Thursday, June 19, 2008

Judge Books by their covers

My work has given me a new found appreciation of good book covers. I've always liked nice design, in whatever form it took, but it wasn't until I was writing a bibliography for a reference book that I began to really dig a book cover. You see, the reference book in question was american; so I had to check to see whether the books I was listing were easily available in the US. This involved looking on (as opposed to the usual for the books I was listing.

Quite a lot of the books I was mentioning (literature and suchlike) are books that I own myself, so I'm familiar with their British edition covers. What I realised, when looking at the books on the American website was that American book covers are really horrendously bad, as a rule.

The overall impression you get is that the design team sat down, picked about 10 different typefaces out of a hat, and then used them all on the cover. Preferably over the top of a really complex and ugly picture. A good example of this difference in approach can be seen in the American and British covers for William Faulkner's dense, gory, and occasionally incomprehensible (but very good, nonetheless) novel Light in August.

US edition on the left, UK on the right.

I don't know why this is, perhaps all the decent graphic designers have come here.

For a lesson on damn fine cover design I think you can't do much better than the cover for the 2001 Flamingo 60's Classics edition of Flann O'Brien's raving masterpiece The Third Policeman.

The front cover was once white, but I'm not very nice to my books, so it's rather dirty and scuffed now. The full size versions of these pictures are absolutely mahoosive, because my scanner doesn't seem to do small, and neither do I.

Just dig the way that it's all fairly simple, and the way that the back cover doesn't give anything away about the story, but gives you a very good idea of the sort of book it is, by simply letting the book do the talking. Which more publishers should do, seeing as often the blurb on the back annoyingly distorts the story told.

The thing that makes this all the more impressive is the fact that the US edition of this book has a cover so horrifically ugly and amateurish that it makes you want to vomit out of your ears like a fire hydrant.