Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Judge a Book by Its Cover

There's an old maxim which goes "Never judge a book by its cover," and this maxim, unfortunately, applies to more than just books, but also to people; again, unfortunately. But we do judge books and people by their covers. And while there is a bead of truth to the saying, one cannot deny that reading a book with a cool cover feels cooler, just as kissing a stunning woman is all the more compelling. With this idea in mind, I present the five coolest book covers in my collection (in no particular order) with a brief note on why I like each of them.

Critical Terms for Religious Studies, by Mark C. Taylor, University of Chicago Press, 1998.

This postmodern dictionary isn't what you'd expect from its title. A gripping cover wraps this edgy volume. I don't even know what painting this is but I like it. One of my favorite features of the cover is how the painting is so oddly framed by angled black borders. Another pleasing aspect of the cover is the use of different fonts --an interesting touch, and one we'll see more of as this list continues-- which keeps the eye bouncing and the orangish dot containing the "for" lends the cover a vintage detail, as does the dominant typeset.

One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Penguin Books UK, 1998.

This cover is real gem which is only out shined by the magical story inside. I came across this edition while in Japan. The Japanese tend to import books from British publishing houses more than from American ones. The green, leafy swaths on the blackish background gives the cover a vegetative, cool, and junglish feel.
The messy, typed over fonts spelling out the Marquez's name and the book's title gives the cover a dangerous and somewhat schizophrenic feel, as if someone kept typing the letters with a dirty typewriter. The praise blurb by The Times isn't thrilling in itself, but the fact that it's printed in a different font, akin to Garamond (the classiest of all fonts), lends a classic touch to the disjointed design. And what would a Penguin book be without the little oval-celled penguin, this time appearing in light blue.
Pure Immanence: Essays on A Life, Gilles Deleuze, Zone Books, 2001.
Here's a short but extremely deep French, postmodern philosophical text. More than the text though, the book cover captures the viewer with its graceful eeriness. It almost looks like a face there in the middle, but who knows. The book is published by Zone, an extremely stylish publisher of modern intellectual pieces.
In keeping with all the covers designed by Zone, the cover utilizes a different font and color for each of the lines of texts. The burgundy, yellow, and white go well together and contrast perfectly with the cool green smoke of the background image. The black blocked publishers mark in the bottom left smacks some solid boldness into this ephemeral, wafting design.

The Rum Diary, Hunter S. Thompson, Scribner: Simon and Schuster, 1998.

Here's an eclectic cover chocked full of everything that makes a great cover. Designers should take notice of this cover. Thompson's drunken tale of his Puerto Rican nights is wonderfully represented by this colorful pallet. So what's great about this cover?
To start with, the colors are all bright and vivid. The solid red title bar syncs up perfectly with the bright, kinda light blue author type. The tart green negative picture clashes in just the right way with the other colors (and it doesn't really matter that the photo wasn't taken in Puerto Rico).

Not only are the colors spot on in their oddness, but the fonts alternate, with the title and author in a tough, military looking font, and the praise blurb in a stylish Garmond. Brilliant!
The Glass Bead Game, Hermann Hesse, Picador USA, 2002.
The Picador cover of this epic novel which helped Hesse win the Nobel Prize is soft, subtle, and dreamy. Blurry marbles, glass beads, what is that a picture of anyway? It fits the book's personality and more than that, the cover stands on its own as a beautiful piece of tranquil photography.

Though the font is consistent throughout, even in its use of all upper-case letters, the lines are cleverly arranged around the space and in different sizes. The shifting location and size of the text lines makes the eye bounce around, just like a glass bead might in a Master Ludi's hand (if that's how the game is played).

The bright white text contrasts cleanly with the rainbow of smudged colors at work in the background. This is a fresh, clean cover that bids the reader a curious welcome. A must read for sure, but be sure to read this edition so you get the fresh cover art.

So there you have it, five amazing book covers that will make you want to read these books whether you have any idea at all what they're about. That's what a good book cover does: it compels you to read the damn book, if only for the reason you'll look cool reading such a cool looking book. And just to further prove my point about how a great cover will make you want to read a book, how would you like to read this thrilling volume:

Ethics: Treatise on The Emendation of the Intellect, Baruch Spinoza, Hacket Pub. Co., 1992.

Do you want to read this book? I think not. Even if you like Spinoza you'll dread reading his philosophy out of this boringly covered book. Hell, the only interesting thing this cover has going for it is the line separating the author's name from the title.


This book cover is like being in Delaware, "Hi, we're in Delaware."

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