The saying has always gone, ‘Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.’ Yet the modern book industry is in part based on the exact opposite mentality. Books are all about design, they are art inside and out. There are of course a multitude of ways of selling a book an authors reputation, by word of mouth, accolades, etc. The first line of attack however is the cover and as of right now the cover has never been more important.
Cover design is currently in it’s zenith being more explorative and explosive than ever before. With the likes of Bansky and Chris Ashworth producing works to adorn perennial classics or new ventures. However in the age of the ‘dying format renaissance’ the humble second hand book has seen a positive resurgence. With people wanting a book that has the literal feel of nostalgia within it and they want a cover to match it. Be it the collectable block text covers of a Penguin Paperback or the snatched obscure close-ups of a victorian painting that have adorn nearly every cover of Frankenstein until 2010. Yet no one has embraced nor ridden the wave of the nostalgic old school love as well as Ladybird Books. A few years back they relaunched their classic childhood look, of a simple painted hardback cover, for a line of humorous adult orientated how to guides. They’ve so clearly cut into that feeling of nostalgia that you can’t mistake a Ladybird Book even if you tried thanks to it’s pitch perfect ‘dated’ design.
So it goes with out saying, although it shouldn’t really, that book and cover design is an art form on to itself. Like with any art form it is subjective and so the same plays with book covers in their own right. Personally if I’m buying a book that I know I love, be it a replacement or for someone else, I pick a cover that evokes my memories and feelings of that book. One that sums it up most to me it’s all about picking the aesthetic that matches the feeling of that book. For instance if I were to purchase On the Road by Jack Kerouac I would want something that evokes the wide open roads of america, the multitude of micro-cultures encountered on the journey and an unwavering friendship. Not one that depicts a struggling writer or a doomed romance and above all else not a movie cover edition. For these are elements that I and many others associate with the book and also what many others do even though they haven’t read it. It is this that many publishers are catering to, the ones who have read it and loved it and to the ones discovering it for the first time. But in this age of near infinite accessible information our expectations are rife especially when it comes to a classic like Lolita or Dune or 1984. So what should the cover evoke, the adaptation, the cultural impact, a story aspect, a character, the legacy? Should it be minimalist or pop art, photographed or painted, mix-media or screen printed? The possibilities for covers are near endless and so are the choices because we all want one that is going to meet our understanding of the book, known or expected. If I’m shopping for a new read from a favoured author of mine, say the likes of Verne or Wyndham, I will choose the most terribly cheesy but beautifully hand painted sci-fi cover I can find because that’s what those books mean to me. It speaks of their age, their evolution and their very own sense of being. It is a feeling no modern cover could replicate but one that I solely attach to such titles.
We all have a developing eye for taste and design. We can all tell a good cover from a bad one and we may just prefer the lesser because of what it evokes. It could be wrapped in ten pence foil with day-glow stars on it and it wouldn’t matter it’s all about what it says to you. The contents of a book may never reach the heights of it’s impressive design or what it’s cover image initially evoked. But you’re only ever going to find out however by picking it up and giving it a read. That’s the joy of reading, discovery and it all begins with an evocative, eye-catching cover.
So keep on judging and discovering.