Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Books and their covers

Penguin U.K. has introduced a new marketing campaign for some of its classic titles. They're calling these books "Red Classics."

Although I don't think I've ever read--or not read--a book because of its cover, I can appreciate that many people occasionally do choose a book by that method. And I support Penguin and publishers who bother with getting more potential readers to become actual book buyers.

But some of these new covers strike me as if they were designed by graphic artists who haven't read (even a synopsis of) the books they're selling.

For example: I cannot image what one is supposed to infer from the cover of the great comic novel, A Confederacy of Dunces. Of course, it's no less revealing than the version put out by the L.S.U. Press.

Or Lolita. The cover, with the light drawing (of a young woman with curvy hips that make her appear older than might appeal to the nymphet-obsessed Humbert Humbert) and cursive script, makes me imagine something from the chick-lit shelf...and from among the more insubstantial books of that genre. If a buyer picks up that book without knowing something about the novel, she will be very surprised and likely disappointed.

Other covers in the series do strike me as more fitting for the pages between them. See, for example, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Great Expectations, and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

Whatever the (de)merits of the cover art, there are some fine titles in the series. If a graphic artist selected the list, I'll bet she's one with great taste in fiction.

Earlier this year Slate asked some designers to come up with "pulp" covers for some classic novels; click here to see what they came up with.

What's crazier than judging a book by its cover? Judging it by its author's photo.

--Marshal Zeringue