I decided to go in a slightly different direction with my covers list this year (see my lists for 2012, 2011, and 2010). It’s just a straight up list of the fifty covers designs with a few annotations and links a long the way. I’m sorry for woeful under-representation of Australian and NZ designers, and for completely ignoring the entire non-English-speaking world. I will try and do better in 2014. But until then, here, in alphabetical order, are my fifty covers of 2013:
1984 by George Orwell; design by David Pearson (Penguin Classics)
Although David Pearson’s brilliant design for 1984 crept on to a few lists last year, it was actually published in January. Even then it was clear it would be a contender for cover of the year.
Dan Mogford’s unexpected and beautiful abstract design for the British edition of 419 — published by new independent Head of Zeus — takes a very different direction from the movie poster-like Canadian cover, and is all more striking for it.
Dan also scared the hell out of everyone earlier this year by nearly dying. We’re all so very glad you’re still with us, sir. Keep up the good work.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; Design by Abby Weintraub (Knopf)
We spent a lot of this year talking about how poorly women are represented by the book industry — particularly when it comes to their book covers — so it was wonderful to see to see this bold, type-only cover design for Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It was just one of several smart jacket designs for high-profile women authors this year. But before you think the battle is won, many of the reviews of Americanah that I saw decided to run an author photo in preference to the cover. That was also true for Donna Tartt, whose The Goldfinch cover is below.
A book cover that folds out into a map. What’s not to like?
(American Smoke won’t be available in the US and Canada until next year, but it is already published in the UK).
Creating the tricolour of the French flag with the red and blue lettering is a really great touch.
After what felt like a relatively quiet year for David in 2012, he’s delivered a stream of remarkable designs for Pushkin Press in 2013. I love that he’s steered clear of stereotypical “Japanese” imagery on Ryu Murakami designs. I also like the Mexico 68 / vintage Atari thing going on here. David’s cover design for From the Fatherland, with Love is also terrific (see below).
John Gall’s cover for Peter Mattei’s novel really stood out this year. Not because it’s a riff on the hipster porn of American Apparel ads (although it is), but because it seems so contrary to the current trend of whimsical, illustrated, hand-lettered literary jackets. The UK cover is also, well, something…
Evan Gaffney makes this look ridiculously easy, but it’s beautifully done.
In our age of HD clarity, I really like the smudgy blur of Christopher Lin’s design for Grimes memoir. I’d like to think it wasn’t all done digitally, but I don’t know for sure.
Another great cover for Zadie Smith by Jon Gray. I am in awe of the diversity and quality this man’s work.
While this does feel like a trial run for Peter’s new James Joyce covers for Vintage, it has a humour and lightness of touch that I really like.
F by Franz Wright; design by Carol Devine Carson (Borzoi Books)
Charlotte Strick’s design is one of the most memorable covers of the year and I was happy to see it everywhere. I wasn’t sure about the type at first, but it’s grown on me.
Another Murakami by David Pearson, but too good to leave out.
First Novel by Nicholas Royle; design by Suzanne Dean; photography Stephen Banks (Cape)
I like the recreation of the paperbacks, and repetition of the title, author name, publisher. The bookshelf apparently wraps onto the back cover, which is a lovely touch. It’s a very different, but I was reminded of David Pearson’s cover for Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction from Penguin’s Great Ideas series. Apparently the model car and plane make sense if you read the novel (although I rather like how the plane echoes artist Fiona Banner’s 2010 piece Harrier myself).
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt; design by Keith Hayes (Little, Brown)
I like this cover a lot. I really do. It’s very well done and I don’t want to take anything away from it all. But it does also neatly encapsulate some of the design trends of the year — off-white papery backgrounds, hand-lettering, the appearance of wear, tear, and defacement all wrapped up with a knowing self-awareness of the cover as a cover.
Jason Booher’s design puts the emphasis on the ‘guys’ not the ‘guns.’ Smart and funny.
Black on black. And a skull. Fantastic.
The UK paperback edition of Binet’s HHhH received a striking refresh with bold vintage typography and lovely screen printed page edges.
Like the cover for 1984 that starts this post, Last Days looks as if it was designed 60 years ago, yet you instinctively know it couldn’t possibly have been. They didn’t design covers like this in the 1950s. It’s a beautiful piece of work. Just stunning.
This cover is just so smart. It’s having a laugh with the English working class not at them, and I love it for that. (I have a theory about this cover, but I’ll have to share it some other time…)
The Metaphysics of Ping Pong by Guido Mina di Sospiro; design by Stephen Parker (Yellow Jersey)
A beautiful cover by Gabriele Wilson, and so well-executed. I wish I’d seen more of Gabriele’s work this year.
Much more interesting than the conservative UK cover, and a nice twist on the classic autobiography headshot.
Needs Improvement by Jon Paul Fiorentino; design by Evan Munday with Jon Paul Fiorentino (Coach House Books)
I like the graininess and dark luminosity of this cover. Again, John Gall seemed to be purposefully pushing against the prevailing design trends.
The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane; design by Charlotte Strick (Faber & Faber)
This is just gorgeous. The irises of the eyes (and the title on the spine) are foil.
As if this cover wasn’t dramatic enough, the orange is actually fluorescent.
The Orenda by Joseph Boyden; design by Lisa Jager (Penguin Canada)
As David Gee recently noted, the Canadian cover for The Orenda should be applauded in CanLit circles for what it isn’t. It’s a bold design, and the contrast between the muted background and the sans-serif, headline-like type really worked in the bookstore. (Interestingly, free from the expectations placed on this book at home, the US/British cover goes in a very different direction)
Paraphernalia: The Curious Lives of Magical Things by Steven Connor; design by Telegramme (Profile Books)
I know…it’s Pearson again, but holy shit, just look at this will you? The typography is incredible. There’s no way that combination should work.
Although illustrated covers are currently all the rage, this stood out from the pack. Something about the colours, composition, and type just kept catching my eye in the bookstore.
The Son of a Certain Woman by Wayne Johnson; design by Terri Nimmo (Knopf Canada)
Like the cover for The Orenda, Terri’s design ticks a lot of necessary “literary fiction” boxes, but does it so with great deal of style. It also looked great on a subway poster too. (And yes, I like back of the head close-ups apparently).
Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town by Stephen Leacock; design by Seth (McClelland & Stewart)
We saw a lot of Lolita cover variants this year that tried to be shocking, amusing or titillating, but none could match the visual double entrende of Jon Gray’s design for Tampa. It was breathtakingly unexpected, witty and smutty.
Brilliant. And hard to believe it is from the same designer as Lionel Asbo. If there are pencil sketches for this, I would love to see them.
Although coming at the end alphabetically, Jennifer Heuer’s design was one of the first covers on my list. Bright, clever, and nicely offbeat, nothing else looked liked this.
And there you have it. FIFTY covers. Thank you to all people who provided images and helped me fill in some of the details for this year’s list. Thanks to the good folks at Type on Queen West, Book City on the Danforth, and Ben McNally Books for letting me browse your tables. Thank you to Peter Mendelsund for coming to Toronto, talking about book design, and fighting the good fight. And thank YOU, because I’m especially grateful to everyone who has stuck by the blog this past year. I really appreciate it.