Here’s an easy one to bring us back from hiatus into semi-hiatus. I came across this slide-show comparing the original cover designs of classic books and more recent repackaging on a website called Flavorwire (that I came across via the NYTimes Book Bench).
It’s rare that I actually pause to consider book covers, what with what’s inside being the point and all. But on those occasions that I do give them the time of day, I usually think Man, book cover design is pretty cool and an interesting subset of design that I should really give more credence to. I should like, you know, get into it or something. And then I carry on not really paying much attention to book covers. But now seems an appropriate moment to try again, with the Printers Ball coming up this weekend in Chicago.
The first two in Flavorwire’s list – 1984 by George Orwell and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein – got some pretty drastic overhauls. The original designs, from 1955 and 1986 respectively, look more like movie posters than they do book covers, and are certainly “pulpy.” Goes with the Science Fiction territory, though I suppose. What’s curious to me is that the ’55 1984 design has much less of the subversive about it than does the 2009 UK cover. Now that the book is a Classic Dystopian Something-Something, the intrigue and action implied in the original cover, no doubt there to sell the book as a SciFi thriller, are replaced by an interesting combination of the novel’s famous propaganda the front and anti-Big Brother graffiti on the back. Very clever.
Some of the other redesigns caught my eye as well. The like-for-like weirdness exchange of Naked Lunch (prefer the 2001 myself), for one, and the much less severe 2009 cover of The Scarlet Letter. It looks like Penguin figured out that a stern, grimacing puritan woman is probably the worst way to get high school American Lit students to read your book (Charlotte Bronte’s Jayne Eyre gets similarly unstuffied, which can only be a good thing). The redesign of Kerouac’s On The Road is fun, if only because it now looks like the confessions of a closeted homosexual in the 1950s, which, you know…
I’m amused, bemused even, by the presence of little bits of ad copy on the 1996 The Moon is a Harsh Mistress: “The greatest science fiction writer of the modern age… His classic Hugo Award-winning novel of libertarian revolution.” Maybe 15 years ago that had a different connotation, but now it seems like target-audience gone too far. And speaking of Gone Too Far, my old friend The Road is now apparently a parody of itself:
The multiple covers shown for Lolita are interesting (especially the never-used original version of the 2005 design – just take a look). But of all of the comparisons, the one that struck me the most are the two covers shown for In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. At first, I thought there was a typo and they were misidentified. There are, of course, dozens of designs for this book – anything in print for nearly 50 years will have been repackaged over and over again to keep with changing tastes – but the two examples shown on Flavorwire look like they each belong to the other’s era.