you, it's physical this addiction, not metaphorical.) We need that hit, that rush, getting acquainted with "the look of the book." When we find one that satisfies, we run our hands over it, we turn it over, we open it (but not to read it - just to see the font, feel the paper.) We sometimes smell it. Dedicated booksellers are a strange breed.

When I was a buyer, I talked to sales reps about cover art. They talked to me about legendary cover designers like Chip Kidd, whose covers are both famous & infamous. I didn't know Kidd's work at the time, but I hurried out to find out all I could. Kidd, whose interview Carol posted on Friday, has a tome out (the kind that you can use to press flowers, or keep a door from closing.) It's titled CHIP KIDD: BOOK ONE - WORK 1986-2006. Don't even think about reading this book in the bathtub - it must weigh 7-8 pounds and it's the size of a small Hummer. But it makes for glorious reading, filled as it is with photos of the book covers designed by this "rock star" of graphic design. Kidd writes intelligently in the book about his designs-- those that flew and those that didn't even get a chance to, shot down by art directors or editors or people from Marketing. But there's not much text: most of the book is just cover after cover after cover after cover after's breathtaking if you're hooked on "the look of the book."

Here is what I hope will be the first of many Monday Tap-Jackets - I'll be posting a list of links on a monthly basis, so if you're interested in covers, just click on "Link" to check these stories out:

1. Link: At Blue Rose Girls, Alvina, who is an editor in NYC, offers up some thoughts on book design, including comments about the covers for The Postcard and Firegirl, both by Tony Abbott.

2. Link: 6 classic kids book covers from Alan Power's book Children's Book Covers. Posted over at design:related, where Nick believes that book covers are being dumbed down for today's readers. Have to admit, those are classy designs. I wouldn't mind having a few more like that, and a few less photographed faces.

3. Link: A wonderful essay by Steven Heller in the NY Times about the kind of long-term chemistry that can exist between an author and a cover designer. Not kids books; still, interesting.

4. Link: What would happen if the Harry Potter series were redesigned to look like classic Penguin book covers?? Illustrator and designer M.S. Corley gives it a go. I think they're gorgeous.

5. Link: Eight classic kids books covers highlighted in The Book Cover Archive , where you can look up who designed a cover you loved. If you look up Chip Kidd, you'll see several dozen titles & you can decide for yourself if you like his work or understand his aesthetic.

6. Link: Kudos to the people who took up the challenge issued by 100 Scope Notes to design their own debut YA book covers. The gallery of what people have come up with is much better than you would expect from amateurs. And here are step by step instructions for how to do it.


  1. This Iliad/Odyssey cover is gorgeous indeed. Those books remind me of the good-smelling old cloth-bound things I found in obscure corners of the library when I was a kid. I'm not sure "dumbed down" is the right word for what covers are now -- do we expect kids to be design experts? -- but I do think that having a photograph of a face robs the reader of imagining who the character is for his/herself. I have the opinion, however, that movies do the same thing... few agree with me on THAT score, however!

  2. Tanita - thanks for commenting. I love that Iliad/Odyssey cover, too, and I've set out on a quest to see if there's an affordable used copy somewhere. I was amazed by the Mary Poppins cover, which was an edition I saw around when I was little, but which I hadn't thought of for a long time. Suddenly the strong nostalgic pull of Beth Krommes's cover for A HOUSE IN THE NIGHT made sense to me - I knew it was old-fashioned, but it actually reminds me of the Travers cover.