Friday Book Design Blog

As well as reviewing (click here for links to recent reviews) I also write a weekly blog for The Independent on book design, mostly covers, but not exclusively.

Anyone looking at this page will notice it is WAY out of date. I will try to fix it soon.

For the moment, here’s the book covers alphabet I built, with people’s tweeting help, on Friday 7 Feb (click on the image to see the post):


Older stuff below. :

barely-imagined 160The Book of Barely Imagined Beings by Caspar Henderson (Granta)
Henderson’s book rejoices in some wonderful page design, including lovely two-tone side notes… which made me think of side notes from Alasdair Gray, J. McN. Whistler and Douglas Coupland.

zola therese raquin 160Therese Raquin by Emile Zola (Vintage Classics)
Patterned covers have been all the rage for a while, especially for Classics. But repackaging a classic means more than just a pretty pattern. This Vintage Classic gets it right inside, too.

pushkin-press 160Stories From The Fold – St Bride’s Centre mini-conference
Seven lessons from seven designers such as Claire (Pushkin Press) Skeats, Jon (gray318) Gray and Brian Webb.

ultramarine 160Ultramarine, by Malcolm Lowry (Four Square)
It has that wonderful vibe you get around mid 20th Century paperback versions of older books that you’re getting a double hit of nostalgia… an dated attempt at up-to-date…

shola160Pushkin Children’s, or Children’s Books: Designed for whom?
Designing books for children comes with its own specific set of problems, especially when you’re designing a, shall we say ‘good’ book, a book that you might expect an ambitious and book-loving parent to buy for their child, or encourage them to pick in the bookshop, rather than the latest shiny, garish series paperback adorned with, perhaps a unicorn, or a generic moping Victorian orphan, or swish-haired boy with sword and shield

booker-shortlist-2013-160Booker Prize Shortlist 2013
Six books, racing for the prize – but which wins the prize of Best Cover?

book with a hole cover 160A book with a hole in it, and other ephemera
In an Autumnal version of spring-cleaning here are some of the stranger, more ephemeral bits of book design that have caught my eye, or come across my desk, or my doormat, over the past few months

french covers 160French holiday special
It might be true that this blog wouldn’t even exist in France, where literary books tend to stick to the tried and tested format of austere, text-based classicism, but I’m alarmed to find that there are exceptions.

petit mal 160Petit Mal by DBC Pierre  (Faber)
This new collection from DBC Pierre is a lovely thing to behold, and to hold, but is it a case of style over substance?

friday taipei 160Taipei by Tao Lin  (Canongate)
The US and UK editions of Tao Lin’s new novel are almost the same, but not quite – which means by putting them side by side we can get an interesting picture of how the two markets differ

Dee Island 160Deer Island by Neil Ansell (Little Toller)
Deer Island is the first piece of original writing to come from Little Toller, which otherwise has made its name with its well-regarded ‘Nature Classics’ series.

evie-wyld-covers 160All The Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld  (Jonathan Cape)
Put the hardback of Evie Wyld’s second novel, All the Birds, Singing, next to her first, After the Fire, A Still Small Voice, and you have a wonderful diptych, both designed by Wyld’s friend-from-college Darren Wall.

Penguin Design Award
Looking at the results of the publisher’s annual award for student designers, in which they had to produce a fully-specced cover design for either Raymond Chandler’s noir classic The Big Sleep or Kenneth Grahame’s equally classic – and, for all its pastoral idylls, equally violent – The Wind in the Willows.

gone 160Gone by Michael Grant
This is the YA book series that is currently going through our house, and the kids’ primary school, and probably, everywhere like, er, a plague. What caught my eye was their design: matt black paperback covers, bare but for the title picked out in large, sometimes distressed capitals, the letters black against a neon radioactive glow, and with a minimal graphic element, usually the silhouette of one the characters, built into a letter.

friday-yellow-cab-quartet 160Yellow Cab Quartet by Olivia Laing
Yellow Cab Quartet is a limited edition book work collaboration between writer Olivia Laing and illustrator/printer Anna Fewster. As a book, it’s slender – just four short ‘vignettes’ about American writers taking journeys in New York cabs, together with nine monotype print illustrations. As an object, it’s exquisite.

friday AncientLight 160Blurb special
Let’s talk book blurbs, those quotes you get, usually from other writers, that are meant to entice you in. When do they work, and when do they go wrong – when a quote is underwhelming, or over the top, done to death, or even comes from beyond the grave…

friday age of wire and string 160The Age of Wire and String, by Ben Marcus (Granta)
I’m not going to say that this illustrated edition of Ben Marcus’s 1995 book The Age of Wire and String is animprovement on the original text – I love it too much to want to risk insulting it, and have a deep personal attachment to my old, compact Flamingo edition – but it’s certainly a most interesting version of it, or response to it

friday the infautations 160The Infatuations by Javier Marías (Hamish Hamilton)
Javier Marías is a major writer, whose name tends to get mentioned in connection with the Nobel Prize. So why is it that when I look at his latest book, my first reaction is an annoying earworm of a vocal line jumping around in my head, a woman warbling “It’s got be-ye-ye-yeeee perfect”?

idiopathy US 160Idiopathy by Sam Byers (4th Estate, FSG etc)
Sam Byers’ debut novel, Idiopathy, is coming out in 11 different territories. I asked him about how the design process has been for him, and what it’s taught him about different markets.

friday instantflex718 160Instant-Flex 718 by Heather Phillipson (Bloodaxe Books)
I saw this cover on Twitter – the shop-window of the new digital market place – and was immediately drawn to its playful mix of the cuddly and the severe. And what the hell does ‘Instant-Flex 718’ mean, anyway?

Friday Free Fall 160Free Fall by William Golding (Faber & Faber)
Neil Gower is designing the full complement of Golding novels for Faber. This one will certainly stand out, on the contemporary book shelf, as very much something out of time – even as unfashionable.

friday tim parks sex is forbidden 160Sex is Forbidden by Tim Parks (Vintage)
This is new, I thought – not just a new jacket for the paperback of Tim Parks’ last novel, The Server, but a new title. But there was more to this than I realised.

goldfinch-160The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (Little, Brown)
Well, we have a date and title for Donna Tartt’s third novel, The Goldfinch, out this October, and we have the cover. What can we can learn from it about the novel it houses?

friday the breakfast bible 160The Breakfast Bible by Seb Emina and Malcolm Eggs (Bloomsbury)
Cook books are gift books par excellence – when they’re not gifts to other people, they’re gifts to ourselves, little parcels of flattery that we have the skills, honestly we do, and the time, and the imagination to come alive in the kitchen and produce something really remarkable

friday ozeki paperback 160A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (Canongate)
I wrote on this blog last week about permanence being central to our idea of the physical book. So I was pleased to find a newly published book that emphasises its fragility rather than its solidity.

penguin lines a history of capitalism 160Penguin Lines (series design by Jim Stoddart)
There is something of the dimension of these books that reminds me of the look of an iPod; in fact the ratios are pretty much identical, albeit switched round – on an iPod the visual element is at the top.

mussel feast 160The Mussell Feast by Birgit Vanderbeke (Peirene Press)
There’s something inherently pleasing about the upright, rather svelte shape of these books, slightly less wide than the usual B Format paperback, that suggests the sophistication, and even the brevity, of what’s inside

popular-classics-frankenstein 160Penguin Popular Classics – series redesign by David Pearson
It may seem a little unfair to return so soon to a designer and publisher that I’ve already covered on this blog, but I was so tickled by this story when I heard it that I couldn’t wait to share it.

friday gatsby 160The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald (Pulp! The Classics)
The colours are terrible, the page edges sprayed, and the images pre-distressed to give the books that ‘stuffed in a cardboard box outside the secondhand bookshop’ look.

black-vodka-160Black Vodka by Deborah Levy (And Other Stories)
If subscription publishers like Peirene and AOS are to convince people to put up their money for books sight-unseen, as they would for, for instance, a literary journal, then it clearly helps to have – like those journals – a clearly defined identity.

nicholas royle first novel 160First Novel by Nicholas Royle (Jonathan Cape)
As a whole, it is a hymn of praise to the humble paperback, that often-overlooked object of desire, repository of our hopes for the future (the books on our shelves we haven’t read, that they will improve our lives), and for the past (those we have read, that they did)

1984 160Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell design for Penguin Classics by David Pearson:
This pays homage to a classic from Penguin’s design back pages, as seen in the very first Penguin paperback, in 1938, but in the subtly adjusted version made by Jan Tschichold in 1948 – the very year that Orwell was writing his dystopian novel.


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