The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

July 20, 2018
by Dan
0 comments

Spine Magazine Podcast: Coralie Bickford-Smith

Holly Dunn interviews designer, illustrator and author Coralie Bickford-Smith for the first episode of season 2 of the Spine Magazine podcast:

July 19, 2018
by Dan
1 Comment

Book Covers of Note, July 2018

Here are my book cover selections for July… 


Brooklyn Mom & Pop by Herb Lester Associates; design Amy Hood (Herb Lester Associates / July 2018)

Another very nice looking guide from the folks at Herb Lester. The question is, where are the guides to Canadian cities? 


Call Me American by Abdi Nor Iftin; design by Kelly Blair (Knopf / June 2018)


Charlotte Walsh Likes To Win by Jo Piazza; design by Zak Tebbal (Simon & Schuster / July 2018)  

In other news, hand-lettered covers aren’t going anywhere (and apparently underlining is a “thing”)…


Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata; design by Luke Bird (Portobello Books / July 2018)


Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce; design by Kimberly Glyder (Scribner /. July 2018)

The cover of the UK edition, published earlier this year by Picador, was designed by Katie Tooke. You can read about the design process for the UK cover here.


Florida by Lauren Groff; design by Grace Han (Riverhead / June 2018)

The cover of Groff’s 2015 novel Fates and Furies (also published by Riverhead) was designed by Rodrigo Corral and Adalis Martinez:


The Girl You Thought I Was by Rebecca Phillips; design Michelle Taormina and Alison Klapthor; Photograph by Marta Bevaqua (Harpercollins / July 2018)

Besides using a beautiful photograph, I get the sense this cover is very much on trend, and not just for YA — I’ve seen the cover of a thriller coming out this fall that also uses a close-cropped image of a woman’s face, a similar sans-serif type, and a warm sepia colour palette. 


Good Trouble by Joseph O’Neill; design by Janet Hansen (Pantheon / June 2018)


Gorse No.10 edited by Christodoulos Makris; design by Niall McCormack (July 2018)

All of Niall’s covers for Gorse are great. No.9 was featured in my November 2017 post:

Also, yellow-orange covers are clearly “in” right now…


A Honeybee Heart Has Five Openings by Helen Jukes; design Helen Crawford-White (Scribner / July 2018)


In the Distance by Hernan Diaz; design by Luke Bird (Daunt Books / June 2018)

One for the sideways covers list (I have kind of stop collecting these, but there are more here).

The cover of the US edition of In the Distance, published by Coffee House Press, features artwork by Jason Fulford.


I Will Be Complete by Glen David Gold; design by Tyler Comrie (Knopf / June 2018)


The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon; design Jaya Miceli (Riverhead / July 2018)


Smile by Roddy Doyle; design and lettering by Nick Misani (Viking / October 2017)

OK, so I am very late to this one. I saw it last year and didn’t know who the designer was — I only found out this week when art director Jason Ramirez revealed that it was one of the TDC Communication Design Competition winners this year!


Sonic Youth Slept On My Floor by Dave Haslam; design Bekki Guyatt (Constable / May 2018)


Sweet Thames by Matthew Kneale; design by Alice Marwick (Atlantic Books / July 2018)


There There by Tommy Orange; design by Suzanne Dean; art by Bryn Perrott (Harvill Secker / July 2018)

The cover of the US edition, published by Knopf, is another Tyler Comrie design: 

June 25, 2018
by Dan
0 comments

It Can Happen Here

With shadows of authoritarianism rising around the world, Cass R. Sunstein reviews three books on life in Nazi Germany for the New York Review of Books.

The books, They Thought They Were Free by Milton Mayer, Defying Hitler by Sebastian Haffner, and Broken Lives by Konrad Jarausch, do not focus on the well-known historic figures, but explore how ordinary people navigated such a terrible time. The contemporary parallels are chilling:

With evident fatigue, the baker reported, “One had no time to think. There was so much going on.” His account was similar to that of one of Mayer’s colleagues, a German philologist in the country at the time, who emphasized the devastatingly incremental nature of the descent into tyranny and said that “we had no time to think about these dreadful things that were growing, little by little, all around us.” The philologist pointed to a regime bent on diverting its people through endless dramas (often involving real or imagined enemies), and “the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise.” In his account, “each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, ‘regretted,’” that people could no more see it “developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing. One day it is over his head.”

(via Kottke)

June 22, 2018
by Dan
4 Comments

Book Covers of Note June 2018

Thanks to a combination of disk storage issues, the AUPresses Book, Jacket, and Journal Show, breaking my wrist, general anxiety, and utter despair at the latest round of horror, corruption and lies to the south, this month’s covers post is…well, late. Fuck it. Donate to a good cause. 1  


Aroused by Randi Hutter Epstein; design Zoe Norvell (W.W. Norton / June 2018)

One for the neon signs list.


Beyond Vision by Allan Jones; design David Drummond (McGill-Queen’s University Press / June 2018)


Calypso by David Sedaris; design by Peter Mendelsund (Little, Brown & Co. / May 2018)


Crudo by Olivia Laing; design Justine Anweiler; photograph Wolfgang Tillmans (Picador / June 2108)

There have been a number of covers making use of work by famous photographers in recent months. I think the risk of this approach is that the image overwhelms the text. If the photograph is so important, perhaps it is better to just to get out of the way and let it speak for itself? (If, ahem, the ‘interested parties’ will let you, of course!)  


He Is Mine and I Have No Other by Rebecca O’Connor; design Rafi Romaya; lettering by Oriol Miró Genovart (Canongate / June 2018)

Watch a video of Oriol Miró Genovart gilding one of the letters:


Here Kitty Kitty by Jardine Libaire; design Catherine Casalino (Hogarth / June 2018)


The Hospital by Ahmed Bouanani; design by Oliver Munday (New Directions / June 2018)


Long Players by Peter Coviello; design Catherine Casalino (Penguin / June 2018)

A nice addition to this list.


My German Brother by Chico Buarque; design by Michael Morris (Farrar, Straus & Giroux / June 2018)


The Outsider by Stephen King; design by Will Staehle (Scribner / May 2018)

This has such a great B-movie feel. 


A Stitch in Time by Daphne Kalmar; cover art by Karl James Mountford (St Martin’s Press / June 2018)


Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now by Jaron Lanier; design Dan Mogford (The Bodley Head / June 2018)

The cover for the US edition, published by Henry Holt, was designed by Nicolette Seeback. For me, it’s made by the cat wrapping around the spine onto the back cover. Listing the ten arguments on the back is also a really nice touch.


We Begin Our Ascent by Joe Mungo Reed; design by Zak Tebbal (Simon & Schuster / June 2018)

(This really reminds me of something else, but I cannot think of what. It’s bugging me, so let me know if you have any suggestions)


Whistle in the Dark by Emma Healy; design Helen Crawford-White (Viking / May 2018)

The Canadian edition, published by Knopf Canada and designed by Leah Springate, takes a photographic approach. I think it’s a good example of how the Canadian market can be quite different from the UK (and the US)…

May 16, 2018
by Dan
0 comments

Signs with Soul

A short film about London sign makers Goodwin & Goodwin:

May 14, 2018
by Dan
0 comments

Book Covers of Note May 2018


America is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo; design by Gray318 (Atlantic Books / May 2018)

A great new entry in the books on book covers genre! 


Awayland by Ramona Ausubel; design by Alex Merto (Riverhead / March 2018)


Be More Pirate by Sam Conniff Allende; design by Chris Bentham (Penguin Books / May 2018)

Related: I have a board of skull covers on Pinterest if that is your thing.


The Comedown by Rebekah Frumkin; design by Rachel Willey (Henry Holt / April 2018)


Exactly by Simon Winchester; design by Julian Humphries (William Collins / May 2018)

For some reason this reminded me of a Peter Mendelsund’s 2009(!) cover design for Vintage’s Foucault list. In reality, they don’t actually look that a like at all:


The Gloaming by Kirsty Logan; design Julia Connolly (Harvill Secker / April 2018)


The Honey Farm by Harriet Alida Lye; design by Zoe Norvell (Liveright / May 2018)

This fits both the ‘centred big white type‘ trend and the ‘type and flora‘ trend, but I still like it. 


Invasion by Peadar O’Guilin; cover art by Jeffrey Alan Love (David Fickling Books / March 2018)

Jeffrey also did a cover for The Call, the first book in this series,


It Needs To Look Like We Tried by Todd Robert Petersen; design by Nicole Caputo (Counterpoint / May 2019)


The Life and Rhymes of Benjamin Zephaniah; design by Jack Smyth (Simon & Schuster / May 2018) 


A Lucky Man by Jamel Brinkley; design by Kyle G. Hunter (Graywolf / May 2018)

I have to confess that I’m including this partly because I recently had a conversation about a street scene on a book cover with a publisher. The publisher said the author insisted on using a specific photo, which always makes things difficult, but all the same, I felt the photo could be used more effectively. The cover for A Lucky Man isn’t fancy, but it does the job really well — while there is a sense of place and atmosphere (it may even be recognizable if you know the street?), there is also ambiguity that leaves it open to interpretation. The blue of the authors name echoes the blue of a sign in the photo, but it doesn’t over do it — it’s nicely understated. 


The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner; design by Peter Mendelsund; photograph by Nan Goldin (Scribner / May 2018)

Using a Nan Goldin photo feels like a bold choice — especially for one of the most anticipated books of the year. I don’t know… perhaps Goldin’s photos aren’t as controversial as they once were? It seems appropriate to me, but then I Goldin’s photography. I guess the cover of A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihana used a photo by Peter Hujar…?

In any case, it’s quite different look from The Flamethrowers cover (designed by Charlotte Strick), and yet the compositions seem to echo each other (the horizontal bands of title — rectangular photo — author) when you place them side by side:

Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D Jackson; design by Erin Fitzsimmons (Katherine Tegen Books / May 2018)


The National Debt by Martin Slater; design by Steve Leard (Hurst / May 2018)


On Gravity by A. Zee; design by Jason Alejandro (Princeton University Press / May 2018)


The Pisces by Melissa Broder; design by Rachel Willey (Bloomsbury / May 2018)


See What Can be Done by Lorrie Moore; design by Jonny Pelham (Faber & Faber / May 2019)

You can read about the process behind this cover on the Faber blog.


Sharp by Michelle Dean; design by Bekki Guyatt  (Little, Brown & Co. / April 2018)

The cover of the US edition published by Grove was designed by Gretchen Mergenthaler and Daniel Rembert, and features an illustration by Kathryn Rathke:


Tomb of the Unknown Racist by Blanche McCrary Boyd; design by Nicole Caputo (Counterpoint / May 2019)

Nicole’s recent covers for Counterpoint all work quite well together. It’s interesting that snaking curves — a worm, a road, an actual snake! — appears in the background of these three:


Why We Fight by Mike Martin; design by Steve Leard (Hurst / May 2018)

Clearly I have a thing for black, white and red covers this month! 

May 7, 2018
by Dan
0 comments

The Nine Rs

Grant Snider for the New York Times. (Oh, and Grant has a book out too)

May 1, 2018
by Dan
0 comments

The Collection

The Collection is a short documentary about two friends and their discovery of a unique collection of movie memorabilia, comprised of over 40,000 printer blocks and 20,000 printer plates used to create the original newspaper advertisements for movies released in the US from the silent era through to the 1980s:

(via Coudal)

April 30, 2018
by Dan
0 comments

Living with a Genius

Tom Gauld for The Guardian.

April 30, 2018
by Dan
0 comments

Geoff Dyer on Photographs and Essays

Geoff Dyer, whose new book The Street Philosophy of Gary Winogrand features personal essays inspired by Winogrand photographs, considers other books that combine images and essays in The New York Times:

John Szarkowski was for many years the head of photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 2000, in the twilight of a provocative, highly influential career, he published “Atget,” a selection of 100 images by the French photographer Eugène Atget, each reproduced on the recto page with an accompanying caption-essay on the facing verso page. With Szarkowski as the best kind of guide — one whose itinerary allows interludes of undisturbed contemplation — we wind our way through the haunts of old Paris, emerging from time-shuttered streets into the open skies of the surrounding countryside. Szarkowski had always been a distinctive stylist, but this format enabled him to give free rein to his talents as a writer, which were usually securely tethered by curatorial obligation. He also drew confidence, I think, from an earlier assay at the same form, “Looking at Photographs” (1973), in which he used a single picture by each of the most important photographers in the museum’s holdings to compile a radically synecdochic survey of the medium’s history. The obligation to cover so much ground, to balance what he had to say about so many major figures on such slender plinths, rather limited Szarkowski’s range of literary and thematic movement. With Atget — whose photographs, appropriately enough, were originally offered as “Documents for Artists” — the combination of abundance of subject matter and limited space encouraged a kind of tight flourishing or contained extravagance. Szarkowski’s knowledge of Atget’s work was so extensive that he had scarcely even to think about what he knew. And so the photographs serve as starting-off points for reflections on all sorts of things, including how photography has changed our view of the world: “I do not think that empty chairs meant the same thing before photography as they mean to us now.”

You can find reviews of Dyer’s Winogrand book in the New York Times and The Guardian.

April 26, 2018
by Dan
0 comments

Women and Critics: Roxane Gay and Michelle Dean

Michelle Dean talks about her new book, Sharp:The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion, and the nature of criticism with Roxane Gay for The Cut

I tend to judge a piece of criticism by how smart I find the argument… I don’t mean, how much I agree with it, exactly, but more: how much does this open up the subject at hand? Does it show me things about it I didn’t already know? I like debate and argument, so I’m usually all right with disagreement, and I’m even all right if the critic doesn’t come to a clear thumbs up or thumbs down. But I need the disagreement to have some kind of line I can follow on the map. I like following an interesting mind along it.

Bad criticism recites rote arguments. The shame of rote arguments isn’t just that they’re clichés, though they are, but that they tend to hide from us why a critic is actually thinking what they’re thinking. In which case there’s no point in reading the review at all. I don’t care about the bare fact that anyone liked or didn’t like a book or movie; they can only interest me in that bare fact by writing an intelligent review.

April 23, 2018
by Dan
0 comments

Find Your Place in the Market

Tom Gauld for The Guardian.

%d bloggers like this: