The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

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)

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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)

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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)

October 13, 2014
by Dan
1 Comment

Tom Gauld’s Fall Library

Tom Gauld‘s new cover for The New Yorker.

(Happy Canadian Thanksgiving!)

October 7, 2014
by Dan



Book designers, bless them, really do like to put a bird on it. Following on from wild beasts and reptiles and amphibians, here is my latest post looking at animals on book covers, ‘Birds’:

Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer; design by Charlotte Strick; Illustration by Eric Nyquist (FSG / September 2014)

Because I Love you by Barbara Toner; design by Sandy Cull / gogoGingko (Allen & Unwin / November 2012)

The Bedside Book of Birds by Graeme Gibson; design by Scott Richardson (Random House / October 2005)

The Bird Catcher by Laura Jacobs; design by LeeAnn Falciani (Picador / September 2010)

Birds Without Wings by Louis de Bernières; design by Matt Broughton (Vintage / April 2014)

Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb; design by David Mann (Allen Lane / May 2007)

A Box of Birds by Charles Fernyhough; design by Dan Mogford (Unbound / May 2013)

Cartwheel by Jennifer duBois; design by Lynn Buckley (Random House / September 2013)

Civil and Civic by Jonathan Bennett; design by David Gee (ECW / April 2011)

Come Late to the Love of Birds by Sandra Kasturi; design by Erik Mohr (Tightrope Books)

The Coincidence Authority by J. W. Ironmonger; design by Nathan Burton (Weidenfeld & Nicolson / September 2013)

The Crow’s Vow by Susan Briscoe; design by David Drummond (Vehicule Press / April 2011)

Darwin’s Finches edited by Kathleen Donohue; design by Matt Avery (University of Chicago Press / June 2011)

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Don’t Let It End Like This Tell Them I Said Something by Paul Vermeersch; design by Natalie Olsen / Kisscut Design (ECW Press /  October 2014)

The Dunwich Horror by H. P. Lovecraft; design by Coralie Bickford-Smith (Penguin Classics / October 2008)

Early Bird by Rodney Rothman; design by Paul Sahre (Simon & Schuster / April 2005)

Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm by Philip Pullman; design by Alison Forner (Penguin / November 2012)

Floating Like the Dead by Yasuko Thanh; design by Terri Nimmo (McClelland & Stewart / April 2012 )

Florence & Giles by John Harding; design by Jo Walker (Blue Door / March 2010)

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen; design by Charlotte Strick (FSG / December 2010)

The Galapagos by Henry Nicholls; design by Nicole Caputo (Basic Books / August 2014)

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt; design by Keith Hayes (Little, Brown & Co. / October 2013)

Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck; illustration by Kathryn McNaughton (Penguin / October 2011)

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald; cover art by Christopher Wormell (Jonathan Cape / July 2014)

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Grunt of the Minotaur by Robin Richardson; design by Emmanuel Polanco (Insomniac Press / October 2011)

Amanda Lindhout
A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout & Sara Corbett; design by Jennifer Heuer (Scribner / September 2013)

Hunger by Lan Samantha Chang; design by David High (W. W. Norton / September 2009)

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Jenny and the Jaws of Life by Jincy Willett; design by Henry Sene Yee (Picador / June 2008)

Kansas City Lightning by Stanley Crouch; design by Milan Bozic (HarperCollins / March 2014)

Klauw van de valk by Wilbur Smith; design by Mark Ecob (Xander Uitgervers / unused)

Love & Hunger by Charlotte Wood; design by Sandy Cull /gogoGingko (Allen & Unwin / May 2012)

The Marabou Stork Nightmares by Irvine Welsh; design by Matt Broughton (Vintage / January 2009)

The Marrowbone Marble Company by Glenn Taylor; design by Allison Saltzman (Ecco / May 2010)

Morality for Beautiful Girls by Alexander McCall Smith; design by Mark Ecob (Abacus / December 2003)

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius; design by Emily Mahon; illustration by Yucel (Modern Library / August 2003)

The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham; illustration by Brian Cronin (Penguin / August 2008)

The Mind of a Thief by Patti Miller; design by Sandy Cull / gogoGingko; illustration by Cherie Strong (University of Queensland Press / October 2013)

Mink River by Brian Doyle; design by David Drummond (Oregon State University Press / October 2010)

Monstress by Lysley Tenorio; design by Alison Forner (Ecco / January 2012)

Naming Nature by Carol Kaesuk Yoon; design by Chin-Yee Lai (W. W. Norton / August 2009)

never-ending birds
Never-Ending Birds by David Baker; design by Lynn Buckley; jacket illustration: Swallows by Audubon, The Granger Collection (W. W. Norton / October 2009)

News from the World by Paula Fox; design by Roberto De Vicq de Cumptich (W. W. Norton / May 2011)

The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin; design by Emily Mahon; illustration by Eleanor Grosch (Modern Library / August 1998)

Pigeon by Karen Solie; design by Bill Douglas (House of Anansi / June 2009)

Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman; design by Holly MacDonald (Bloomsbury / July 2011)

Romeo Spikes by Joanne Reay; design by Chris Sergio ( Gallery Books / August 2012)

Raven Girl by Audrey Niffenegger; design by Sara Corbett; illustration Audrey Niffenegger (Harry N. Abrams / May 2013)

Silent Land by Graham Joyce; design by Emily Mahon (Doubleday / March 2011)

Solo by Rana Dasgupta; design by Heads of State (Houghton Mifflin / February 2011)

Sweet Bird of Youth by Tennessee Williams; design by John Gall (New Directions / June 2010)

3 Elegies for Kosovo by Ismail Kadare; design by Matt Broughton (Vintage / May 2011)

To See Every Bird on Earth by Dan Koeppel; illustration by Mike Langman (Michael Joseph / August 2005) 1

Summer and Bird by Katherine Catmull; illustration by Jason Holley (Dutton / October 2012)

The Swan Gondola by Timothy Schaffert; design by Alex Merto (Riverhead / February 2014)

Treachery by S. J. Parris; design by Alexandra Allden, illustration by Daren Newman (Harper / August 2014)

The Virtues of Poetry by James Longenbach; design by Kimberly Glyder (Graywolf / March 2013)

The Vulture by Gil Scott-Heron; design by Stuart Bache (Canongate / July 2010)

Why is my Mother Getting a Tattoo? by Jancee Dunn; design by Catherine Casalino (Villard Books / June 2009)

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot by David Shafer; design by Charles Brock / Faceout Studios (Mulholland Books / August 2014)

Wizard of the Crow by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o; design by Peter Mendelsund (Pantheon / August 2006)

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