Publishers hope we're doing it.
I picked up a book based on the beautiful cover and discovered one of my favorite authors-Amor Towles. The blob covers are a turn-off for me.
Great piece yet again. You have a knack for simply-written, intensely fascinating articles. I wonder if some of this comes from your newspaper writing.
This topic is great! As a designer -- I work as a UX writer -- I pay very close attention to book design, more for fun than anything.
Agree with what you wrote. Some other covers I love? The Topeka School by Ben Lerner (haven’t read but saw it). Also, the geometric, tessellation-like Albert Camus covers. Also, the standard pattern of NYRB books.
Dreaming of my own (future) books, I sometimes wonder if it would be cool to be arbitrary with both title and cover design: The Black Book, The Blue Book, The Red Book, where the cover is just a solid color. Probably not a great marketing strategy ... but they would look cool in a stack. Lol.
Great article John!
Some of my favorite covers are:
HAMNET ( boy with a feather across his face )
THE LIFE OF PI ( gorgeous tiger walking from back cover across to front cover )
NICKEL BOYS ( small drawing of two boys and only one shadow )
THE ROAD ( solid black cover with the title in red )
KLARA AND THE SUN ( a stylized hand with a gold sun dot in the center )
CLOUD ATLAS ( a collection of six boxes with photos of a variety of different clouds )
I pass over the blob covers (wrongly sometimes) assuming it's a fluff book. When I look around my bookshelves there isn't one in sight. In Cold Blood will never leave my mind. I like the cover on a current book I'm reading called The Actual True Story of Ahmed & Zarga. I got the feel of his trek across the desert before I even started reading.
The blob covers make me think it's a light and funny read, which is not always the case. I tend to go for dark-themed books, and I know I've missed out on reading some good books just because of the covers.
Will always feel a pang when I see, “Charlotte’s Web.”
I just picked up Tove Ditlevsen’s Copenhagen books on the strength of their covers and I’m glad I did. I didn’t realize Tartt’s Secret History was a Kidd design until now, but it’s one of my favorites. Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf is another favorite.
I think it’s important for a cover to stand out. I too simply pass over the blobs in the bookstore because they all run together, even though I’m sure some of them are quite good. I wonder about the classic covers you posted in that respect. I’ve always liked the old Philip Roth covers, but what did the other books on shelves at the time look like?
Thinking about this some more, I think some amount of uniformity is good. The problem for consumers is the huge amount of choice on the shelf. You don’t have time to read every blurb so a visual signal can tell you if a book is in the ballpark of what you like. And publishers can’t afford to pay the good designers for every title.
NYRB does this quite well. The standardization of their format makes it immediately recognizable, but there’s a wide variety in the images and color schemes that still allow individual titles to stand out and show their personalities
I had an "argument" about the cover of "A Little Life" with someone (who hadn't read the book) who said that the cover was a man having an orgasm. I said it's a man in pain. But -- maybe since he cuts to alleviate pain the answer is somewhere in between? One way or the other, it's a powerful cover for a powerful book.
The book cover is the book vibe. It should tell me exactly how I’ll feel when reading it. If there’s incongruity between the cover and the insides, we have at best a disappointment, at worst a DNF (!).
Some of my favorite covers include The Phantom Tollbooth (the wit, the sass!), The Valley of the Dolls (the faces cut out from pill shapes is genius), and more recently Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore (desolate and gorgeous). I fully agree about The Godfather and the bold type - I recently purchased a paperback copy even though I have a kindle version simply for using in Bookstagram photos.
And any conversation about book covers must include the assumption publishers have discovered the power of a strong book cover plastered all over Instagram and Tik Tok. Maybe these amorphous blob book covers are just a result of the algorithm feeding the same stuff back to our lizard brains…
McSweeney’s fur covered edition of The Wild Things.
The cover of Euphoria by Lily King looks like blob art but it is actually a beautiful rendition of Rainbow Eucalyptus bark (the tree plays a very small part in the book). I've kept the book just for the cover.
In no particular order................I agree that Mrs. Biblioracle's revision of the cover was a great improvement. Also, you recently recommended Excellent Women by one of my VERY favorite authors, Barbara Pym. Thanks for that, and I hope your correspondent enjoys it as much as I did. As for book covers, come to think of it, some of my paperback Barbara Pyms have a sort of anticipatory blobby look. Printed in the 80's and 90's, they have a sort of repeating stylized pattern, which may or may not relate to the story. I confess I'm drawn to the classic Penguin dress: sober black border, no frills, all business text, and then an artwork of the period of the story (eg, portrait of Jane Austen, etc.).
I agree with you about the late '60's early '70's book covers, and get irritated when classic books get a cover makeover. I always get a thrill when I come across a book with an original cover in old bookshops. As a side note: I used to own Vida's book in an original cover format which was much more appropriate to the story. Interesting piece, thanks : )