The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

June 29, 2017
by Dan

Typographic Terminology A to Z

A nice animated guide to typographic terminology:

(via Quipsologies)

June 28, 2017
by Dan

ABDA Awards Interview

I talked to the Australian Book Design Association about book cover design and judging this year’s ABDA Awards:

I think we’re seeing a more global approach to covers as a result of publishers deciding to hold on to the international rights for their books, and designers and publishers (not to mention authors and readers!) being more exposed to covers from other markets through the internet and international travel. But it is still surprising how different covers from different countries can be. The contrast between British and American covers can still be quite striking.

In Canada, where I live, we are geographically very close to the US, and we get books from both the US and the UK, so domestic covers tend to be a bit of a hybrid, with a handful of designers and publishers trying to do something unique. I get the sense that the situation in Australia is similar, although there may be more willingness to experiment with covers than in Canadian publishing, which can be quite conservative when it comes to book design.

June 27, 2017
by Dan

SPINE Interview with Suzanne Dean

Designer Holly Dunn talks to Suzanne Dean, Creative Director at Vintage Books and one of the UK’s leading cover designers, for SPINE Magazine:

June 16, 2017
by Dan

Book Covers of Note June 2017

Hey June, don’t make it bad, take a sad book and make its cover…

The Angry Chef by Anthony Warner; design by Steven Leard (Oneworld / June 2017)

The Answers by Catherine Lacey; design by Gray318 (Granta / June 2017)

Columbia Road by Linda Wilkinson; design by Clare Skeats (September Publishing / June 2017)

The Courage of Hopelessness by Slavoj Zizek; design by Richard Green (Allen Lane / May 2017)

Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong; design by Matt Johnson (Scribner UK / June 2017)

The Idiot by Elif Batuman; design by Suzanne Dean; illustration by Aino-Maija Metsola (Jonathan Cape / June 2017)

The colourful UK cover is an interesting contrast with the cover of the US edition, designed by Oliver Munday for Penguin:

The Illustrious House of Ramires by Eça de Queirós; design by Joan Wong (New Directions  / June 2017)

The Lure of Greatness by Anthony Barnett; design by Mark Ecob (Unbound / June 2017)

Marriage of a Thousand Lies by S J Sindu; design by Kimberly Glyder (Soho Press / June 2017)

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan; design by Tyler Comrie (Scribner / June 2017)

A welcome addition to the books on book covers genre

My Soul Looks Back by Jessica B. Harris; design by Lauren Peters Collaer (Simon & Schuster / June 2017)

The Never King by James Abbott; design by Neil Lang (Tor / May 2017)

Neil’s embossed metallic silver cover for Selfie by Will Storr (Picador / June 2017) is also kind of great (and hilarious), but impossible to show well online:

Pages for Her and Pages for You by Sylvia Brownrigg; design by Justine Anweiler (Picador / June 2017)

The Song and the Silence by Yvetter Johnson; design by Jonathan Sainsbury (Atria / May 2017)

Stephen Florida by Gabe Habash; design by Karl Engebretson; illustration George Boorujy (Coffee House Press / June 2017)

White Fur by Jardine Libarie; design by Elena Giavaldi (Hogarth / May 2017)

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge; design by Greg Heinimann (Bloomsbury / June 2017)

X by Chuck Klosterman; design by Rachel Willey (Blue Rider Press / May 2017)

June 13, 2017
by Dan

The Appointment

Tom Gauld takes a look at editing process for The Guardian

Tom’s recent comic ‘Editor’s Letter’ for the New York Times Magazine‘s ‘New York Stories‘ comic strip issue is also great: 

Tom illustrated a story by Andy Newman called View Finder, and provided other incidental illustrations and lettering for the magazine, but the cover was illustrated by Bill Bragg who also, you may remember, illustrated the cover of Welcome to Lagos by Chibundu Onuzo, published by Faber earlier this year.  

You can read more about the issue at Creative Review and It’s Nice That.

May 29, 2017
by Dan

Australian Book Design Awards Winners 2017

Anonymous Designer

Congratulations to all the winners of the 2017 Australian Book Design Awards, which were announced on Friday in Sydney. I was honoured to be the international judge this year (even if some of my favourite covers didn’t win!).  

Allison Colpoys

May 25, 2017
by Dan

Gerhard Steidl is Making Books an Art Form

Photograph by Mark Peckmezian for The New Yorker

Rebecca Mead’s long profile of publisher Gerhard Steidl for The New Yorker is a wonderful, fascinating read:

Each Steidl title is unique, printed with a bespoke combination of inks and papers. But to the informed eye, and the informed hand, a Steidl book is as distinctive as an Eggleston photograph. Unlike another German art publisher, Taschen—which is known for reproducing risqué images by the likes of Helmut Newton in enormous formats that would crush most coffee tables to splinters—Steidl produces books that invite holding and reading. Steidl dislikes the shiny paper that is often found in photography books, and prefers to use uncoated paper, even though it takes longer to dry and thus makes a printing cycle more expensive. He opts for understatement even with projects that would tempt other publishers to be ostentatious. “Exposed,” a collection of portraits of famous people by Bryan Adams, the rock star turned photographer, has no image on its cover. Bound in blue cloth, the book looks as if it might be found on a shelf in an academic library. Steidl wants his creations to satisfy all the senses. When he first opens a book, he holds it up close to his nose and smells it, like a sommelier assessing a glass of wine. High-quality papers and inks smell organic, he says, not chemical. To the uninitiated, a Steidl book smells rather like a just-opened box of children’s crayons.

I love this part about the attention to the detail:

Designing a book’s packaging is a process Steidl particularly relishes. “He wants to pick the cover, he wants to pick the endpapers,” [Robert] Polidori told me. “He treasures this limited one-on-one time with the artist. It’s almost a love act.” Sometimes Steidl indulges in a brightly colored ribbon for a bookmark, like statement socks worn with a formal suit. He pays attention to elements that barely register with most readers, such as the head and tail bands—colored silk placed where the pages attach to the spine. “It’s a tiny bit of fashion,” Steidl said. “With Karl [Lagerfeld], it is the buttons. With me, it is the head and tail bands.” For Gossage, he chose black bands and black endpaper, to contrast with the colored ink on the pages. The endpaper was made from cotton, and would cost thirty cents per book, as opposed to the seven cents it would cost if he used offset paper. “Using the cheaper one saves significant money for the shareholders,” he said. “But I am the only shareholder.”

May 16, 2017
by Dan

Poets with Cellphones

Stephen Collins for The Guardian

May 10, 2017
by Dan
1 Comment

Book Covers of Note May 2017

Everything is awful. Except for book covers…

Black Skins, White Masks by Frantz Fanon; design by David Pearson (Pluto Press / May 2017)

The Children of Jocasta by Natalie Haynes; design by Ami Smithson; illustration Petra Börner (Mantle / May 2017)

The Circus by Olivia Levez; design by Nathan Burton (Oneworld / May 2017)

Nathan’s cover for The Island by Olivia Levez was on my list of Notable YA Book Covers last year:

And also by the talented Mr. Burton…

The Doorposts of Your House and on Your Gate by Jacob Bacharach; design by Nathan Burton (Liveright / April 2017)

Feel Happier in Nine Seconds by Linda Besner; design by Scott Albrecht (Coach House Books / May 2017)

Fen by Daisy Johnson; design by Kimberly Glyder (Graywolf / May 2017)

The cover of the UK edition of Fen designed by Suzanne Dean was a book cover of note in June last year

Granta 139: Best of Young American Novelists 3; design by Daniela Silva; neon sign by Steve Earl / Kemp London (Granta / May 2017)

Hadriana In All My Dreams by René Depestre; design by Christian Fuenfhausen (Akashic Books / May 2017)

I’d Die for You and Other Lost Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald; design by Jack Smyth (Scribner UK / April 2017)

Ill Will by Dan Chaon; design by Christopher Lin (Ballantine Books / March 2017)

The Leavers by Lisa Ko; design by Elena Giavaldi (Algonquin / May 2017)

Lobbying for Change by Alberto Alemanno; design by Dan Mogford (Icon / May 2017)

Multi-coloured letters are a thing this month. See below… 

My Cat Yugoslavia by Pajtim Statovci; design by Oliver Munday (Pantheon / April 2017)

The Nothing by Hanif Kureishi; design by Jamie Keenan (Faber & Faber / May 2017)

Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood; design by Rachel Willey (Riverhead / May 2017)

The cover of the UK edition, designed by Richard Green, takes quite a different direction…

Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy; design by Aurora Parlagreco; illustration by Daniel Stolle (Balzer + Bray / May 2017)

The same designer-illustrator team were on my 2015 YA list for their cover for Julie Murphy’s previous book Dumplin’.

Rock n’ Radio by Ian Howarth; design by David Drummond (Vehicule Press / May 2017)

See! Multicoloured lettering is where it is at… 

This is Just My Face: Try Not to Stare by Gabourey Sidibe; design by Martha Kennedy; photography by GUZMAN (HMH / May 2017)

Toussaint Louverture by Charles Forsdick & Christian Høgsbjerg; design by Gray318 (Pluto Press / May 2017)

We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby; design by Joan Wong (Vintage / May 2017)

The Violence of Austerity edited by David Whyte and Vickie Cooper; design by James Paul Jones (Pluto Press / May 2017)

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon; design by Regina Flath (Simon Pulse / May 2017)

May 4, 2017
by Dan

The Rise of the Global Novel

At the New Republic, Siddhartha Deb, author of The Beautiful and the Damned, reviews The Global Novel: Writing the World in the 21st Century by Adam Kirsch:

Foreign writers might still be considered strange or different, and they might not be covered at all. But even the notoriously elitist, insular establishment of book reviewers in New York did not see their novels as completely out of place in a world rapidly being shaped by globalization. In an era of cheap air travel, digital communications, consumerism, worldwide urbanization, and the dominance of English—all overseen by the United States as the world’s single remaining imperial power—readers, editors, and critics found it easy to welcome works by Haruki Murakami or Orhan Pamuk and the snapshots of foreign life they reveal.

In fact, the literary critic Adam Kirsch argues in his new book, The Global Novel, these circumstances have given rise to an entirely new literary category. No longer located tightly within national boundaries, and often written by authors who move between cultures, the global novel takes fiction’s usual remit—the examination of human nature—and places it in new cosmopolitan settings. The scope and structures of these books may vary: “A global novel can be one that sees humanity on the level of the species,” Kirsch proposes, “so that its problems and prospects can only be dealt with on the scale of the whole planet; or it can start from the scale of a single neighborhood, showing how even the most constrained of lives are affected by worldwide movements.” Yet such narratives are unified in their concern for “contemporary global problems, including immigration, terrorism, environmental degradation, and sexual exploitation”…

…In the midst of xenophobic populism—the age of Brexit and Donald Trump—Kirsch counters that the global novel bears out Goethe’s belief that “poetry is the universal possession of mankind.” And the fact that readers have come to appreciate it shows, for him, the currency of liberal values “like tolerance of difference, mutual understanding, and free exchange of ideas.”

May 3, 2017
by Dan

Put Your Faith in Comics

At The New Yorker, Jia Tolentino profiles G. Willow Wilson, the writer behind Ms. Marvel, a superhero who is (in her current incarnation) a teenage Muslim from Jersey City:

The première of “Ms. Marvel” sold more copies digitally than it did in print—a company first. Marvel doesn’t release digital-sales numbers, but piecemeal statistics have shown female characters performing especially well in digital formats. Traditionally, comic books are purchased in single, floppy issues at dedicated brick-and-mortar shops, but these can be intimidating spaces for novices: when I walked into Forbidden Planet in Manhattan, I found myself wishing for the ability to act like I belonged. Some readers may simply opt to buy collected issues in paperbacks at regular bookstores or, increasingly, to download e-books. There are now, Wilson suggested, two audiences for comic books, and many people in the industry “are loath to recognize that these two audiences might want two very different things out of the same series. They don’t shop in the same places, they don’t socially overlap, and their tastes might not overlap.”

The relationship between this divided landscape and the most recent Presidential election is not lost on her. At the coffee shop, as a barista cleared our plates, we talked about how the stakes of every identity-politics debate feel heightened since November—and also about new alliances that seem to be forming in the election’s wake. Wilson spoke with some astonishment about the fact that she could include a gay secondary character in “Ms. Marvel”—the blond, popular Zoe—and still have mothers and daughters show up to her readings in hijabs. “It’s funny. Those right-wing bloggers who said my work was part of some socialist-Muslim-homosexual attack on American values, they really created the thing they feared. There wasn’t a socialist-Muslim-homosexual alliance before, but there sure as fuck is one now, and I love it.”

I don’t read a lot of comics from Marvel (or DC for that matter) these days, but Ms. Marvel is truly a joy. 

April 27, 2017
by Dan

The Prophet of Dystopia

art direction by Christopher Moisan; illustration by Patrik Svensson

I am terribly late to this, but Rachel Mead, author of My Life in Middlemarch, profiled Margaret Atwood for The New Yorker earlier this month. Atwood’s dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale has just been released as a TV series starring Elizabeth Moss:  

Despite the novel’s current air of timeliness, the contours of the dystopian future that Atwood imagined in the eighties do not map closely onto the present moment—although recent news images of asylum seekers fleeing across the U.S. border into Canada have a chilling resonance with the opening moments of the television series, which shows Moss, not yet enlisted as a Handmaid, attempting to escape from the U.S. to its northern neighbor, where democracy prevails. Still, the U.S. in 2017 does not show immediate signs of becoming Gilead, Atwood’s imagined theocratic American republic. President Trump is not an adherent of traditional family values; he is a serial divorcer. He is not known to be a man of religious faith; his Sundays are spent on the golf course.

What does feel familiar in “The Handmaid’s Tale” is the blunt misogyny of the society that Atwood portrays, and which Trump’s vocal repudiation of “political correctness” has loosed into common parlance today. Trump’s vilification of Hillary Clinton, Atwood believes, is more explicable when seen through the lens of the Puritan witch-hunts. “You can find Web sites that say Hillary was actually a Satanist with demonic powers,” she said. “It is so seventeenth-century that you can hardly believe it. It’s right out of the subconscious—just lying there, waiting to be applied to people.” The legacy of witch-hunting, and the sense of shame that it engendered, Atwood suggests, is an enduring American blight. “Only one of the judges ever apologized for the witch trials, and only one of the accusers ever apologized,” she said. Whenever tyranny is exercised, Atwood warns, it is wise to ask, “Cui bono?” Who profits by it? Even when those who survived the accusations levelled against them were later exonerated, only meagre reparations were made. “One of the keys to America is that your neighbor may be a Communist, a serial killer, or in league with satanic forces,” Atwood said. “You really don’t trust your fellow-citizens very much.”


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