Weekend Heller: The Couture of Books

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There are numerous authors who have taken deep interest in the design of their book interiors, covers and jackets. Whether they designed or illustrated their own, as Günther Grass did (with his own drawings) or recommended their own designers, as Philip Roth did with Milton Glaser, the way their respective books appeared in public was akin to what clothes they wore.

Andreas Brown, former proprietor of The Gotham Book Mart, with whom I worked on this book, recently sent me a copy of a gemstone of a book by Pulitzer-Prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri titled The Clothing of Books. It is ostensibly a brief essay on the personal pleasure of the design of book jackets from the author and reader’s perspectives. For authors and designers alike this should be a unique experience. “Every author has a reaction to his or her covers,” writes Lahiri, “but few speak of it openly.” As book jacket designers know, only a few authors actually get final say on their “clothes.” And all too often enough, these authorial opinions are not welcome by the designers.


Lahiri, an Indian-American writer who now lives in Italy and writes in Italian, notes, “We don’t live in a world in which a cover can simply reflect the sense and style of the book. Today more than ever the cover shoulders an additional weight. Its function is much more commercial than aesthetic. It succeeds or fails in the market.” But through this brief yet thoughtful musing Lahiri says more about the emotional and spiritual values of “The Living Jacket, the Dead Jacket, the Perfect Jacket.” For any designer (and author and reader) who loves every aspect of physical books, this is Lahiri’s gift to us all. It is too short not to read and too honest to ignore.

By the way, the cover was very handsomely designed by Joan Wong.

The 2017 PRINT RDA: Final Deadline TODAY!

Enter the most respected competition in graphic design—now open to both pros and students—for a chance to have your work published, win a pass to HOW Design Live, and more. 2017 Judges: Aaron Draplin / Jessica Hische / Pum Lefebure / Ellen Lupton / Eddie Opara / Paula Scher. Student work judges: PRINT editorial & creative director Debbie Millman and PRINT editor-in-chief Zachary Petit.

Draplin image: Leah Nash. Hische: Helena Price. Lupton: Michelle Qureshi. Scher: Ian Roberts.