Covers Calvacade
by Joseph Finn

I thought I'd try something a little more light-hearted for this month's issue of Bookslut: examining some selected book covers that I've run across in the last month. Here at Bookslut, we focus on the actual writing, but for once I wanted to take a look at the unsung graphic designers and photographers who in some cases are the first line of attracting you to pick up the book in the store. Let me know what you think of the feature, and if you've seen any covers that might bear mentioning in future installments.

The Hackers and the Ants by Rudy Rucker
Cover by pink design, inc.
ISBN 1568582471

A mess. The color combination is vaguely nauseating, and the clashes between colors and the size of elements - oy. The ant almost obscures the text, the robot is just goofy, and the "Version 2.0" could have been left for the interior. I think there are just too many elements on the cover for it to work; perhaps if the background was toned down... I think the designer may have been trying to go for a lighthearted feel on this cover, but it just comes across as crowded.

Sadly, this appears to be the basic motif for the designer, pink design. When one visual element will do, three will do better, and it all becames crowded and confusing (perhaps this is the book cover version of the shaky handi-cam syndrome that has hit indie films in the past decade). Also, they have a horrible propensity to puit pink and red together in very odd combinations (you can see some examples at their web site, Personally, I blame Wired for this "throw everything at the wall and see what sticks" school of bad design.

Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella
Cover design by Belina Huey
Cover art by Diane Bigda
ISBN 0385335482

Ah, much better. Definitely a cover that implies beach reading (or less politely, "chick lit"), this is a nice combination of color and negative space. I'm not ordinarily much for pink on a book cover, but this is used nicely and sparingly. It's a sprightly cover that doesn't imply any more than a fun read.

Another nice touch of this cover is that the front endpapers are a fun little spread, in the same art style, of the main character's crowded closet. It's simultaneously symbolic of the mess of the main character's life, while surprisingly fun of a design element (also in the same vein is the author photo on the back cover, which avoids the usual head shot by having a picture of Kinsella walking away in a trench coat & carrying crowded shopping bags).

This is a cover that manages to be cute without being saccharine, not an inconsiderable achievement. Huey and Bigda can be quite justifiably proud of their work here.

Drop City by T. C. Boyle
Jacket design by Paul Buckley
Jacket photograph by Don Snyder
ISBN 0670031720

Now this is a fine cover, combining several great elements. I love the vaguely 70's colors of the title, and the font is the perfect size - not overpowering, but solid and readable. The photograph could have several meaning, combining the nudity of the commune in the plot, the "flower power" implicit both in the field surrounding the figures and the petals they are forming with their own bodies. I'm not sure of this intentional, but it also looks strangely like one of those formations that team skydivers make, also going back to the "Drop" part of the title. Wonderfully balanced cover, where no element overwhelms another. Especially worth noting is that the cover manages to have nudity that simply exists - there's no hint of prurience, irony or titillation.

The field that the people are lying in is also quite interesting - it could exist in either the California of the first part of the book or the Alaska of the last section. I know squat about flowers, so I have no idea what kind they are on the cover, but this is a scene I can easily imagine in a California spring or in the Alaskan summer that many of the characters end up in. However, the blue color of the people, obviously tinted, is a nice pointer toward the horrible winter that is coming for them in Alaska (also, the flowers are almost a blue snow color). Hell, if you want to go even further, how can we tell if these people are alive or dead in this photo?

So really, we have a cover that turns out to be much creepier than we thought - is this a celebration of some kind, or a group death of some sort? Without seeing the faces of the people involved, it's almost impossible to determine, like if we were to try and determine the story of Duchamp's Nude Descending A Staircase; it's chillingly, frustratingly impossible without knowing the context of the action. A perfect theme for a novel where you're never quite sure who is making the right decision, and what consequences those decisions will bring.

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