In 2007, Alex Ross, music critic for The New Yorker, released The Rest Is Noise: Listen to the 20th Century (FSG), his obsessive study of classical music, to international acclaim. The writing is studious and nuanced but unpretentious and inviting; even someone like me, with no background or interest in classical music, was sucked into his world. That year, the book (his first) was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and won a National Book Critics Circle Award, among other honors.
The paperback version of The Rest Is Noise featured the same cover art as the hardcover—somewhat unusual in the trade book business. The cover, an all-type cover reminiscent of an early 20th century Bauhaus poster, was designed by Farrar, Straus & Giroux art director Charlotte Strick.
When it came time to put together his second book, Listen To This, a collection of his stories from The New Yorker, Strick was once again tapped to work on the book cover.
“The Rest is Noise was so beloved at FSG that the red I used for both jackets has become known around the office as ‘Alex Ross Red,’” says Strick, who has also designed book jackets for Jonathan Franzen, Sam Lipsyte, Roberto Bolano, and Lydia Davis for the legendary New York publisher. “It was decided very early in the process that this new book should also have an all-type design.”
“My first instinct,” she continues, “had been to try a gestural drawing of headphones that an artist did on spec for me, with the distinctive The Rest Is Noise typeface sitting between the ear pieces. I did try some other all-type sketches with more flourish-y fonts to suggest the feeling of music and there were other color variations too, but this very clean, stark design for Listen To This was conceived in the 2nd round of layouts that I showed the editor, and people gravitated towards it.
Listen to This, first version
Listen to This, second version
“The vibrating type is intentional and meant to suggest sound vibration as you suspected,” she says. “Some people have complained to me that it hurts their eyes. In this case, I take that as a great compliment! Getting the colors just right to produce the effect was the trick, and the printer did a great job. I also think that the softness of the uncoated stock adds to the overall feel of the design. The font I used is called Pelso. It has a perfect letter ‘X.’”
Listen to This, final version