Category Archives: Book Column

Be the Expert: in Book Covers

Week One of Nonfiction November was fun and is responsible for adding nine books to my wish list this holiday season. This week’s topic is being hosted by Leslie and is listed as “Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert” where we are supposed to highlight some books we’ve read (or want to read) around a topic.

So for Week Two I would like to offer up the following books which will help you to Become the Expert in Book Covers. Please notice I did not say Book Cover Design or the History of Book Covers or Book Cover Production Engineer, but simply book covers. Some of the stories behind a few famous titles and covers are amazing and humorous. Also, how do you know if a book cover nailed it? What works? What doesn’t? Why? Should the designer have tried something a little riskier?

Here are three books that I recommend reading if you are at all interested in book covers/book jackets and the thought process/discussions behind the winners and losers.

First up is Chip Kidd’s Book OneKidd is as close to a rock star as you get in the book design world (he was asked to play himself in a soap opera for crying out loud) and this book doesn’t disappoint. It’s very large, colorful and gorgeous. Plus, it’s filled with all kinds of tid-bits and insights into the publishing world as Kidd shares hate mail from readers who dislike his covers, letters from authors as they flip/flop on whether a concept will work and rough drafts that lay at the bottom of the trash can. Many iconic covers, from the past 20 years, appear in Book One as Kidd shares how they came to be. Including the Jurassic Park dinosaur logo, Donna Tartt’s covers and dust jackets for Haruki Murakami.

ChipKidd_BookOne_01 ChipKidd_BookOne_02 ChipKidd_BookOne_03 ChipKidd_BookOne_04 ChipKidd_BookOne_05

 

Another book worth reading is Wendell Minor’s Wendell Minor: Art for the Written Word. Minor has produced many iconic covers himself, but his are all painted and watercolor (as opposed to Kidd’s graphic designs). But this book does a great job sharing notes, letters and thoughts behind the composition of some of Minor’s more famous covers for authors like David McCullough and Pat Conroy.

Wendell_Minor_01 Wendell_Minor_02

I have to admit to feeling a little teacher-ish about this last one, but to appreciate all of today’s book covers and to see how all the rules are being broken (I mean we are trying to be experts this week, right?) – it helps to gain a little historical perspective. That’s why I’d recommend Alan Bartram’s Five Hundred Years of Book Design. Yes, it sounds dry and boring. But if you like words… if you like books… if you’ve ever considered buying  a throw pillow because it has words typed all over it, then you will appreciate this book. The book is an odd tall narrow shape and features page after page after page of wonderful photos of (mostly) type-only book pages from Roman-times to modern-times. Once you get a feel how type and text is best stacked and what works and what doesn’t you’ll really start to notice jackets at the bookstore when the author’s name is too big or the title is just too off-center.

500_years_of_book_design01 500_years_of_book_design02

Anyway, those are three books I’d recommend you check out if you’d like to become an Expert in Book Covers. I promise they are each filled with big colorful photos of books, words and dust jackets. Everything you need to get excited about book cover design and chat about them over a beer.

So catch up on all of the other bloggers posting this week for Nonfiction November over on Regular Rumination and by following the #nonficnov hashtag on Twitter.

A Life in Books – Super Cheap

Warren Lehrer’s A Life in Books came out last year. It’s 380 illustrated pages dripping with books and books-within-books, meta-short stories and this month they dropped the price to $6.99!!! I have no idea why. It’s usually $34.99, but be sure to check this one out if you like to read about books or know someone who does.

LifeInBooks_coverIt is an illustrated novel of a fella locked up in prison recounting his time as an upcoming author. This stroll down memory lane is accompanied by covers, back cover copy, reading samples, etc. of every book this fictional author ever did. Can you get a sense of the rabbit hole that is A Life in Books? Pretty fun. Here’s an interview with Lehrer if you want to get a better idea about what the book is about and why it’s been written/built the way it is. Here is the LibraryThing page as well.

Anyway, no affiliate link. I don’t get anything out of this other than saying “Holy heck, that’s a gorgeous colorful book-about-books on sale for $6.99″. Which is a pretty fun thing to say these days.

ALifeInBooks02 ALifeInBooks01

Moss Rock Festival

Today is the last day of the Moss Rock Festival here in Birmingham. It starts at 10 a.m. and wraps at 4 p.m. Yesterday was windy and chilly, but lots of fun. The festival has grown quite a bit in the past couple of years. I scouted it out and found a few booths with books. Check them out if you’re walking around today there are some pretty fun books to be had.

mossrock01

The Hoover Library – they have a great booth with two tables set up crammed with used books. Hardbacks are going for $2 and paperbacks for $.50.

Five Star Trails: Birminghamauthor Tom Spencer will be signing at the Fresh Air Family booth (blue tent, in the kids craft section on the green) today.This hiking guide is the newest outdoor book to the Birmingham area and is published by local publisher Menasha Ridge Press (disclosure: this is one of the imprints I work for). Spencer did all of the research and writing and it is so well done. Check it out!

Birmingham Home and Garden – the magazine folks were there and they had a large beautiful almost-coffee-table-sized book on home decorating. Pretty snazzy looking.

Birmingham Magazine – if you swing by you can get a free magazine, but they also had four books on the South. Mostly Southern photo and photo-essay. I asked and they seemed to be for sale only if you get a subscription, but stop by if you’re interested and see if you get a different answer.

Let me know if I missed anything as I plan on going back to the Moss Rock Festival again today. Hope you all can make it as well. If you can survive the parking madness, it’s really worth it.

mossrock02

mossrock03

The “Why” of a Book Choice

I agree with the saying “You are what you eat”, and I think it is even true to say “You are what you read”.  Or more accurately, “You will become what you read”.

You eat a banana – you are not going to become a banana. You read a book – it’s in your brain. The seed is there. It can grow or wither. It can consume your soul and invade your dreams. This holds true for fiction and non-fiction books. This is why I’ve always been curious as to “why” someone makes a particular book choice. Saying “I just want to escape” only goes so far. That works better for television than for books. Reading is a different beast from the creatures on television and movie screens.

bookmarks_magThis is why I let out a big ‘YES‘ when I opened my mailbox and read the new Bookmarks letter from Jon Phillips, the magazine’s Editor. Phillips wants to start a new feature in the magazine. A page full of chunks of text from readers everywhere explaining why they are reading the book they are currently reading. Phillips sees value in this even beyond sociological curiosity. He rightfully picks up on the response many of us get when ask others about books:

“I’m not reading anything right now.”

I’ve always let the conversation hop topics at that point. Phillips takes the next step (which I am going to start doing as well), which is to ask:

“Well why not? What’s in the way?”

Just imagine the insights you’ll be given into your friends’ worries or your co-workers’ stress. What a great way to pick up on where they think they are and how they think they’re doing. What a great way to learn from and (hopefully) take a first step in helping those around you.

Phillips is asking anyone who wants to share “what you’re reading now and why” to email him Jon [at] bookmarksmagazine.com. I plan on contributing, but I also plan on posing his questions to folks I bump into this week. So send in the “why” of your book choice to Jon and the Bookmarks magazine crew if you feel like it!