The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

Midweek Miscellany, September 9th, 2009

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Getting Paid by the Joke — Roy Hattersley on Keith Waterhouse, author of Billy Liar, who died last week aged 80:

One of the great lines, spoken in the subsequent film version by Wilfred Pickles playing Billy’s father, combined fury and bewilderment. Why, he demanded to know, had his son told the neighbours that he had only one leg. Billy worked in a dismal office – an ironic tribute to Waterhouse’s first job as clerk to an undertaker. It seemed a step up for the son of a door-to-door vegetable salesmen and a cleaner who had left Osmondthorpe Council School at 15 with an interest in books but no qualifications and few prospects.

When’s That Book Coming Out? — A nice breakdown of the production process by Shelby Peak which explains why it seems to take a long time for books to be released after an author has turned in their final manuscript. Every time I read something like this, I wonder why we don’t hear from publishing professionals more often. It would be great to see publishers explain this kind of thing on their own blogs. (via blog.rightreading)

Spine Out — John Gall has started a blog. Holy fuck.

And — on a related note — there is a nice conversation on Vintage’s The Sun & Anchor blog between designer Peter Buchanan-Smith and photographer Todd Hido about the new Raymond Carver covers (commissioned by John Gall).

Doing the Work — A fascinating interview with Australian book designer Tony Palmer at Caustic Cover Critic:

Sometimes you hear the bigger book publishers described as being like factories – where the work is churned out in a mechanical and unthinking way. It’s never been like that for me at Penguin. The editors, production staff and designers all love their work. But love can be wild and unpredictable. So I’ve dreamt of being a plumber. I like the way water moves on surfaces. I like the fact that there are only four different ways to plumb a house. But book design? Gawd, maybe there’s about 120 right ways to do a good book cover, and there are probably millions of ways to make a bad one.

And finally…

A Master of ReinventionBrad Mackay, director and co-founder of the Doug Wright Awards, reviews David Mazzucchelli’s remarkable Asterios Polyp for The Globe & Mail. The Comics Reporter has a critical reading guide.

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6 Comments

  1. So happy to see Carver’s books finally get redesigned, but what do you think of that script?

  2. Joseph — OK, with the usual caveat that I’m not a designer, I have mixed feelings about the script to be honest. It makes me think of vintage signs for laundromats and diners — found-type, mid-century Americana, and all that kind of stuff — which I think works for Carver. And its jauntiness seems like quite an interesting juxtaposition with the melancholy/isolation of the photographs. So I like the idea… BUT, at the same time, it seems almost to uniform and mechanical to QUITE pull all that off. I also think that is too small (it’s a long title and RAYMOND CARVER is in HUGE type!) so it’s somewhat lost and illegible, at least at this scale.

    That all said, I’m not a designer, so what do I know? And I think there is definitely SOMETHING about the set of covers all together that sort of works.

    (PS I’ve got say, I’m wondering what someone like Draplin— who doesn’t (as far as I know) design book covers but has that whole Americana/mid-century typography look down — would have done with these covers!)

  3. Sorry Joseph — I also meant to ask what do YOU think of the script?

  4. I’m not a fan of the Carver cover(s). Reminds me of my grade six French book, called “Midi– boulevard Rosemont” about a girl who gets kidnapped (I think). Sadly, no cover image is available online so I can’t see if my memory is legitimately invoked by this cover.

    On the positive side, I was reminded of the wonderful New Yorker piece, “What We Talk about When We Talk about Doughnuts,” which unfortunately is not available online unless you pay for it, though an “abstract” is, which is about the most bizarre abstract I ever have ever read, I think Borges would be proud.

    http://www.newyorker.com/archive/1999/05/10/1999_05_10_051_TNY_LIBRY_000018130

  5. “…(V)intage signs for laundromats and diners…” I think that’s exactly right — that is what that type looks like. And it might be appropriate, but it just seems a little tame, or tacky, or not-quite-beautiful enough, or maybe all three.

  6. LOL. Thanks Hugh! I’ll take your word for it on the grade 6 book, but I do actually do like these designs as a set. The choice of photographs seems quite inspired to me. They seem to fit well, but probably weren’t an obvious choice.

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