Today, I am going to be talking about book covers. As an avid reader and collector of books, my shelves are filled with beautiful books that I have treasured and will treasure for years to come. The old adage states ‘never judge a book by its cover’ but this is one of those old sayings that I just don’t agree with, the other being something about the ‘customer is always right’ (anyone who has worked in retail will know this is not the case, I still remember the time a lad told me he would smash the windows of my (non-existent) car because I wouldn’t sell him a copy of Grand Theft Auto without ID – but I digress!) I have definitely judged books by covers before, and have sought out specific versions of a book in the past, mainly to avoid the dreaded film tie in cover (put those film tie in covers back where they came from, or so help me) and I see book cover design as a crucial part of the process of bringing an authors vision to life, and getting their books into the hands of eager readers.
Any book lover will be aware of the sheer volume of books published each week. After some extensive research (A five minute google) I found a figure which estimated that between 150 and 200,000 books are published each year in the UK. I am not sure how accurate this staggering statistic is but I recall a day last year when famously over 600 books were published on one day so it doesn’t seem far off the mark. This spells bad news for bookworms everywhere struggling to keep up with new releases whilst buried under the weight of our infamous TBR’s, where’s Bernard and his watch when you need him? (Modern reference there for the young people) But with so many books vying for our attention, what is it that helps a book stand out from the crowd, to catch our eye on the bookstore shelf, public transport and social media?
I believe books have always had a collectable element but I think even more so in the past few years or so readers appetite for special editions has increased. We are regularly seeing special signed editions, some exclusive to certain stores or subscription boxes. Editions with alternate cover art, intricate endpapers and sprayed edges seem to be increasingly popular and sought after. I am sure the poor hardworking staff at Goldsboro Books, a lovely independent book shop specialising in signed and special editions, faced the wrath of many a Jay Kristoff fan when their website crashed due to demand on the release of a particular special edition. And before the finished product has even hit the shelf, proofs too generate excitement. I was one of many Sally Rooney fans who admired the four different versions of the proof for Beautiful World, Where Are You? which featured a palette of pretty pastel colours as well as a stunning bookseller exclusive foiled proof (if anyone from Faber is reading this, please, you can have my soul)
So it is easy to see the power a cover can have. To make a book stand out on the shelf, with beautiful, intriguing artwork to draw in the reader, to make us pick up the book and take a closer look, and hopefully find ourselves lost in another world for a few hours. But beautifully designed books don’t just look nice on a shelf or a social media post, they also help give us a sense of its contents, to give us an idea of the genre or the subject matter, or to conjure a certain emotion. And we have recently seen what happens when a cover doesn’t have that desired effect (Jeannette Winterson, I am looking at you through the flames)
So after all that rambling on (if you are still with me!) I thought I would put the spotlight on a few book covers that I really like, and the artists and designers responsible. This is by no means an exhaustive list, I have so many beautiful books I could talk about but I just went to my shelf and picked off a few that sprung to mind, so here they are in all their glory…
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt – First things first, it features a bird on the cover, and I cannot resist books with birds or woodland creatures on the covers! There is a simplicity to its design, but there is a layer of intrigue, the peeling away of the page to reveal the goldfinch beneath, the choice of font and the worn and weathered appearance. The colour of the cover also makes me think back to those days of making scrolls in history class at school using teabags to stain the pages to make them all medieval looking, ah the past *stares into the distance*
Publisher: Little, Brown
Jacket Design: Keith Hayes featuring ‘The Goldfinch’ by Carel Fabritius (1654)
The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton – Anyone who has followed me for a while will know I am partial to a bit of historical fiction and also have an interest in vintage and historical costumes so this cover, which features a model based on Petronella Oortman’s cabinet house, is one that I love. When Jessie Burton’s beloved debut was published it inspired many dolls house themed displays in various bookshops across the country (shoutout to the wonderful Leilah Skelton of Doncaster Waterstones fame who was such a wonderful champion of this book, and many others) and it inspired this particular bookworm, whilst on an ice hockey related trip to the Netherlands, to go and visit Nella Oortman’s house on display at the Rijksmuseum where I, like Jessie, was captivated by the scale and intricacy of this incredible piece of history.
Jacket Design: Katie Tooke, with model making and photography by www.andersenm.com
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – What a shock. Another mention of Margaret Atwood from Nat, a woman who has typed this writers name so much that her phone autocorrects her surname ‘Marshall’ to ‘Margaret Atwood’. But I couldn’t not include this stunning edition of one of my all-time favourites which I absolutely love. This cover is so bold and striking, the image of the handmaiden is one that is famous throughout the world so even though the name and title text are embossed onto the same colour background there is really no mistaking what book this is. The bold image is echoed with matching endpapers and red sprayed edges too *swoons*. The moment I laid eyes on this in Waterstones my card was out my purse quicker than you can say ‘nolite te bastardes carborundorum’
Jacket Design: Suzanne Dean with illustration by Noma Bar
The Shore by Sara Taylor – If I am honest, in typical Nat fashion, I can’t tell you much about this book, but I can tell you that it is brilliant and was one of my favourite books of 2015. The cover is also gorgeous, that lilac background with sprayed edges (this is the Goldsboro book club version) covered with beautiful shells make for a stunning cover with a serene feel to it. However, the bloodied tooth in the bottom left corner hints that not all is what it seems, and certainly adds to the books intrigue.
Publisher: William Heinemann
Jacket Design: Suzanne Dean
Dead Astronauts by Jeff Vandermeer – This one speaks for itself, one that caught my eye as soon as I saw it! As well as the mirroring of the author and title I love the contrast between the black and white astronauts depicted on the cover with the bold rainbow colours swirling across the cover giving this book an otherwordly appearance.
Publisher: 4th Estate
Jacket Design: Jo Walker, illustration by Maalavidaa
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte – Look at how beautiful this is *sighs* This Penguin Deluxe Classics edition of another all-time favourite novel of mine is one of my most treasured books. The gorgeous artwork looks straight out of a fairy tale, so beautifully intricate whilst its muted colour palette maintains the novels gothic tone. It also features French flaps and deckled edges so lots of little details to make it a special edition!
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Jacket Design: Ruben Toledo
The Swallowed Man by Edward Carey – I am a big fan of Edward Carey’s work and his own illustrations adorn the interior and exterior of this unusual, brilliant little book to bring this character to life. I like the colours used and the way in which this image of Gepetto is wrapped around this clothbound book.
Jacket Design: Luke Bird with illustration by Edward Carey
The Slow Regard Of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss – This UK edition of Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles novella features a lot of things that I love. Mainly this ethereal depiction of Auri and the moon by Nate Taylor. Auri is a favourite character of mine (I would legitimately name my child – or pet – Auri if I had one) so its nice for her to feature on the cover, surrounded by branches, flowers, and the gold foiling on the title which always appeals to the magpie in me!
Jacket Design: Illustrations by Nate Taylor
Viper Wine by Hermione Eyre – Another book I’ve read that my brain has seemingly forgotten every last thing about, apart from this cover. It’s got that historical element I like, featuring an actual portrait from the National Portrait gallery that I’ve probably seen in the flesh, only on this cover she is holding an iphone, again hinting that it’s not quite what it seems! (Just don’t ask me how, because I have no clue)
Jacket Design: Featuring Portrait of Venetia, Lady Digby by Sir Anthony Van Dyck from the London National Portrait Gallery
Miss Jane by Brad Watson – Lastly on this snapshot of pretty books from my collection, we have Miss Jane. This is a relatively simple design and colour scheme which has a big impact. The jacket features a cutout design, with its title being framed by an intricate illustration of a peacock. The blue and white scheme also makes me think of Delft pottery also which I like (which also features on The Dutch House by Ann Patchett, another book which I could talk about but this post has gone on way longer than I thought already and I am sure you all have lives to go back to)
Jacket Design: David J. High, art from The Stapleton collection/Bridgeman images
Well there we have it, my post on book covers has come to an end, you are free to go. There was so much more I could have added and so many stunning book covers I could talk about so I have only covered (ahem) a small amount here but I hope you found it interesting! Please let me know what you think, which covers you liked along with any of your own favourite covers from your collection.