The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

August 5, 2014
by Dan

Book Covers of Note August 2014

Here is this month’s selection of recently noted covers:

2 A.M. at the Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino; design by Christopher Brand (Crown August 2014)

The Bend of the World by Jacob Bacharach; design by Jamie Keenan (W. W. Norton May 2014)

Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall by Will Chancellor; design by Richard Ljoenes (Harper July 2014)

Butterflies in November by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir; design by Nathan Burton (Pushkin Press June 2014)

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami; design by Suzanne Dean (Harvill Secker August 2014)

(See the U.S. Cover here)

The Girls from Corona del Mar by Rufi Thorpe; design by Abby Weintraub (Knopf July 2014)

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

Happy are the Happy by Yesmina Reza; design by Suzanne Dean (Harvill Secker July 2014)

The Liar’s Wife by Mary Gordon; design by Linda Huang (Pantheon August 2014)

Philip Larkin: Life, Art and Love by James Booth; design by David Mann (Bloomsbury August 2014)

Preparing the Ghost by Gavin Frank; design by Ben Wiseman (W. W. Norton August 2014)

The Reef by Iain McCalman; design by Oliver Munday (Scientific American May 2014)

The Removers by Andrew Meredith; design by Evan Gaffney (Scribner July 2014)

Spin by Clive Veroni; design by WAX (House of Anansi August 2014)

Unspeakable Things by Laurie Penny; design by Greg Heinimann (Bloomsbury July 2014)

We Are Called To Rise by Laura McBride; design by Christopher Lin (Simon & Schuster June 2014)

What We See When We Read by Peter Mendelsund; design by Peter Mendelsund (Vintage August 2014)

Your Face in Mine by Jess Row; design by Oliver Munday (Riverhead August 2014)

July 30, 2014
by Dan
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Vintage Shorts Designed by Joan Wong


Vintage Books (US) recently announced Vintage Shorts, a series of stories, excerpts and other short pieces exclusively available as eBooks. The bold, geometric ‘covers’ were designed by the talented Joan Wong.

And, in case you were wondering, the typeface is Agenda, designed by Greg Thompson for Font Bureau. Apparently it was inspired by Edward Johnston’s typeface for the London Underground, so no wonder I like it!

Waiting for a Goal by Bill Buford

July 29, 2014
by Dan

Peter Mendelsund, Book Designer, Debuts as a Writer


Designer Peter Mendelsund, who has two new books out next week, What We See When We Read and Coveris profiled in today’s New York Times:

Mr. Mendelsund has long been regarded as one of the top book designers at work today, taking his place alongside design luminaries like Chip Kidd, Alvin Lustig and George Salter. Now, he’s making his debut as a writer, with two books coming out next week. Both explore the peculiar challenges of transforming words into images, and blend illustrations with philosophy, literary criticism and design theory.

In “What We See When We Read,” which is being published by Vintage Books next Tuesday, Mr. Mendelsund tackles the mysterious way text yields vivid mental pictures, even when the author supplies very little visual detail. Most readers, for instance, feel as if they can perfectly describe Anna Karenina, even though Tolstoy gives us little more than gray eyes, thick lashes and curly brown hair. In short, illustrated chapters, Mr. Mendelsund argues that reading is an act of co-creation, and that our impressions of characters and places owe as much to our own memory and experience as to the descriptive powers of authors.

On the same day, PowerHouse Books is releasing “Cover,” a 267-page coffee-table book with more than 300 of Mr. Mendelsund’s most arresting book jackets, and dozens of rejected drafts. The images are interspersed with notes on his process, along with essays by authors of some of the featured books, including the best-selling Norwegian crime writer Jo Nesbo and James Gleick, author of the nonfiction books “Chaos” and “The Information.”

If you are New York next week, there is a launch party for both books on August 5th, 7:00-9:00 pm at the PowerHouse Arena, 37 Main St, Brooklyn. Peter will be in conversation with Will Schwalbe, author of The End of Your Life Book Club, followed by a brief Q & A.

July 28, 2014
by Dan

Church of Type

Church of Type is the new letterpress studio in Santa Monica, California, of veteran designer and printmaker Kevin Bradley. In this lovely short film, Bradley talks about relocating to Los Angeles, typography, the printing press, and making things by hand:

July 22, 2014
by Dan
1 Comment

Australian Book Design Awards 2014 Shortlist

Peter Long, Senior Designer at Black Inc. Books, has kindly let me know that the shortlist for the Australian Book Design Awards has been announced.

The Book Design Awards are Australia’s longest running  graphic design awards, but in 2013 the Australian Publishing Association decided to discontinue them. To keep the awards running for a 62nd consecutive year, a group of Australian designers formed the ABDA as an independent, non-profit entity in March 2014.

There is some lovely work up for this years awards, and you can download full a list of the nominees as a PDF. Here are a few of the book covers that caught my eye:

Best Designed Literary Fiction Book

Letters to the End of Love by Yvette Walker; design by Allison Colpoys (UQP July 13, 2014)

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton; design by Jenny Grigg (Granta September 2013)

Best Designed Non-Fiction Book


The End by Bianca Nogrady; design by Sandy Cull (Vintage May 2013)

Madness: A Memoir by Kate Richards; design by Allison Colpoys (Viking January 2013)

Best Designed Young Adult Book

The Messenger by Markus Zusak; design by Sandy Cull (Pan Macmillan Novemeber 2013)

Zac & Mia by A. J. Betts; design by W. H. Chong (Text Publishing July 2013)

The winners of the Australian Book Design Awards will be announced in Melbourne on August 22nd, 2014.

July 17, 2014
by Dan
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Books on Book Covers

9781594203367B (1)
It started, innocently enough, with a tweet from my friend Steven Beattie, book review editor of Canada’s Quill & Quire magazine, about the cover of The Most Dangerous Book, Kevin Birmingham’s new ‘biography’ of Ulysses by James Joyce, designed by Ben Wiseman (Penguin June 2014).


That sparked a conversation with designer David Gee and Joseph Sullivan of The Book Design Review about books on book covers. Joe wrote a  a post on the subject in 2009 on the subject, and I rather naïvely thought it would be easy (EASY!) to post a few contemporary examples of the trend, completely underestimating what an undertaking such a project would become.

What follows is an attempt to showcase some of different ways designers incorporate books into their cover designs. Along side covers from the past five years, I’ve included some earlier examples from Joe’s post, and this post about ‘meta-covers’ from HTML Giant. Many of the images of the older titles are small (and some are just not very good), but where I have been able to source a larger image, I’ve included it at full (or close to full) size. I’m indebted to the Book Cover Archive, which is still an invaluable resources after all this time, Ferran Lopez‘s (also mothballed) Jacket Museum, and all the designers and book folk who sent me cover images, and helped me in numerous other ways. Thank you. This isn’t comprehensive survey but, to be honest, I had to stop somewhere…

Front and Center

Seven Hundred Penguins; design David Pearson / illustration Clare Skeats (Penguin Sept 2007)

Cover by Peter Mendelsund; design by Peter Mendelsund (powerHouse Books August 2014)

Kapitalismus und Hautkrankheiten by Jasmin Ramadan; design by Books We Made (Klett-Cotta Verlag April 2014)

The Knowledge
The Knowledge by Lewis Dartnell; design by Kris Potter (Penguin April 2014)
Priceless by William Poundstone; design by Jennifer Carrow (Hill & Wang January 2010)

Publish Your Photography Book by Darius D. Himes & Mary Virginia Swanson; design by David Chickey & Masumi Shibata (Princeton Architectural Press March 2011)

The Yarn Whisperer by Clara Parkes; design by John Gall (Abrams September 2013)

Cut, Torn, Ripped or Otherwise Defaced or Damaged

The Arsonist by Sue Miller; design by Greg Heinimann (Bloomsbury June 2014)

Best New Poets 2013, guest editor Brenda Shaughnessy; design by Atomicdust (Meridian January 2014)

Christine Falls by Benjamin Black; series design by Keith Hayes (Picador January 2008)

Half World by Scott O’Connor; design by Christopher Lin (Simon & Schuster February 2014)

Heaven is Small by Emily Schultz; design by Ingrid Paulson (House of Anansi )

(And if your not Canadian, you may not know that this is a riff on Ingrid’s design for the hardcover of Heaven is Small, featured in this list.)

The Keep by Jennifer Egan; design by John Gall (Knopf August 2006)

The Last Winter of Dani Lancing by P. D. Viner; design by Oliver Munday (Crown October 2013)

Mess; series art and design by Keri Smith (Penguin September 2010)

The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson; design by Matt Dorfman (Riverhead December 2011)

Religion for Atheists by Alain de Botton; design by Matt Dorfman (Pantheon June 2012)

(This is what the cover looks like under the jacket if you’re curious)

Salinger by David Shields and Shane Salerno; design by Christopher Lin (Simon & Schuster September 2013)

What Makes This Book So Great by Jo Walton; design by Jamie Stafford-Hill (Tor January 2014)

Three-Quarters, or a Bit on the Side

 The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde; cover art by Thomas Allen, series design by Jaya Miceli (Penguin 2011)

And those of you with a good memory will remember Chip Kidd used also art by Thomas Allen for a series of James Ellroy titles publisher by Vintage in the US:

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury; design by Matt Owen (Simon & Schuster January 2012)

Fiction Ruined My Family by Jeanne Darst; design by Alex Merto (Riverhead September 2011)

The Most Dangerous Book by Kevin Birmingham; adapted from the US cover with additional design by Jessie Price (Head of Zeus June 2014)

Marcel Proust’s Search for Lost Time by Patrick Alexander; design by Jamie Keenan (Vintage March 2010)

ECW-Real Made Up 2007
The Real Made Up by Stephen Brockwell; design by David A. Gee (ECW October 2007)

Stoner (paperback) Stoner by John Williams; design by Julia Connolly (Vintage July 2012)

9780802122148 An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine; design by Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich (Grove April 2014)

And while it’s not an actual book, let’s give Tom Davie of studiotwentysix2 a round of applause for his famous novel redesign print (which you can buy here).

Open Books and Page Turners

Book Was There by Andrew Piper; design by Andrea Guinn (University of Chicago Press November 2012)

Erotic Poems by E. E. Cummings; design by Gabriele Wilson (Liveright February 2010)

How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti; design by Rebecca Seltzer (Henry Holt & Co. June 2012)

A Journey with Two Maps by Eavan Boland; design by Chin-Yee Lai (W. W. Norton October 2011)

John Dies at the End by David Wong; design by Rob Grom (Thomas Dunne October 2009)

A Life in Books by Warren Lehrer; cover art by Warren Lehrer in collaboration with Jonathan Rosen (Goff Books October 2013)

The Medium is the Massage by Marshall McLuhan & Quentin Fiore; design by Yes Studio (Penguin September 2008)

A Most Dangerous Book by Christopher B. Krebs; design by Mark Melnick (W. W. Norton June 2011)

The Novel: A Biography by Michael Schmidt; design by Graciela Galup (Belknap Press April 2014)

Philology by James Turner; design by Kara Davison / Faceout Studio (Princeton University Press, May 2014)

The Pox and the Covenant by Tony Wilson; design by Jason Gabbert (Sourcebooks April 2010)


What to Look For in Winter 
by Candia McWilliam; design by Richard Ljoenes (Harper March 2012)

Where I'm Reading From (1)
Where I’m Reading From by Tim Parks; design by James Paul Jones (Harvill Secker November 2014)

The World by Bill Gaston; design by Kathleen Lynch / Black Kat Design (Penguin August 2013)

Writers Between the Covers by Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon; design by Lucy Kim (Plume October 2013)

Shelves, Sides, Spines, and Stacks

Penguin by Design by Phil Baines; design by David Pearson (Penguin May 2005)

Wormholes by John Fowles; design by Carin Goldberg (Little, Brown & Co. 1997)

Bad Teeth by Dustin Long; design by Rex Bonomelli (New Harvest May 2014)

The Broadview Introduction to Literature; series design by Michel Vrana (Broadview August 2013)


First Novel - Nicholas Royle
First Novel by Nicholas Royle; design by Suzanne Dean (Jonathan Cape February 2014)

How To Be A Heroine by Samantha Ellis; designed by James Paul Jones (Chatto & Windus January 2014)

How to Read Literature by Terry Eagleton; design uncredited1 (Yale University Press Jun 2013)

The Junior Officers’ Reading Club by Patrick Hennessey; design by David Wardle (Penguin June 2009)

Ajax Penumbra 1969 by Robin Sloan; design by Irene Pineda (Atlantic Books June 2014)

The Rise & Fall of the Great Powers by Tom Rachman; design by Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich (Dial June 2014)

Stoner (hardback)
Stoner by John Williams; design by Julia Connolly (Vintage November 2013)

Vagina by Emma L. E. Rees; design by Alice Marwick (Bloomsbury August 2013)

Why I Read by Wendy Lesser; design by Rodrigo Corral (Farrar, Straus & Giroux (January 2014)

The Year of Henry James by David Lodge; design by Nathan Burton (Vintage May 2014)

The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller; design by Jo Walker (Fourth Estate May 2014)

And then there’s this…


You Are Not a Gadget by Jaron Lanier; design by Olly Moss (Penguin January 2010)

July 15, 2014
by Dan

Book Posters by Gunter Rambow


If you follow me at all on Twitter, you’ll know that I’m working on a post about meta-covers, or book covers with books on them. It’s proving to be a much more difficult task than I first imagined, and it’s taking a very long time to pull it all together. It is, finally, almost done, and I hope it will be on the blog in the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, however, I came across these remarkable book posters by German designer Gunter Rambow for S. Fischer Verlag from the 1970s while compiling images for the post, and I thought I would share them now while you wait.



1979_02_2_SF2 1976_08

There is also a book, Gunter Rambow: Plakate / Posters, that collects Rambow’s posters from 1962 to 2007 when the Museum fur Angewandte Kunst Frankfurt mounted a major exhibition to his work.

July 10, 2014
by Dan

Hello, I Am Erik

Next month, the fine folks at Gestalten are publishing Hello, I Am Erik,  a ‘visual biography’ of typographer and designer Erik Spiekermann. In this new interview with GestaltenTV, Spiekermann talks about his 30 year career, and how working with blocks of movable type is different from designing on a screen:


July 9, 2014
by Dan

Book Covers of Note July 2014

As well posting great cover designs for books released in July, I’ve taken this month’s round-up as an opportunity to catch up on a few I missed earlier this year. Enjoy!

Adam by Ariel Schrag; design by Christopher Moisan (Mariner June 2014)

American Blonde by Jennifer Niven; design by Sara Wood (Plume July 2014)

The Arsonist by Sue Miller; design by Gabriele Wilson (Knopf June 2014)

California by Edan Lepucki; design Julianna Lee (Little Brown & Co. July 2014)

Cartwheel by Jennifer Dubois; design Eileen Carey / photograph by Kniel Synnatzschke (Random House May 2014)

Cubed by Nikil Saval; design by Oliver Munday (Doubleday April 2014)

Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson; design by Allison Saltzman, cover art Bryan Nash Gill (Ecco June 2014)

Friendship by Emily Gould; design by Jennifer Carrow (FSG July 2014)

Gottland: Mostly True Stories from Half of Czechoslovakia by Mariusz Szczygiel; design by Christopher King (Melville House May 2014)

How To Be Danish by Patrick Kingsley; design by Andrew Smith (Atria February 2014)

A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain by Adrianne Harun; design by Kristen Haff (Penguin February 2014)

The Martian by Andy Weir; design by Eric White (Crown February 2014)

Nobody is Ever Missing by Catherine Lacey; design by Charlotte Strick; illustration by Patrick Leger (FSG Originals, July 2014)

No Country by Kalyan Ray; design by Christopher Lin (Simon & Schuster June 2014)

My Fellow Skin

My Fellow Skin / Shutterspeed / Marcel by Erwin Mortier; design by David Pearson (Pushkin Press July 2014)

night film
Night Film by Marisha Pessl; design by Shasti O’Leary Soudant (Random House July 2014)

Out of Time by Lynne Segal; design by David A. Gee (Verso July 2014)

Panic in a Suitcase by Yelena Akhtiorskaya; design by Helen YentusPhotograph by Emine Ziyatdinova (Riverhead July 2014)


The String Diaries by Stephen Lloyd Jones; design by Keith Hayes (Mulholland Books July 2014)

The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons by Sam Kean; design by Will Staehle (Little, Brown & Co. May 2014)

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