Book cover design is something of an obsession for those of us who’ve ever worked as booksellers and/or who hope to one day have a book published. So when the New York Times (AKA the purveyor of all things good) issues a list of 19 of 2012’s best book cover designs, we tend to pay attention.
Megan Wilson, art director of Vintage Books, sums up the design rule-defying cover of The Map and the Territory, a book I’ve admittedly never heard of but that’s artwork I have just spent minutes poring over:
I have no idea what this cover means and it shouldn’t even work—it’s barely legible—and yet it’s so different from anything else that it begs to be studied closely and then taken home. This is the sort of cover that transcends any clever marketing plan, helpful sales input, and well-meaning editorial direction.
Hope: A Tragedy, a novel by This American Life contributor Shalom Auslander, marries an image of an innocent, Bambi-inspired deer with scrawled-out text. The cover, the summary tells us, ‘may only hint at Auslander’s caustic humor and outrageous plot, but you just know that deer is about to get hit by a station wagon’.
Gravity’s Rainbow delivers a striking rainbow of phallic objects set against a grey felt background—it’s a simple cover, but one that’s incredibly aesthetically appealing. The Watergate cover nails that whole ‘designer who’s read and understood the book and its wider cultural context’ thing that often proves elusive. In this case, the key element is wiretapping.
Penguin’s Drop Caps series warrants a mention too (seriously, when does a Penguin title not warrant one?), but my favourite would have to be the out-of-the-box, textured-looking The Flame Alphabet. That’s a cover that I could stare at for hours, that I would consider displaying as an artwork, and that makes me want to bust out my crafty inner child.
It’s too early in the year to predict what 2013’s list will hold, but I’d hazard a guess that David Sedaris’ Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls might be a contender. Nor can I predict how the ubiquity of ebooks will, in coming years, influence cover design (and, by extension, such best-of lists as this). My guess, though, is that we’re going to see ongoing innovation and improvement in cover design, both because digital tools are perpetually improving and because in a flattened digital world, distinctive, arresting covers are going to mean the difference between books being clicked on and quickly skimmed by.