Unbearably Light
I do not think that word means what you think it means.

Judging a book…

One of the reasons I love the McSweeney’s Quarterly Concerns series so much is the constant reinvention of their presentation. Each edition is like a mini work of art; they can arrive in boxes, or strung together with rubber bands, concealing puzzling random extras like combs and sealed letters to unknown entities. Of course, from time to time, the content can pale in comparison, but generally the combination of writing and design combine in a unique little pleasurable package. Much like myself.

McSweeney’s even released a kids book a couple of years ago where the book jacket could be transformed into an envelope – the idea being that the best submission received would win the grand prize of “a complete set of A Series of Unfortunate Events, signed by Mr. Snicket himself, along with 11 pounds of chocolate, a Venus flytrap, 600 tiny glass bottles, and a large sack of dirt from Winnipeg.” Fabulous, and as far as I am aware, the prize has been honoured to the letter.

So yeah, buy one – they’re generally available in Waterstones US import section. You will be either pleasantly surprised or repulsed by the unapologetic pretentiousness. This will be a good test of whether you and I would get along. Possibly. I don’t work for them btw. But if you’re reading this Dave Eggers….I totally would.

Anyway, this is a long winded way to get to my obsession of the day, and I do have one. I always have one. Today it is book design – clever book covers that do not consist of:

  • Happy light pinks and yellows and “amusing” cartoon shoes and handbags signifying WALK AWAY FROM THE EVIL CHICK LIT.
  • Old classical paintings by obscure artists that have little or nothing to do with the plot of the book in question. Which is usually very dull indeed. Or, if it’s not makes me think that it is and therefore never ends up on my shelf.
  • Low quality paper – not recycled, that’s fine – we’re talking American paperback paper here. All floppy and weird consistency-like.

Yeah yeah yeah, shameful, blah, don’t judge, blah, cover, blah. It doesn’t mean I won’t ever read the book if it offends me aesthetically, just that if I am randomly wandering through a bookshop, as I do almost daily, I am very likely to pick up and take home a strange book with a cover that rocks my world even if I have little idea of what the novel itself is about. Before you carry on with the judging, it is a system that has worked for me consistently. Witness one of my favourite authors of late, Charlotte Mendelson. I saw this cover of the book “Daughters of Jerusalem” and picked it up straight away.

It’s a very simple concept, but the colours and typeface work so well together. I ended up enjoying it so much it succeeded in joining Mrs Dalloway in my all star book hall of fame. Talking of which, it is on my to do list to find a complete collection of Woolf that is designed proper like. I think they should all be reprinted with similar designs to those used by the Woolfs’ own Hogarth Press. Why has nobody done this yet? Hmpf. Perhaps they have and you will tell me and I will rejoice.

Super Ramblellion Batman. Sorry.

Check out The Book Design Review – the is a poll open at the moment to vote for the best book design of 2007. Loads of good stuff.


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