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The best book covers not only manage to convey a sense of the words within, but they also stand alone as portable works of art. A good book cover must somehow take the poetry of the writer’s words and transform it into a visual that embodies the emotional power of the text.
Despite the constant teeth-gnashing about the death of print, there continues to be hundreds of thousands of new titles released each year—many of them with outstanding covers. My eye was drawn to these five because they all had a sense of movement to them, a sense of fluidity and sentiment that stood out from the pack.
From the quiet feeling of Cider With Rosie to the almost tangible sense of despair on Nobody is Ever Missing, each of these covers is able to succinctly explain, at a glance, the feelings behind the text—even with a topic as dry as, say, tax assessments for farmland.
1. My Life in Middlemarch (Crown Publishers)Elena Giavaldi’s cover for Rebecca Mead’s memoir uses a layered bulls-eye design to encapsulate the author’s lifelong obsession with George Eliot’s masterpiece. The base layer is the text itself, a visual reminder that it was Eliot’s prose that first lured Mead to the author. The successive concentric circles—one of the most elegant uses of a popular design trend this year—feature a bucolic painting of an English village, the setting of both the novel and Mead’s own life; a contemporary photograph by Marco Scozzaro, which manages to evoke not only Mead herself, but also Dorothea Brooke, the protagonist of Eliot’s Middlemarch; and finally, a solid circle with the title and author.
Art directed by Christopher Brand, this telescoping cover is a deep look into the interwoven strands of both author and subject.
2. Nobody is Ever Missing (FSG Originals)This debut novel from Catherine Lacey has an arresting cover designed by Charlotte Strick and illustrated by Patrick Leger. The book is a story of a woman who leaves her life in New York City to disappear to New Zealand, and as Strick says, “The theme of sinking is essential to the story. There is little sense of her ultimate goal aside from her desperate need to escape.”
With this claustrophobic plot in mind, Strick commissioned Leger to create a stylized filmstrip of a sinking woman for the cover, saying, “Patrick’s figures all tend to have an unusual stoic quality about them that mirrors the main character’s.” It’s rare for covers to have such a strong sense of movement, and Leger’s illustration manages to pull the reader underwater before the book even begins.
3. On Such a Full Sea (Riverhead)Published in January 2014, Chang-Rae Lee’s post-apocalyptic novel was one of the first big releases of the year, and Riverhead decided to publish a special deluxe edition along with the hardback. Both editions were art directed by Helen Yentus, with two very different, but equally tactile, cover treatments. Yentus spoke about the challenge of designing covers for a futuristic novel without actually showing a visual of the future, saying, “I sought to avoid anything that would get in the way of the reader being able to imagine the place and character themselves.” The hardback featured the main character’s distinctive hairstyle as a frame for the title, an idea that Yentus got from the story, in which the heroine’s likeness becomes a recurring graffiti motif. The title, hand-lettered by Jason Booher, matches the strong brush strokes of the hair, painted by Yentus.
The deluxe edition, printed by MakerBot, is a more direct nod to the brave new world of technology and publishing. “We saw it as an opportunity to go about the special edition in a futuristic way,” Yentus says. “I wanted something to be as dynamic as possible.” The resulting 3D case stretches the title to come off the page as a raised slipcover, bringing Lee’s work into a figurative future.
4. Use-Value Assessment of Rural Land in the United States (Lincoln Institute of Land Policy)David Drummond is a bit of an underdog in the cover design world. All of his work is clean, beautiful and smart, and it always features an element of wit. But because Drummond designs for many different publishers, some of whom publish esoteric or academic titles, his covers don’t always have as much visibility as those of his peers. Use-Value Assessment is not the kind of book anyone picks up for light airport reading.
But the publication, which is about the encroachment of urban development into rural farmland, is visually summed up in a stunningly simple image: an aerial photograph of farms pushed aside by the title and author. An effective visual pun that marries text and image, Drummond’s cover is a surprisingly emotional work for an academic text.
5. Cider With Rosie (Vintage UK)A throwback to lavishly illustrated jackets of the past, the cover for Cider With Rosie, art directed by Suzanne Dean, stands out for its lush depiction of a warm summer’s day. The book, a memoir about Laurie Lee’s childhood in an English village just after WWI (originally published in 1959), was reprinted in this special edition to commemorate what would have been Lee’s 100th birthday.
Dean commissioned Mark Hearld for the illustration and lettering, saying that Hearld’s “style of illustration made a visual link to artists of that period, such as Edward Bawden and John Piper.” On bookshelves packed with stark digitized graphic designs, the clear presence of a human hand makes this cover especially notable.
This article originally appeared in the December 2014 issue of Print: The Regional Design Annual. For more best of the year coverage, plus the 350 best designs of the year broken down by region, get a copy.