The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

December 1, 2015
by Dan

Notable Book Covers for 2015

Back in 2014, there were signs that book cover design was maybe, just maybe, having a moment. Suzanne Dean was on the BBC. Peter Mendelsund was on… well, everything. But if 2015 has felt a little quiet by comparison, there were still plenty of reasons to be cheerful. This year’s list includes over 120 covers by 60 designers, and there is little doubt in my mind that this really is a golden time for book design.

Thank you to all the art directors, designers, and publicists who have supported the blog this year, and who make posts like this possible. Thanks too, to my local bookstore TYPE for letting me browse their shelves.

Act of God design Janet Hansen
Act of God by Jill Ciment; design by Janet Hansen (Pantheon / March 2015 )

Also designed by Janet Hansen:

Almost Famous Women design by Na Kim
Almost Famous Women by Megan Mayhew Bergman; design by Na Kim (Scribner / July 2015)

Angry Youth Comix by Johnny Ryan; design by Keeli McCarthy (Fantagraphics / February 2015)

Beatlebone design Rafi Romaya
Beatlebone by Kevin Barry; design by Rafi Romaya (Canongate / October 2015)

Beauty is a Wound design John Gall
Beauty is a Wound by Eka Kurniawan; design by John Gall (New Directions / September 2015)

Boo by Neil Smith; design by Isabel Urbina Peña (Vintage / May 2015)

Book of Numbers design Suzanne Dean cover illustration Carnovsky
Book of Numbers by Joshua Cohen; design by design Suzanne Dean; illustration Carnovsky (Harvill Secker / June 2015)

(Oliver Munday’s cover design for the US edition of the Book of Numbers published by Random House is also great.)

Also designed by Suzanne Dean:

Boring Girls by Sara Taylor; design by David A. Gee (ECW Press  / April 2015)

Also designed by David A. Gee:

Bream Gives Me Hiccups design Jean Jullien
Bream Gives Me Hiccups design by Jean Jullien (Grove Atlantic / September 2015)

Capitalist Unconscious design Keetra Dean Dixon
The Capitalist Unconscious: Marx and Lacan by Samo Tomšič; design Keetra Dean Dixon (Verso / December 2015)

Complete Stories design by Paul Sahre
The Complete Stories by Clarice Lispector; design by Paul Sahre (New Directions / August 2015)

curiosity design by Sonia Shannon
Curiosity by Alberto Manguel; design by Sonia Shannon (Yale University Press / March 2015)

Dismantling design Zoe Norvell
Dismantling by Brian DeLeeuw; design by Zoe Norvell (Plume / April 2015)

Also designed by Zoe Norvell:

Drinking in America Rex Bonomelli
Drinking in America by Susan Cheever; design by Rex Bonomelli (Twelve Books / October 2015)

Double Life of Liliane
The Double Life of Liliane by Lily Tuck; design by Abby Weintraub (Grove Atlantic / September 2015)

Early Stories of Truman Capote design David Pearson
Early Stories of Truman Capote; design by David Pearson (Penguin / November 2015)

Also designed by David Pearson:

Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper; design by Gray318 (Penguin / January 2015)

Also designed by Gray318:

Fear of Dying design Olga Grlic
Fear of Dying by Erica Jong; design by Olga Grlic (St. Martin’s Press / September 2015)

Field Notes from a Catastrophe by Elizabeth Kolbert; design by Patti Ratchford; illustration by Eric Nyquist (Bloomsbury / February 2015)

Eric’s illustrated cover for The Best American Non-Required Reading 2015 is also spectacular.

First Book Amanda Weiss

The First Book by Jesse Zuba; design by Amanda Weiss (Princeton University Press / November 2015)

Also designed by Amanda Weiss:

fox and the star
The Fox and the Star, written, illustrated and designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith (Particular Books / August 2015)

Also designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith:

Generation design by Harriet Sleigh
Generation by Paula McGrath; design by Harriet Sleigh (JM Originals / July 2015)

Hall of Small Mammals by Thomas Pierce; design by Grace Han; cover art by Kate Bergin (Riverhead / January 2015)

Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum; design by Gabrielle Bordwin (Random House / March 2015)

Hotels of North America design by Keith Hayes
Hotels of North America by Rick Moody; design by Keith Hayes (Little, Brown & Co. / November 2015)

How to Run a Government by Michael Barber; design by Barnbrook (Allen Lane / March 2015)

I Am Sorry to Think I Raised a Timid Son by Kent Russell; design by Peter Mendelsund; hand lettering by Janet Hansen; photography by George Baier IV (Knopf / March 2015)

Also designed by Peter Mendelsund:

The Italians by John Hooper; design by Nicholas Misani (Viking / January 2015)

Also designed by Nick Misani:

KL by Nikolaus Wachsmann; design by Alex Merto (Farrar, Straus & Giroux / April 2015)

Also designed by Alex Merto:

A Manual for Cleaning Women design
A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin; design by Justine Anweiler; photography Jonathan Simpson (Picador UK / Septembr 2015)

Also designed by Justine Anweiler:

The Mare design by Oliver Munday
The Mare by Mary Gaitskill; design by Oliver Munday (Pantheon / November 2015)

Also designed by Oliver Munday:

Mislaid design by Allison Saltzman
Mislaid by Nell Zink; design by Allison Saltzman (Ecco / May 2015)

Modern Romance design by Jay Shaw photograph by ruvan wijesooriya
Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari; design by Jay Shaw; photograph by Ruvan Wijesooriya (Penguin / June 2015)

motorcycles ive loved design by rachel willey
Motorcycles I’ve Loved by Lily Brooks-Dalton; design by Rachel Willey (Riverhead / April 2015)

Also designed by Rachel Willey:

Munich Airport by Greg Baxter; design by Anne Twomey (Twelve Books / January 2015)

muse design by gabriele wilson
Muse by Jonathan Galassi; design by Gabriele Wilson (Knopf / June 2015)

The Musical Brain by César Aira; design by Rodrigo Corral and Zak Tebbal (New Directions / March 2015)

This is actually a rather special lenticular cover that imitates the effect of flashing neon.

Also from Rodrigo Corral:

Of Beards and Men by Christopher Oldstone-Moore; design Isaac Tobin (University of Chicago Press / December 2015)

One Day in the Life of the English Language by Frank L. Cioffi; design by Chris Ferrante (Princeton University Press / March 2015)

Only Street in Paris design by Strick&Williams
The Only Street in Paris by Elaine Schiolino; design by Strick&Williams (W.W. Norton / November 2015)

Also from Strick&Williams:

On the Way by Cyn Vargas; design by Alban Fischer (Curbside Splendor / April 2015)

Also designed by Alban Fischer:

Paulina and Fran illustration Kaethe Butcher typography Nina LoSchiavo
Paulina and Fran by Rachel B. Glaser; illustration Kaethe Butcher; typography Nina LoSchiavo (Harper Perennial / September 2015)

PawPaw design by Kimberly Glyder
PawPaw by Andrew Moore; design by Kimberly Glyder (Chelsea Green / September 2015 )

Also designed by Kimberly Glyder:

The Poser by Jacob Rubin; design by Will Staehle (Viking / March 2015)

Also designed by Will Staehle:

Pretty Is design Lucy Kim
Pretty Is by Maggie Mitchell; design by Lucy Kim (Henry Holt / July 2015)

Real Life Rock design by Rich Black
Real Life Rock by Greil Marcus; design by Rich Black (Yale University Press / October 2015)

Racism design by Daniel Gray
Racism by Mike Cole; design by Daniel Benneworth-Gray (Pluto Press / November 2015)

The Racer design by James Paul Jones
The Racer by David Millar; design by James Paul Jones; photograph by Nadav Kander (Yellow Jersey / October 2015)

Also designed by James Paul Jones:

Secret Chord Jaya Miceli
The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks; design by Jaya Miceli (Viking / October 2015)

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson; design by Matt Dorfman (Riverhead / March 2015)

sphinx design by Anna Zylicz
The Sphinx by Anne Garréta; design by Anna Zylicz (Deep Vellum / May 2015)

Also designed by Anna Zylicz:

Syriza design by Jamie Keenan
Syriza: Inside the Labyrinth by Kevin Ovenden; design by Jamie Keenan (Pluto Press / September 2015)

Also designed by Jamie Keenan:

Trans Design and illustration Joanna Walsh
Trans by Juliet Jacques; Design and illustration by Joanna Walsh (Verso / September 2015)

The Utopia of Rules by David Graeber; design by Christopher Brian King (Melville House / February 2015)

Vegetarian design Tom Darracott
The Vegetarian by Han Kang; design by Tom Darracott (Portobello / January 2015)

Veiled Sun design by David Drummond
The Veiled Sun by Paul Schaffer; design by David Drummond (Véhicule Press / January 2015)

Also designed by David Drummond:

Weathering by Lucy Wood; design by Greg Heinimann (Bloomsbury / January 2015)

Also designed by Greg Heinimann:

Whisky Tango Foxtrot by David Shafer; design by Richard Bravery (Penguin / June 2015)

Richard’s white, black, and orange cover for London Overground by Iain Sinclair published by Hamish Hamilton is also fun.

The Woman Who Read Too Much by Bahiyyih Nakhjavani; design by Anne Jordan & Mitch Goldstein (Stanford University Press / April 2015)

Also designed by Anne Jordan & Mitch Goldstein:

Why Information Grows by Cesar Hidalgo; design by Richard Green (Allen Lane / June 2015)

November 29, 2015
by Dan

Reminiscing About the 1960s

1960s Tom Gauld

Tom Gauld for The Guardian.

November 27, 2015
by Dan

Pluto Press Wildcat Series Design by Jamie Keenan

When I posted included the cover for The Southern Insurgency by Immanuel Ness in my round-up earlier this month, I hadn’t realised it is in fact part of a fantastic series of covers by Jamie Keenan for Pluto Press designed to look like hand-printed posters.

Pluto Press Spirit design by Jamie Keenan

Pluto Press Southern design by Jamie Keenan

Pluto Press Work design by Jamie Keenan

November 27, 2015
by Dan

This is…Scarfolk


After illustrating other famous cities around the world,  Miroslav Šašek apparently decided to visit to Scarfolk, England…

November 21, 2015
by Dan

The Art of the Gag: Ever Frame a Painting on Buster Keaton

The latest video from Tony Zhou’s wonderful Every Frame a Painting looks at the genius of silent movie star Buster Keaton:

November 20, 2015
by Dan

Penguin Short Stories

Penguin book of the British Short Story Tom Gauld

Cor Blimey! Tom Gauld for The Guardian.

And, if you’re curious, the rather splendid covers for the actual two volumes of The Penguin Book of the British Short Story were designed by Matthew Young:

November 17, 2015
by Dan

Super Science Friends


It has been an undeniably grim few days, but if you’re looking for a moment of light-relief, take 15 minutes and watch the brilliant (and joyously silly) ‘Super Science Friends’pilot episode. Successfully kickstarted November 2014, ‘Super Science Friends’ was created by Brett Jubinville, and animated by Toronto-based  Tinman Creative. It features a team of time-travelling super scientists led by Winston Churchill who travel through time to fight Nazis, Soviet zombie cosmonauts, and all manner of evil science villains:

November 17, 2015
by Dan

Robert Hughes on Robert Rauschenberg


The New York Review Books has an excerpt from the late Robert Hughes’s unfinished memoir — to be published for the first time this month by Knopf in The Spectacle of Skill: Selected Writings of Robert Hughes — on artist Robert Rauschenberg:

Rauschenberg’s references to other media aren’t just tricks. They’re an integral part of the way he connects the language of his images to that of a wider world. Collagists had always done this, ever since the invention of collage. Braque and Picasso brought newspaper clippings and headlines into their images, though these had to be scaled to the actual size of the printed page—you couldn’t effectively do a cubist collage six feet high, it would need too many elements.

The same was true of Kurt Schwitters, with his bus tickets and cigarette wrappers and bits of wood or rusty iron. But around 1962, Rauschenberg began to use not things but the images of things. He gathered photos and enlarged them into silk screens, so that they could be printed directly on the canvas. This had two main effects. First, it enormously increased his image bank, because just about everything in the world, from mountains to beetles, from spermatozoa to Thor-Agena rockets, has been photographed. And second, by reusing silk-screened images from one painting to the next, it let him use repetition and counterpoint across a series of works in a way that wasn’t possible, or not easily possible, if he had been using things themselves. In doing this, he was adapting to the great central fact of American communication, its takeover by the imagery of television.

November 11, 2015
by Dan

Christoph Niemann’s Coffee Break


Christoph Niemann for The New Yorker.

November 9, 2015
by Dan

Picador Twentieth Anniversary Modern Classics

Virgin Suicides_rounded


Originally founded in 1995 as a publishing house for sophisticated hardcovers and reprint paperbacks, Picador USA is celebrating its twentieth anniversary this month with a set of four small limited edition modern classics with covers designed by Kelly Blair. Printed on pearlized cream stock, with rounded corners and colourful full-bleed imagery, the books look like exquisite pocket-sized treats.

According to creative director (and long-time friend of the blog) Henry Sene Yee, the books were the brainchild of Stefan von Holtzbrinck, head of Macmillan Publishing. “With Picador’s 20th Anniversary approaching, Stefan wanted us to celebrate it with some special printings. There were these tiny volumes in Europe that caught his eye, and he wanted us to do something like that.”

While still deciding which titles to include, and on the exact format and size, Henry worked out some early ideas in a notebook-sized format, using lines and shapes to represent the theme or narrative of each book. Facing a tight deadline however, Henry didn’t have time to finish the project by himself. He had a difficult decision to make. “Giving away a dream project is the hardest thing to do, but you have to be selfless and match up the best talent with the books.”

Henry, who has been at Picador from the very beginning, was determined to acknowledge the art department’s contribution to the publisher’s history. “One of my very first assistants was Kelly Blair. She is a brilliant designer and illustrator, and is now herself an Art Director at Pantheon / Knopf. If this project was going to celebrate the history of Picador and I couldn’t design it myself, I thought it should be someone who was there with me at the very beginning. Kelly made poetic sense, and made it feel better about letting go. A little.”

Kelly’s initial ideas included illustrations and some all-type solutions. “All were great,” says Henry, “but Kelly wanted to send me one more last-minute idea even though she wasn’t sure she liked it as much as her first ones. Of course that was the one we all loved and printed! Sometimes when a solution seems simple, we doubt its value.”

In addition to the new covers, Steven Seighman redesigned and re-typeset each book making them easy and inviting to read, even at the smaller size. “Even though they look great online,” says Henry, “it’s not until you have the actual wrapped and bound book in your hands that you appreciate its power and the beauty of print in the small format size.”



Jesus Son_rounded

The Twentieth Anniversary Picador Modern Classics — Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson, Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse, and The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides — were published last week in the US. Thanks to art director Henry Sene Yee for talking to me about the project. 

November 9, 2015
by Dan

Book Covers of Note November 2015

Next month I’ll say goodbye to 2015 with my annual list of my favourite covers of the year. Until then, here’s November’s book covers of note, my last monthly covers post for the 2015:

baddeley brothers design David Pearson
Baddeley Brothers by The Gentle Author; design David Pearson (October 2015)

The Big Green Tent by Ludmila Ulitskaya; design by Devin Washburn (FSG / November 2015)

(I previously included Devin’s cover in my November 2014 post before discovering that publication had been postponed until 2015. It’s so good that I figure it deserved a second shot now the book is finally coming out this month.)

A Brief History of Seven Killings Special Edition design James Paul Jones
A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James (Special Edition); design James Paul Jones (Oneworld / November 2015)

Book of Magic design Matthew Young
The Book of Magic by Brian Copenhaver; design Matthew Young (Penguin / November 2015)

Dont Suck Dont Die design by Lindsay Starr
Don’t Suck, Don’t Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt by Kristin Hersh; design by  Lindsay Starr (University of Texas; October 2015)

Drinking in America Rex Bonomelli
Drinking in America by Susan Cheever; design by Rex Bonomelli (Twelve Books / October 2015)

Early Stories of Truman Capote design David Pearson
Early Stories of Truman Capote; design by David Pearson (Penguin / November 2015)

Eternal Zero design by Peter Mendelsund
The Eternal Zero Naoki Hyakuta; design by Peter Mendelsund (Vertical / November 2015)

Hausfrau design by Gabrielle Bordwin Photographer Mihaela Ninic
Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum; design by Gabrielle Bordwin; Photographer Mihaela Ninic (Random House / August 2015)

Home is Burning design by Rodrigo Corral
Home is Burning by Dan Marshall; design by Rodrigo Corral (Flatiron / October 2015)

Just an Ordinary Day design Edel Rodriguez

Just an Ordinary Day by Shirley Jackson; design Edel Rodriguez (Random House / August 2015?)1

Let Me Tell You design by Edel Rodriguez
Let Me Tell You by Shirley Jackson; design by Edel Rodriguez (Random House / August 2015)

The Mare design by Oliver Munday
The Mare by Mary Gaitskill; design by Oliver Munday (Pantheon / November 2015)

Mass Disruption design CS RIchardson
Mass Disruption by John Stackhouse; design by Scott Richardson (Random House Canada / October 2015)

Norwegian Wood
Norwegian Wood by Lars Mytting; design by John Gall (Abrams / October 2015)

Only Street in Paris design by Strick&Williams
The Only Street in Paris by Elaine Schiolino; design by Strick & Williams (W.W. Norton / November 2015)

The Reflection design by Adly Elewa
The Reflection by Hugo Wilcken; design by Adly Elewa (Melville House / September 2015)

Some Recollections of a Busy Life by T.S. Hawkins; design by Jessica Hische; illustration by Wesley Allsbrook (McSweeney’s / November 2015)

Souffles-Anfas design Anne Jordan and Mitch Goldstein
Souffles-Anfas edited by Olivia C. Harrison and Teresa Villa-Ignacio; design Anne Jordan and Mitch Goldstein (Stanford University Press / November 2015)

Southern Insurgency design by Jamie Keenan
Southern Insurgency by Immanuel Ness; design by Jamie Keenan (Pluto Press / November 2015)

trace design by Debbie Berne
Trace by Lauret Savory; design by Debbie Berne (Counterpoint / November 2015)

Unfaithful Music design by Spencer Kimble
Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink by Elvis Costello; design by Spencer Kimble (Blue Rider Press / October 2015)

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