The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

November 5, 2014
by Dan

Amnesia Cover Design by Alex Kirby


The cover for the new Faber & Faber edition of Amnesia by Peter Carey was featured in this month’s ‘book covers of note‘ post, and designer Alex Kirby kindly sent me some lovely photographs of the book with and without it’s acetate dust jacket so you can get a better look at it:





November 3, 2014
by Dan

Book Covers of Note November 2014

This is the last of the monthly cover round-ups for 2014, and I have a lot to cram in before I start on my big end of year list, so it’s a bit of corker (if I do say so myself) with lots of gold foil and other fancy finishes:

Amnesia by Peter Carey; design by Alex Kirby (Faber & Faber / October 2014)

(The dust jacket is actually acetate)

The Betrayers by David Bezmozgis; illustration by Matt Taylor; type design and art direction by Richard Bravery (Viking / August 2014)

The Big Green Tent by Ludmila Ulitskaya; design by Devin Washburn (FSG / December 2014)

Convulsing Bodies by Mark D. Jordan; design by Anne Jordan (Stanford University Press / October 2014)

Critical Journeys by Robert Schroeder; design Jana Vukovic (Library Juice Press / September 2014)

Dear Reader by Paul Fournel; illustration by Jean Jullien (Pushkin Press / November 2014)

The Enormous Room by E. E. Cummings; design by Devin Washburn (Liveright / October 2014)

Fiddler on the Roof by Joseph Stein; design Christopher Silas Neal (Crown / September 2014)

forgive me leonard peacock
Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick; design by Gray318 (Little Brown & Co / July 2014)

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

(I also really like Sandy Cull’s design for the Australian edition published by Pan Macmillan in 2013)

The Hoarders by Scott Herring; design by David Drummond (University of Chicago Press / November 2014)

In Case of Emergency by Courtney Moreno; design by Sunra Thompson (McSweeney’s / September 2014)

Into the Blizzard by Michael Winter; design by Scott Richardson (Doubleday Canada / November 2014)

It’s Not Me It’s You by Mhairi McFarlane; design by Heike Schuessler; illustration by Gianmarco Magnani / Silence Television (HarperCollins / November 2014)

Little Failure by Gary Shteyngart; design by Rodrigo Corral Design (Random House / October 2014)

Smoke Proofs by Andrew Steeves; design by Andrew Steeves (Gaspereau Press / September 2014)

The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James; design by Coralie Bickford-Smith (Penguin / November 2014)

The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen; design by Nathan Burton (Pushkin Press / September 2014)

(The hardcover edition, designed by David Pearson, is also amazing)

Sailing the Forest by Robin Robertson; design by Neil Lang (Picador / September 2014)

(The skull is gold foil on the finished book)

The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker; design by Louise Fili; illustration by R. O. Blechman (Viking / September 2014)

The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker; design by Jim Stoddart & Isabelle de Cat; photograph by Kayla Varley (Penguin / September 2014)

Tales of the Marvellous and the Strange translated by Malcolm C. Lyons; design by Coralie Bickford-Smith Isabelle de Cat; illustration by Nina Chakrabarti (Penguin / November 2014)

(Just look at all that gold!)

Ugly Girls by Lindsay Hunter; design by Charlotte Strick; photograph by Natalie Dirks (FSG / November 2014)

What I Want to Tell You Goes Like This by Matt Rader; design by Ben Didier / Pretty/Ugly Design (Nightwood Editions / October 2014 )

You by Caroline Kepnes; design by Natalie Sousa (Atria / September 2014)

October 31, 2014
by Dan

The Rediscovered Classic


Tom Gauld for The New Yorker.

October 31, 2014
by Dan

“A Literary Octopus with an Insatiable Appetite for Print”

In November’s Vanity Fair, Bruce Handy profiles George Whitman, the late owner of Shakespeare & Company — “the most famous independent bookstore in the world” — and his daughter Sylvia, the current owner of the shop:

It is not true, as the store’s workers have sometimes overheard passing tour guides proclaim, that James Joyce lies buried in the cellar. (If only. He was laid to rest at a conventional, non-bookselling cemetery in Zurich.) But the store’s roots do indeed reach back to the Shakespeare and Company that Sylvia Beach, an American expatriate, owned in Paris in the 1920s and 30s. As every English major knows, her bookshop and lending library became a hangout for Lost Generation writers such as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, and Joyce, whose Ulysses was first published in its complete form by Beach because authorities in Britain and America deemed it obscene. She closed up shop during the Nazi occupation and never reopened. But her mantle was taken up by another American, George Whitman, who opened the present-day store in 1951, just as Beat Generation writers were finding their way to the Left Bank. (The so-called Beat Hotel, which would become a Parisian equivalent to New York’s Chelsea Hotel as a flophouse for writers, artists, and musicians, was only a few blocks away.) Writers who logged time at the current Shakespeare and Company, sometimes even sleeping there—Whitman was possibly keener on extending hospitality to authors, lauded or not, than on selling their books—include Allen Ginsberg, Henry Miller, Richard Wright, Langston Hughes, Lawrence Durrell, Anaïs Nin, James Jones, William Styron, Ray Bradbury, Julio Cortázar, James Baldwin, and Gregory Corso. Another early visitor, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, co-founded his City Lights Bookstore, in San Francisco, as a sister institution two years after Shakespeare’s opened. William S. Burroughs pored over Whitman’s collection of medical textbooks to research portions of Naked Lunch; he also gave what may have been the first public reading from his novel-in-progress at the store. (“Nobody was quite sure what to make of it, whether to laugh or be sick,” Whitman later said.)

October 24, 2014
by Dan

Penguin Modern Classics The Cut-Up Trilogy by William Burroughs

Following on from yesterday’s post on Penguin’s pocket hardback classics, Penguin Modern Classics are also reissuing William Burroughs’ cut-up trilogy with menacingly dark collage cover art by Julian House:




October 23, 2014
by Dan

Penguin Pocket Hardbacks Designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith

A beautiful set of ‘Pocket Hardbacks’ designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith will be available from Penguin Classics next month. The trim size is 104mm x 168mm (or about 4″ x 6½”):











October 22, 2014
by Dan

A Case for Sherlock Holmes…

Tom Gauld.

October 21, 2014
by Dan

Iggy Pop’s BBC Music John Peel Lecture

Last week, Iggy Pop delivered this year’s BBC Music John Peel Lecture on the topic of ‘Free Music in a Capitalist Society’ at Radio Festival 2014 in Salford:

I worked half of my life for free. I didn’t really think about that one way or the other, until the masters of the record industry kept complaining that I wasn’t making them any money. To tell you the truth, when it comes to art, money is an unimportant detail. It just happens to be a huge one unimportant detail. But, a good LP is a being, it’s not a product. It has a life-force, a personality, and a history, just like you and me. It can be your friend. Try explaining that to a weasel.

As I learned when I hit 30 +, and realized I was penniless, and almost unable to get my music released, music had become an industrial art and it was the people who excelled at the industry who got to make the art. I had to sell most of my future rights to keep making records to keep going. And now, thanks to digital advances, we have a very large industry, which is laughably maybe almost entirely pirate so nobody can collect shit. Well, it was to be expected. Everybody made a lot of money reselling all of recorded musical history in CD form back in the 90s, but now the cat is out of the bag and the new electronic devices which estrange people from their morals also make it easier to steal music than to pay for it. So there’s gonna be a correction.

You can read the complete transcript here, or listen to it (for the next couple of weeks at least) on the BBC’s iPlayer. You can also download it as a podcast for posterity.

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October 20, 2014
by Dan

Aaron Draplin and the Art of the Side Hustle


I could listen to designer Aaron Draplin get all excited about stuff for hours. In these short films by Jared Eberhardt for Vans, Draplin talks about design, ephemera, Field Notes, and more:

October 20, 2014
by Dan

Tom Geismar on Design Matters

Kicking off a new season of Design Matters, Debbie Millman talks to pioneer of American graphic design Tom Geismar about how the practice of design has changed since the 1950s:

October 19, 2014
by Dan

Peter Mendelsund on Fresh Air


I think there are two primary jobs that a jacket has to do: It has to represent a text and it has to sell it. In a way, a book jacket … is sort of like a title that an author comes up with. It’s one thing that has to speak to a big aggregate thing, which is the book itself. And it has to be compelling in some way such that you’re interested enough to pick it up — and perhaps buy it. … It’s like a billboard or an advertisement or a movie trailer or a teaser. …

I think of a book jacket as being sort of like a visual reminder of the book, but … it’s also a souvenir of the reading experience. Reading takes place in this nebulous kind of realm, and in a way, the jacket is part of the thing that you bring back from that experience. It’s the thing that you hold on to.

Peter Mendelsund, book designer and author of What We See When We Read, interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air:

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October 17, 2014
by Dan




This, the latest post in my Beasts! series, was unexpectedly difficult to compile. While it seems there isn’t a book cover in existence that couldn’t be improved by putting on a bird on it, bugs are, at least by comparison, somewhat rare. While I assumed that bees, beetles, butterflies, centipedes, flies, spiders, termites et al would naturally lend themselves to evocative book designs, we are apparently still quite squeamish about creatures with six legs or more. That said, today’s post includes far more rejected (and short-lived covers) than previous instalments in the series, which that it isn’t necessarily the designers who are afraid of creepy crawlies, but rather other decision-makers in the process are worried about their negative influence on sales. Hopefully some of these covers will change their minds about that…

The Acid House by Irvine Welsh; design by Matt Broughton (Vintage Books)

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer; design by Charlotte Strick; Illustration by Eric Nyquist (FSG / February 2014)

Arcadia RD 1 cleanb
Arcadia by Lauren Groff; design by Will Staehle (Voice / March 2012)

Babayaga by Toby Barlow; design by Gray318 (Corvus / February 2014)

The Bees by Laline Paull; design by Steve Attardo (Ecco / May 2014)

The Bees by Laline Paull; design by Jo Walker (Fourth Estate / May 2014)

Beautiful You by Chuck Palahniuk; design by Rodrigo Corral Design (Doubleday / October 2014)

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby; design by Michelle Taormina (Balzer + Bray / March 2015)

Boxer Beetle by Ned Beauman; illustration by Lorenzo Petrantoni (Sceptre / August 2010)

Brodeck’s Report by Phillipe Claudel; design by Anna Heath (Quercus)

Bug Music by David Rothenberg; design by Ervin Serrano (St. Martin’s Press / May 2013)

Carnival by Rawi Hage; design by Brian Morgan, illustration by Lorenzo Petrantoni (House of Anansi Press / August 2012)

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

Cockroach by Rawi Hage; design by Albert Tang (W. W. Norton / October 2009)

Cockroach by Rawi Hage; design by Bill Douglas (House of Anansi / unused)

Constant Gardener by John Le Carre; design by Stuart Bache (Sceptre)

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Crowd of Sounds by Adam Sol; design by Bill Douglas (House of Anansi / April 2003)

Electricity by Victoria Glendinning; design by David Mann (Pocket Books / April 2006)

Escaping into the Open by Elizabeth Berg; design by The Book Designers (Harper / August 2012)

Fever by Sonia Shah; design by LeeAnn Falciani (Picador / June 2011)

The First Principles of Dreaming
The First Principles of Dreaming by Beth Goobie; design by Natalie Olsen / Kisscut Design (Second Story Press / September 2014)

Generation A by Douglas Coupland; design by Jennifer Heuer (Simon & Schuster / June 2010)

Generation A by Douglas Coupland; design by Books We Made (Tropen / August 2010)

Ghost Moth by Michèle Forbes; design by Kathleen Lynch / Black Kat Design (Penguin Canada / October 2013)

A Sting in the Tale by Dave Goulson; design by LeeAnn Falciani (Picador / April 2014)

Hurt Healer by Tony Nolan; design by Connie Gabbert (Baker / unused?)

In Translation edited by Sherry Simon; design by David Drummond (McGill-Queen’s University Press / unused?)

The Marriage Game by Alison Weir; design by The Book Designers (Ballantine / unused)

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

Missing Link by Jeffrey Donaldson; design by David Drummond (forthcoming)

The Moth introduced by Neil Gaiman; design by Dan Stiles (Serpent’s Tail / August 2014)

My First Kafka by Matthue Roth & Rohan Daniel Eason; design by Richard Rodriguez; cover illustration Rohan Daniel Eason (One Peace Books / June 2013)

Never Mind by Edward St. Aubyn; design by Stuart Wilson (Picador / April 2012)

Original Sins by Peg Kingman; design by Darren Haggar (W. W. Norton / September 2010)

Perdido Street Station by China Mieville; design by Crush Creative (Pan Books / May 2011)

Possession by A. S. Byatt; design Vintage Design (Vintage / December 2009)

The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida; design by Kai & Sunny (Sceptre / July 2013)

Royauté by Alexie Morin design by Catherine D’Amours / Pointbarre (Le Quartanier / October 2013)

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes; design by Keith Hayes (Mulholland Books / June 2013)

Swallow by Theanna Bischoff; design by Natalie Olsen / Kisscut Design (NeWest Press / February 2013)

Poe GOTHIC SERIES Holly MacDonald
Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edgar Allan Poe; Holly MacDonald (Bloomsbury / October 2009)

Why You Should Read Kafka Before You Waste Your Life by James Hawes; Design and lettering by Steve Snider; Illustration by Douglas Smith (St. Martin’s Press / July 2008)

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