The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

November 14, 2017
by Dan
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Book Covers of Note, November 2017

It’s my last monthly cover round-up of the year! Watch out for my review of 2017 next month… 


After Me Comes the Flood by Sarah Perry; design by Pete Dyer (Serpents Tail / November 2017)


Basket of Deplorables by Tom Rachman; design by Josh Durham, Design by Committee (Text / September 2017)


Bonfire by Krysten Ritter; design by Will Staehle (Crown Archetype / November 2017)


Don’t Save Anything by Jame Salter; design by Zoe Norvell (Counterpoint / November 2017)


Dunbar by Edward St Aubyn; design by Julia Connolly; illustration Peter Strain (Hogarth / October 2017)


The Giving Light by Gavin Corbett; design by Niall McCormack (Cló Hi Tone / November 2017)

Niall also designs the excellent covers for Gorse journal. The latest issue, Gorse #9, is out this month:


Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Espenbeck; design by Rodrigo Corral (New Directions / September 2017)


Gravel Heart by Abdulrazak Gurnah; design by Greg Heinimann (Bloomsbury / May 2017)

How Will I Know You? by Jessic Treadway; design by Catherine Casalino; illustration by Henrietta Harris (Grand Central Publishing / August 2017)

The cover of How Will I Know You? reminded me of Lynn Buckley’s 2016 cover design for Sex Object by Jessica Valenti…  

And I’m starting to think that faceless women might be a thing… 


Over the Plain Houses by Julia Franks; design Meg Reid; illustration by Jody Edwards (Hub City Press / September 2017)


The Parcel by Anosh Irani; design by Allison Colpoys (Scribe / September 2017)



The Poems of Dylan Thomas; design by Jamie Keenan (New Directions / November 2017)


Release by Patrick Ness; design by Erin Fitzsimmons; photograph by Andrew Yuzko (Harper Teen / September 2017)


Sing Unburied Sing by Jesmyn Ward; design by David Mann (Bloomsbury / November 2017)


They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib; design Two Dollar Radio (Two Dollar Radio / November 2017)


Time of Gratitude by Gennady Aygi; design by Eileen Baumgartner (New Directions / December 2017)


Toi Aussi Mon Fils by Jonathan Pedneault; design by David Drummond (Les Éditions XYZ / November 2017)


The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein; design by W. H. Chong (Text / October 2017)


Ultraluminous by Katherine Faw; design by Rodrigo Corral; lettering June Park (FSG / December 2017)


Where the Past Begins by Amy Tan; design by Allison Saltzman (Ecco / October 2017)


The World Goes On by László Krasznahorkai; design by Paul Sahre (New Directions / November 2017)

Speaking of Paul Sahre, his “graphic memoir” Two Dimensional Man was publishing by Abrams in September:

AND… speaking of László Krasznahorkai (as I know you all were), the cover of the UK edition of The World Goes On was designed by Harry Haysom:

It’s part of a series of abstract covers by Haysom for the Profile Books editions of Krasznahorkai:

November 8, 2017
by Dan
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Memoir, Chapter 1

Oh, Batman.

(Zachary Kanin for The New Yorker)

October 20, 2017
by Dan
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Book Covers of Note, October 2017

I have steadily fallen further and further behind with my cover posts this year. There is some cracking work in this month’s round-up. But I can’t help feeling that there are some covers missing. Somehow it almost November, and I have run out of time. If I don’t post this now, I will never catch up! 


All We Saw by Anne Michaels; design by Janet Hansen; photograph by Jouke Bos (Knopf / October 2017)


Bloodprint by Ausma Zehanat Khan; design by Micaela Alcaino (Harpercollins / October 2017)


Crossings by Jon Kerstetter; design by Matt Dorfman (Random House / September 2017)


The Dead Husband Project by Sarah Meehan Sirk; design by Jennifer Griffiths (Anchor Canada / August 2017)


George & Lizzie by Nancy Pearl; design by Gray318 (Simon & Schuster / September 2017)

(Someone on Twitter recently asked about current book cover design trends. If I had to pick one out for 2017, it would be crossed-out words)


He Doesn’t Hurt People Anymore by Dane Swan; design by 13Jupiters (Dumagrad Books / October 2017)


Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado; design by Kimberly Glyder (Graywolf / October 2017)


I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez; design by Connie Gabbert (Knopf / October 2017)


Ma’am Darling by Craig Brown; design by Anna Morrison (Fourth Estate / September 2017)


My Ariel by Sina Queyras; design by Ingrid Paulson (Coach House Books / September 2017)


The Naturalist by Andrew Mayne; design by M.S. Corley (Thomas & Mercer / October 2017)


The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed; design by Alex Robbins (Simon Pulse / October 2017)


Russia: A Short History by Abraham Ascher; design by Kishan Rajani (Oneworld / October 2017)


A Selfie As Big As the Ritz by Lara Williams; design by Janet Hansen; art by Nathan Manire (Flat Iron Books / October 2017)

Such great image selection from Janet on both these covers… and I love the restraint of the type. Beautiful stuff. 


Spectatorship edited by Roxanne Samer and William Whittington; design by  Anne Jordan and Mitch Goldstein (University of Texas Press / October 2017)


Stephen Florida by Gabe Habash; design by Micaela Alcaino (Borough Press / September 2017)

The cover of the US edition of Stephen Floridadesigned by Karl Engebretson with an illustration by George Boorujy, was included in my June round-up.


This Accident of Being Lost by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson; by design Alysia Shewchuk; photograph of ‘Mixed Blessing’ by Rebecca Belmore by Toni Hafkenshied (House of Anansi /  April 2017)


The Whole Beautiful World by Melissa Kuipers; design by Tree Abraham (Brindle & Glass / October 2017)

October 5, 2017
by Dan
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Blade Runner 2049

I am very skeptical about the necessity of making a sequel to Blade Runner, but I liked Denis Villeneuve’s previous movie Arrival a lot, and Peter Bradshaw’s review of Blade Runner 2049 for The Guardian has piqued my curiosity…

The sheer electric strangeness of everything that happens is what registers. Every time K finishes a mission, he is taken to an interrogation module to be … what? Debriefed? Decompressed? Deconstructed? He is subjected to a fierce kind of call-and-response dialogue in which he has to respond to key words… It is utterly bizarre, and yet entirely compelling, and persuasively normal in this alienated universe… The production design by Dennis Gasner and cinematography by Roger Deakins are both delectable, and the largely electronic musical score by Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer provides a kind of aural neon: gaunt, harsh, angular, like the noise of machinery. It’s an incredible lucid dream. Weirdly, I had forgotten about one of the little-discussed pleasures of the big screen: the simple effect of dialogue, echoing in a movie theatre. This film’s scale is extraordinary. It places the acid tab of cinema-pleasure on your tongue.

September 29, 2017
by Dan
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It Is a Truth Universally Acknowledged…

Tom’s new book, Baking with Kafka, is now available in the UK from Canongate Books, and in the US and Canada from D+Q next month.

September 21, 2017
by Dan
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No Offense!

Argentinian cartoonist Liniers celebrating Steven King’s birthday today:

(I think it roughly translates as “I’m reading a scary book. ‘It’ by Stephen King… It’s about a clown monster with pointed teeth that appears to a chil… No offense!”)

September 19, 2017
by Dan
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Book Covers of Note, September 2017

Here are September’s cover selections with a few extra covers from earlier in the year, just for good measure…


The Aeneid by Virgil, translated by David Ferry; design by Matt Avery (University of Chicago Press / September 2017)


The Age of Perpetual Light by Josh Weil; design by Nick Misani (Grove Press / September 2017)


And Your Daughters Shall Prophesy by Adrian Shirk; design by Jarrod Taylor (Counterpoint / September 2017)


The Beast by Alexander Starritt; design by Gray318 (Head of Zeus / September 2017)


A Book of Untruths by Miranda Doyle; design by Donna Payne (Faber & Faber / June 2017)

I really must do a post on crossings out on covers….


Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down by Allan Jones; design by Greg Heinimann (Bloomsbury / August 2017)


The Change Room by Karen Connelly; design by Jennifer Griffiths (Random House Canada / April 2017)


Curry by Naben Ruthnum; illustration by Chloe Cushman; series design Ingrid Paulson (Coach House Books / August 2017)


Dark at the Crossing by Elliot Ackeman; design by Kelly Blair (Knopf / January 2017)


Democracy and Its Crisis by A.C. Grayling design James Paul Jones (Oneworld / September 2017)


Do Not Bring Him Water by Caitlin Scarano; design by Zoe Norvell (Write Bloody / September 2017)


The Dying Detective by Leif GW Persson; design by Oliver Munday (Pantheon / May 2017)


English Uprising by Paul Stocker; design by Jamie Keenan (Melville House / September 2017)


Every Third Thought by Robert McCrum; design by Stuart Wilson; illustration Andrew Davidson (Picador / August 2017)


The Experiment by Eric Lee; design by David A. Gee (Zed Books / September 2017)


I Am Not A Brain by Markus Gabriel; design by David A. Gee (Polity Press / September 2017)


The Last London by Iain Sinclair; design by James Paul Jones (Oneworld / September 2017)


Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta; design by Jaya Miceli (Scribner / August 2017)


My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent; design by Jo Walker (Fourth Estate / August 2017)

The cover of the US edition, published by Riverhead, was designed by Jaya Miceli:


New People by Danzy Senna; design by Rachel Willey (Riverhead / August 2017)


The People Are Going to Rise Like the Waters Upon Your Shore by Jared Yates Sexton; design by Matt Dorfman (Counterpoint / August 2017)


Postcards from the Edge by Carrie Fisher; design by Jack Smyth (Simon & Schuster / September 2017)


Ruth and Martin’s Album Club by Martin Fitzgerald; design by Dan Mogford (Unbound / September 2017)


Scarborough by Catherine Hernandez; design Oliver McPartlin; photograph Matthew Henry (Arsenal Pulp Press / May 2017)


The Talented Ribkins by Ladee Hubbard; design Marina Drukman (Melville House / August 2017)


To Die in Spring by Ralf Rothmann; design by Oliver Munday (Farrar, Straus & Giroux / August 2017)


We All Love the Beautiful Girls by Joanne Proulx; design by Jennifer Griffiths (Viking / August 2017)


You Should Have Left by Daniel Kehlmann; design by Peter Mendelsund (Pantheon / June 2017)

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September 15, 2017
by Dan
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Race, Power, Money: Olivia Laing on Jean-Michel Basquiat

At The Guardian, Olivia Laing, the eminently readable author of To the River, The Trip to Echo Spring, and The Lonely City, on artist Jean-Michel Basquiat: 

There is a graphomaniac quality to almost all of Basquiat’s work. He liked to scribble, to amend, to footnote, to second-guess and to correct himself. Words jumped out at him, from the back of cereal boxes or subway ads, and he stayed alert to their subversive properties, their double and hidden meaning. His notebooks, recently published in an exquisite facsimile by Princeton, are full of stray phrases, odd combinations. When he began painting, working up to it by way of hand-coloured collaged postcards, it was objects he went for first, drawing and writing on refrigerators, clothes, cabinets and doors, regardless of whether they belonged to him or not…

…A Basquiat alphabet: alchemy, an evil cat, black soap, corpus, cotton, crime, crimée, crown, famous, hotel, king, left paw, liberty, loin, milk, negro, nothing to be gained here, Olympics, Parker, police, PRKR, sangre, soap, sugar, teeth.

These were words he used often, names he returned to turning language into a spell to repel ghosts. The evident use of codes and symbols inspires a sort of interpretation-mania on the part of curators. But surely part of the point of the crossed-out lines and erasing hurricanes of colour is that Basquiat is attesting to the mutability of language, the way it twists and turns according to the power status of the speaker. Crimée is not the same as criminal, negro alters in different mouths, cotton might stand literally for slavery but also for fixed hierarchies of meaning and the way people get caged inside them.

September 15, 2017
by Dan
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Jeet Heer on Jack Kirby

At the New Republic, Jeet Heer looks back at the work of Jack Kirby, the cartoonist who shaped the Marvel Universe and remade popular culture: 

The superhero stories Kirby created or inspired have dominated American comic books for nearly 75 years and now hold almost oppressive sway over Hollywood. Kirby’s creations are front and center in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but his fingerprints are all over the DC Cinematic Universe too, where the master plot he created—the cosmic villain Darkseid invading earth—still looms large. It was Kirby who took the superhero genre away from its roots in 1930s vigilante stories and turned it into a canvas for galaxy-spanning space operas, a shift that not only changed comics but also prepared the way for the likes of the Star Wars franchise. Outside of comics, hints of Kirby pop up in unexpected places, such as the narrative approaches of Guillermo del Toro, Michael Chabon, and Jonathan Lethem.

If you walk down any city street, it’s hard to get more than fifty feet without coming across images that were created by Kirby or inflected by his work. Yet if you were to ask anyone in that same stretch if they had ever heard of Kirby, they’d probably say, “Who?” A century after his birth, he remains the unknown king.

September 8, 2017
by Dan
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Books Will Always Matter

“Even though we think of reading as something that we do alone in our rooms by ourselves, we talk about books, and we take the ideas that we learn from books and the stories that we have heard about books, the characters that we have fallen in love with in books, and we bring them to our conversations.

They make us more empathetic. They connect us to one another. They make people who are not like us more human.”

Lisa Lucas, executive director of the National Book Foundation, explains why books will always matter on PBS Newshour

September 7, 2017
by Dan
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Coralie Bickford-Smith’s Working Day

At The Guardian, writer, illustrator and Penguin Books designer Coralie Bickford-Smith talks about her working day:

When I am at Penguin I design covers for classic literature. When I am at home I write, illustrate and design my own books. With my books I control every aspect, right down to the colour of the thread that binds them together.

On Penguin days I am out of the house and on the bus by 6.50am. I use my travel time to read books I am working on. Speedy morning buses, when the streets are clear, are the best. Starting early means I am at my desk a couple of hours before the office bustle. A quiet time to get some ideas down. I work solidly till 4pm and I jump back on the bus to read.

Each role feeds into the other nicely. I am never without inspiration. Due to my obsessive nature and lack of confidence, I have to read absolutely everything I design a cover for. I worry that people will scream at me for misrepresenting their beloved text. I’m sure many designers are the same. Time-consuming, yes, but the upshot is a stream of amazing ideas pouring into my brain that I can squirrel away for future projects.

Coralie’s new picture book The Worm and the Bird, published by Particular Books, is available now. 

September 5, 2017
by Dan
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At Least She’s Reading

Another back to school appropriate comic, this time by J.A.K. (AKA Jason Adam Katzenstein) for The New Yorker

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