When my Korean-artist friend visited recently, she was looking at book covers for inspiration. So, we went to the only place I know where she could check out books without some over-helpful person looking over her shoulder, asking her ‘how may I help you’ and then rushing off to search their online archives for a book we may have named. We went to Flora Fountain in South Mumbai, which has a long lane of roadside booksellers and fiddled through books to look at something which would stand out. I don’t really know if my friend found anything but I realised that the days of good book covers are, more or less, gone.
Picture this. A normal bookstore chain will stack books by genre or author. If you go to the mystery section, half of the books have the same cover – that of a man (or a man’s silhouette) walking on the street. Yes, that man is probably going to get killed soon… but couldn’t the designer think of some other aspect of the story to highlight? I mean if the highest point of the novel is the man’s walk through a dimly lit street, do we really need to read it then?
Perhaps one trend which makes me even more angry is the usa of movie or television series snaps as the cover for previously printed novels. This is true for most hit films and franchises – Sherlock Holmes, Life of Pi, Namesake, Jurassic Park etc. It’s a time tested method mainly because the non-readers (obviously if you are reading the book after watching the movie, that’s what you will be considered as by most people) are likely to connect with the movie more and get enticed to buy the book. It is sad though, because like I have mentioned in a previous post, movies most often will kill your imagination. Whereas the books will not only increase your vocabulary but also encourage you to think more. I can go on and on about the whole movies vs books debate, but that is not what this post is about. Right. So, where were we?
Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of books out there which still have good covers. And books which in spite of being turned into very successful movie franchises have managed to hold on to their artwork. Like, Harry Potter. The movies and the books are all equally (debatable) popular with this generation (again, debatable). But the books are usually adorned with covers by brilliant illustrators. Bloomsbury (the Brit publisher of the books) has had various editions of the books, a children’s and an adult’s one in specific. While the children’s edition showed an event from the book, the adult edition would show a person or place important in the novel. Meanwhile, in USA Scholastic had Mary GrandPré and Kazu Kibuishi designing the covers. Kibuishi’s covers make for a brilliant box set as well, with the spines lining up to make a picture of Hogwarts castle. The box set includes the 7 Harry Potter books and the three related novels, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Quidditch through the Ages and Tales from Beedle the Bard. (You can read more about that here).
In recent days, the covers I have liked have been The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, the 44 Scotland Street series by Alexander McCall Smith, some of the Lolita book covers, an old version of A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, All my Friends are Dead by Monsen and John, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Pecular Children by Ransom Riggs, Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything is Illuminated and Where’d you go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple. The first is peculiarly beautiful, aesthetic even, with its relief work of a classic romance, or the other version of a circus doll. All my friends are dead is adorable, with the dino looking sad, shocked and totally bewildered about the fate of his friends. The two versions of Ozeki’s book are bright and catches the eye while any book by McCall Smith has a light, bright, almost French feel to it. Lolita covers have led to debates and blog posts and the Clockwork Orange cover that I like has exactly the most important (and disturbing scene of the movie) as a cover. The other three are just attractive, in some way or the other. Maybe some of you will agree, and some of you, won’t. There is also the new Penguin covers which I like and this cheesy lil’ book called Tamil Pulp Fiction.
By the way, you can always check out some very nice blogs which deal only with book covers. I’m sure you will find some nice examples there as well.