The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

August 10, 2015
by Dan

Book Covers of Note August 2015

The entire book industry isn’t on vacation. It only seems that way. 1 Here’s August’s book covers of note…

Aesthetics of Middlebrow Fiction design Palgrave
The Aesthetics of Middlebrow Fiction by Tom Perrin; design Palgrave Macmillan (Palgrave Macmillan / August 2016)

Ally Hughes design by Darren Booth
Ally Hughes Has Sex Sometimes by Jules Moulin; design by Darren Booth (Dutton / August 2015)

Almost Famous Women design by Na Kim
Almost Famous Women by Megan Mayhew Bergman; design by Na Kim (Scribner / July 2015)

Among the Ten Thousand design Strick&Williams
Among the Ten Thousand Things by Julia Pierpoint; design by Strick&Williams (Random House / July 2015)

Barbara the Slut design by Rachel Willey
Barbara the Slut by Lauren Holmes; design by Rachel Willey (Riverhead / August 2015)

Barbarian Days design Darren Haggar
Barbarian Days by William Finnegan; design by Darren Haggar (Penguin / July 2015)

Black Hole design Matt Dorfman
Black Hole by Bucky Sinister; design by Matt Dorfman (Soft Skull / August 2015)

Capitalism in the Web design by Anne Jordan
Capitalism in the Web of Life by Jason W. Moore; design by Anne Jordan and Mitch Goldstein (Verso / August 2015)

Death by Video Game design by Steve Panton
Death by Video Game by Simon Parkin; design by Steve Panton (Serpent’s Tail / August 2015)

Dust That Falls From Dreams design Oliver Munday
The Dust That Falls From Dreams by Louis de Bernières; design by Oliver Munday (Pantheon / August 2015)

Genghis Khan design James Paul Jones
Genghis Khan by Frank McLynn; design by James Paul Jones (Bodley Head / July 2015)

And because it’s always interesting to see US and UK covers side by side…

Infinite Home US
Infinite Home by Kathleen Alcott; design by Alex Merto (Riverhead / August 2015)

infinite home
Infinite Home by Kathleen Alcott; design by Stuart Bache (Borough Press / July 2015)

Katrina After the Flood design by Julius Reyes
Katrina by Gary Rivlin; design by Julius Reyes (Simon & Schuster / August 2015)

Landline design Olga Grlic handlettering Jim Tierney
Landline by Rainbow Rowell; design by Olga Grlic; hand-lettering by Jim Tierney (St. Martin’s Press / July 2015)

Memoirs of a Dipper design by Gray318
Memoirs of a Dipper by Nell Leyshon; design by Gray318 (Fig Tree / June 2015)

Narcisa design by Milan Bozic
Narcisa by Jonathan Shaw; design Milan Bozic (Harpercollins / March 2015)

New American Stories design by Peter Mendelsund.
New American Stories edited by Ben Marcus; design by Peter Mendelsund (Vintage / July 2015)

Street Poison by Justin Gifford; design by Michael J. Windsor (Doubleday / August 2015)

Vegetarian design Tom Darracott
The Vegetarian by Han Kang; design by Tom Darracott (Portobello / January 2015)

Wicked and Weird by Rich Terfry; design by Scott Richardson (Doubleday Canada / August 2015)

August 8, 2015
by Dan

Tom Gauld’s Suitcase


Tom Gauld for The New Yorker.1

August 7, 2015
by Dan
1 Comment

The Truth of Life: Paula Fox on Desperate Characters

desperate characters

At Longreads, Sari Botton talks to author Paula Fox talks about the latest reissue of her 1970 novel Desperate Characters:

It’s for all kinds of tension, not just racial, but class—the poor, who don’t have money or success, against the well-to-do. There are all these antagonisms… We live by pressing our palms against the skulls of the people whom we climb over. The sense of that is very strong in human society. Sometimes it’s based on possessions, or looks, or color, or experience, or history, and all these various things that we make judgments out of.

If you haven’t read Desperate Characters — and it’s a pretty perfect read if you’re stuck in the city this summer — Longreads also has an excerpt.

The cover of the W. W. Norton’s new edition (pictured above) was designed by Yang Kim.

August 7, 2015
by Dan

Saying Goodbye to a Secret Bookstore

Also at The New Yorker, Brian Patrick Eha writes about the closure of Brazenhead Books, Michael Seidenberg’s secret New York bookstore:

Michael Seidenberg’s one-of-a-kind bookshop, Brazenhead Books, closed last month. For seven years, it operated out of an apartment at 235 East Eighty-fourth Street. Of course no bookstore or other business had any business being there, in that rent-stabilized apartment, so it was, strictly speaking, illegal, and because it was illegal it had to be secret. The secret was known to a small number of discreet patrons and shared strictly by word of mouth. (At first, Michael saw customers by appointment only.) Inside, the windows were blacked out and covered with shelves. On bookcases, in every room, volumes of all sizes in serried ranks rose two deep from floor to ceiling. More were stacked on desks and tables and grew in unsteady columns from the floor. There was a stereo (covered in books), a few chairs, and a large desk in the front room (likewise all but submerged), on which Michael kept a half dozen or so bottles of wine and spirits, a tower of plastic cups, and a bucket of ice.

Walking in, you might find a handful of patrons lounging on chairs with drinks in their hands, or browsing amiably, making conversation, generally about books, but often ranging widely into art, politics, personal life stories, and the history of New York. In the same way that children imagine adults living in perfect freedom, enjoying all the cookies and television they want and staying up till all hours, Michael’s shop was what a bookish child might dream up as a fantasy home for himself, a place far from any responsibilities, where he would never run out of stories.

The good news is that Seidenberg plans to reopen the store elsewhere. Until then, you can watch this video about the old location.

August 7, 2015
by Dan

Comma Queen: Mad Dash

The New Yorker‘s Mary Norris, author Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, clarifies the difference between the hyphen (-), the en dash (–), and the em dash (—):

August 3, 2015
by Dan

Joost Swarte’s “Summer Adventures”


“Cartooning has an edge on all other media. You don’t need anything else such as canvas and paint, or camera and actors: the road to expression is only a sheet of paper and a pencil away.”

A new Joost Swarte cover for The New Yorker.

July 31, 2015
by Dan

A Secret History of Manhattan’s Book Trade

Don’t miss Dwight Garner’s New York Times review of Martial Bliss.: The Story of the Military Bookman, Margaretta Barton Colt’s account of running an antiquarian bookstore in Manhattan that sold only military titles. If you ever worked in an independent bookstore, you’ll probably relate…

Historians and journalists were devoted to the store, and leaned on it for their research. No one is lonelier than the author of a forgotten book. Ms. Colt speaks for many writers who walked into the Military Bookman when she says of one, “He loved to come to a place where the denizens knew what he had done”…

…Ms. Colt, who had previously worked in publishing, didn’t suffer fools — or ghouls. Here she is on one customer: “Lean and mean, with a crew cut, he was a real right-winger, collecting Holocaust memorabilia while being a Holocaust denier: a misanthrope with a sour sense of humor and guns in a secret closet.”

The store kept sometimes mischievous notes on its customers. These had observations like “tire-kicker, quote-dropper, reservation-dropper (particularly heinous), unredeemed check-bouncer (even worse). Also: cheapskate, picky, SS tendencies, questionable dealings, edition or d/j freak, and other sins and misdemeanors.” (The “d/j” refers to dust jackets.)

If it sounds as if the patrons were a band of brothers, yes, they were mostly men. The store maintained a comfortable chair for wives and girlfriends. Ms. Colt, who loved her work, writes terrifically about trying to maintain her sang-froid in this testicular environment.

July 27, 2015
by Dan

Keyboard Shortcuts for Novelists

keyboard shortcuts for novelists Tom Gauld

Tom Gauld for The New Yorker.

July 15, 2015
by Dan

50 Books / 50 Covers Kickstarter

50-50 kickstarter

I should have mentioned in my 50 / 50 post yesterday, that Design Observer has launched a Kickstarter campaign to create catalogue of this year’s winners:

As others have noted, it is a little odd that the project is being announced now when the winners have been chosen rather than when the competition opened (why wasn’t the cost of the catalogue factored into the entry fee?), and I wonder if a traditional publisher could not be found to partner on this project, but even if it feels like something of an afterthought, a well-designed catalogue would still be a lovely thing to have.

July 14, 2015
by Dan
1 Comment

50 Books / 50 Covers 2014 Winners

Young God design by Rodrigo Corral

Design Observer has announced the winners of their 2014 50 Books | 50 Covers competition, organized in association with AIGA and Designers & Books.

The fifty winning covers can be seen here

Brave New World design by La Boca

…and the fifty winning books, here.

A Maze and A Muse design Jenny Volvovski

My 2014 cover selections are here.

On Such a Full Sea design by Helen Yentus

July 14, 2015
by Dan

The Antiquarian Bookshops of Old London


At the lovely Spitalfields Life blog, the Gentle Author reminisces about buying and selling used books in London, and shares some wondeful black and white photographs of the city’s secondhand bookshops taken in 1971 by Richard Brown:

Frustrated by my pitiful lack of income, it was not long before I began carrying boxes of my textbooks to bookshops in the Charing Cross Rd and swapping them for a few banknotes that would give me a night at the theatre or some other treat. I recall the wrench of guilt when I first sold books off my shelves but I found I was more than compensated by the joy of the experiences that were granted to me in exchange.

Inevitably, I soon began acquiring more books that I discovered in these shops and, on occasion, making deals that gave me a little cash and a single volume from the shelves in return for a box of my own books. In this way, I obtained some early Hogarth Press titles and a first edition of To The Lighthouse with a sticker in the back revealing that it had been bought new at Shakespeare & Co in Paris. How I would like to have been there in 1927 to make that purchase myself.

L1000109 L1000152 L1000167 L1000136 L1000132


July 13, 2015
by Dan

Geoff McFetridge: Table Talk

6 Dots Geoff McFetridge

The set up of this interview with artist Geoff McFetridge is a little too cool for school, but the artist himself is disarmingly nerdy:


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