Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Judging a Book by Its Cover

Before we begin: the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled today that gay people who want to get married must be allowed to, uh, get married. Not civilly united, not domestically partnered, etc.—all people who want to get married should be allowed to get married. I know, it's so complicated! Interesting statistics at the end of the AP/Yahoo! article, showing Mass. tailing only D.C. and California (and tying New York and Vermont) in total number of gay households. Filthy Yankee liberals!

With that out of the way, let's talk about book jackets. [sound of everyone hitting their browser "Back" buttons] As if there were any lingering doubts that I'm a total dork, you should know I'm obsessed with book cover design (though at least I don't have an entire blog devoted to the subject). I always judge a book by its cover, and will always spend more money on a nicer-looking edition. I full-on geekout at bookstore displays, and always check the inside back flap to see who designed a book. After my stint in publishing, I now know that spines are actually the most important part of the book cover, so I dig those, too. One of my favorite authors as a kid was Ellen Raskin, who started out as a children's book designer and always oversaw the cover and interior design for her books (this site has an in-depth audiovisual overview of her work on the design of The Westing Game, her most famous book). I even have a favorite cover of all time: the Vintage edition of Lolita—so perfect, naughty and sexy and modern and antiquated all at the same time, just like the novel itself. (In my opinion, Vintage makes the best-looking covers overall.) Like, I am so obsessed with that Lolita cover that a few years ago there was a giant poster of it in the window of Wordsworth Books, and I begged and pleaded and even tried to bribe them for it; they refused (I guess what I've always suspected is true—I really do look like a pedophile), and the next day it was gone forever.

Slavishly coveting book covers is actually not that uncommon, especially on the Internet, where the nerd/freak flags truly fly free. Indeed, there's a weekly feature called Most Coveted Covers on the Readerville site, which very intelligently and wittily evaluates a new book cover every week—though it's not been updated since November 2003 (the archives are still there, though). Ditto for the tee-hee Mastication is Normal, which until November had a great monthly roundup of notably well-designed covers. Dude, we book cover enthusiasts even have our own celebrity, or the closest such a field can get to a boldfaced name: Chip Kidd. It's supposedly a sign that you've made it when you have a cover designed by him, so I know in a year or two I'll be meeting up with him and Sarah Jessica (we're on a first-name basis) at Pastis to go over the galleys for my new novel, which is untitled at this point but will most likely require him to emboss the word "Twat" in big white letters somewhere. Super!

More on Der Überdesigner: a (what else) flaming homo with a (what else) poet and Yale professor for a boyfriend, Chip (we're on a first-name basis, too—I slept with J.D. McClatchy's graduate assistant last fall) has designed some of the most iconic covers of our time: that freaky op-art glow of Dean Koontz's Intensity, the obvious but still sleek and transparency-overlayed The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles, the whacked-out Pastoralia (one of my favorites), and probably his most famous cover, the snarling dino for Jurassic Park—which went on to serve as the logo for the movie as well. I mean hell, he's so well-regarded some Frog chick wrote a whole fawking book about his books, called Chip Kidd. The book's not that interesting, sadly—she somehow excludes his best and most famous covers, though appropriately the cover of the book is the best thing about it. Thankfully, there's a great interview with Chip Kidd at Identity Theory, a snooty interview site run out of Cambridge like all truly great nerd endeavors.


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