The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

August 3, 2015
by Dan

Joost Swarte’s “Summer Adventures”


“Cartooning has an edge on all other media. You don’t need anything else such as canvas and paint, or camera and actors: the road to expression is only a sheet of paper and a pencil away.”

A new Joost Swarte cover for The New Yorker.

July 31, 2015
by Dan

A Secret History of Manhattan’s Book Trade

Don’t miss Dwight Garner’s New York Times review of Martial Bliss.: The Story of the Military Bookman, Margaretta Barton Colt’s account of running an antiquarian bookstore in Manhattan that sold only military titles. If you ever worked in an independent bookstore, you’ll probably relate…

Historians and journalists were devoted to the store, and leaned on it for their research. No one is lonelier than the author of a forgotten book. Ms. Colt speaks for many writers who walked into the Military Bookman when she says of one, “He loved to come to a place where the denizens knew what he had done”…

…Ms. Colt, who had previously worked in publishing, didn’t suffer fools — or ghouls. Here she is on one customer: “Lean and mean, with a crew cut, he was a real right-winger, collecting Holocaust memorabilia while being a Holocaust denier: a misanthrope with a sour sense of humor and guns in a secret closet.”

The store kept sometimes mischievous notes on its customers. These had observations like “tire-kicker, quote-dropper, reservation-dropper (particularly heinous), unredeemed check-bouncer (even worse). Also: cheapskate, picky, SS tendencies, questionable dealings, edition or d/j freak, and other sins and misdemeanors.” (The “d/j” refers to dust jackets.)

If it sounds as if the patrons were a band of brothers, yes, they were mostly men. The store maintained a comfortable chair for wives and girlfriends. Ms. Colt, who loved her work, writes terrifically about trying to maintain her sang-froid in this testicular environment.

July 27, 2015
by Dan

Keyboard Shortcuts for Novelists

keyboard shortcuts for novelists Tom Gauld

Tom Gauld for The New Yorker.

July 15, 2015
by Dan

50 Books / 50 Covers Kickstarter

50-50 kickstarter

I should have mentioned in my 50 / 50 post yesterday, that Design Observer has launched a Kickstarter campaign to create catalogue of this year’s winners:

As others have noted, it is a little odd that the project is being announced now when the winners have been chosen rather than when the competition opened (why wasn’t the cost of the catalogue factored into the entry fee?), and I wonder if a traditional publisher could not be found to partner on this project, but even if it feels like something of an afterthought, a well-designed catalogue would still be a lovely thing to have.

July 14, 2015
by Dan
1 Comment

50 Books / 50 Covers 2014 Winners

Young God design by Rodrigo Corral

Design Observer has announced the winners of their 2014 50 Books | 50 Covers competition, organized in association with AIGA and Designers & Books.

The fifty winning covers can be seen here

Brave New World design by La Boca

…and the fifty winning books, here.

A Maze and A Muse design Jenny Volvovski

My 2014 cover selections are here.

On Such a Full Sea design by Helen Yentus

July 14, 2015
by Dan

The Antiquarian Bookshops of Old London


At the lovely Spitalfields Life blog, the Gentle Author reminisces about buying and selling used books in London, and shares some wondeful black and white photographs of the city’s secondhand bookshops taken in 1971 by Richard Brown:

Frustrated by my pitiful lack of income, it was not long before I began carrying boxes of my textbooks to bookshops in the Charing Cross Rd and swapping them for a few banknotes that would give me a night at the theatre or some other treat. I recall the wrench of guilt when I first sold books off my shelves but I found I was more than compensated by the joy of the experiences that were granted to me in exchange.

Inevitably, I soon began acquiring more books that I discovered in these shops and, on occasion, making deals that gave me a little cash and a single volume from the shelves in return for a box of my own books. In this way, I obtained some early Hogarth Press titles and a first edition of To The Lighthouse with a sticker in the back revealing that it had been bought new at Shakespeare & Co in Paris. How I would like to have been there in 1927 to make that purchase myself.

L1000109 L1000152 L1000167 L1000136 L1000132


July 13, 2015
by Dan

Geoff McFetridge: Table Talk

6 Dots Geoff McFetridge

The set up of this interview with artist Geoff McFetridge is a little too cool for school, but the artist himself is disarmingly nerdy:


July 9, 2015
by Dan

Bibliophilia: Books in the Films of Wes Anderson


Not exactly a supercut, Bibiliophilia is a video-essay by Luís Azevedo about books in the films in Wes Anderson:

You can read more about the project at the A-Z Review.

July 7, 2015
by Dan

Book Covers of Note July 2015

It’s finally summer, and because July is traditionally something of a quiet month in publishing, I’m taking the opportunity to catch up on a few covers that I missed earlier in the year…

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

All My Puny Sorrows design Sunra Thompson
All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews; design and illustration by Sunra Thompson (McSweeney’s / June 2015)

Armada by Ernest Cline; design by Will Staehle (Crown / July 2015)

Asylum design Spencer Kimble
Asylum by Simon Doonan; design by Spencer Kimble (Blue Rider Press / February 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)

Book of Numbers design Oliver Munday
Book of Numbers by Joshua Cohen; design by Oliver Munday (Random House / June 2015)

Chasing Rumer illustration by Andrew Holder
Chasing Rumor by Cameron Chambers; design by Haruna Madono; illustration by Andrew Holder (Patagonia / June 2015)

Earth design by Alex Merto
Earth by Hubert Krivine; design by Alex Merto (Verso Books / April 2015)

Economics After Capitalism design David Gee
Economics After Capitalism by Derek Wall; design by David A. Gee (Pluto Press / July 2015)

egg design by Clare Skeats
Egg by Blanche Vaughan; design by Clare Skeats (Wiedenfeld & Nicolson / March 2015)

Here You Are design by Alban Fischer
Here You Are by Jared Joseph & Sara Peck; design by Alban Fischer (Horse Less Press / March 2015)

Krautrock design by Adly Elewa
Krautrock by David Stubbs; design by Adly Elewa (Melville House / July 2015)

Lord Fear design by Kelly Blair
Lord Fear by Lucas Mann; design by Kelly Blair (Pantheon / 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)

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

Seed Collectors design by Gray318
The Seed Collectors by Scarlett Thomas; design by Gray318 (Canongate / July 2015)

Stammered Songbook design Clare Skeats
Stammered Songbook by Erwin Mortier; design by Clare Skeats (Pushkin Press / March 2015)

thrown design gray318
Thrown by Kerry Howley; design by Gray318 (Hamish Hamilton / May 2015)

Trust Me design Jamie Keenan
Trust Me, PR is Dead by Robert Phillips; design by Jamie Keenan (Unbound / June 2015)

Unibrow design Zoe Norvell
Unabrow by Una Lamarche; design by Zoe Norvell (Plume / March 2015)

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

World on a Plate design Nick Misani
World on a Plate by Mina Holland; design by Nick Misani (Penguin / May 2015)

July 6, 2015
by Dan

This Year’s Hot New Genres

hot new genres tom gauld

Tom Gauld.

July 6, 2015
by Dan

Books Covered by Stuart Bache

reunion of ghosts design by jo walker

Designer Stuart Bache, art director of Oneworld Publications, has started a new vlog about book cover design. In his latest video, Stuart looks at the cover for A Reunion of Ghosts by Judith Claire Mitchell, designed by Jo Walker:


And if that wasn’t enough, Stuart is also writing a column on book design for UK trade magazine The Bookseller. The most recent post is on new covers for classic crime novels.

July 3, 2015
by Dan

Robert Frank: The Man Who Saw America


Katy Grannan for The New York Times

This weekend’s New York Times Magazine has a remarkable profile of photographer and filmmaker Robert Frank by writer Nicholas Dawidoff:

Frank absorbed artistic influences all over New York. Edward Hopper’s moody office-scapes, restaurant interiors and gas pumps were not in fashion when Frank discovered the painter: ‘‘So clear and so decisive. The human form in it. You look twice — what’s this guy waiting for? What’s he looking at? The simplicity of two facing each other. A man in a chair.’’ Frank’s creative day to day was informed by the Abstract Expressionist painters he lived among. Through his window, Frank studied Willem de Kooning pacing his studio in his underwear, pausing at his easel and then walking the floor some more. ‘‘I was a very silent unobserved watcher of this man at work. It meant a lot to me. It encouraged me to pace up and down and struggle.’’ He also saw the downside of an artist’s life: ‘‘I used to watch de Kooning work, and then I’d walk down the street and see him drinking and lying in the gutter. Somebody’s bringing him upstairs. You drink because you have doubts. Things seem to crumble around you.’’

Online, the Times also revisits The Americans, Frank’s best known work and “one of the most influential photography books of all time.”

“Parade — Hoboken, New Jersey,” 1955. Robert Frank

“Parade — Hoboken, New Jersey,” 1955. Robert Frank

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