Mr. Mendelsund has long been regarded as one of the top book designers at work today, taking his place alongside design luminaries like Chip Kidd, Alvin Lustig and George Salter. Now, he’s making his debut as a writer, with two books coming out next week. Both explore the peculiar challenges of transforming words into images, and blend illustrations with philosophy, literary criticism and design theory.
In “What We See When We Read,” which is being published by Vintage Books next Tuesday, Mr. Mendelsund tackles the mysterious way text yields vivid mental pictures, even when the author supplies very little visual detail. Most readers, for instance, feel as if they can perfectly describe Anna Karenina, even though Tolstoy gives us little more than gray eyes, thick lashes and curly brown hair. In short, illustrated chapters, Mr. Mendelsund argues that reading is an act of co-creation, and that our impressions of characters and places owe as much to our own memory and experience as to the descriptive powers of authors.
On the same day, PowerHouse Books is releasing “Cover,” a 267-page coffee-table book with more than 300 of Mr. Mendelsund’s most arresting book jackets, and dozens of rejected drafts. The images are interspersed with notes on his process, along with essays by authors of some of the featured books, including the best-selling Norwegian crime writer Jo Nesbo and James Gleick, author of the nonfiction books “Chaos” and “The Information.”
If you are New York next week, there is a launch party for both books on August 5th, 7:00-9:00 pm at the PowerHouse Arena, 37 Main St, Brooklyn. Peter will be in conversation with Will Schwalbe, author of The End of Your Life Book Club, followed by a brief Q & A.