The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

September 2, 2014
by Dan
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BUONA LA PRIMA! An Exhibition of the Best Italian Book Design

Jean-Cayrol-Notte-e-nebbia-Nonostante-edizioni

Italian design journalist Stefano Salis has kindly let me know about BUONA LA PRIMA!, an exhibition he has curated for the Artelibro Festival in Bologna later this month. For the exhibition, a committee of 15 professionals in the field of editorial graphics has selected the best Italian books covers published published in the past year. All 45 finalists (three for each judge) can be viewed on the Artelibro website, and visitors can vote for their favourite.

Paolo-Ventura-The-Napoleonic-Soldier-and-Other-Stories-Un-sedicesimo-34-rivista-libro-Corraini-Edizioni

In addition to the prize assigned by popular vote, the jury of experts will also award a ‘Critics Prize’ to the best cover, in conjunction with the votes expressed by Ricardo Franco Levi, President of Artelibro, Romano Montroni, President of the Italian Center for the Book, and Giovanni Gregoletto, bibliophile and owner of Cantine Gregoletto that sponsor the exhibition.

The two winners will be announced on Sunday, September 21 at 12:30, with a toast at Palazzo Re Enzo.
COPERTINA BAUMAN DEFINITIVO
Niccolò-Machiavelli-Il-principe-Utet
BUONA LA PRIMA! opens Friday, September 12th at 6pm, in the Biblioteca d’Arte e di Storia di San Giorgio in Poggiale.

August 29, 2014
by Dan
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Vol 459 Series Design by David Drummond

9782896494927

These stylish covers were designed by Canadian designer David Drummond for a series of new novels from Montreal-based publisher VLB éditeur. In the series, four different authors imagine the same plane journey on flight 459 from Paris. Planes on covers has spot UV:

9782896494866 9782896494880 9782896494903

August 28, 2014
by Dan
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Only Lovers Left Alive

only-lovers-left-alive

I finally saw Only Lovers Left Alive this weekend (it can’t come as any surprise that I don’t get out much!), and I just came across this recent interview with director Jim Jarmusch about the film on IndieWire:

I’ve probably stolen from all kinds of places, but not really consciously. There’s nothing in this film that I can consciously say that I was making a direct reference to a film, but just the things they mention and talk about in the film as inspirations for the characters are then inspirations for the film itself… The beauty of ideas is that they are like waves in the ocean and they connect with things that came before them, and I think it is very important to embrace things that interest you and influence you, and incorporate them into what you do, as all artists have always done. The ones that say they don’t, are lying. Or are afraid that their work won’t be seen as being original, somehow.

The film, which is very much about art and authorship, does feel pasted together with bits of Jarmusch’s influences and interests. I’m sure many people will find Only Lovers Left Alive frustrating (its snub of Chechov’s gun in particular), but it is beautiful to just watch it slowly unfold.

(And, if you are curious, the font used in the posters picture above is apparently FF Brokenscript designed by Just van Rossum)

August 20, 2014
by Dan
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It Kills Everything It Touches

sheer-rage

At the LA Review of Books, Daniel Mark Janes discusses last month’s curious conference at Birkbeck College (University of London) about the author Geoff Dyer:

Anyone who has written about Geoff Dyer will have been tempted to emulate his style, particularly his tendency to digress: “I planned to write about Geoff Dyer but instead I got distracted/stoned/fell asleep.” (Of those who resist this urge, most feel obliged to describe this temptation.) However, the point of works like ‘Out of Sheer Rage’ and ‘Zona’ is not just that Dyer chronicles his experiences; it is that, for all of the tangents, we still at the end find ourselves closer to Lawrence, closer to Tarkovsky. Personal reminiscence alone did not necessarily make us closer to Dyer — but it was still welcome in shaping the tone. Amid the ’ism’s and ’otic’s of traditional academic papers, humanity can often be lacking — yet Dyer’s work is all flesh and bone, united by a persona that is profoundly, playfully human.

And on a related note, Philip Maughan also spoke to Dyer about the conference for the New Statesman:

“I’m one of the people who seem to have licensed the ‘I’m meant to write about this book but I’m just going to write how I got stoned instead’ essay – but it only works for certain subjects. It has to lead you into a deeper appreciation of the subject than could have been attained in a more direct way. It’s like those legal highs,” he said. “Some of them can get you pretty messed up. Really they ought to be proscribed.”

August 20, 2014
by Dan
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Peter Mendelsund on WNYC


Author and book cover designer Peter Mendelsund talks about his new books, What We See When We Read and Cover, on today’s Leonard Lopate Show on WNYC:

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August 18, 2014
by Dan
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Lost in the Plot: Maps on Book Covers

maps

Who doesn’t like a good map? From sophisticated charts to intricate, idiosyncratic drawings to directions drawn on the back of napkin, maps explain the world two-dimensionally. They are flights of imagination anchored in our knowledge of the world — much like books themselves.

This post is a collection of book covers which use maps as parts of their design. I started this working on it months ago (my earlier post collecting arrows on books covers was originally an offshoot of this one), but it turned out to be surprisingly difficult to find enough interesting covers. I think I’ve finally got there — even if I had to cheat a little to include a couple of floor plans! I hope you agree…

abolitionist-geographies
Abolitionist Geographies by Martha Schoolman; design by David Drummond (University of Minnesota Press / October 2014)

MapA
AOTM
All Over the Map by Michael Sorkin; design by Dan Mogford (Verso / July 2011)

american-smoke-hc
sinclair-americansmoke-map
American Smoke Iain Sinclair; design by Nathan Burton (Hamish Hamilton / November 2013)

Astray
Astray by Emma Donoghue; design by Keith Hayes (Little Brown & Co. / October 2012)

bleeding-london
Bleeding London by Geoff Nicholson; design by Jamie Keenan (Harbour Books / September 2014)

boy-bear-boat
A Boy and a Bear in a Boat by Dave Shelton; design by Dave Shelton (David Fickling Books / January 2012)

akerman-cartographies
Cartographies of Travel and Navigation edited by James R. Akerman design by Isaac Tobin (University of Chicago Press / October 2006)

coat-route
The Coat Route by Meg Lukens Noonan; design by Allison Colpoys (Scribe / January 2014)

A Darker Shade final for Irene
A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab; design by Will Staehle (Tor / February 2015)

(This unused comp is even mappier!)

delmore-schwartz
Delmore Schwartz: A Critical Reassessment by Alex Runchman; design by Palgrave Design Team (Palgrave Macmillan / May 2014)

dogfish-memory
Dogfish Memory by Joseph A. Dane; design by Jason Ramirez (Countryman Press / June 2011)

eat-the-city
Eat the City by Robin Shulman; cover art by Christopher Silas Neal (Crown / July 2012)

fatal-strain-isaac-tobin
The Fatal Strain by Alan Sipress; design by Isaac Tobin (Penguin / September 2011)

from-here-to-there
From Here to There by Kris Harzinski; design by Deb Wood (Princeton Architectural Press / September 2010)

1493
1493 by Charles C. Mann; design by Darren Wall (Granta / September 2011)

ghost-map
The Ghost Map by Steve Johnson; design by Ben Gibson (Riverhead / November 2007)

Gun-Machine
Gun Machine by Warren Ellis; design by Oliver Munday (Little Brown & Co / January 2013)

Hackney-front Hackney-full
Hackney, That Rose-Red Empire by Iain Sinclair; design by Nathan Burton; map by David Atkinson (Hamish Hamilton / February 2009)

9781847084576
Harlem is Nowhere by Sharifa Rhodes-Pitt; design Friederike Huber (Granta / August 2011)

Attachment-1
The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien; design Adam Busby / Buzz Studios (unused / February 2013) 1

the-imperial-map
The Imperial Map edited by James R. Akerman; design by Isaac Tobin (University of Chicago Press / March 2009)

Infidelities
infidelities_Final
Infidelities by Kirsty Gunn; design by Darren Wall (Faber & Faber / November 2014)


La Isla del Tesoro (Treasure Island) by Robert Louis Stevenson; design by Raúl Arias (Bolchiro February 2013)

KCP_B paperback
Kimberly’s Capital Punishment by Richard Milward; design by Luke Bird (Faber & Faber / August 2013)

9781846144172
London Underground by Design by Mark Ovenden; design by Matthew Young (Particular Books / June 2013)

Project1:Layout 5
Project1:Layout 5
Map of the Invisible World by Tash Aw; design by Anna Morrison (Fourth Estate / April 2009)

map-thief
Map Thief by Michael Blanding; design by Stephen Brayda (Gotham Books / July 2014)

9781616890339_cfl
Maps by Paula Scher; design by Pentagram; cover art Paula Scher (Princeton Architectural Press / October 2011)

(these Paula Scher Maps mini-journals are also rather nice)

dig-fly-go-isaac-tobin
No Dig, No Fly, No Go by Mark Monmonier; design by Isaac Tobin (University of Chicago Press / May 2010)

norfolk-mystery
The Norfolk Mystery by Ian Samson; design by Jo Walker (Fourth Estate / June 2014)

n-w
N-W by Zadie Smith; design by Gray318 (Hamish Hamilton / September 2012)

on-the-map
On the Map by Simon Garfield; design by Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich (Gotham Books / December 2012)

on-the-map
On the Map by Simon Garfield; design by Nathan Burton (Profile Books / October 2012)

9780374533298
Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman by Friedrich Christian Delius; design by Charlotte Strick (FSG / January 2012)

rats
Rats by Robert Sullivan; design by Whitney Cookman; cover art by Peter Sis (Bloomsbury / April 2004)

rivers-of-london
Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch; design by Patrick Knowles; cover illustration Stephen Walter (Gollancz / January 2011)

ring-of-steel
Ring of Steel by Alexander Watson; design by Antonio Colaco (Allen Lane / August 2014)

second-world-war
The Second World War by Antony Beevor; design by Steve Marking (Little Brown & Co / June 2012)

seen-reading
Seen Reading by Julie Wilson; design by Natalie Olsen / Kisscut Design (Freehand Books / April 2012)

9781846270642
The Snow Tourist by Charlie English; cover art by Mike Topping / Despotica (Portobello Books / November 2008)

untitled
Thick as Thieves by Peter Spiegelman; design by Nathan Burton (Quercus/September 2011)

Transnationalism
Transnationalism edited by Michael D. Behiels and Reginald C. Stuart; design by Michel Vrana (McGill-Queens University Press / October 2010)

treasure-island
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson; design by Coralie Bickford-Smith, cover illustration by Mick Brownfield (Penguin / May 2008)

villages-britain
Villages of Britain by Clive Aslet; design by Sarah Greeno (Bloomsbury / October 2010)

wilderness-of-error
A Wilderness of Error by Errol Morris; design by Pentagram (Penguin / September 2012)

zone-marvellous
Zone of the Marvellous by Martin Edmond; design by Keely O’Shannessy (Auckland University Press / September 2009)

And I don’t think we can end this post without mentioning the amazing Book Map print by Manchester-based studio Dorothy:

dorothy-book-map
The map – loosely based on a turn of the century map of London – is made up from the titles of over 600 books from the history of English Literature. Buy it here.

August 15, 2014
by Dan
0 comments

Logocentrism: Jessica Helfand on Paul Rand

thoughts-on-design

Paul Rand’s classic 1947 essay Thoughts on Design is being re-published next month by Chronicle Books1, and Design Observer has just reposted a wonderful essay by Jessica Helfand on Rand, originally published in The New Republic in 1997:

Looking back on his prolific career, it is paradoxical to think that the man who gave graphic life to such technological giants as IBM, IDEO (the international technology think tank based in Northern California), and Steve Jobs’s NeXT should himself have been so averse to the computer. How could Rand, the devout modernist, be so openly resistant to the progressive changes brought about by the machine, the symbolic child of modern industry? It is as though the same geometric forms that embodied the logic of mechanical reproduction, the same formal vocabulary that inspired his mentors and defined the very spirit of modernism, were available to Rand only in theory.

Such contradictions underscored his entire career. The darling of corporate America for decades, Rand rejected the lure of city life, choosing to work alone in his home studio in Connecticut for the better part of his career. He claimed to despise academia, but he remained a devoted member of the Yale faculty for over 35 years. It is likely that the orthodoxy that characterized both his relationship to design and his relationship to God was an attempt to resolve these contradictions, to right the balances, to establish order in the studio and in the spirit. But the contradictory impulses remained: “Five is better than four, three is better than two,” he often announced to his students, claiming that the mind worked harder and received a greater sense of reward when resolving asymmetrical relationships on the page.

August 14, 2014
by Dan
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Book Cover Design is a Fine Art

globe-book-covers

It used to be enough for a book to idly stand out in a bookstore. Nowadays, however, new books must jostle for attention with everything. Thousands of distractions are just a click away. Is it any wonder that book-cover design is more important than ever?

In today’s Globe and Mail, I talks about recent trends in book cover design and pick a few of my favourite covers from the year so far. If you live in Canada you can find a lovely-looking print version of the article in the Arts pages.

August 8, 2014
by Dan
0 comments

Derek Birdsall on Hans ‘Zero’ Schleger

While looking for something else entirely, I recently stumbled across this video of British book designer Derek Birdsall discussing the work of influential graphic designer Hans ‘Zero’ Schleger:

 

Coincidently, Birdsall turned 80 early this month and Mike Dempsey reposted a link to his 2002 interview with the designer. If you’re interested in post-war British design, it’s essential reading:

Despite this astonishing attention to detail, Birdsall’s work is disarmingly simple. Like great screen actors, it is what is left out that makes the performance compelling. He is not a showy designer interested in trends. His passion lies in the details: the typeface, naturally and, with books, the feel of the paper; the quality of the binding; the cut of the font; the evenness of line endings; the perfect balance of image to space. 

These are the things that elevate his work to the ranks of typography. These and an incredibly inventive mind responsible for producing a consistently high standard of work for over 40 years: he designed the first Pirelli calendar in 1964… as well as book jackets for Penguin and Monty Python, and art-directed magazines including Town, Nova and The Independent’s colour magazine. 

Birdsall’s own view of his work is very pragmatic. ‘As designers we are here to please the client,’ he says. He doesn’t believe in forcing things down their throats. What he does do is weigh up all the possible questions and objections that a client might voice and have his answers ready.

August 6, 2014
by Dan
0 comments

Kern Your Enthusiasm

Thanks to Jacob Covey for kindly pointing me in the direction Kern Your Enthusiasm, a new series of short posts at HiLobrow about typefaces.

Matthew Battles, author of Library: An Unquiet History (and co-founder of HiLobrow), kicked off the series on Friday with a fascinating post about Aldine Italic:

Aldus Manutius was a printer in sixteenth-century Venice, and he was looking to shake things up. The roman typefaces, based on manuscript letterforms the humanists thought dated back to Roman times (but which were in fact medieval in origin) had offered Italian counterpoint to the black-letter typefaces of the first German printers, but already they were old hat. When Aldus put the first version of a typeface we call italic to use in 1501, the printing press had been proliferating in Europe for half a century. In other words, it was about as old as the computer is now. It was a time of immense invention and swiftly spun variety in the printed book, and a time of new mobility and independence of thought and activity among certain classes of people as well — and the combination of new ways and new tools meant new kinds of books. Crucially, the book was getting smaller, small enough to act not only as a desktop, but as a mobile device.

There is also a rather lovely short piece by Mark Kingwell, posted today, on Gill Sans.

Jacob himself has contributed a post, scheduled to appear at the end of the series, about Gotham. Can’t wait.

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