The Casual Optimist turned 4 years old at the end of last week. While not exactly a historic achievement, the blog has lasted the length of a presidency and exactly 3 years, 11 months longer than I thought it would. In order to celebrate this minor triumph, I thought I would post some memorable book covers from the last 4 years. It was going to be 10 covers, then it was 20… It quickly became 25, then it was 30… by 30 I figured I might as well do 40… I missed 40 and had to cap it at 50. It was just for fun and not meant to be a definitive survey — it’s just 50 covers that have stuck in my mind. Let me know what you would’ve included in the comments. Leave a comment or send me an email if I am missing details or have incorrectly attributed something.
The keen-eyed among you will also notice that there are no covers from 2012. I’m keeping my powder dry. You can expect a post of my favourite covers of the year in the not too distant future. You can let me know your picks for 2012 in the comments as well. In the meantime, I’m going on vacation so this will be my last post for a while.
So here you go — 50 great covers with some occasional notes. Enjoy…
This is such classic Drummond: bold visual idea; tidy, unobtrusive type; and better than one could ever expect for an academic subject as fascinating as Canadian water politics sounds. I also love that this made it on to AIGA’s 50 Books / 50 Covers list for 2008.
The lettering for the cover of Obsession was created by Isaac’s partner Lauren Nassef using pinpricks through card. It was astonishing in 2008 and it is astonishing now.
For this amazingly seedy cover, designer Jon Gray apparently drew the type first and then took it to sign shop to be made. The finished sign, photographed for the cover, now hangs in the office of James Frey’s UK publisher John Murry (or at least it used to).
Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli, design by David Mazzucchelli (Pantheon 2009)
The eponymous Asterios Polyp, paper architect, reminded me so much of an art teacher I once had that it was hard not to love this book. It was also beautifully put together and the cover, or the paper band, however you would describe it, looked like nothing else.
The weight of designing a sophisticated and nuanced cover about a high school shooting must have been immense. Henry’s cover shows great restraint, and yet conveys an air of overwhelming sadness. A remarkable cover.
I saw Cheers! on display at the Toronto Public Library the other day and I still find it funny. It is a great visual joke, but it also makes me laugh because of the sense that David somehow ‘got away with it.’ Covers this original usually die by committee, so consider it a victory for designers everywhere.
Great image. Great type.
A giant tiger and bonus points for the Ben-Day dots.
I am, admittedly, a sucker for repetition, variation and half-legible type, but I think this works beautifully.
This may be apocryphal, but the story goes that people in bookstores tried to peel the post-it note off to see the ‘real’ cover of Heaven is Small. Certainly Ingrid redesigned the paperback to be a little less confusing (if no less meta). The new design is a clever variation on the hardcover, but I do prefer the original. The coffee stain is also great touch.
Supermen: The First Wave of Comic Book Heroes 1936-1941 edited by Greg Sadowski, design by Jacob Covey (Fantagraphics 2009)
While the type on this cover always seemed to a little lightweight to me, the extraordinary image is just seared into my brain. Designer Erik Mohr is creating a very distinctive look for Toronto small independent CZP.
Another cover that just makes me laugh. But I also like that it doesn’t include the title or the author’s name. It trusts the reader’s intelligence, which is always nice to see.
This cover just defies rational explanation. There is something vaguely obscene and unpleasant about it. The design is awkward and uncomfortable. Yet it is unforgettable and it is strangely perfect for a book that is also vaguely obscene, unpleasant, and awkward. Mendelsund and McCarthy are an interesting pairing.
Yet another example of Jon Gray’s versatility as a designer. This isn’t immediately identifiable as his work, but once you know, it is obvious really. Who else would it be? This is just a no-bullshit great cover.
You just know this is Gary Taxali the minute you see it. Perfect.
In all honesty, I could have just posted 5o covers from series designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith and David Pearson here. It would not have been hard. At all. The creative forces behind the ‘Penguin Clothbound Classics’ and ‘Penguin Great Ideas’ series respectively, Coralie and David are surely two of the most influential designers working today. They have brought pattern, typography and a knowledge of design history back into fashion.
Coralie and David are not, however, the only designers who have done some remarkable work on series in the past few years. While I do want to highlight their work, I also want to share a few covers from series by other designers that seemed unique to me in some way…
Cormac McCarthy Collection (Picador)
John le Carré Collection
And there you have it. My attempt to break the internet.
I am greatly indebted to the Book Design Review, especially Joseph’s best of 2008 and 2009 lists, and the Book Cover Archive, both of which are still fantastic resources even though they are mothballed. Caustic Cover Critic and FaceOut Books were also really helpful.
I am so grateful to everyone who bothers to read the blog regularly, especially all the book designers and art directors who have, much to my surprise, supported and championed The Casual Optimist for the past four years — your generosity is what keeps this it going. THANK YOU.