The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

June 25, 2015
by Dan

Today in Micro-Trends: Post-it Notes


Sticking post-it notes to the front of books is a very real thing in the book industry — at least in the corners I’ve occupied — so perhaps it’s no surprise that they’ve made into cover designs too.

The first cover I can think of to incorporate a post-it was the hardcover of Heaven in Small by Emily Schultz, designed by Ingrid Paulson (House of Anansi in 2009).1 Interestingly, while the paperback, also designed by Ingrid (see below), kept the post-it, it no longer tricks the eye in quite the same way.

The last couple of years has seen a small flurry of post-it note book covers. I particularly like Nathan Burton‘s designs for rising literary star Valeria Luiselli, but post-it notes seem particularly in vogue for young adult covers, so we might well be seeing a few more in the coming months…

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven; design by Lucy Kim and Alison Impey; hand-lettering by Sarah Watts (Knopf / January 2015)

Faces in the Crowd and Sidewalks by Valeria Luiselli; design by Nathan Burton (Coffee House Press & Granta / May 2013 & May 2014)

Heaven is Small by Emily Schultz (paperback); design by Ingrid Paulson (Anansi / April 2010)


Lions and Shadows by Christopher Isherwood design by Charlotte Strick; illustration by Dan Funderburgh (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux / November 2015)

Christopher Isherwood series; design by Charlotte Strick; illustrations by Dan Funderburgh (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux / 2013-2015)

Last Time We Say Goodbye design Erin Schell
The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand; design by Erin Schell (HarperTeen / February 2015)

The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things by Ann Aguirre; design by Anna Booth; photography by Jon Barkat and Gary Spector (Feiwel & Friends / April 2015)

then we came to an end design Jamie Keenan
Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferriss; design by Jamie Keenan (Little, Brown & Co. / March 2007)2

June 22, 2015
by Dan

Available Only in Bookshops

To mark Independent Bookshop Week in the UK, author Helen Dunmore celebrates browsing the shelves:

Readers go their own way, and this is what frustrates governments and tantalises publishers. You can drag the reader to the water with the most brilliant advertising and marketing campaigns, but you cannot make him or her drink deep of shallow words.

No one can define the quality in a book that makes it command passionate loyalty from readers, and while some bestsellers are predictable, others have leapfrogged every idea about what readers should love. This is where physical bookshops and libraries are so important to readers, in spite of the convenience and ease of making an online purchase. We need to be able to see all the books that we don’t know about yet. Bookshops encourage browsing, dawdling and discovery. They open byways that become high roads to new fields of understanding. They don’t nag; they suggest. To be a reader in search of a book is more than to be a shopper who already knows what he or she wants to buy. Bookshops and libraries are places where books and readers come out of the private world, and make their claim on the public space. They say, visibly, how important books are to us.

June 19, 2015
by Dan

Simenon’s Island of Bad Dreams

mahe circle

At the NYRB Blog, John Banville reviews Georges Simenon’s novel The Mahé Circle, translated into English for the first time and now available from Penguin Classics:

Simenon was a driven creature, who in his lifetime wrote more than four hundred books, drank and womanized incessantly, and, in his younger days, roamed the world in frantic search of he knew not what. His mother despised him; his long-suffering wife wrote a roman à clef in which she portrayed him as a rampaging egotist—“His voice rang through the house from morning to night, and when he was out it was as though the silence was awaiting his return.” Most calamitous of all, his daughter Marie-Jo, who adored and idolized him—as a child she asked him one day to buy her a gold wedding ring—killed herself at the age of twenty-five. He was, all his life, a spirit in flight from others and from himself, and he is present, often lightly disguised, in every one of his books.

Penguin are reissuing Simenon at an astonishing clip. Along side his ‘romans durs’ like The Mahé Circle, they are publishing new translations of all 75 Maigret novels with covers featuring specially commissioned photographs by Magnum photographer Harry Gruyaert:


Earlier this year, Scott Bradfield also wrote about the Belgian author for the New York Times:

In many ways, the Maigrets were a sort of comfort food — the books that Simenon wrote to recover from the physical and psychological stress of writing his better, and far less comforting, novels. In these non-Maigret “thrillers,” often referred to as the romans durs (but to most aficionados known simply as the “Simenons”), the central, usually male character is lured from the stultifying cocoon of himself — and his suburban, oppressively Francophile (and often mother-dominated) life — into a wider, vertiginous world of sexual and philosophical peril, where violence, whether it occurs or only threatens to occur, feels like too much freedom coming at a guy far more quickly than he can handle.

June 18, 2015
by Dan

Extreme Etymology with Tom Gauld

extreme etymology

Tom Gauld.

June 17, 2015
by Dan

Rise of the Robots


Writing at the MIT Technology Review, David Rotman looks at the impact of automation and digital technology on jobs with reference to a number of recent books related to the subject including Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future by Martin Ford, The Great Divide by Joseph Stiglitz, and The Second Machine Age by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee. But if you find that all too depressing to contemplate — and who doesn’t? — you can at least enjoy the wonderful Joost Swarte illustrations that accompany article …


June 15, 2015
by Dan

When a Bookstore Closes, an Argument Ends

Writing at the New Yorker, Adam Gopnik considers the closing of La Hune in Paris, and what is lost when a bookstore closes:

The forces that brought La Hune down are, sadly and predictably, the same forces that destroyed Rizzoli, on 57th Street, or the old Books & Co., on Madison Avenue: the ruthless depredations of the Internet (Amazon is regarded warily in France, and pays a bookstore-protection tax, but it is there), alongside the transformation upward (or is it downward?) of the inner cores of big cities into tar pits for a mono-culture of luxury. Where La Hune last stood, Dior now stands.

These laments can all be dismissed as mere nostalgia—though, since nostalgia starts the very moment our experience becomes past, it can never be so easily dismissed. And the case for minimal regret about such transformations, or easy acceptance of them, is plain enough and not hard to make. Bookstores open and they close, following the path of bright young people as migratory birds follow the sun. In Paris, good bookstores have opened in, or migrated to, the popular quartiers of the 15th and 19th arrondissements, just as a few independent bookstores in [New York] have migrated to the sunnier climes of Brooklyn. Anyway (the more impatient counter argument goes on), a bookstore is only a platform for the purchase of literature, and platforms move and change with every new age, gathering and then shedding the moss of our memories as they roll on. Someday, someone will be writing a nostalgic account of one-click shopping on Amazon. Indeed, if videocassettes had lingered longer, we’d have sad feelings about the passing of Blockbuster. Some members of Generation X probably do now.

Yet the emotions that such losses stir can’t be dismissed quite so blithely—talking to Parisian friends, I found they shared my sense of something that it would be indecent to call grief but inadequate to call sadness.

I’m actually OK with it all being nostalgia. I just like bookstores, and it makes me sad when good ones close.  That said, Luc Sante’s reality-check did make me laugh:

June 12, 2015
by Dan

Henrietta’s Reading Adventures


The New Yorker has posted a lovely series of cartoons about reading by Argentinian cartoonist Liniers. Henrietta — along with her cat Fellini and teddy bear Mandlebaum — is a regular character from Liniers newspaper comic strip Macanudo.

Henrietta-Reading-5-2-690 Henrietta-Reading-09-690  Henrietta-Reading-17-690

Two collections of Liniers’ Macanudo strip are available in English from Enchanted Lion Books, with third one available this fall. There is also a new book featuring Henrietta coming from TOON Books in September.

(via Pickle Me This)

June 12, 2015
by Dan

Dear Araucaria

The Rev John Graham, better known as Araucaria, set the Guardian’s cryptic crossword for 55 years. In December 2012, Araucaria announced that he was dying of cancer through a series of clues in a crossword. In this short film, Graham talks about puzzles, the memories and ideas that inspired him, and setting crossword number 25,842:

You can read more about the film here.

June 8, 2015
by Dan

The Endless Combinations of Robert Rauschenberg

Monogram, Robert Rauschenberg (1955–59)

Monogram, Robert Rauschenberg (1955–59)

At the New York Times, Dan Chiasson visits the archive of the late Robert Rauschenberg, currently housed in a high-security warehouse in Westchester, N.Y.. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, it looks “a little like a cross between Charles Foster Kane’s Xanadu and a suburban Lowe’s”:

A source material, for Rauschenberg, could have been almost anything. Among the most prolific and consistently surprising American artists, he worked for over 50 years in a variety of media from feathers, stuffed goats, socks and neckties to cardboard, grass and scrap metal, in genres including choreography, costume design, photography, printmaking and painting. He is most famous for the “combine,” a form he more or less invented that merged three-dimensional collages with sculpture, sometimes with the batty ingenuity of a Rube Goldberg. Few works capture so arrestingly the process that brought them into being: In a finished Rauschenberg, you see a goat, a tire, a tennis ball, but more than that, you see the insights that brought them together. Each component keeps its integrity within a composition in which everything contributes to a profound effect of overall beauty. Indeed, few artists of his era so unabashedly strove for beauty, even majesty: The logic of his work, beginning with cast-offs and flotsam, demanded it. It was the dare he put to himself in everything he made.

June 5, 2015
by Dan
1 Comment

The Expensive Notebook Company

I know it’s the second Tom Gauld cartoon I’ve posted today, but this one for The New Yorker is magnificent:


June 5, 2015
by Dan

All Characters Wait Here

characters wait here tom gauld

Mr. Tom Gauld

June 3, 2015
by Dan

Book Covers of Note June 2015

I don’t know where last month went, but somehow it’s June already and it’s time for another selection of recent book covers:

General Theory of Oblivion design by Julia Connolly
A General Theory of Oblivion by José Eduardo Agualusa; design by Julia Connolly (Harvill Secker / June 2015)

The Hourglass Factory by Lucy Ribchester; design by Melissa Four (Simon & Schuster / January 2015)

how music got free design James Paul Jones
How Music Got Free by Stephen Witt; design by James Paul Jones (The Bodley Head / June 2015)

in the beginning illustration Robert Frank Hunter
In the Beginning was the Sea by Tomás González; cover illustration by Robert Frank Hunter (Pushkin / May 2015)

intimacy idiot design spencer kimble
Intimacy Idiot by Isaac Oliver; design by Spencer Kimble (Scribner / June 2015)

lesser beasts design by Nicole Caputo
Lesser Beasts by Mark Essig; design by Nicole Caputo (Basic Books / May 2015)

Living in the Sound of the Wind by Jason Wilson; design by Leo Nickolls (Constable / June 2015)

London Overground design by Richard Bravery
London Overground by Iain Sinclair; design by Richard Bravery (Hamish Hamilton / June 2015)

lucky alan design ben wiseman
Lucky Alan and Other Stories by Jonathan Lethem; design by Ben Wiseman (Doubleday / February 2015)

manhattan mayhem design by Timothy ODonnell
Manhattan Mayhem edited by Mary Higgins Clark; design by Timothy O’Donnell (Quirk Books / June 2015)

motorcycles ive loved design by rachel willey
Motorcycles I’ve Loved by Lily Brooks-Dalton; design by Rachel Willey (Riverhead / April 2015)

muse design by gabriele wilson
Muse by Jonathan Galassi; design by Gabriele Wilson (Knopf / June 2015)

professor in the cage design by matt dorfman
The Professor in the Cage by Jonathan Gottschall; design by Matt Dorfman (Penguin / April 2015)

Resistance is Futile by Jenny Colgan; design by Hannah Wood; illustration by Pietari Posti (Orbit / May 2015)

rise design by greg heinimann
Rise by Karen Campbell; design by Greg Heinimann (Bloomsbury / March 2015)

thank you goodnight design Kimberly Glyder
Thank You, Goodnight by Andy Abramowitz; design by Kimberly Glyder (Simon & Schuster / June 2015)

tongues of men or angels design by Jamie Keenan
The Tongues of Men or Angels by Jonathan Trigel; design by Jamie Keenan (Little Brown / May 2015)

The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi; design by Oliver Munday (Knopf / May 2015)

When the Doves Disappeared by Sofi Oksanen; design by Kelly Blair (Knopf / February 2015)

world does not exist design david gee
Why the World Does Not Exist by Markus Gabriel; design by David Gee (Polity / June 2015)

The White Company design James Paul Jones
The White Company by Arthur Conan Doyle; design by James Paul Jones (Vintage / June 2015)

wonder garden art and design thomas doyle
The Wonder Garden by Lauren Acampora; art and design by Thomas Doyle (Grove Press /May 2015)

Why Information Grows by Cesar Hidalgo; design by Richard Green (Allen Lane / June 2015)

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