The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

January 8, 2015
by Dan

Creative Characters: Erik Spiekermann


Type designer Erik Spiekermann recently spoke to MyFont’s Creative Characters newsletter about his career and his return to letterpress printing:

I think it’s very appropriate to discuss the new interest in analog technologies, and the ways that young people are now finding to combine the analog and the digital. In fact, the difference between the two is disappearing. As type specialist Indra Kupferschmidt also remarked recently — there’s no longer any reason to make things for the screen that look worse than designs made for print. Anybody who does layouts for the screen must know about type and typography just as well as someone who designs for paper. So what counts is, just like before, how to get the message across. We have the technology, there is no more excuse for a job badly done.

What I find very interesting is the movement of people who are savvy in digital design but are genuinely interested in analog techniques. It is now more than a passing trend; there must be a deeper motive why we are newly interested in the hand-made and the haptic, material and three-dimensional aspects of type and design.

January 8, 2015
by Dan

Glenn Gould and the Gas Mask

In an interview with CBC Radio in 1958, pianist Glenn Gould recounted how he came to play Beethoven in a gas mask. Now CBC Music have turned that anecdote into a charming short film illustrated by designer Heather Collett, and animated by Philip Street and John Fraser:

January 8, 2015
by Dan

Front Row: The Art of Book Cover Design

BBC Radio 4’s Front Row talks to Suzanne Dean, creative director at Random House UK, about the art of book cover design. Dean, who was very publicly thanked by Julian Barnes for her work on his book The Sense of an Ending, has been responsible for more Booker-winning covers than any other designer apparently.

Host John Wilson also chats with designer Matthew Young about the relaunched Pelican Books, while authors Ian McEwan, Tom McCarthy and Audrey Niffenegger, and Telegraph books editor Gaby Wood, share their thoughts on what makes a good book cover.

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January 7, 2015
by Dan

Criterion Designs


Another book for the wishlist (because in a shocking development no one gave it to me for Christmas), Criterion Designs features covers, art, and sketches art commissioned for the Criterion Collection. It looks beautiful…

criteriondesigns_gallery6_large criteriondesigns_gallery9_large

December 11, 2014
by Dan

50 YA Covers for 2014

Like all the best things on The Casual Optimist, this post started life as a conversation on Twitter. The topic this time was the under-representation of YA book designers in all these end of the year cover lists. YA covers are becoming more and more sophisticated, yet my posts this year have rarely featured them, so feel that I am unquestionably at fault here. To make some kind of amends, I thought I would post a selection of 50 YA covers from 2014. Many, many thanks to all the book designers and publishing folk (including my colleagues Alisha, Brooke, and Megan at Raincoast) for their suggestions and assistance. And special thanks to Serah-Marie and Derek at Type Books for letting me browse their shelves with my notebook in hand…

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer; design by Kristin Smith (Dutton / September 2014)

Beauty of the Broken by Tawni Waters; design by Regina Flath (Simon Pulse / October 2014)

Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige; design by Ray Shapell (HarperCollins / April 2014)

Egg and Spoon by Gregory Maguire; design by Matt Roeser (Candlewick / September 2014)

Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour; design by Theresa Evangelista (Dutton / May 2014)

Falling into Place by Amy Zhang; design by Paul Zakris (Greenwillow Books / September 2014)

Far From You by Tess Sharpe; design by Whitney Manger; cover photograph by Yojik (Disney-Hyperion / April 2014)

Firecracker by David Iserson; design by Emily Osborne (Razorbill / October 2014)

Forever by Judy Blune (Reissue Edition); design by Lizzy Bromley (Atheneum Books for Young Readers / April 29, 2014)

Girl Defective by Simmone Howell; design by Debra Sfetsios-Conover; illustration Jeffrey Everett (Atheneum Books for Young Readers / September 2014)

Girl on a Wire by Gwenda Bond; design and illustration by Neil Swaab ( Skyscape / October 2014)

Half Bad by Sally Green; design by Tim Green / Faceout Studio (Viking Juvenile / March 2014)

The Here And Now
The Here and Now by Ann Brashares; design by Natalie Sousa (Delacorte Press, April 2014)

High and Dry by Sarah Skilton; design by The Heads of State (Amulet Books / April 2014)

House of Ivy and Sorrow
House of Ivy and Sorrow by Natalie Whipple; design by Erin Fitzsimmons (Turtleback Books / April 2014)

If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch; design by Sinem Erkas (Indigo / January 2014)

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson; design by Theresa Evangelista  ( Dial / 2014)

Into the Grey by Celine Kiernan; design by Matt Roeser (Candlewick / August 2014)

Jackaby by William Ritter; design by Joel Tippie / Jdrift (Algonquin Young Readers / September 2014)

Let’s Get Lost by Adi Alsaid; design by Natalie Sousa (Harlequin Teen / July 2014)

like no other
Like No Other by Una LaMarche; design by Emily Osborne; cover illustration by Michael Kirkham (Razorbill / September 2014)

Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira; design by Andrew Arnold (FSG Books for Young Readers / March 2014)

The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern; design by Amelia May Mack (Chronicle Books / June 2014)

My True Love Gave to Me edited by Stephanie Perkins; design & illustration by Jim Tierney (St. Martin’s Griffin / October 2014)

No One Else Can Have You by Kathleen Hale; design by ​​Michelle Taormina (HarperTeen / January 2014)

100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith; design by Lucy Ruth Cummins (Simon & Schuster for Young Readers / September 2014)

Paper Airplanes by Dawn O’Porter; design by Maria T. Middleton (Amulet / September 2014)

Playing for the Commandant by Suzy Zail; design by Matt Roeser (Candlewick / October 2014)

Promise of Shadows by Justina Ireland; design by Lucy Ruth Cummins; cover art by Luke Lucas (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers / March 2014)

The Ring and the Crown by Melissa de la Cruz; design by Tanya Ross-Hughes; model photo by Ali Smith; title type by Mario Hugo (Hyperion / April 2014)

Ruin & Rising by Leigh Bardugo; design by Jen Wang (Henry Holt & Co. / June 2014)

The previous two books in the series, also designed by Jen Wang:

Salvage by Keren David; design by Sophie Burdess (Atom / July 2014)

Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern; cover art by Ann Shen; design by Alison Klapthor (HarperTeen / June 2014)

Schizo by Nic Sheff; design by Kristin Smith (Philomel /September 30, 2014)

Since You’ve Been Gone by Megan Matson; design by Lucy Ruth Cummins; photography by Meredith Jenks (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers / July 2014)

Smart by Kim Slater; cover illustration by Helen Crawford-White / Studio Helen (Macmillan Children’s Books / June 2014)

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton; design by Matt Roeser (Candlewick Press / March 2014 )

Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy; design and illustration by Annemieke Beemster Leverenz (Balzer + Bray / 2014)

This Side of Salvation by Jeri Smith-Ready; design by Karina Granda (Simon Pulse / April 2014)

Tape by Steven Camden; cover art by Keri Smith (HarperCollins Children’s Books / January 2014)

Tease by Amanda Maciel; design by Erin Fitzsimmons (Balzer + Bray / April 2014)

This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki & Jillian Tamaki; design by Jillian Tamaki & Colleen AF Venable; cover art Jillian Tamaki (First Second / May 2014)

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han; design by Lucy Ruth Cummins; photographer Anna Wolf (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers / April 2014)

Trouble by Non Pratt; design by Lucy Ruth Cummins; illustration by Dermot Flynn (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers / June 2014)

The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu; design by Elizabeth H Clark (Roaring Brook Press / June 2014)

Two Girls Staring at the Ceiling by Lucy Frank; design by Rachael Cole; cover art Elinor Hills (Schwartz & Wade / August 2014)

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart; design by Angela Carlino (Delacorte Press / May 2014)

The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski; design by Elizabeth H Clark; photography by Ali Smith (FSG Books for Young Readers / March 2014)

Winterkill by Kate A. Boorman; design by Maria T. Middleton; illustration by Shane Rebebschied (Harry N. Abrams / September 2014)

The Year of the Rat by Clare Furniss; design by Matt Johnson (Simon & Schuster Childrens Books / April 2014)

Thanks all


December 8, 2014
by Dan

Series Book Covers 2014

In the past, I’ve often included a few series designs in with my favourite covers of the year. This year, I saw so many great covers that were part of a series, I thought a they deserved a post of their own…


Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes; design by Nathan Burton (Alma / 2014)

Alma Classics; design by Nathan Burton (Alma / 2014)

A Winter's Tale

A Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare; design by Michel Vrana (Broadview / 2014)

Broadview Shakespeare; design by Michel Vrana (Broadview / 2014)


Nova Express by William Burroughs; cover art by Julian House (Penguin Classics 2014)

The Cut-Up Trilogy by William Burroughs; cover art by Julian House (Penguin Classics 2014)


Snapshots–Nouvelles voix du Caine Prize; design by David Pearson (Éditions Zulma / 2014)

Éditions Zulma; design by David Pearson (Éditions Zulma / 2014)

Wolf Haas; design by Christopher Brian King (Melville House / 2014)

My Fellow Skin

My Fellow Skin by Erwin Mortier; design by David Pearson (Pushkin Press / 2014)

Erwin Mortier; design by David Pearson (Pushkin Press / 2014)


After You with the Pistol by Kyril Bonfiglioli; design by Richard Green; illustration by Luke Pearson (Penguin / 2014)

Charlie Mortdecai by Kyril Bonfiglioli; design by Richard Bravery illustration by Luke Pearson (Penguin / 2014)

Tim O’Brien; design by Cardon Webb (Broadway / 2014)


Cloudstreet by Tim Winton; design by Adam Laszczuk; illustration by Josh Durham (Penguin Australia / 2014)

Penguin Australian Classics; design by Adam Laszczuk; illustration by Josh Durham (Penguin Australia / 2014)


Greek and Roman Political Ideas by Melissa Lane; cover design by Matthew Young; logo design by Richard Green (Pelican 2014)

Pelican relaunch; cover design by Matthew Young; logo design by Richard Green (Pelican 2014)

Regeneration by Pat Barker; design by Mr Foxx

Regeneration by Pat Barker; design by Mr Foxx (Penguin / 2014)

Penguin Essentials; design various (Penguin / 2014)


Letters from a Stoic by Seneca; design by Coralie Bickford-Smith (Penguin Classics 2014)

Penguin Pocket Hardbacks; design by Coralie Bickford-Smith (Penguin Classics 2014)

Les fantômes fument en cachette by Miléna Babin; design by David Drummond

Les fantômes fument en cachette by Miléna Babin; design by David Drummond (Les Éditions XYZ / 2014)

Quai No. 5; design by David Drummond (Les Éditions XYZ / 2014)

Sicilian Uncles

Sicilian Uncles by Leonardo Sciascia; design by Dan Mogford (Granta / 2014)

Leonardo Sciascia; design by Dan Mogford (Granta / 2014)1


August 1914 by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn; design by Oliver Munday (FSG / 2014)

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn; design by Oliver Munday (FSG / 2014)


Authority by Jeff VanderMeer (US); design by Charlotte Strick; Illustration by Eric Nyquist (FSG / 2014)

The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer (US); design by Charlotte Strick; Illustration by Eric Nyquist (FSG /  2014)


Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer (UK); design by Jo Walker; illustration by Kai and Sunny (Fourth Estate / 2014)

The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer (UK); design by Jo Walker; illustration by Kai and Sunny (Fourth Estate / 2014)


Ukojenie by Jeff VanderMeer (Poland); cover art by Patryk Mogilnicki (Otwarte / 2014)

The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer (Poland); cover art by Patryk Mogilnicki (Otwarte / 2014)


City of Saints & Madmen by Jeff VanderMeer backlist; design by Crush Creative (Tor / 2014)

Jeff VanderMeer backlist; design by Crush Creative (Tor / 2014)

Verso Radical Thinkers; design by Rumors (Verso / 2014)


The Battle of AP Bac by Neil Sheehan; design by Joan Wong (Vintage / 2014)

Vintage Shorts; design by Joan Wong (Vintage / 2014)


Fleur de Cerisier by Aline Apostolska; design by David Drummond (VLB éditeur / 2014)

Vol 459; design by David Drummond (VLB éditeur / 2014)

M. D. Waters; design by Jaya Miceli (Plume / 2014)


Art and Lies by Jeanette Winterson; design by James Paul Jones (Vintage / 2014)

Vintage Winterson; design by James Paul Jones (Vintage / 2014)

December 7, 2014
by Dan

50 Covers for 2014

Book designers, you do amazing work. Thank you. I am especially grateful to all the designers and art directors (not to mention publicists and other publishing folk) who have shared their wisdom, provided me with images, and helped me with design credits this year — these posts would not be possible without you. I also want thank my fellow book design bloggers, notably Book Covrs, Booketing, and Caustic Cover Critic, for their sterling work, and my local bookstores, TypeBook City on the Danforth, Ben McNally Books, and Indigo Bay & Bloor, for letting me browse their shelves.

Here are my covers of 2014:

All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews; design by Sunra Thompson (McSweeney’s / November 2014)

All Our Names by Dinaw Mengestu; design by Isabel Urbina Peña (Knopf / March 2014)

Bark by Lorrie Moore; design by Carol Devine Carson; photography by Josef Sudek (Knopf / February 2014)

The Book of Heaven by Patricia Storace; design by Linda Huang (Pantheon / February 2014)


The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber; art direction and design Rafi Romaya;  illustration Yehrin Tong (Canongate / October 2014)

The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt; design by Christopher Lin (Simon & Schuster / March 2014)

Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall by Will Chancellor; design by Richard Ljoenes (HarperCollins / July 2014)

Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes; design by Keith Hayes (Mulholland Books / September 2014)

California by Edan Lepucki; design Julianna Lee (Little Brown & Co. / July 2014)

Chop Chop by Simon Wroe; design by Ben Wiseman (Penguin / April 2014)

Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys by Viv Albertine; design by Luke Bird (Faber & Faber / May 2014)

The Corpse Exhibition by Hassan Blasim; design by Jason Ramirez (Penguin / February 2014)

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill; design by Gray318 (Granta / March 2014)

Dog Ear by Jim Johnstone; design by David Drummond (Signal Editions / May 2014)

The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison; design by Tom Darracott (Granta / June 2014)

Enlightenment 2.0 by Joseph Heath; design by David A. Gee (HarperCollins / April  2014)

Forensic Songs by Mike McCormack; design by Jason Booher (SOHO / July 2014)

Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson; design by Allison Saltzman; illustration by Bryan Nash Gill (Ecco / June 2014)

Friendship by Emily Gould; design by Jennifer Carrow (Farrar, Straus & Giroux / July 2014)

Fullblood Arabian by Osama Alomar; design by Paul Sahre (New Directions / March 2014)

A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride; design by Donna Payne (Faber & Faber / April 2014)

Happy are the Happy by Yesmina Reza; design by Suzanne Dean (Harvill Secker / July 2014)
The Histories by Herodotus, translated by Tom Holland; design by Coralie Bickford-Smith (Penguin Classics / September 2014)

The Intervals of Cinema by Jacques Rancière; design by Jessica Svendsen (Verso / October 2014)

Karate Chop by Dorthe Nors; design by Carol Hayes (Graywolf February 2014)

Leaving the Sea by Ben Marcus; design by Peter Mendelsund (Knopf / January 2014)

And here it is side by side with 2012’s The Flame Alphabet:

The Liar’s Wife by Mary Gordon; design by Linda Huang (Pantheon / August 2014)

Love Me Back by Merritt Tierce; design by Emily Mahon; illustration by Rizon Parein (Doubleday / September 2014)

The Man Who Couldn’t Stop; design by Katie Tooke (Picador / April 2014)

Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka; design by Jamie Keenan (W. W. Norton / February 2014)

My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead; design by Elena Giavaldi (Crown / January 2014)


Napoleon the Great by Andrew Roberts; design by Isabelle De Cat (Penguin / October 2014)

On Such a Full Sea by Chang-Rae Lee; design by Helen Yentus; lettering Jason Booher (Riverhead / January 2014)

Our Poison Horse by Derrick Brown; design by Jennifer Heuer (Write Bloody / October 2014)

Radio Benjamin edited by Lecia Rosenthal; design by Isaac Tobin (Verso / October 2014)

Russians by Gregory Feifer; design by Catherine Casalino (Twelve Books / February 2014)

The Scarborough by Michael Lista; design by David Drummond (Véhicule Press / September 2014)

The Secret World of Oil by Ken Silverstein; design by Matt Dorfman (Verso / May 2014)

Silence Once Begun by Jesse Ball; design by Peter Mendelsund (Pantheon / January 2014)

The Silent History by Eli Horowitz, Kevin Moffett, Matthew Derby; design by Oliver Munday (Farrar, Straus & Giroux / June 2014)

Song for an Approaching Storm by Peter Fröberg Idling; design by David Pearson (Pushkin Press / March 2014)

Specter of Capital by Joseph Vogl; design by Anne Jordan (Stamford University Press / October 2014)

Strange Bodies by Marcel Theroux; design by Nayon Cho; illustration by Mark Stutzman (Farrar, Straus & Giroux / February 2014)

Ugly Girls by Lindsay Hunter; design by Charlotte Strick; photograph by Natalie Dirks (Farrar, Straus & Giroux / November 2014)

Vanishing by Gerard Woodward; design by Jamie Keenan (Picador UK / March 2014)

Wittgenstein Jr by Lars Iyers; design by Christopher Brian King (Melville House / September 2014)

Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle; design by Timothy Goodman (Farrar, Straus & Giroux / September 2014)

Area X by Jeff VanderMeer; design by Rodrigo Corral (Farrar, Straus & Giroux / November 2014)

Young Skins: Stories by Colin Barrett; design by James Paul Jones (Jonathan Cape / March 2014)

Your Face in Mine by Jess Row; design by Oliver Munday (Riverhead / August 2014)

Thanks all.

December 5, 2014
by Dan

Catalogue Covers: A Request for Submissions


For the past few years, Quill & Quire (magazine to the stars) has asked Canadian books designers choose their favourite covers of the year. This year, however, instead of choosing a book cover like everybody else, David Gee picked out the McGill-Queen’s University Press Spring 2015 catalogue designed by David Drummond.

After laughing pretty hard at Mr. Gee’s audacity (and his transparent attempts to never work in this town again), I realised I would love to do a post on great catalogue covers.

McGill Queens

Print catalogues can be beautiful things, and as David Gee himself points out, “the simple fact that publishers’ catalogues tend to fly under the public radar doesn’t mean they’re easy to design.” They’re are also an endangered species. Publishers are cutting costs, and most are switching to digital alternatives. Now would seem like the perfect time to celebrate the charm of the print catalogue before it disappears completely.

I don’t usually ask for submissions, but I don’t think I can possibly gather enough material together for this by myself. So if you’ve ever toiled thanklessly over a publisher catalogue and you’d like to see a little appreciation for your hard work, send me an email (hello [at] casualoptimist . com] with your favourite catalogue covers (and interiors if you wish), and I’ll showcase all my favourites in the New Year. The images should  be hi-res jpegs or pngs (at least 620px wide), and please be sure to include the publisher information, and all the relevant credits.

Thanks all.

December 4, 2014
by Dan

The Complete Little Nemo


If you were wondering what to get me for Christmas this year, Taschen recently published Winsor McCay: The Complete Little Nemo 1905–1927which collects together all 549 of Winsor McCay’s extraordinary Little Nemo strips.

First published in The New York Herald in 1905, McCay’s innovative, beautifully detailed strips have been available online for sometime, and there have been attempts at reprint collections before, but this oversize edition looks absolutely gorgeous:





December 1, 2014
by Dan

ABCD 2015

As I am still working on my 2014 cover posts, it seems like a good time to let you know that the Academy of British Cover Design (ABCD) has announced its second annual cover design competition.

The competition is open to any designer based in the UK for covers published in 2014. There are ten categories:

Young Adult
Mass Market
Literary Fiction
Series Design
Women’s Fiction

You can see the previous winners here.

November 29, 2014
by Dan

Books of the Year by Tom Gauld

Tom Gauld‘s cover for The Guardian Review‘s books of the year issue.

November 25, 2014
by Dan

How The Strand Keeps Standing

Over at New York Magazine, Christopher Bonanos (author of Instant: The Story of Polaroid amongst other things), profiles New York new and used bookstore The Strand:

When you visit Amazon or AbeBooks (which is owned by Amazon) and search for an out-of-print title, your results are usually listed from cheapest to most expensive. The first “store” on the list often turns out to be a barn full of books in rural Minnesota or Vermont. Some are charity stores, selling donated books—no acquisition costs at all. They certainly aren’t paying Manhattan overhead. Yet here, too, the Strand is holding on, owing mostly to that churning turnover and the quality of its stock. That barn isn’t going to have many of last year’s $75 art books for $40, and the Strand always does. Plus there are the only–in–New York surprises that come through the store’s front door. Opening a box can reveal a Warhol monograph that will sell for more than $1,000, or an editor’s library full of warm inscriptions from authors… Surely operating out of one of those barns would be cheaper. “Not with our formula,” says [owner Fred] Bass firmly. “We need the store. This business requires a lot of cash flow to operate,” and much of it comes in with the tourists. That funds the book-buying, which supplies the next cycle of inventory. Which requires this expensive retail space, and the renovation of 2003 did not just come from a desire to spiff up. It happened because of a specific event, one that probably saved the Strand: In 1996, after four decades of renting, the Basses bought the building.

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