The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

Favourite Covers of 2011


After posting my long overdue picks for 2010 last week, here are my selections for my favourite book covers of 2011.

I’m currently reading Where The Stress Falls a collection of writing by Susan Sontag published in 2001. In an essay about art she quotes Paul Valéry on the painter Corot. “One must always apologize for talking about painting” he says. I know just what he means. I feel the same way about book design. Perhaps even more than a painting, what you see is what you get with a book jacket. If you have to explain why it works, it probably doesn’t. Or you’re talking to the wrong crowd. But there’s something else too. I also feel like I need to apologize for not knowing more; for producing reductive lists like this one; for being, well, so presumptuous…

The 2011 list has changed a few times in the last few days and would likely be different again if you asked me tomorrow — not for lack of quality you understand, but simply because narrowing the list down to a manageable number and deciding which should be in the final ‘top 10’ was just plain hard. This isn’t a definitive survey of book covers in 2011 by any means (sorry!) it’s simply a list of the book jackets that caught my eye this year — designs I thought that were beautiful, a bit different, audacious, a bit out of the ordinary, a bit worthwhile…  I’m grateful to all the designers who created these covers, who gave me suggestions and helped me source the images. Once again, I’ve been struck by their generosity. Nevertheless I have surely I’ve missed some great covers. Tell me what they are in the comments.

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami, designed by Chip Kidd (Knopf)

Art of Immersion, by Frank Rose, designed by Jason Booher (W. W. Norton)

The Best American Comics 2011 Edited by Alison Bechdel, illustration by Jillian Tamaki (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

The First Husband by Laura Dave, designed by Jaya Miceli (Penguin)

The Mystery Vase by Andrea Gibson, designed by Amy Thompson (Write Bloody)

The Pale King by David Foster Wallace, designed by Gray318 (Hamish Hamilton)


The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson, designed by Matt Dorfman (Riverhead Books)

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick Dewitt, designed by Dan Stiles (Ecco)

This Will Be Difficult to Explain by Joanna Skibsrud, designed by Michel Vrana (Hamish Hamilton Canada)

Vault by David Rose, designed by David Pearson (Salt Publishing)


Penguin Great Food by various, designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith (Penguin)

James M. Cain series, designed by Evan Gaffney (Vintage)

Kafka series, designed by Peter Mendelsund (Schocken)

Le Carré series, illustration by Matt Taylor, designed by Paul Buckley and Gregg Kulick (Penguin US)

Vintage Oliver Sacks, designed by Cardon Webb (Vintage)

Steven Jay Gould, designed by Sam Potts (University of Harvard Press)

Honourable Mentions:

  1. 1000 Black Umbrellas by Daniel McGinn, designed by Jennifer Heuer (Write Bloody)
  2. All Over the Map by Michael Sorkin, designed by Dan Mogford (Verso Books)
  3. Anne of Tim Hortons by Herb Wyile, designed by David Drummond (John Wiley)
  4. Bricks by Leon Jenner, designed by Stuart Bache (Coronet)
  5. Busy Monsters by William Giraldi, designed by Rodrigo Corral Design (W.W. Norton)
  6. C by Tom McCarthy, designed by John Gall (Vintage)
  7. The Carnivore  by Mark Sinnett, designed by Ingrid Paulson (ECW Press)
  8. The Information by James Gleick, designed by Peter Mendelsund (Pantheon)
  9. Ghost Lights by Lydia Millet, David J. High, HighDzn (W.W. Norton)
  10. The Kid by Sapphire, designed by Darren Haggar and Tal Goretsky
  11. Periodic Tales by Hugh Aldersey-Williams, designed by Alison Forner (Ecco)
  12. Por Favor Cuida de Mama by Kyung-Sook Shin, designed by Ferran Lopez (Grijalbo)
  13. Program Or Be Programmed by Douglas Rushkoff, designed by Matt Dorfman (Soft Skull)
  14. White Fever by Jacek Hugo-Bader,  designed by Isaac Tobin (Portbello Books)
  15. Why They Cried by Jim Hanas, David A. Gee (Joyland/ECW Press)

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  1. you’ve mastered the art of the cover pick. These are all gems. along with the honorable mentions. Could you add 20 more. Sure, it was a great year in covers. Psychopath test is my favorite of this fine selection.

    I need to get my hands on them Kafkas, by hook or by crook.

    2010 was a decent pick, but this one really rounded it off.

  2. While most of these covers are certainly unique and very well crafted, it’s a great reminder that picking “the best” is entirely subjective. :)

    Still, this is a very nice collection. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Great list. Thanks for sharing! Sadly, I can not find the Cain books anywhere, even online. I’d love to get my hands on them.

  4. Hi Andy. The Postman Always Rings Twice is definitely available. The ISBN is 9780679723257. Here it is on the Book Depository, but if you give that ISBN to a bookseller then they should be able to find it easily enough if you are in the US. It’s possible that the other books in the series haven’t been released yet unfortunately…

  5. Absolutely flattered for the mention, Dan. Thanks!
    If I have to choose my picks would be Vault and The Psycopath Test.

  6. some incredible work there, great list. the hardback 1Q84 we got here in australia pales in comparison to the knopf one (although both editions of the pale king are very nice). periodic tales is lovely too. i don’t think the new mendelsund kafka aphorisms you pictured is on sale yet, i’m holding out for it!

  7. Thanks, Dan. I see it’s available through (I live in Canada). Will hunt down.

    Two more suggestions I would make for this list are One of our Thursdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde (using Thomas Allen’s work), and the five Chester Himes novels that Penguin Modern Classics put out this year. The two Roald Dahl books designed by Ivan Brunetti this year were also great.

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