Book covers can constitute a kind of solicitude. As writer/illustrator David Wiesner contends, “The first art that children see is in picture books.” And certain picture book illustrators, he continues, strive to enhance their young readership’s “burgeoning visual literacy.” Cover images necessarily figure into that process. This topic is among those insufficiently explored in The Look of The Book: Jackets, Covers, and Art at the Edges of Literature. But the book’s authors, writer/designer Peter Mendelsund and scholar David J. Alworth, are thoughtful in their discussions of the covers of adult literary works.
Expect a gallimaufry of reproduced book covers, and a slightly dry and repetitious account of the theories, traditions, and digitizations of such adornments. The authors write of art and commercialism, finesse, and banality. They entertain writer John Updike’s skepticism — “nobody buys a a book jacket” — and cover designer Paul Bacon’s take on his own métier: “You’re not the star of the show.” Yet novelist Tom McCarthy, one of the interviewees, appreciates cover design candidates as a “constellation, the image repertoire of the book.” A cover can be a star, then, or as Mendelsund and Alworth declare, “a bright spot … in a crowded cultural field.” And this book implores us, somewhat convincingly, to stargaze.
The Look of The Book: Jackets, Covers, and Art at the Edges of Literature by Peter Mendelsund and David J. Alworth (Ten Speed Press, 2020) is now available on Bookshop.”