The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

Something for the Weekend


An interview with designer Suzanne Dean, creative director at Random House UK,  in The Daily Telegraph:

For this year’s Man Booker winner, Dean tried out, in her own estimation, about 20 different jackets. Working with the book’s themes of time and memory, she ordered vintage watches from eBay, and even smashed them up in her garden. She tried period photographs of schoolboys, and an image of a couple. Each version tilted one’s reading of the novel quite distinctly. Julian Barnes took about seven covers home and thought about them. Just as he was about to settle on one that featured old rulers and a watch, Dean had second thoughts. “I asked him to give me two more weeks.”

See also: ‘A year of beautiful books’ in The Guardian,  and ‘How designers are helping to keep the old format alive’ in The Independent.

Virtual Comics Emporium — Michel Faber reviews 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die by Paul Gravett:

I know what you’re thinking, those of you who’d like to get to grips with this medium but are dutifully consuming Julian Barnes’ Booker-winning chef-d’oeuvre instead. How can you be seen reading a tome with Judge Dredd on the cover and Hellboy punching demons inside? Well, look at it this way: studying 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die is like visiting the world’s most fabulously well-stocked comics shop. This virtual emporium may be far superior to Forbidden Planet, but it can’t afford to ignore its regular customers. If superheroes, homicidal maniacs and feisty animals are not your thing, you’ll just have to tolerate them as you discover a wealth of other delights. Eventually, the realisation may even sneak up on you that a good superhero comic is better than a bad literary novel.

And the on subject of comics…. Neal Adams on Batman cartoonist Jerry Robinson, co-creator of Robin and The Joker, who died aged 89 on Wednesday, in The LA Times:

Neal Adams, the comic book artist who became a fan-favorite in the 1960s and a champion for creator rights, said that young Robinson brought an energy and intuitive understanding of his audience to the Batman comics. Nothing showed that more, Adams said, than the addition of Robin, the plucky daredevil sidekick who provided an entry point for every kid who spent their nickels on Detective Comics, or characters such as Two-Face, which showed Robinson’s affection for Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy… “As I grew up and fell into this stuff, I realized that everything I liked about Batman ending up being the stuff that Jerry Robinson created. ‘Who is this guy? He did all that? Yes he did all that.’”

And finally…

The Individual Soul — Adam Kirsch reviews Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman for The New Republic:

[Grossman] was a former engineer turned writer who became famous as a journalist covering World War II for the Red Star newspaper; his dispatches were immensely popular and made him one of the Soviet Union’s leading writers. That’s why it came as such a shock to the authorities when, in 1960, he submitted the manuscript of Life and Fate for publication. It is, on the one hand, a paean to Soviet heroism in World War II, especially at the crucial battle of Stalingrad, which forms the backdrop to the novel. Yet at the same time, it is a brilliantly honest account of the horrors of Stalinism, and its running theme is that Communism and Nazism were two sides of the same coin.

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