Tom Gauld for New Scientist.
January 13, 2017
January 13, 2017
Tom Gauld for New Scientist.
January 12, 2017
A decade after its first release, Vulture looks back at the terrifying new relevance of Alfonso Cuarón’s 2006 film (based loosely on a novel by P. D. James), Children of Men:
Children of Men is having a remarkable resurgence — not just because of its tenth anniversary but because of its unsettling relevance at the conclusion of this annus horribilis. There have been glowing reappraisals on grounds both sociopolitical (Children of Men is “obviously something that should be on people’s minds after Brexit and after the rise of Donald Trump,” political scientist Francis Fukuyama declared in September) and artistic (“Children of Men, like no other film this century, and perhaps no other movie ever, solves the meaning of life,” wrote Vanity Fair columnist Richard Lawson in August). It’s getting the kind of online attention it sorely lacked ten years ago, generating recent headlines like “The Syrian Refugee Crisis Is Our Children of Men Moment” and “Are We Living in the Dawning of Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men?” As critic David Ehrlich put it in November, “Children of Men may be set in 2027,” but in 2016, “it suddenly became clear that its time had come.”
Cuarón, however, is not feeling like taking an overdue victory lap. Curled over a table in an upscale Mexico City restaurant recently, the 55-year-old director gets a little irritated when I laud the film’s imaginative prescience. “This thing was not imagination,” he says, jabbing his index finger into the tablecloth. By Cuarón’s estimation, anyone surprised at the accuracy of his movie’s predictions was either uninformed or willfully ignorant about the way the world already was by 2006. “People were talking about those things, just not in the mainstream!” he says. He was reading about refugees, know-nothing reactionaries, and eerie disruptions in biological processes during the early ’00s. If Children of Men can be said to have a message, Cuarón encapsulates it: “What’s really relevant now,” he tells me, “is to stop being complacent.”
January 12, 2017
At the New York Review of Books, American architecture critic Martin Filler casts a critical eye over a slew of new books on Brutalist architecture:
In addition to its echoes of art brut—Jean Dubuffet’s name for outsider art—New Brutalism was also an oblique riposte to New Humanism, a set of beliefs inspired by Geoffrey Scott’s hugely influential book ‘The Architecture of Humanism’ (1914). But Scott’s call for a return to Arts and Crafts design principles was scorned as escapist nostalgia by many young midcentury modernists. Among them was the period’s foremost British architecture critic, Reyner Banham, who with his scant empathy for the Arts and Crafts Movement’s focus on social reform issues belittlingly described New Humanism as “brickwork, segmental arches, pitched roofs, small windows (or small panes at any rate)—picturesque detailing without picturesque planning. It was, in fact, the so-called ‘William Morris Revival,’ now happily defunct….”
Yet it was not a utopian nineteenth-century dreamland that Brutalism countered as much as the thin, commercialized version of the International Style that after World War II gained ascendance through economic expediency. Brutalism’s striking departure from the steel-skeleton-and-glass-skin conformity of this routine, profit-oriented modernism was defined by its contrary emphasis on raw concrete (‘béton brut’ in French) in massive forms of imposing scale, idiosyncratic shape, rough finish, and uncompromising forcefulness, with a building’s inner workings and services—structure, plumbing, electricity, heating, and ventilation—unabashedly exposed. Brutalism soon became a worldwide craze, as this comparatively economical means of fabrication offered a cost-effective alternative to hand-riveted metal construction and allowed a broader array of sculptural effects than those obtainable with rectilinear frameworks.
One gets the sense Filler is no fan of Brutalism — at least its bleak British incarnation — so there is, inevitably, a reference to J.G. Ballard’s dystopian novel High-Rise:
This was never a style that attempted to convey warmth, comfort, intimacy, or other qualities we tend to associate with an enjoyable way of life, and thus it never won much love except from architectural specialists. Brutalism posited an unsentimental, not to say harsh, view of the modern world, and however heroic its unflinching embodiment of hard realities may have been, most people do not enjoy a daily diet of architectural anxiety and alienation, especially in northern climates under cloudy skies.
One of the first signs of rejection came in J.G. Ballard’s dystopian novel ‘High-Rise‘ (1975), which is set in a thinly fictionalized version of Ernő Goldfinger’s Trellick Tower in London’s North Kensington (1966–1972). (It is one of fifty-four sites highlighted in the ‘Brutalist London Map’, a useful guide to landmarks of the style in the British capital.) This thirty-one-story apartment block, commissioned by the Greater London Council, was based on Le Corbusier’s original Unité in Marseilles, although Goldfinger’s scheme is nearly twice as high as its prototype. Trellick Tower was well received by its first inhabitants, but as was also true of contemporaneous public housing projects in the United States, it quickly went to pot as funds for its upkeep and security were slashed, which resulted in a rapid descent into crime and squalor.
Neoconservative critics blamed the architecture, but as sociological studies have since proven, the claim that tall residential complexes breed social malaise is groundless. After Trellick Tower was privatized in the 1980s, when Margaret Thatcher got the British government out of the public housing business, the building’s owner-residents increased protection from intruders, paid for long-delayed repairs, and it is now a highly desirable property rightly appreciated for its design quality.
If anyone can point me to a review of these books by someone a little more sympathetic to Brutalism, I’d be much obliged.
January 6, 2017
My first post of 2017 includes some cracking new book covers fresh this month, and a few handsome stragglers from the end of 2016… Happy New Year!
Novels, Tales, Journeys The Complete Prose of Alexander Pushkin; design by Oliver Munday (Knopf / November 2016)
December 13, 2016
When it comes to choosing the year’s best book covers, it seems that everyone is at it these days…
“These covers are challenging without being impenetrable and playful without being precious — none of which is an easy task for a designer. If good design might lure us into an experience that makes us smarter, then we’ve hit the jackpot when the book allows us to spend time within the head space of a stranger.”
I always look forward to Matt Dorfmann’s selections for the New York Times Book Review. Matt is the NYTBR‘s art director and a cover designer in his own right so he knows what he’s talking about, and his choices are always interesting. If I am honest, I think this is the list the designers (American designers at least) really pay attention to. And it’s worth noting that half of Matt’s choices this year were designed by women.
Slate’s list of Best Book Jackets of 2016 includes notes from the designers about each cover.
Jarry Lee chose 32 “of the most beautiful book covers of 2016” for BuzzFeed.
And last but not least, Paste’s selections includes “a few novelette and short story covers.“
December 13, 2016
Some of the most interesting and innovative book covers in the last few years have been designed as part of a series — designers and art directors seem to have more leeway with backlist titles (especially so if the author is no longer in the picture!) — and 2016 was no exception. Here are some of my favourite series designs from past year…
The Angelus Trilogy by John Steele; designed by Jason Booher (Blue Rider Press / 2016)
Inspector Littlejohn Mysteries by George Bellairs; design Stuart Bache (IPSO Books / 2016)
The Birds and the Bees; cover art by Timorous Beasties (Vintage / 2016)
Read more about the series on the Creative Review blog.
Vintage Eliot; cover art by Zeva Oelbaum (Vintage /2016)
Read more about the series on CMYK, Vintage book design tumblr.
Read more about the design of the series at The Bookseller.
Read more about the books and the design on the Gollancz blog.
Patrick Hamilton reissues; design by Jack Smyth (Abacus 2016- 2017)
Sonya Harnett reissues; design by Marina Messiha; cover art by Maxim Shkret (Penguin Teen Australia / 2016)
New Directions Roger Lewinter; design by Erik Carter (New Directions / 2016)
Macmillan Classics; design by Neil Lang (Macmillan India / 2016)
This is just a fraction of the covers designed by Neil and he is working on even more to complete the series.
Pelican Shakespeare; design by Manuja Waldia (Penguin US / 2016)
See more of the series at Design Week.
Penguin Galaxy series; design by Alex Trochut (Penguin /2016)
Read more about Jeffrey Alan Love’s work on the series on Tor.com.
New Directions W.G. Sebald; design by Peter Mendelsund (New Directions / 2016)
December 7, 2016
Hot on the heels of my annual covers post, here is my look back at the year’s young adult book covers. As in previous years, this list is a somewhat crowd-sourced affair, so I must thank all the designers and Twitter-folk who made suggestions and helped in various others ways. I’ve tried my best to credit the designs as fully as possible, but please let me know if there are any errors or omissions.
Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Burdago; cover art by Thomas Walker and John Bartlett; design Thomas Walker and Richard Deas (Henry Holt / September 2016)
A Darkly Beating Heart by Lindsay Smith; design Elizabeth H. Clark (Roaring Brook / October 2016)
A Fierce and Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry; design by Allison Colpoys (Algonquin / April 2016)
The Great American Whatever by Tim Federle; design by Krista Vossen (Simon & Schuster / March 2016)
Last Seen Leaving by Caleb Roehrig; design by Rich Deas (Feiwel & Friends / October 2016)
This really needs to be seen in person for the fancy acetate wrap as well the double covers:
November 27, 2016
It is that wonderful/awful time of year. Wonderful because we get to look back at some of the amazing work people have done over the past 12 months. Awful because lists are arbitrary and someone always misses out.
I’m not going to say these are the ‘best’ covers of year. I don’t think it’s fair, and I don’t feel qualified to make that kind of judgement. This post is more an attempt to reflect the year in covers as I saw it — the covers I liked; the covers I thought were well done; the covers I thought were interesting; the covers that I thought were a bit different.
Like last year, I’ve clustered my selections around designers. Not only does this allow me to post more covers, it means I can show a greater diversity of work.
I am truly sorry to all the hardworking and talented designers (and art directors) whose work I have overlooked this year. I do my best. It is not enough. Bring on 2017.
Also designed by Jenny Grigg:
Also designed by Anna Morrison:
The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall; design by Alysia Shewchuck (House of Anansi / August 2016)
A Burglar’s Guide to the City by Geoff Manaugh; design by Nayon Cho (Farrar, Straus & Giroux / April 2016)
Also designed by Paul Sahre:
Also designed by Na Kim:
Also designed by Jaya Miceli
Also designed by Rafi Romaya:
Also designed by Catherine Casalino:
Also designed by Phil Pascuzzo:
Also designed by David Pearson:
The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry; design Peter Dyer (Serpent’s Tail / June 2016)
Also designed by Zoe Norvell:
Also designed by Gray318:
Also designed by Robin Bilardello:
Also designed by James Paul Jones:
Also designed by Lauren Harms:
Also designed by Chris Ferrante:
Also designed by Peter Mendelsund:
Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett; design by Keith Hayes (Little, Brown & Co. / May 2016)
Also designed by Keith Hayes: