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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Nonfiction November – Week One

This month I am participating in a blog-centric Nonfiction November stream. It’s fun and I have already stumbled upon some new-to-me bloggers that I plan on keeping up with. Anyway… Week One was laid out by Kim over on her blog. So here it goes:

I have read ten non-fiction books so far in 2014, though I have another two in process. I really do enjoy nonfiction books. Get a good one and you’re hooked. It’s like deep diving into a super-compelling NPR story. The trouble is – it’s not always easy to find compelling nonfiction. The author and the book’s editor have to work really hard to take a book beyond simply offering a simple “hmpf, that’s kind of interesting” and “here is one factoid from history you didn’t know” prospect.

I have three favorite nonfiction reads so far this year:

nonficnov_glasscageThe book I’ve recommended most to folks is Nicholas Carr’s The Glass Cage. It was fascinating. My guess is if you are reading this post then you need to read The Glass Cage. It’s not too long and not hard to understand. But you will look at your computer, phone, car, TV and airplanes in a whole new light after reading this book. So much of our lives and work is automated these days. This shift happened so fast. What are the implications? Does anyone know? Just think about this – the same impulse/feeling you get when you misspell a word, because you know auto-correct will get it, is due to the same mental lull that has been attributed to airline crashes. You need to read this book.

nonficnov_everythingstoreAnother good read is Brad Stone’s The Everything Store. This is about the rise of both Jeff Bezos and Amazon. No matter what your opinion of Amazon, they are impacting the world around you in a major way. There is no better book on the Amazon industry than this one. Stone does a good job of balancing fear-mongering, the company’s relentless innovation and Bezo’s own story.  A very interesting read, even for folks not inclined to pick up a business book.

nonficnov_whatItalkaboutThe only other non-fiction book I gave five stars to this year was Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. What a great book. There’s nothing super-sexy about this book, but it’s so thoughtful and real. Parts of it read as if you are just plodding along, one foot in front of the other, having one of life’s best experiences. I’ve never read Murakami as I don’t think “magical realism” is my thing. But I know I am going to pick up one of his fiction books as this one was just so well written.

Kim also posed the question “What one topic have you not read enough of?” Two ways to read this question – what topic are you lacking in and which topic can you not get enough of. I want to learn more in the vein of Brooks’ The Social Animal and Duhigg’s The Power of Habit. I’m not sure what this top is called social science? social psychology? people as guinea pigs? Basically any book that discusses why we do what we do as a people is interesting. But the one thing I can’t get enough of is books – book culture, books as objects, publishing, history of books, writings, authors, books about books – that pretty much sums it up.

Nonfiction November is off to a great start and I am hoping to stumble on some new books to read in areas I haven’t considered before. I’m also logging new bloggers to follow, which is great. So that’s two wins right there. But, man, I underestimated the participation level of these folks! So much to keep up with this month.

Please do let me know, in the comments, if there is a nonfiction book you’ve read that left an impact. I might want to check it out myself.

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.


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.



Books, Publishing and Birmingham