Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Conflicting emotions

I'm sure every librarian and educator who has had any dabblings in feminist theory whilst learning all about literature has some serious mixed feelings about those darn Twilight books. I'm not going to waste too much time discussing my fears of what we're teaching young ladies to value; plenty of other people have done as much. I will comment quickly on how visually tempting those lovely covers are for teenaged girls of all ages and genders:

But I'd like to commend Syp at Bio Break for this amazingly frightening find. Check it out:

My initial reaction is one of disgust, not only for the rather icky image, but more so for the apparent need to label anything and everything with the trendiest brand name. (I wonder how Ms. Meyer feels about this.) HOWEVER. I am also conflicted, because HECK - why not package the great classics with some shiny new dust jackets that the young'uns might actually feel drawn to? It's only a modest leap from the librarian's "If you liked THIS (stupid) book, try THIS (wonderfully written and decidedly canonized) book!!" pitch in the YA stacks.

However, this all may very well be a vain discussion at this point. My 12-year-old YA consultant recently informed me that she's over Twilight. "I've outgrown it, really," she said. Me too.

Monday, March 2, 2009

A classic trend

Wuthering Heights
Emily Bronte
White's Books, June, 2009

Thanks to Apartment Therapy, I have discovered another line of beloved and beautiful classic novels! Book Cover Judge must agree with AT's excellent find! Apparently these texts are cloth-bound and hardcovered, not to mention excellently tailored to each romantic story. I must hold these in my arms! Thank you, Apartment Therapy, for including these therapeutic book covers in your delightful discussions of home design.

And thank you, White's Books, for rescuing classics from the otherwise stuffy-looking academic options we English majors had to buy at the bookstore. (Who wants to read Romantic criticism anyway?) I look forward to the day every apartment (or house) dweller has the option to display only the finest in book design, including all their old favorites!

The AT post.

The publisher.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Changing covers

This article in the Washington Post addresses an interesting book-cover-judging issue: the hard-cover to paperback opportunity for a change in cover! Apparently publishers might need to seek absolution for a bad cover on the second try. Or perhaps reach a broader, or at least a more dependable, audience. How does the BCJudge judge the difference? Perhaps she will address one of these flip-flop covers in the future...

Monday, November 17, 2008

Designer feature: Denise Kennedy

Here I was thinking the beautiful Borders anthology of Sherlock Holmes tales was just a fluke in a sea of boring classic covers, but I was happily wrong!

Denise Kennedy is the designer of the foil-imprinted Holmes that was obviously my favorite. She has created several other covers for many classic tales, including these, which I have discovered through her website:

(I am naturally drawn to the creepy stories, it seems)

I have seen and even purchased some other booksellers' editions of classic stories, since it is fun and occasionally convenient to own classics!, but often these types of books are cheaply made and unattractive in design. In contrast, Ms. Kennedy and her Ann Arbor Media publishing friends have created high-quality and beautiful works that people can be proud to own, without resorting to desperate measures. And if you prefer a blissfully modern take on an old story, she can do that too:

To see more of Ms. Kennedy's lovely covers, visit her website: http://www.denisekennedy.com/

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Battle of the Sexies

I think it's time we had a show-down between book covers, and only the Judge will declare the victor! And what makes a head-to-head competition even more exciting, a la WWWF or beach volleyball? Sexiness.

The contenders:

Chuck Palahniuk
Doubleday, 2008


Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper
Diablo Cody
Gotham, 2005

(In super-intense wrestling commercial voice) It's gonna be a killer tonight as Palahniuk whips out every raw and racy pornographic punch he's got! Can Diablo bank on her sexy striptease, or will Palahniuk leave her just a pregnant teen with a hamburger phone? It's SNUFFED versus STRIPPED on tonight's BCJ-SMACKDOWN!

I'll start with Snuff. With the exception of the dreadful movie-poster copies, Palahniuk's book covers usually follow a stricking, graphic formula, echoing his mind(moral?)-shattering prose. His novels are usually stark white, with a blindingly vivid image centralizing our focus. The text accompanies the illustration, always stylized cleverly to reflect its story. In the case of Snuff, he altered the formula ever so slightly and amusingly with the background not crisp white, but blow-up doll peach. Even the letters' cleavage (tee hee) shows the taut wrinkles we'd expect to find in, say, the armpits of an air-filled young lady.

Meanwhile, Ms. Cody's cover takes a boring literal route with an image of herself (I'm assuming) that looks less like an edgy journalist and more like a character from the Babysitters Club with lip gloss and a temporary tattoo. Judging by both the LA Times' praise on the cover and the dreamy pastel colors, this "frothy fun" memoir will do little more than solidify women's place on the stipper-pole pedestal of our Playboy-bunny-obsessed society.

So although both sexy covers fail to generate any interest from me in picking up the books, at least Snuff arguably intends to make my skin crawl. I've read Palaniuk's books before, and though they aren't exactly my cup of tea, I respect him for doing something different both inside and outside of his books. Candy Girl's singing an old tune, and its message is hardly sweet to me.

DING DING! Candy Girl hits the floor! Looks like the competition is SNUFFED OUT for good!

Perhaps another good match would have been Candy Girl versus:

Female Chauvanist Pigs
Ariel Levy
Free Press, 2005

But then I think there would be no contest at all.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Pimpin' with my Holmes

There are a TON of Sherlock Holmes books, as a recent trip to Borders revealed to me. The mystery section is a place that doesn't often interest me, because the covers there are so a) boring and b) tiny! There's not much surface to work with on a 3 x 5 postcard-sized paperback, especially when 55% of it (or more) is taken up by the stupid author's name!

What's that, Ms. Clark? Yes, you're right; I am just jealous that I can't bank on the sheer notability of my name. Yes, I am interested to find out about the song that kills people. (Wait, that was a Palahniuk novel. Ooh, I know what to review next time.)

But when mystery is not modern, I think the cover designers have much more room for fun. Let's look at just a few of Doyle's collections, in order of my aesthetic judgment.

Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Scholastic Classics: 2004

Well, okay. What's with the heather gray/marbly writing action around the picture? What is the point of that? It's not like Holmes was known for his penmanship, right? And that Holmes looks downright dopey. It's kind of obvious to dress him up in the costume made famous by the TV show. NEXT!

The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Volume I

The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Volume II

Arthur Conan Doyle
Barnes and Noble Classics: 2003

Ok, now this is how B&N always does their classics, and granted, they're not exactly known for their publishing. But I'm not a big fan of this design set-up, because I like the title to feel like a part of the cover art, instead of *plunk* art goes here, *plunk* title goes here. But, the images here are quite nice. Note the foggy, mysterious London landscapes Holmes stares out into, first alone, then joined by everyone's favorite idiot, Watson. The growth of a hero always includes picking up a sidekick.

The New Annotated Sherlock Homes: The Short Stories

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
W. W. Norton & Company: 2004

Now we're getting somewhere. This is the mack-daddy kind of anthology, though we still get to the old problem of the pipe and deerstalker cap. And what's with the dog? Ultimately, they won me over with the double volumes and the font. Yummy.

Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Arthur Conan Doyle
Ann Arbor Media Group, LLC: 2007

Love it. Hardcover and boring brown, the way the books in Holmes’ private library might have appeared. Yet the cover art is just darling: like a block print, actually pressed into the cover (I felt it), with a simple image: brick street, dead body, and a mind at work. The perfect beginning for any detective, and any mystery story. So what's the best Sherlock Holmes cover like? Duh. Elementary.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Seeing is believing

"I'm a visual learner." I hear other people say this all the time, and sometimes I say it too; but I don't know if it's really true, since I often catch myself making homophonic errors in typing (which typically just delights me: "ha! I typed 'won' instead of 'one'! My brain is crazy!"). Learning aside, I've got to put visuals up there in my top 3 senses. Well, at least top 5.

This shouldn't count as a book cover judgment, but I'm the Judge, and judges misuse their courts all the time, right? First this country's judges lost the wigs, then the entire US Judicial branch snapped like a twig under the weight of the plump bluebird of corruption. Yes, Book Cover Judge will mix nonsensical metaphors! Order in the court!

So today I feature my latest love story.

The Believer
Published by McSweeney's, March-April 2008
Cover art by Charles Burns

So yes, this is a magazine, not a book. However, it's a $10 magazine, which is more than I can spend on a book anyway. If being the Judge did pay more, the first thing I'd spring for is any one of Burns's horrifyingly delicious-looking graphic novels:


Another reason this post is breaking my judgment rules is that I've read the contents before writing my review. I think I made that decision early on so that the text couldn't taint my perception of the cover art. The joy of Borders has nothing to do with text for me. It's all about the silky surfaces; the enticing colors; the smell of newness, paper, and glue; and the cornacopia of fonts to visually delight me. But, to be fair, I have never read an entire copy of The Believer before. (It's really dense, ok?) And again, power of the Judge, blah blah blah.

Charles Burns always does the art for this magazine. Consistency is important in a magazine; however, most popular publications rely too heavily on their routines:

I think these three poses are recycled month after month. Color of the magazine and content, too. (This is all I can say right now. To comment on even one of the call-outs would take way too much of my limited blogging space.)

Back to Burns. Let me re-paste an image to cleanse our eyeball palattes:

January issue, 2008

Better. Although this is frequently the set-up for the design of this cover (9 squares of alternating headlines and images), Burns is willing to mix it up, particularly if the magazine has a specific theme. The March-April magazine is their film issue, and it seems quite clever to scatter the main players of the mag around a hypnotic vortex of literary/cinematic doom, since this issue (of course) makes frequent mention of both Hitchcock and his Vertigo.

Even without a different or dynamic composition, Burns' portraiture always amazes me. As a graphic artist, he has mysteriously found the line between play and pretention. Familiar faces in this graphic style are eye-catching, as the marketers who employ rotoscoping* for Charles Shwab know well, but this goes beyond the hook, as the pros say. Burns bridges the playfulness of comic strips (well reflecting the winking nature of anything McSweeney's does) with the dramatic, exaggerated chiaroscuro** I associate with block printing and olden-tymey newspapers. White and dark sit right next to each other, comfortably, stubbornly refusing to allow grayscale onto the page. And while The Believer is arguably all about the gray areas, I'd like to think that both the content of the magazine and the cover illustrations are just as much about clarity and truth then the lack thereof. To ignore the desire for the black-and-white answers would make the authors' explorations pointless (though these explorations ironically are the ones muddying the waters), and it would deny our humanity, our fundamental hope for crystal-clear understanding of our world. Burns makes me believe the mag's writers are not pompous academics who use big words to make me feel like I shouldn't have gone to a state school. Nay. They are seekers of truth. And I'm a believer, too.

*Rotoscoping, a term that has something to do with cartoony-looking but real-life people, was used in the indie film Chicago Ten, and helps convince people that I am well-informed.

**Chiaroscuro, along with meaning light and dark in a picture, also helps to make me sound like I went to college, even in a sentence that employs the phrase "olden tymey."