The calendar has officially flipped into 2023, and most of us are still easing into the transition. While it’s probably mostly due to the slower pace of the holidays, 2023 also feels like an almost alarmingly huge number. Our calendars keep changing to dates that served as the backdrop of wild science fiction stories: 2021 was the year of cyberpunk cult classic Johnny Mnemonic, 2022 was the year depicted in ’70s dystopia Soylent Green, and the wacky future fantasy Zardoz took place in 2023. For a solid minute now, every year we’ve entered definitively sounds like the future.
Maybe that’s why so many of us are currently in the mood to think a little deeper. While Christmas and the end of the year feels tailor-made for soft, escapist stories, it’s a little harder to know what to do with the start of a new year in a wildly fluctuating time. In any case, we’re in the mood for nuance, and each of us have picked media that reckons with either a darker or deeper understanding of art, literature, and everyday life. Below, we recommend a handful of ambitious projects, from ambitious, topical sci-fi to fascinating cultural analysis.
Whatever your 2023 is looking like so far, we hope it’s off to a great start. Happy New Year from all of us at PRINT!
White Noise by Don DeLillo
I had never read a Don DeLillo novel before last week when I picked up his classic White Noise. Set in 1980s middle America, the book focuses on a mysterious poisonous chemical cloud and its impact on the residents of the town of Blacksmith, USA, and especially Jack Gladney, the patriarch of an ad hoc family and the founder of the department of “Hitler Studies” at College-on-the-Hill. When I learned that a film version was on its way and I read the words “airborne toxic event” in the same sentence as “Hitler Studies” I knew that this book was for me. While I have yet to see the film, the paperback’s exceptionally provocative cover designed and illustrated by Michael Cho has set a provocative stage.
Most book covers do not. They express mood or ambiance or play up the author— they rarely hint at the plot. This is a narrative front and back with uniquely illustrated flaps (flaps on a paperback always adds class). Designed in the style of a graphic novel, the White Noise cover suggests the dark wit of this surreal social satire originally published in 1985, and projects an apocalyptic aesthetic, with dark clouds dramatically hanging over a crowded highway of neon roadway signs. The title is typeset in a white-shadow sans serif capitals that blends comfortably into the menacing sky; the author’s name is in a band separating the top portion of the cover illo from a second frame – where the viewer peers through a car windshield revealing the protagonist’s anxious family apparently fleeing for the safety. In contrast, the back cover is virtually empty with 4/5ths of the black space filled with a black-on-black embossed phrase that feels like braille. Brown with hints of green constitute the dominant color palette, which enhances the sense of anxiety in the air while nodding toward a hopeful future on the back.
The saying, you can’t tell a book by its cover may be true, in general, but you can tell whether you’ll want to spend a few bucks and a couple of weeks with a book. When I read a book becomes my close companion for the duration. In large part owing to this cover, I am happy to take this companion to bed (nightmares not withstanding). —Steven Heller, Editor-at-Large
A Queda de Satã by Gustavo Piqueira
As a journalist covering the world of design, it’s not cool to play favorites… but my favorite designer is Gustavo Piqueira. I got to know his work through PRINT competitions a decade ago, and discovered how lovely a person he is during an editing stint at Eye on Design.
In addition to his design work, he’s also an author, and I have a collection of his brilliant and often-challenging books (one of which is in the form of a dining set, told across placemats and napkins), and was delighted this past year when I received a copy of his new two-volume collection, A Queda de Satã (The Fall of Satan).
The two books (with apologies for the bad Portuguese translation) “seek to show the processes that led to the creation of the devil, the resulting graphic representations, and what remains of it today.” The first volume traces the evolution of the devil through classic art and culture, and the second graphically explores the devil’s role as an advertising vehicle in contemporary times, hawking everything from organic biscuits to beer. It may sound like heady and dark stuff, but ultimately it’s a fascinating (and humorous) historical tour led by fantastic design.
Since Gustavo’s releases are often DIY-infused limited editions in Portuguese only, they don’t get the widest releases. But they should. —Zachary Petit, Editor of The Daily Heller
While I’ve only watched the first episode so far, I’m intrigued by Netflix’s new Kaleidoscope TV series. It’s reminiscent of Black Mirror: Bandersnatch’s “choose your own path” idea in that you can watch the episodes in any order that you wish, and the series is supposed to makes sense through different timelines. This unexplored way of storytelling has gripped me. While the reviews could be better, I’m trying to keep others’ opinions from influencing my love for this innovation that I’ve been craving. —Chloe Gordon, Social Media Manager + Content Editor
I have a tendency to get into pretty strict phases with podcasts once I find one I really like, and lately I’ve mostly only wanted to listen to the music series Pop Pantheon. In this show, host DJ Louie XIV and a guest examine the legacy of a pop star, then rank them on a tiered system, with one-hit wonders on the bottom and stars who have completely changed the face of music as we know it on the top. Every episode has either shifted or added more nuance to my understanding of a pop star, and I always find myself pretty immediately wanting to talk about them in detail with other people. Highlights tend to be whichever I listened to most recently, which would include wrestling with the complicated legacy of Justin Timberlake, the warmth and complexity of George Michael’s journey in and out of the spotlight, and why early Missy Elliott still sounds so radical. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg, so if you love pop music— especially overthinking it— there’s definitely something in there for you. —Sarah Fonder, Managing Editor