Monday musings on Australian literature: Judging a book by its cover
“Don’t judge a book by its cover” is one of those mantras that we’ve all heard. It’s a pretty valid one too – literally and metaphorically – but that doesn’t mean that we can’t enjoy looking at bookcovers and handling beautifully produced books, does it? At least that’s how I see it as a reader. For sellers, it’s a different matter. For them, there is everything to be gained and nothing to be lost in having beautiful looking and feeling books on their shelves. They know that even a nerdy reader like me will be attracted by a gorgeously produced book, will want to pick it up and fondle it and, if content matches the form, will then go ahead and buy it.
I am not going to go into the art and economics of book design here, but there is some new thinking afoot with the rise of the ebook. Publishers are starting to think again about form (and content, of course!). If you are interested in the topic, read this Guardian article by Kathryn Hughes.
Monday Musings though is about Australian literature and so I’m just going to talk about a few Australian book designers. This will be completely serendipitous because, while I do love to handle a beautiful book, I’m one of those readers who tends to be oblivious to the hard work of those behind its production. So, here goes, with apologies to all those wonderful designers I’ve overlooked.
I discovered Gorissen only recently through the books he has designed for Affirm Press. I’ve reviewed three books in the Long Story Short Series and Michael Sala’s The last thread, all of which were designed by Gorissen. On his blog he has announced that he received a Bronze award in New York’s 3×3 Illustration Annual for the Long Story Short series and that the last three books in this series – the three I reviewed - won Gold in the Illustrators Australia Awards for 2012. What can I say? These are beautiful books – just a little smaller than the usual paperback which makes them nice to hold and tote around, and with intriguing cover designs that make you think.
On his blog Dean says this about designing his cover for The last thread:
It’s an inspiring often disturbing book and its challenge to me was to try and bring out the qualities of loneliness, sorrow, hope and ultimate strength of Michael’s story
Sandy Cull (gogoGinkgo)
One of my favourite recent(ish) paperbacks – to read and hold – is Marion Halligan‘s Valley of Grace. It’s one of those books that falls open beautifully, making it easy to read. Its font type and size is – yes – easy to read. It has a rich, yellow cover that almost glitters, and yet is subtle at the same time. And, it has flaps, like a hardback. In other words, lovely to hold and read.
Cull, who has twice won the APA Best Designed Book of the Year award, worked for Penguin for many years, before setting up her own company, gogoGinkgo, in 2005. In 2010 she started a blog, aboutbookdesign, to ”chinwag about designing for the publishing industry in Australia”. It’s worth a peek. Oh, and she judged the Illustrators Australia Awards in 2011, for which Dean Gorissen designed the “call for entries”.
My third example of a book I like is a hardback. I tend to prefer paperbacks, mainly because they are smaller and lighter to carry. You won’t be surprised to hear, then, that my favourite hardbacks, from a design point of view, tend to be short books. Murray Bail‘s The pages is such a book. The cover was designed by WH Chong, who apparently works regularly with Susan Miller, an “internal designer”. Chong is a long time designer with Text Publishing, and he too, like Cull, writes a blog, called Culture Mulcher. And, like Gorissen and Cull, he has won awards for his covers. One of his awards was for John Marsden’s Hamlet. You might like to read his comments about it on this Book Design blog.
Anyhow, back to The pages. I like it because the cover is subtle and understated, which works well for this spare book about a man’s attempt to write a new philosophy. It has rough cut pages. At least some of the pages are, which works well because they give the book a lovely tactility without making it too tricky to open and turn the pages …
… which brings me to my reader’s manifesto about book design. A book must function well as a book. I do wish more publishers would think about that when they choose binding, paper edges, paper type, and font type and size.
There’s so much more to explore about book design – and particularly about how designers are meeting current challenges, not only those presented by the e-book phenomenon but also by the demand for sustainability. Meanwhile, though, you know what I’m going to ask! How important is book design to you, and what are your favourite books from a design perspective?