The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

Midweek Miscellany


Elegant Simplicity — A nice profile of book designer David Pearson at Spitalfields Life:

On the basis of “Penguin By Design,” David was given the job to design the covers for Penguin Great Ideas, an experimental series of low-budget books with two-colour covers. “I’m not an illustrator and I can’t take photographs, so I decided to do all the covers with type,” explained David, almost apologetically. Yet David’s famous landmark designs for these books, derived from his knowledge of the history of Penguin covers, were a model of elegant simplicity that stood out in bookshops and sold over three million copies. “I saw people picking them up and they didn’t want to put them down!” he confided to me, rolling his eyes in delight, “They were a phenomenon.” Then he placed a hand affectionately upon a stack of copies of this series for which he has now designed one hundred covers.

My interview with David is here.

Books MatteredDavid L. Ulin on the late Barney Rosset for The LA Times:

For Rosset, the mission was simple: Books mattered, they could be dangerous, they could change your life. Writers were heroes, “cosmonauts of inner space,” to borrow a phrase from “Cain’s Book” author Alexander Trocchi, their function less to reassure than to destabilize, to challenge the assumptions by which society was made.

This could happen in all sorts of ways — Beckett’s unflinching absurdism (“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better”), Burroughs’ scabrous cynicism (“A functioning police state needs no police”), Miller’s sense of living at the end of history, when all the so-called verities had collapsed beneath their own sanctimonious lies.

See also: Barney Rosset obituary in The Guardian.

Sprawling Tentacles — Alexandra Manglis reviews Alan Moore: Storyteller by Gary Spencer Millidge for the Oxonian:

The work and the man have morphed together resulting in a giant Moore myth that fans and comic creators alike have difficulty surmounting, its tentacles sprawled out far beyond his small Northamptonshire home. The infamous Guy Fawkes mask, for one, created in Moore’s anarchist comic V for Vendetta, has been worn by protesters from Tahrir Square to Occupy Wall Street, and Moore is indubitably proud of the anarchist symbol’s use in real civil unrest. Yet the symbol’s popularisation is largely due to the comic’s adaptation into a Hollywood blockbuster, from which Moore removed his name and refused to take royalties. Moore’s stories have become bigger than the man himself; the images he has authored have grown beyond him and often, as in the case of V for Vendetta, in spite of him.

See also: Paul Gravett’s review for The IndependentThe Guardian celebrates 35 years of British comic 2000AD

And finally…

Geoff Dyer, author of Zona, interviewed at Bookforum:

Failure is quite interesting, and it’s something I have a certain amount of experience with. I wasn’t a failure in the way lots of people are failures—I could always get published, that was pretty straightforward. Literary failure is funny because it’s not like you get this massive slap in the face and become a figure of ridicule. It’s more that you do this thing, you write this book, and then this big thing is poised to happen on publication. And nothing happens. It’s just a weird non-event. The literary Richter scale doesn’t register any kind of tremor. That was happening to me for a very long while, and then I managed to persuade myself that these serial failures were perhaps a kind of liberation in that it meant I was free from any kind of pressure from publishers. The stakes were so low that it didn’t really make any kind of difference to anybody that I went from writing a novel to writing a book about the First World War. So I’ve certainly known what it’s like for a book to simply, well, disappear.

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