The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

May 4, 2016
by Dan

Author Health Hazards

Author Health Hazards Tom Gauld

Tom Gauld for The Guardian.

May 3, 2016
by Dan

Book Covers of Note May 2016

It’s the first week of May (whaaaat?), so it must be time for some new book covers…

barren cove design Chelsea McGuckin
Barren Cove by Ariel S. Winter; design by Chelsea McGuckin (Atria / May 2016)

congratulations on everything design Gary Taxali
Congratulations on Everything by Nathan Whitlock; cover art by Gary Taxali (ECW / May 2016)

Even-the-Dead design David Shoemaker
Even the Dead by Benjamin Black; design by David Shoemaker (Henry Holt / January 2016)

The Ecliptic by Benjamin Wood; design Jamie Keenan (Penguin Press / May 2016)

Girls on Fire US design Robin Bilardello
Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman; design by Robin Bilardello (Harper / May 2016)

Girls on Fire UK design Jack Smyth
Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman; design by Jack Smyth (Little, Brown / May 2016)

The Haters by Jesse Andrews; design by Chad W. Beckerman and Will Staehle (Abrams / April 2016)

How Propaganda Works design Chris Ferrante
How Propaganda Works by Jason Stanley; design by Chris Ferrante (Princeton University Press / May 2016)

Industries of the Future design Jason Heuer
Industries of the Future by Alec Ross; design by Jason Heuer (Simon & Schuster / February 2016)

Imagine Me Gone design Keith Hayes
Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett; design by Keith Hayes (Little, Brown & Co. / May 2016)

Killing Bobbi Lomax design Alex Kirby
The Killing of Bobbi Lomax by Cal Moriarty; design by Alex Kirby (Faber & Faber / May 2016)

Leviathan Gaspereau
Leviathan by Carmine Starnino; design Andrew Steeves (Gaspereau / April 2016)

Little Red Chairs by Edna O’Brien; design by Keith Hayes (Little, Brown & Co. / April 2016)

Macroeconomics design David Drummond
Macroeconomics by Ben Fine and Ourania Dimakou; design by David Drummond (Pluto Press / May 2016)

Microeconomics design David Drummond
Microeconomics by Ben Fine; design by David Drummond (Pluto Press / May 2016)

Madonna in a Fur Coat design Coralie Bickford Smith
Madonna in a Fur Coat by Sabahattin Ali; design by Coralie Bickford-Smith (Penguin / May 2016)

Mother Robin Bilardello
The Mother by Yvvette Edwards; design by Robin Bilardello (Amistad / May 2016)

My Mad Fat Diary design Olga Grlic
My Mad Fat Diary by Rae Earl; design by Olga Grlic (St. Martin’s Griffin / April 2016)

Once and For All design Erik Carter
Once and for All by Delmore Schwartz; design Erik Carter (New Directions / May 2016)

The Outside Lands design Ami Smithson
The Outside Lands by Hannah Kohler; design by Ami Smithson / Cabin London (Picador / May 2016)

A Perfect Life by Eileen Pollack; design by Allison Saltzman (Ecco / May 2016)

Prodigals design Rodrigo Corral
Prodigals by Greg Jackson; design by Rodrigo Corral (Farrar, Straus & Giroux / March 2016)

Sleeping Giants design Chas Brock

sleeping giants design chas brock
Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel; design by Charles Brock / Faceout Studio (Del Ray / April 2016)

Where the Bird Sings Best by Alejandro Jodorowsky; design by Richard Ljoenes (Restless Books / April 2016)

why they run the way they do design Alison Forner
Why They Run the Way They Do by Susan Perabo; design Alison Forner (Simon & Schuster / February 2016)

May 2, 2016
by Dan

Willem Sandberg: From Type to Image


Writing for The Guardian, Simon Garfield (Just My Type), visits the first UK retrospective Dutch designer and curator Willem Sandberg:

“This is printed on wallpaper, very asymmetric … an amazing thing really,” Fraser Muggeridge, the curator, says as he shows me his collection of Sandberg ephemera in his studio in London’s Smithfield. It is a space Sandberg would have admired, with its display of promotional work for emerging artists and galleries crowding in from the walls. “I don’t think he was trying to make the most perfect work, but it was always free-spirited and arresting.” His letters were highly sculptural, revealing negative space; at first glance a torn “T” becomes a sideways “E”. They speak of his obsession not only with making intricate objects by hand, but also with solid branding: his graphics for the Stedelijk created a look and mood for a museum that today would require a huge budget and corporate pitching.

Astonishingly, most of Sandberg’s catalogues and posters were a sideline, designed in the evenings and at weekends. Sandberg was the director of the museum from 1945 to 1962, and his close relationship with the local state printer produced an identity that transformed the Stedelijk into one of Europe’s first truly modern galleries. He created what he liked to refer to as an “Anti-Museum”, rejecting the traditional dark and hushed rooms and creating something bright and accessible, a place of social interaction. He championed young artists, and he succeeded in attracting people who had barely set foot in a museum before. There was a shop, a learning centre and a cafe, all brave innovations in the middle of the century. As was Sandberg’s scheme to get the Stedelijk a little more noticed in the city: he painted the entire building white.


Willem Sandberg: From Type to Image‘ is at the De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea, UK until 4 September.

April 30, 2016
by Dan

Jason Booher Interviewed at The Perch

Last Magazine design Jason Booher

Jason Booher, designer and art director of Blue Rider Press and Plume, talks to Penguin Random House blog The Perch about the book cover design process:

A design can be thought of as a set of constraints or parameters. In book design, these consist of things like the conceptual literary content of the book, what makes the book unique in the context of other similar books or all books, how the author is (or is not) known, the expectations of the book from the point of view of the author/editor/sales force/readers, the context of book jacket in the contemporary moment, the context of book jackets in the last 10 (or even 20) years, visual pop culture. Or something that is obvious and not obvious is working with type is very difficult. And it perhaps the most specialized thing that graphic designers bring to that general problem solving into form.

Jason also describes how he approaches a book cover:

There’s a combination of reading the manuscript, and listening to the editor talk about the book. As an art director, I have to dip into almost all the of the books to see what they are like before deciding to whom to give each title. As a designer (if I’m working on that title’s jacket) it’s always different with every book. But as a general process I will read the book, and think and sketch, and sketch, and reread, work though a number of ideas, throw most of them out, stay with others, reread, take a walk (much harder when you are also the art director), try to come up with something new. Those are the first steps.

And how he works with other designers:

When I work with a freelancer (as well as with my in-house designers), I like to see what they come up with without any input from me. Not only are you more likely to get something special and surprising, something you couldn’t have thought of yourself (which is why art directors work with a variety of freelancers in addition to their in-house staff), but you are sending a signal of trust. If a designer knows what “kind” of design they are expected to deliver, they might not push very far or hard. But if they take ownership of being the first arbiters of what the package of the book might be, there is more of a chance for something brilliant. I’m just trying to maximize the talent I have working with me.

With my in house staff, it is similar but there might also be a concept that is floating that we will work with. Or occasionally I’ll work with one designer or my whole team to come up with  ideas together. That’s an exception though, and cover design is generally a sole enterprise in the initial stages. Then it becomes a collaboration when I see comps, and goes from there.

Read the whole interview here.

April 29, 2016
by Dan

A Publishing House of Her Own


Joanna Scutts reviews The Lady with the Borzoi, Laura Claridge’s new biography of Blanche Knopf, for the New Republic:

When the house of Knopf launched in 1915, publishing was a gentleman’s pursuit—amateur, clubbish, WASP, and above all, male. Blanche and Alfred navigated this casually anti-Semitic world, holding themselves aloof from their alcoholic, philandering competitor, the “pushy Jew” Horace Liveright, founder of the Modern Library and publisher of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. Over the years there would be female secretaries, copywriters, reviewers, and editors at Knopf. There would be women in charge of little magazines and the children’s-book divisions of big publishers. But there would be no other woman in the publishing industry with the status of Blanche Knopf—either in the 1920s, when she signed Langston Hughes and Willa Cather, or in the 1950s, when she celebrated Albert Camus’s Nobel prize and oversaw the translation of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. And despite it all, although her husband swore he’d put her name on the masthead, he never did…

…For the Knopfs, marriage proved much more difficult than publishing. In Claridge’s hands Alfred Knopf takes his place in twentieth-century literature’s crowded pantheon of assholes—his great loves were the American Southwest, expensive wine, and the ritual humiliations of his friends, his family, and most of all, his wife. One after another, acquaintances and co-workers attest to a relationship that today we’d call toxic; a stew of jealousy, incompatibility, violence, and—just when it couldn’t get worse—yearning affection.

April 28, 2016
by Dan

The Many Ways a Book Cover is Rejected

Is That Kafka design Erik Carter

In an excellent post for The Literary Hub, designer Erik Carter writes about designing the cover of Reiner Stach’s Is That Kafka? 99 Finds for New Directions, and the process of getting a book cover approved:

The actual process of designing a book jacket is more than just reading the book and making a beautiful image with your favorite font and slapping it on the front. A good cover should represent the spirit of the book and celebrate what makes that book unique. So then why do so many covers fall for the same visual clichés as so many other covers? Go on down to your local online book dealer and you’ll see bargain bin stock photos adorned with tiny endorsements about how this book is so, so much better than other one you’re about to click on. In order to get a book cover approved you have to get the sign off from the art director that you’re working for, the marketing department, the author, the editors, sometimes even the author’s spouse, their milkman, or their next door neighbor. It’s a nimble game of politics that you have to play to get the vision that you have for a cover into the bookstore. And it’s a game where design is often the loser. The publisher wants the book to sell, the designer wants the book to look good, and the author wants the cover to match their vision of what the cover of their book should be. And almost always, these three are at odds. There is a lack of definition for “what looks good” and a shaky science as to “what will sell” and authors are so close to their books it can be difficult to find out what it is that they actually want. The language of aesthetics and the aesthetics of language need to trust each other. It’s important for designers to be more acclimated with what it is that a publisher is looking for as to what will sell. Compromising that business by stretching your typefaces to the point of unreadability may not do you any favors. Ultimately it’s the author’s book, and they know it far better than you do, so really it’s their opinion that matters the most, even if they are not familiar with the fundamentals of good design.

April 28, 2016
by Dan

Jane Eyre Uncovers Mister Rochester’s Secrets

Jane Eyre Tom Gauld

Tom Gauld for The Guardian.

April 25, 2016
by Dan

Penguin Galaxy Series design by Alex Trochut

2001 design Alex Trochut

Following on from their horror classics series selected by Guillermo Del Toro, Penguin US is publishing six hardcover science fiction and fantasy classics this fall with introductions from Neil Gaiman, and (more importantly!) brilliant typographic covers by Brooklyn-based Spanish designer Alex Trochut. Available in October, the finished covers will be foil on uncoated paper over board.

dune design Alex Trochut Left Hand of Darkness design Alex Trochut neoromancer design Alex Trochut The Once and Future King design Alex Trochut Stranger in a Strange Land design Alex Trochut

April 13, 2016
by Dan

Australian Book Design Awards 2016 Shortlist

ABDA Shortlist

ABDA, the Australian Book Designers Association, recently announced the shortlist for the 64th Australian Book Design Awards. As in previous years, the shortlist includes some cracking designs in a wide-range of categories. The finalists for literary fiction are pictured below:

Designed by John Durham (Affirm Press / 2016)

Designed by John Durham (Affirm Press / 2016)

Designed by Allison Colpoys (Scribe /2016)

Designed by Allison Colpoys (Scribe /2016)

Design by Laura Thomas (Hamish Hamilton / 2016)

Design by Laura Thomas (Hamish Hamilton / 2016)

Designed by W.H. Chong (Text Publishing / 2016)

Designed by W.H. Chong (Text Publishing / 2016)

The winning books will be announced on Friday 13 May at the Awards Party in Melbourne.

April 11, 2016
by Dan

Jacket Everyday


Last month, Canadian designer Steve St. Pierre started asking people what the title of their life story would be and creating book jackets for the replies. The results, which are both brilliant and weird, can be found at  Jacket Everyday™.


Leah Collins recently talked to Steve about his project for CBC Arts:

“I love book cover design,” St. Pierre says, and the thing that makes it special, he says, is that a successful cover is “kind of like a blind date.”

“You’re trying to essentially put charm into a book cover,” he says. But unlike drinks with some random from Tinder, the relationship you have with a novel is likely going to be longer. Probably way more meaningful, too.

“It’s that negotiation, trying to be charming and trying to get someone to just think twice about what’s in front of them,” says St. Pierre. “That, to me, is my favourite part of designing these things.”

For the record, Steve just asked me to contribute a title. I’m thinking about it.


April 9, 2016
by Dan

Grammar Wars

Grammar Wars Tom Gauld

Tom Gauld for The Guardian.

April 8, 2016
by Dan
1 Comment

Book Covers of Note April 2016

All Things Cease design Mario Hugo
All Things Cease to Appear by Elizabeth Brundage; design by Mario Hugo (Knopf / March 2016)

Assault design Oliver Munday
The Assault by Harry Mulisch; design by Oliver Munday (Pantheon / April 2016)

Association-Small-Bombs design Matt Vee
The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan; design by Matt Vee (Viking / March 2016)

Beloved Poison Jordan Metcalf
Beloved Poison by E. S. Thomson; cover art Jordan Metcalf (Little, Brown & Co / March 2016)

black hole blues design Janet Hansen
Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space by Janna Levin; design by Janet Hansen (Knopf / March 2016)

Dada design Anne Jordan
Dada Presentism by Maria Stavrinaki; design by Anne Jordan & Mitch Goldstein (Stanford University Press / April 2016)

Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain design James Paul Jones
Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain by Barney Norris; design James Paul Jones (Doubleday / April 2016)

In the Name of Editorial Freedom design Isaac Tobin
In the Name of Editorial Freedom edited by Stephanie Steinberg; design by Isaac Tobin (University of Michigan Press / September 2015)

I’m so embarrassed that I missed this great type-only cover by the brilliant Isaac Tobin last year that I’m including it here.

Speaking of which, I also missed this rather fine David Drummond cover from late last 2015 too…

Life and Other Near-Death Experiences design David Drummond Nov 2015
Life and Other Near-Death Experiences by Camille Pagán; design by David Drummond (Lake Union Publishing / November 2015)

Man Lies Dreaming design Marina Drukman
A Man Lies Dreaming by Lavie Tidhar; design by Marina Drukman (Melville House / March 2016)

Ben Summers’ cover design for the UK edition of A Man Lies Dreaming published by Hodder and Stoughton was a book cover of note waaaaay back in October 2014!

The Miles Between Me design Alban Fischer
The Miles Between Me by Toni Neale; design by Alban Fischer (Curbside Splendor / April 2016)

Model Disciple design David Drummond
Model Disciple by Michael Prior; design by David Drummond (Vehicule Press / April 2016)

Olio design Jeff Clark
Olio by Tyehimba Jess; design by Jeff Clark / Quemadura (Wave / April 2016)

one in a million design CS Neal
The One-In-Million Boy by Monica Wood; design by C. S. Neal (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt / April 2016)

Pillow Book design Alysia Shewchuk
A Pillow Book by Suzanne Buffam; design by Alysia Shewchuk (House of Anansi / April 2016)

She Weeps design Joan Wong
She Weeps Each Time You’re Born by Quan Barry; design by Joan Wong (Vintage / February 2016)

Study in Charlotte jacket art Dan Funderburgh design Katie Fitch
A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro; jacket art Dan Funderburgh; design Katie Fitch (Katherine Tegen Books / March 2016)

Sudden Death
Sudden Death by Álvaro Enrigue; design by Stephen Parker; photograph Mark Vessey (Harvill Secker / April 2016)

The cover of the US edition published by Riverhead and designed by Rachel Willey was in last month’s post.

Susuzluk (Thirst)_Steven Mithen
Susuzluk (Thirst) by Steven Mithen; design by James Paul Jones (Koc University Press / April 2016)

Tempest design David Pearson
The Tempest by William Shakespeare; design by David Pearson (Penguin / April 2016)

tuesday-nights-in-1980 design Rodrigo Corral
Tuesday Nights in 1980 by Molly Prentiss; design by Rodrigo Corral (Gallery/Scout Press / April 2016)

to the left of time design Jackie Shepherd
To the Left of Time by Thomas Lux; design by Jackie Shepherd (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt / April 2016)

Well Always Have Paris design Justine Anweiler
We’ll Always Have Paris by Emma Beddington; design by Justine Anweiler; lettering by Cocorrina (Macmillan / April 2016)

What Belongs To You design Justine Anweiler
What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell; design by Justine Anweiler (Picador / April 2016)

This is a variant on the cover of the US edition from FSG designed by Jennifer Carrow, which is also very nice (especially the zig-zag of the type), but I especially like the Andreas Gursky-like edge-to-edge grid and hyper-real colour of the UK edition.

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