Too Much of a Muchness

In case you haven't noticed, a lot of similar looking designs— especially on book covers—have been showing up lately. Covers that depict photos of women's hair, shoes, backs of heads, bodies with the head cropped off, melting ice cream, things encased in ice, flush left Helvetica, and vegetables that look like genitalia seem to be everywhere. Here's another one to add to the list. No more rough cut rectangles and crudely rendered arms please. Yeesh. What were these guys thinking?
Yes, I realize that one of these is a film poster.



News that David Sedaris is releasing his latest audiobook as a vinyl record inspired me to pull these amazing old Caedmon spoken word LPs off the shelf. 

Caedmon Records specialized in spoken word recordings and put out records by many significant authors: Dylan Thomas, T.S. Eliot, e.e. cummings, Robert Frost, Ernest Hemingway, etc. They also issued children's records, recordings of theater performances, and Vincent Price reading Percy Shelly. Their slogan was: A Third Dimension for the Printed Page. The company was sold to Harper Collins in the 1980s and is now Caedmon Audio.

Don't know much else about this company, especially from the design end—even the internet appears lacking in information. If these covers are any indication of the quality design work that went on, there's a story to be told. Anyone know anything?


Government Preparedness

See how the Library of Congress is prepared to protect our nation's books in case of earthquake, fire, flood, hurricane, mudslide, tornado or other disaster. Includes a color-coded Homeland Security-style emergency scenarios chart. Info on ways to dry out books (somewhat laborious) and wash video cassettes (easier than bathing oil-soaked penguins). Linked video on how to deal with water damaged artifacts (had no idea that freezing a wet book can buy you some time). Looking for a Christmas gift for the person who has everything? or just a lot of things? How about a FEMA sponsored Emergency Response and Salvage Wheel, 2005 edition.

Photo by Abelardo Morell.

Best of the Oughts

Book Cover Archive chooses its best of the 2000s and includes some Vintage titles. Jamie Keenan's cover for Faster: brilliant in any decade.


Vlad Squad

Wow. A lot of blogs and tweets about these since the DO post.
For those keeping score at home:
Wall Street Journal has a poorly cropped slide show.
Chip Kidd discussess them at a 92Y Nabokov/Laura talk (also watch Martin Amis NOT talk about The Original of Laura).
Let the backlash begin.
Though NYMag approves:


at the train station.


Favorite cover of all time

On a related note, a one man show by Patrick Borelli about bad/weird book covers is at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater. This Wednesday. Only $5. Preview here.


Techno Wine, Gilded Pig Parts, and Full-Time Eating

I've been serving on the board of AIGA/NY for the past year or so. An amazing, amazing group of people. Here is a fantastic (non-book related) event we're having next week: Today's Specials: The Design of Food Presentation, hosted by Frank Bruni (there's the book hook). We'll also be raffling off dinners to some of NY's finer establishments: Blue Hill, Buttermilk Channel, Falai, and more. Hope to see you there.
Photo by Mitch Feinberg.


More Nabokovs!

The near complete set being shown over at Design Observer.
Thanks Design Observer!

in situ at the great Three Lives. Thanks Alex Knowlton!


The cover that keeps on giving

A couple years ago a strange little book showed up at our office. It arrived in the form of a non-descript looking paperback from a small French publisher. Then Vintage Editor-in-Chief, Marty Asher read it, loved it and decided to find an American audience.

The novel was called Remainder and was written by Tom McCarthy. The story concerns a man who is involved in an unexplained accident—something falls from the sky—and he suffers an unspecified head trauma. This results in the following: 1) the man loses the ability to "connect" to the outer world and 2) he receives a huge cash settlement. In order to re-establish some authentic feelings, our hero uses his money to construct elaborately detailed re-enactments of distant memories. 

For example: he remembers opening his apartment door, hearing someone practicing piano, smells frying liver, hears a cat fall from a roof, and about a dozen other things during a 20 second walk down a flight of stairs. In order to recreate this moment, he scouts locations, buys an exact replica apartment building, hires actors and animal wranglers, etc, who are on call 24-7. He scripts the whole thing, then re-enacts this moment over and over and over again. Its part novel, part conceptual art, part performance piece.


I knew from the outset I did not want to do anything literal with the cover. It had to be a stand-alone concept. A discussion with the author yielded an important detail. One of the things that he liked about the title "remainder" was that it referenced remaindered books—those books that go unsold and are dumped into discount book stores like The Strand.

So the initial idea was to make this cover appear as if it were a damaged book—a reference to the "remaindered book" thing and to the head injury. A cover was designed and approved and printed. All the creases and dents were embossed. Quite beautiful. The repetition of the title (something I've always wanted to do) on the front refers to the repetitive nature of the events. Then something happened. It wasn't that anyone disliked the cover, but there was some talk starting that maybe the cover was too quiet. This was being published as a paperback original so it has to compete in that marketplace—that's a whole 'nother blog post. Then someone asked me if I had seen the UK cover—always a bad sign. I thought I should nip this in the bud.

There is a scene in the book where they recreate a moment that has the protagonist in a car with wiper fluid spewing out of the vents, flooding the car's interior. So I started to think, what if this book is sitting on the front seat of the car while this takes place. Somewhat literal, yes, but a starting point. I did a quick little experiment, then called the incredible Geoff Spear to do a proper photo shoot. This resulted in the final cover.

I admit to having a tinge of doubt about the final cover from a conceptual standpoint, since I did not want to use any literal references. But everyone seemed to like it and it made some kind of sense. So be it.


A couple weeks later Geoff sends me some shots of the studio setup. I had forgotten what we had to do to create this seemingly simple photo. Water tank, blue fluid, clamps, lights, backdrops, buckets, wires, we even had someone stirring the water in the tank just so to create the perfect ripple. We had become characters in the book! Concept sealed. We then sent the author a framed copy of the studio photo.

The book comes out. Gets deservedly great reviews. We get some weird things sent in from readers, like this guy, who dropped his book on a slushy road, had it run over a bunch of times and decided to document it.

About a year later, the editor forwards me an email from the author. He was having an argument with a photographer friend who was insistent that, no, the photo session had NOT taken place, that the actual cover was some kind of digital rendering and we had constructed a "fake" photo shoot to provide evidence that the event had taken place. This is moon-landing territory, people. I thought it was brilliant. So brilliant that I'll have to save it for his next cover.