Wednesday, March 19, 2008

My 10 Favorite Novel Cover Designs

I'll just say straight out that I am a design poseur. I enjoy design a lot, and can appreciate good design, but I tend to act like I know more than I really do. With that said, I can make this post without seeming like I am putting forth a definitive list of great cover designs, or even a list of good ones. These are just designs I have seen and liked, and felt like sharing. The cover designs on novels are many times fascinating; it's interesting to see what they say about the book itself. So without further ado, I present to you my favorite 10, in no particular order.

"Atlas Shrugged" - I am a big fan of Art Deco and the like, so this cover has always been one I liked. This was the cover of the first copy of "Atlas Shrugged" I read, and I liked what it seemed to imply, as well as the general design. You have the sun rising in the background, with rays shooting out, and you have the building to the side, which I always imagined to be the headquarters or Taggart Transcontinental, for those of you who have read the book. Then of course, there's Atlas in the middle, holding up the title itself; I thought that was fairly clever. Anther reason I liked this is that I just like the color green.

"1984" - I tend to be a sort of minimalist with design; I like white space and simple, stark, striking messages. In that respect, "1984"'s cover comes across marvelously. The author and the title in the middle of the book on a white background, with a lidless eye staring out at you. It captures the whole "Big Brother is watching" feeling you get from the book magnificently. Not much to say about this one, and for this, it's a good thing.

"Catch-22" - "Catch-22" is my favorite novel, so it's no surprise it made it onto my list (I never claimed to be impartial). It's pretty basic as well, but one simple thing I like about it is the text. I prefer sans serif text, and the shadow on it gives it depth and makes it stand out. The man and the plane just show main parts of the book, and the ragged edges lend to it's entire tone. I just love this book over-all. It's so ridiculous and dark and funny and thought-provoking, all at the same time.

"I." - This is a book I actually haven't had a chance to read yet, but it is on my list. You can't exactly tell in the picture, but the title ("I.") is cut out of the cover, with the picture of the man on the front page showing through. Once again, simple yet effective.

"The Perks of Being a Wallflower" - The second and last book on this list I haven't read, this continues the simple theme of the last few books. Aside from enjoying the color, I enjoy the text on this book as well, both the typefaces chosen and the drastic differences in size between the title and the author's name. The single picture in corner completes the off-balance feeling you get looking at it, and one of the things that makes me like it more is that it seems almost to be mimicking the mindset of a wallflower. Like I said, I haven't read it, but I can imagine the guy in the picture standing against the wall by himself at a party, looking around at everyone else and feeling out of place and maybe a bit overwhelmed; off-balance. The entire thing just sort of blends to create a single feeling, which I like.

"Franny and Zooey" - To finish up the stark, plain covers, "Franny and Zooey" fits in marvelously with other books like "1984." I probably wouldn't have included this one, since it is so much like some of the others here, except there is a bit of interesting information behind it. This is what all Salinger's novels look like now (in paperback form), and the interesting thing about it is that he has control over what goes on the cover, and after "Nine Stories" was published with a picture of a girl on the front, he has only allowed text on them since. I also just like the design, with the all-caps serif. I don't know what typeface it is, but I like the alternating heavier and lighter strokes, as well as the more angled and curved serifs.

"The Sound and the Fury" - I'll say it: I really did not like this book. I never really got into, could barely follow the story (mainly because I wasn't really paying attention to it and I read it so infrequently it took me several months to finish it), and, while the idea has some merit, I didn't particularly like the switch-off of narrators in this case. But I love the cover design. It sort of sums up what the title says to me: it looks like a storm coming, but not quite here yet; you can hear the thunder in the distance and know that, soon, you will be surrounded by sound and fury, but for now, you can just see it coming. I like the overlapping text, the typeface used for the title and the color scheme in general. I like how "Faulkner" looks like it is on a metal plaque that is worn in but still fairly new. Overall, I just really like the cover.

"The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide" - OK, this one looks fairly plain, but the overall effect isn't. This book is leather-bound, with gold-leafed pages, a gold ribbon bookmark and gold embossing on the cover, spine and back. It is a regal, serious-looking (except for the eye-less smilies sticking out their tongues) volume that it reality contains one of the loopiest, silliest stories I've ever read. The visual irony is COMPLETELY in style for the book, and makes it one of my favorite books I own. Also, the typeface is cool.

"Slaughterhouse-Five" - This is the overarching design of Vonnegut's books currently, and I really like it. The large "V" in the background moves your eyes down the page, and I just really like the symmetry of the entire thing. The horizontal lines contrast nicely with the downward slashes of the "V", and the centered text at the bottom, the picture up top and the wrapping text in the top corners balance the entire thing. It just makes one cohesive feel to the book, and the typeface is, once again, cool.

"The Great Gatsby" - I just had to put this in here. Besides being one of my favorite books, "The Great Gatsby"'s original cover design is one of the most iconic designs ever. There are just so many things to like about it, symbolism being the main thing, just like the story itself. The brilliant crash of lights is like the parties Gatsby threw and just sort of capture the attitude and frivolity of the "flappers" of the times and the characters in the story, yet the lights are blurred, showing Gatsby's, among other's, confusion and struggle. A woman's face stares out over the scene, with iris of a reclining female form, whisping hair and brilliantly red lips. The lights can almost be her jewelry. There's more to say about this one than I can here, so I'll just stop and let you look at it.

I hope this has, if nothing else, made you think about the outsides of the books you read as well as the insides. Like I said earlier, I'm not artist, designer or critic, and these are just my opinions. Does anyone have any cover design they've noticed and liked for some reason or another, or no reason at all? Let me know in the comments section; I'm interested in hearing what other people thing.


christopher said...

Here are some other, more classic covers from "1984" you might want to take a look at:

Simple "Eye" Cover

Illustrated Cover

My Favorite 1984 Cover

Jeremy said...

Oh yeah, I had seen the last 2, but not the first. I still like the white one I posted best, but the "Eye" cover you posted is cool.

Drew said...

I agree with you Jeremy about the stark white cover with the lidless blue eye. I believe it's more effective at communicating the theme of the book than any simple illustration of the characters, settings, or events could ever be.

The stark minimalism is actually what initially drew me to the book back in high school when I was browsing the book store. I quickly purchased it and read it once I realized it was the book I had heard and read so much about online.

This was a great list. Good post!

christopher said...

I still think that number 3 in my list above is much better than the eyeball. It's much creepier, if you ask me.

By the way, does blogger have any type of anti-spam measures that don't involve me typing the catchpha word verification? Those are just annoying.

Jeremy said...

Creepier, maybe, but more effective? I think the plain one conveys the message of the book better than the other one.

And I suppose we could just remove the word verification, but if we start getting spam we'll put it back on.

Kat said...

Yeah, I think the typography on that third cover is pretty great. The red and black are very bold and ominous, which is super. Overall, I like the Signet Classic one (from the original post) best. I generally prefer not to see depictions of the characters on book covers since they tend to ruin the reader's chance to imagine them and also to become dated more easily. The third one on the list falls victim to that, and the second one is just funny.

Kat said...

a) when i said "the list" i meant "chris's list."
b) sorry about the deleted comment. my ability to communicate my thoughts on the internet today has not been good.
c) this was a super post. it made my nerdy design self happy.