Julie Phillips long profile of author Ursula K. Le Guin for The New Yorker is wonderful:
Starting in the nineteen-eighties, [Le Guin] published some of her most accomplished work—fiction that was realist, magic realist, postmodernist, and sui generis. She wrote the Borgesian feminist parable “She Unnames Them,” and in 1985 an experimental tour de force of a novel, “Always Coming Home.” She produced “Sur,” the epic tale of an all-female Antarctic exploring party that may be her greatest and funniest feminist statement. Her short stories began appearing in The New Yorker, where her editor, Charles McGrath, saw in her an ability to “transform genre fiction into something higher.”
In fact, it was the mainstream that ended up transformed. By breaking down the walls of genre, Le Guin handed new tools to twenty-first-century writers working in what Chabon calls the “borderlands,” the place where the fantastic enters literature. A group of writers as unlike as Chabon, Molly Gloss, Kelly Link, Karen Joy Fowler, Junot Díaz, Jonathan Lethem, Victor LaValle, Zadie Smith, and David Mitchell began to explore what’s possible when they combine elements of realism and fantasy. The fantasy and science-fiction scholar Brian Attebery has noted that “every writer I know who talks about Ursula talks about a sense of having been invited or empowered to do something.” Given that many of Le Guin’s protagonists have dark skin, the science-fiction writer N. K. Jemisin speaks of the importance to her and others of encountering in fantasy someone who looked like them. Karen Joy Fowler, a friend of Le Guin’s whose novel “We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves” questions the nature of the human-animal bond, says that Le Guin offered her alternatives to realism by bringing the fantastic out of its “underdog position.” For writers, she says, Le Guin “makes you think many things are possible that you maybe didn’t think were possible.”
The New York Times on the small independent bookstores making the most of social media and online sales:
Undoubtedly, the bookselling industry is still digging out of a deep trough. Sales of physical books in physical stores were just $11 billion in 2015, compared with $17 billion in 2007.
But owners like Mr. Makin are finding ways to gain customer loyalty with the aid of technology. He knew he could not compete with Amazon on price, but he believed that online buyers would flock to Brilliant Books if they experienced the same customer service that shoppers in his physical store do.
“I say, ‘We are your long-distance local bookstore,’” Mr. Makin said.
He began offering free shipping anywhere in the United States and hired a full-time social media manager, who promotes the store and has used Twitter and Facebook to talk to readers who would never find themselves near Traverse City.
One of his most successful ways of getting repeat business is his store’s version of a book-of-the-month program, which makes personalized recommendations for each of its nearly 2,000 subscribers every 30 days. Rather than use an online form to track preferences, Brilliant sends each new subscriber a customer card to fill out by hand and mail back.
Employees then scan the card into the system so that when it is book-selection time, they can see what the customers said they liked and how they said it.
“How we might write something might show an entirely different taste in books,” Mr. Malkin said. “People scribble things out. They draw arrows. We get a feel for who they are.”
I was sad to hear that designer Elaine Lustig Cohen had died aged 89 last week. She will forever be associated with her more famous husband Alvin Lustig, but she was a remarkable designer in her own right and her influence, as Steven Heller notes at Design Observer, extended far beyond her studio:
Elaine’s professional standing far outlasted her years of practice because beyond being a pioneer, she was also the benefactor in so many ways for graphic design history, and an advocate for so many other historians, practitioners—and especially women. It is this enduring integrity and generosity that ultimately defined her highly treasured life.
Following Alvin Lustig’s death, Elaine specialized for some time in designing book covers and jackets, initially following her late husband’s aesthetic, until finding her own style and vision. For over a decade she earned commissions from museums, architects, and book publishers—including Noonday Press, whose publisher, Arthur Cohen, would become her second husband. Her own studio closed in 1967, although Elaine continued to design catalog covers for Ex Libris (the antiquarian bookstore she and Cohen ran together) focusing on avant-garde modernist books and documents. She turned instead to making art—inspired in part, by Constructivism, Dada, and the Bauhaus—and continued to do so until the end of her life.
In a profile of the designer forEye magazine in 1995, Ellen Lupton noted what made ELC’s book covers so distinctive…
In her covers for Meridian Books and New Directions, designed from 1955 through 1961, Elaine Lustig Cohen used abstract structural elements, expressive typography, and conceptual photographs to interpret the books’ contents. Working at a time when most book covers employed literal pictorial illustrations, Cohen visualized titles in contemporary literature and philosophy through a rich variety of approaches, from stark abstractions and concept-driven solutions to obtuse evocations that bring to mind the recent work of Chip Kidd and Barbara de Wild for Knopf.
Elaine Lustig Cohen’s cover for the journal ‘The Noble Savage’ 4 (1960) features a time-worn classical statue festooned with a typographic moustache and blasted with a star-burst pull-out quote from Darwin. For Yvor Winter‘s ‘On Modern Poets’ (1959), Cohen photographed a loose arrangement of plastic letters, while she used a field of pebbles to obliquely represent ‘The Varieties of History’ (1957). If such solutions are suggestively poetic, Cohen could also be brilliantly blunt, as in her choice of oversized, cello-wrapped bonbons for Tennessee Williams’s ‘Hard Candy’ (1959).
She designed museum catalogs and furniture. As a book-cover designer, she followed in Mr. Lustig’s precisionist footsteps but eventually established her own, more free-form style.
“I tried to reflect the spirit of the books,” she said in a video made by AIGA, the graphic arts organization, when she was awarded its medal in 2012.
Her jacket for “Yvor Winters On Modern Poets” looked as if plastic letters had been placed on a tabletop, then jostled by a passing child. A book about St. Augustine featured his name twice, as the arms of a cross. The jacket for Tennessee Williams’s short-story collection “Hard Candy” showed extreme close-ups of cellophane-wrapped sweets, seeming to fall through the air.
You can see a selection of ELC’s book covers on her website, and the video referenced above is here:
A new Penguin Modern Classic edition of Mortal Engines by Polish science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem is available in the UK this week. Art directed by Jim Stoddart, this is the third of Lem’s books in the Penguin Modern Classics series featuring cover art by illustrator and designer by Haley Warnham.
You can read more about Warnham’s collages in an interview with illustrator on AIGA’s Eye on Design blog.
Designers & Books, in collaboration with the Center for Italian Modern Art in New York and the Mart, the Museum of modern and contemporary art of Trento and Rovereto, Italy, is launching a Kickstarter campaign on October 18 to publish a new facsimile edition of Depero Futurista, the 1927 monograph of Italian Futurist Fortunato Depero. Famously bound by two industrial aluminum bolts, “The Bolted Book” is full of typographic experimentation and widely recognized as a masterpiece of avant-garde book-making.
At the project’s website you can see each of the book’s (amazing) 240 pages in detail, read translations from the original Italian and annotations of selected texts, and learn more about Depero’s life and work.
I’m a little late to work of Welsh novelist Cynan Jones, but I recently finished reading his award-winning 2014 novel The Dig, and it’s not hard to see what all the fuss is about. The writing is beautifully spare and intimate, and the story is devastating.1
The stark, illustrated cover of The Dig and Jones’s earlier books, recently republished by Granta, also caught my eye. The striking designs are, it turns out, by the brilliant Australian designer Jenny Grigg, which seems obvious once you know. Her previous covers for Peter Carey and Ernest Hemingway have similarly bold simplicity and tone.
Grigg has also designed the cover of Jones’s new novel, The Cove, which will be published by Granta in November.
The Dig by Cynan Jones; design Jenny Grigg
Everything I Found on the Beach by Cynan Jones; design Jenny Grigg