The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

October 21, 2016
by Dan

Run With It Books

"Cheap Hippies by Erica Walsh is a thriller about a man who must fight his way out of a commune after being abducted by a Bohemian cult"

“Cheap Hippies by Erica Walsh is a thriller about a man who must fight his way out of a commune after being abducted by a Bohemian cult”

Reminiscent of Heinrich Lucas’ Random Book Covers and Steve St. Pierre’s Jacket Everyday project, Philadelphia-based designer Pat Fennessy takes words from a random phrase generator and uses them to make stories and book covers

"Stuffed Buckets by Ron Stocks is a biography on retired NBA player and humanitarian Dikembe Mutombo. He was known for his insane blocking skills and signature finger wag. "

“Stuffed Buckets by Ron Stocks is a biography on retired NBA player and humanitarian Dikembe Mutombo. He was known for his insane blocking skills and signature finger wag. “

"Pervert Gods by Tasha Buchanan chronicles the history of sexual culture, moving on a spectrum from basic anatomic functions to societal taboos and fetishes. "

“Pervert Gods by Tasha Buchanan chronicles the history of sexual culture, moving on a spectrum from basic anatomic functions to societal taboos and fetishes. “

"Lovely Broadcasts by Joann Moss is a story about a German code breaker during WWII who falls in love with the voice of an English intelligence radio operator. "

“Lovely Broadcasts by Joann Moss is a story about a German code breaker during WWII who falls in love with the voice of an English intelligence radio operator. “

(via Quipsologies)

October 20, 2016
by Dan

William Eggleston, the Pioneer of Color Photography

Wolfgang Tillmans

Wolfgang Tillmans

Augusten Burroughs’ strange and sad profile of photographer William Eggleston for T, the New York Times Style Magazine:

WE LEAVE THE OFFICES of the Eggleston Trust and go to his apartment. The first thing one sees upon entering is a bright red plastic sign with a yellow border, printed with capitalized white sans-serif text. It warns, “THE OCCUPANT OF THIS APARTMENT WAS RECENTLY HOSPITALIZED FOR COMPLICATIONS DUE TO ALCOHOL. HE IS ON A MEDICALLY PRESCRIBED DAILY PORTION OF ALCOHOL. IF YOU BRING ADDITIONAL ALCOHOL INTO THIS APARTMENT YOU ARE PLACING HIM IN MORTAL DANGER. YOUR ENTRY AND EXIT INTO THIS APARTMENT IS BEING RECORDED. WE WILL PROSECUTE SHOULD THIS NOTICE BE IGNORED. THE EGGLESTON FAMILY.” It is a devastating thing to see. Heartbreaking. I was also an alcoholic for decades, the kind who had shakes and saw spiders. I’m not even through the hallway and my mind is racing from “I want that sign” to “What kind of doctor prescribes alcohol for an alcoholic? Where was he when I was drinking?”

I ask if his drinking ever got in the way of his photography. “I’ve never been able to take a picture after a drink,” he says. “It just doesn’t work. Maybe — I don’t know what it is. It’s not like I’m too drunk to take a picture. I just — the whole idea of it just goes away after one or two drinks.” Eggleston perches atop the bench in front of his Bösendorfer concert grand piano. An active ashtray and a sweating tumbler of icy bourbon on a burn-marked coaster sit inside the piano directly on the frame. He reaches for the glass and takes several small, noisy sips and his body visibly relaxes. I know his relief, exactly. “I’m gonna get this drink down,” he tells me. And as soon as he does he wants another. He suggests that I pour one for myself and join him but I tell him that I don’t drink anymore, that once I start I can’t ever stop. He replies, “Well, I can stop, but I’ll admit I want another one.”

The profile is accompanied by a short film by Wolfgang Tillmans:

October 19, 2016
by Dan

The Bolted Book Now on Kickstarter

The Designers & Books Kickstarter to publish a facsimile of Fortunato Depero’s 1927 ‘Bolted Book’ (mentioned previously here) is now live:

October 18, 2016
by Dan

New Directions Sebald Designs by Peter Mendelsund


Peter Mendelsund‘s covers for the new New Directions editions of W.G. Sebald’s classic novels The EmigrantsThe Rings of Saturn, and Vertigo, are rather special. The books will be published November and are available individually and as a set.



October 17, 2016
by Dan

The Fantastic Ursula K. Le Guin

illustration Essy May

illustration Essy May

Julie Phillips long profile of author Ursula K. Le Guin for The New Yorker is wonderful:

Starting in the nineteen-eighties, [Le Guin] published some of her most accomplished work—fiction that was realist, magic realist, postmodernist, and sui generis. She wrote the Borgesian feminist parable “She Unnames Them,” and in 1985 an experimental tour de force of a novel, “Always Coming Home.” She produced “Sur,” the epic tale of an all-female Antarctic exploring party that may be her greatest and funniest feminist statement. Her short stories began appearing in The New Yorker, where her editor, Charles McGrath, saw in her an ability to “transform genre fiction into something higher.”

In fact, it was the mainstream that ended up transformed. By breaking down the walls of genre, Le Guin handed new tools to twenty-first-century writers working in what Chabon calls the “borderlands,” the place where the fantastic enters literature. A group of writers as unlike as Chabon, Molly Gloss, Kelly Link, Karen Joy Fowler, Junot Díaz, Jonathan Lethem, Victor LaValle, Zadie Smith, and David Mitchell began to explore what’s possible when they combine elements of realism and fantasy. The fantasy and science-fiction scholar Brian Attebery has noted that “every writer I know who talks about Ursula talks about a sense of having been invited or empowered to do something.” Given that many of Le Guin’s protagonists have dark skin, the science-fiction writer N. K. Jemisin speaks of the importance to her and others of encountering in fantasy someone who looked like them. Karen Joy Fowler, a friend of Le Guin’s whose novel “We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves” questions the nature of the human-animal bond, says that Le Guin offered her alternatives to realism by bringing the fantastic out of its “underdog position.” For writers, she says, Le Guin “makes you think many things are possible that you maybe didn’t think were possible.”

October 17, 2016
by Dan

The Neighborhood Bookstore’s Unlikely Ally

The New York Times on the small independent bookstores making the most of social media and online sales:

Undoubtedly, the bookselling industry is still digging out of a deep trough. Sales of physical books in physical stores were just $11 billion in 2015, compared with $17 billion in 2007.

But owners like Mr. Makin are finding ways to gain customer loyalty with the aid of technology. He knew he could not compete with Amazon on price, but he believed that online buyers would flock to Brilliant Books if they experienced the same customer service that shoppers in his physical store do.

“I say, ‘We are your long-distance local bookstore,’” Mr. Makin said.

He began offering free shipping anywhere in the United States and hired a full-time social media manager, who promotes the store and has used Twitter and Facebook to talk to readers who would never find themselves near Traverse City.

One of his most successful ways of getting repeat business is his store’s version of a book-of-the-month program, which makes personalized recommendations for each of its nearly 2,000 subscribers every 30 days. Rather than use an online form to track preferences, Brilliant sends each new subscriber a customer card to fill out by hand and mail back.

Employees then scan the card into the system so that when it is book-selection time, they can see what the customers said they liked and how they said it.

“How we might write something might show an entirely different taste in books,” Mr. Malkin said. “People scribble things out. They draw arrows. We get a feel for who they are.”


October 14, 2016
by Dan

Tips For Getting Your Novel Published


… during a skeleton apocalypse. Tom Gauld for The Guardian.

October 13, 2016
by Dan

Book Covers of Note October 2016

Busy, busy October… here are this month’s book covers of note…

Aluta by Adwoa Badoe; design Michael Solomon; cover art Shonagh Rae (Groundwood / September 2016)

American Ulysses design Eric White
American Ulysses by Ronald C. White; design Eric White; photograph © Colorized History, colorized by Mads Madsen (Random House / October 2016)

The Architecture of Neoliberalism by Douglas Spencer; design Daniel Benneworth-Gray (Bloomsbury / October 2016)

The Best American Comics 2016 edited by Roz Chast; illustration by Marc Bell; design by Christopher Moisan (Mariner / October 2016)

Best American Nonrequired Reading 2016 edited by Rache Kushner; illustration and lettering by Jillian Tamaki; design by Mark Robinson (Mariner / October 2016)

The Birds and Other Stories by Daphne du Maurier; design Jamie Keenan (Virago / October 2016)

Virago’s other new du Maurier reissues are also really nice:

I wrote about the series last year.

Chance in Evolution edited by Grant Ramsey & Charles H. Pence; design by Jenny Volvovski (University of Chicago Press / October 2016)

Darktown by Thomas Mullen; design by Craig Fraser (Little, Brown / September 2016)

Another entry for the sideways covers collection (although this is not a first for Mullen’s books — the US paperback edition of The Last Town on Earth, published by Random House in 2007, also has a sideways photograph on the cover).1

Oh, and the cover of the US edition of Darktown (published by Atria in September) was designed by Laywan Kwan.

don’t i know you? comp18.eps
Don’t I Know You? by Marni Jackson; design by Phil Pascuzzo (Flatiron / September 2016)

A Gambler’s Anatomy by Jonathan Lethem; design by Gray318 (Doubleday / October 2016)

Ghostland by Colin Dickey; cover art by Jon Contino (Viking / October 2016)

Himself by Jess Kidd; design by Pete Adlington (Canongate / October 2016)

How To See design Peter Mendelsund
How to See by David Salle; design by Peter Mendelsund (W.W. Norton / October 2016)

Known and Strange Things by Teju Cole; design by Alex Merto; photograph Teju Cole (Random House / August 2016)

The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter; design by Jack Smyth; illustration Pietari Posti (Virago / October 2016)

The Mothers by Brit Bennett; design by Rachel Wiley (Riverheard / October 2016)

Multiple Choice by Alejandro Zambra; design Jonathan Pelham (Granta / October 2016)

Nayon Cho’s design for the US edition of Multiple Choice, published by Penguin US, was featured in July’s covers post.

Reality is Not What it Seems by Carlo Rovelli; design by Coralie Bickford-Smith (Allen Lane / October 2016)

This goes rather nicely with Coralie’s design for Rovelli’s previous book Seven Brief Lessons in Physics:

Results May Vary by Bethany Chase; design by Misa Erder (Ballantine / August 2016)

Sirius by Jonathan Crown; cover art by Pascal Blanchet (Scribner / October 2016)

That Self-Forgetful Perfectly Useless Concentration by Alan Shapiro; design by Isaac Tobin (University of Chicago Press / October 2016)

The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang; design by Kimberly Glyder (Houghton Mifflin / October 2016)

The Wealth of Humans by Ryan Avent; design by Tom Etherington (Allen Lane / September 2016)

Who Killed Piet Barol? by Richard Mason; design Sinem Erkas (Weidenfeld & Nicolson / September 2016)

Wrecked by Maria Padian; design by Liz Casal (Algonquin Young Readers / October 2016)

October 12, 2016
by Dan

Elaine Lustig Cohen, Pioneer

Elaine in 1964, photographed by Naomi Savage (1964)

Elaine Lustig Cohen, photographed by Naomi Savage

I was sad to hear that designer Elaine Lustig Cohen had died aged 89 last week. She will forever be associated with her more famous husband Alvin Lustig, but she was a remarkable designer in her own right and her influence, as Steven Heller notes at Design Observer, extended far beyond her studio:

Elaine’s professional standing far outlasted her years of practice because beyond being a pioneer, she was also the benefactor in so many ways for graphic design history, and an advocate for so many other historians, practitioners—and especially women. It is this enduring integrity and generosity that ultimately defined her highly treasured life.

Following Alvin Lustig’s death, Elaine specialized for some time in designing book covers and jackets, initially following her late husband’s aesthetic, until finding her own style and vision. For over a decade she earned commissions from museums, architects, and book publishers—including Noonday Press, whose publisher, Arthur Cohen, would become her second husband. Her own studio closed in 1967, although Elaine continued to design catalog covers for Ex Libris (the antiquarian bookstore she and Cohen ran together) focusing on avant-garde modernist books and documents. She turned instead to making art—inspired in part, by Constructivism, Dada, and the Bauhaus—and continued to do so until the end of her life.


In a profile of the designer for Eye magazine in 1995, Ellen Lupton noted what made ELC’s book covers so distinctive…

In her covers for Meridian Books and New Directions, designed from 1955 through 1961, Elaine Lustig Cohen used abstract structural elements, expressive typography, and conceptual photographs to interpret the books’ contents. Working at a time when most book covers employed literal pictorial illustrations, Cohen visualized titles in contemporary literature and philosophy through a rich variety of approaches, from stark abstractions and concept-driven solutions to obtuse evocations that bring to mind the recent work of Chip Kidd and Barbara de Wild for Knopf.

Elaine Lustig Cohen’s cover for the journal ‘The Noble Savage’ 4 (1960) features a time-worn classical statue festooned with a typographic moustache and blasted with a star-burst pull-out quote from Darwin. For Yvor Winter‘s ‘On Modern Poets’ (1959), Cohen photographed a loose arrangement of plastic letters, while she used a field of pebbles to obliquely represent ‘The Varieties of History’ (1957). If such solutions are suggestively poetic, Cohen could also be brilliantly blunt, as in her choice of oversized, cello-wrapped bonbons for Tennessee Williams’s ‘Hard Candy’ (1959).

…A point echoed in the New York Times obituary:

She designed museum catalogs and furniture. As a book-cover designer, she followed in Mr. Lustig’s precisionist footsteps but eventually established her own, more free-form style.

“I tried to reflect the spirit of the books,” she said in a video made by AIGA, the graphic arts organization, when she was awarded its medal in 2012.

Her jacket for “Yvor Winters On Modern Poets” looked as if plastic letters had been placed on a tabletop, then jostled by a passing child. A book about St. Augustine featured his name twice, as the arms of a cross. The jacket for Tennessee Williams’s short-story collection “Hard Candy” showed extreme close-ups of cellophane-wrapped sweets, seeming to fall through the air.

You can see a selection of ELC’s book covers on her website, and the video referenced above is here:

October 6, 2016
by Dan

Gimme Danger

A Jim Jarmusch documentary about Iggy Pop and The Stooges? YES.

Gimme Danger is scheduled for a limited release on October 28th.

October 3, 2016
by Dan

Stanislaw Lem Penguin Modern Classics

Mortal Engines design by Haley Warnham

A new Penguin Modern Classic edition of Mortal Engines by Polish science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem is available in the UK this week. Art directed by Jim Stoddart, this is the third of Lem’s books in the Penguin Modern Classics series featuring cover art by illustrator and designer by Haley Warnham.

You can read more about Warnham’s collages in an interview with illustrator on AIGA’s Eye on Design blog.

Star Diaries Mortal Engines design by Haley Warnham Cyberiad design by Haley Warnham

September 26, 2016
by Dan

Drafts of the Novel


Tom Gauld for The New Yorker.

Tom’s new graphic novel Mooncop is out now.

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