30 April 2012
Designed by: Barbara deWilde
This is the original cover of Jennifer Egan's Pulitzer winning book. It is stark, simple, and manages to convey with the wild guitar strings that the book will be somehow all over the place.
It calls to mind product close-ups. Schematic drawings. The text resembles the designs for the Stieg Larsson books. Which were designed by Peter Mendelsund whom I discussed in my post on The Flame Alphabet.
Barbara deWilde is a great designer, famous even. She was the head designer for the Everyman's Library redesign in 1991. She did the covers for Memoirs of a Geisha and Game Change. In 2001 she redesigned Martha Stewart Living. She runs What The Book which is a fascinating look into how we feel about books.
She is a for serious designer.
Looking through the section of her website devoted to her designs you see work that is concerned with metaphor, austere imagery that conveys a bold message. You see deep design work. A love of beautiful book packaging. Including two of my favorite new editions of old favorites. The new Norton translation of The Canterbury Tales and one of the new Vintage editions of Nabokov.
This is the cover for the paperback edition of Egan's book. It could be a totally different book. The colors are jarring, the collage effect is muddled and the text is in Helvetica.
Aside from the color palette there is that little black strip down the side. The cover is actually cut short so the black bar shows. The use of which is apparently so they can get not only the 'bestseller' nod but also a New York Times one. This version is by Jaime Keenan. Who happened to design a few of my favorite covers from a recent series of UK editions for Penguin. Keenan has done several great covers as well. Which is a shame because I hate this. A lot.
Another example is Robert Olmstead's Coal Black Horse. Here are the covers side by side:
The hardcover is on the left. This is a novel about a child caught in the horrors of the Civil War. A black horse saves his life. The original cover is somber, slightly unsettling, and very evocative. The prancing pony bathed in red on the paperback is oddly upbeat. It is still ominous, but the beauty of the original is lost.
Maybe they thought the single color on Egan's book lacked oomph. Maybe they wanted to portray the multiple narrators in a literal sense. I think the guitar strings popping in different directions but coming together to make the whole instrument enacts this idea in a more elegant way, but I am not a publishing house. The literal 'multiple people' image takes away the metaphor, the beauty, of the image. In the same way the beauty is lost in the Olmstead cover.
Another reason covers get changed is that they want to add one of those medals or a 'bestseller' masthead. Olmstead won the Chicago Tribune's Heartland Prize. You have to plop that thing on the cover somewhere. Maybe it would look too busy with the old large type and horse. Maybe it wouldn't stand out enough against that dark background that is similarly colored.
A final possible answer is that they didn't want to pay deWilde for the cover, or she has an exclusive contract with Knopf and the paperback was handed to Anchor. Though Anchor is owned by Knopf which is just confusing.
On the left we have the first US edition of Murakami's novel. The right is the paperback. I think the original cover is amazing. It's weird, confusing, endearing. All the things that Murakami's novel is. The paperback is beautiful in its own right and I think this is an example of the covers being equal in greatness. Publishers do test groups the same as movie studios. I'm guessing the publisher was told that the title was hard to read and the bird was scary on the hardback, hence the Audubon drawing and the larger typeface.
So do they ever make the cover better? And if not...why?
There are many examples of great covers on paperback. Most covers that are improved are from older novels getting an update. It is rare that a change in cover from hardback to paperback is an improvement. In fact I will give one more example of a bad one.
This is the cover of James Gleick's The Information. The cover is a tidal wave of words. Like the premise of the book, the information presented is a flood that will consume you if you do not know how to control and use it.
Ultimately the use of a paperback edition is to sell copies. Most people wait for the cheaper paperback before purchasing (I do) and publishers know this. So they tend to make the paperback editions brighter, with larger text, and tons of so-called praise tacked on.
There really isn't a point to my 'issue' beyond the general wish that we try harder. That publishers not view their customers cynically, that they let the artistic statements they approved the first time stand unless there is a genuine reason to change it. And, it would have the added bonus of costing them less.
Dust Jacket is a sometime article about the design and art of book covers. The idea is to shine a spotlight on the work of the designer separate from the author. Literally judging a book by its cover.
29 April 2012
28 April 2012
27 April 2012
26 April 2012
Certain dramatic events
fractured good hours into jarring
kite like monoliths near our position.
Virtually upending the shindig really-no-really
25 April 2012
The flightless pigeon
walks back and forth
in front of the cafe
Looking inside then
out into the street at
the cars zooming by
It jumps when people pass
its useless wings open and
24 April 2012
Pillow or otherwise.
Pillow Fort 4/24
I want to pillow fort my life
Care for the soft spaces
that exist between my bones
The roof will be a sheet
because blankets are too heavy
And it will have flowers on it
23 April 2012
Author: Madeleine L’Engle (1918-2007)
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (1962)
There is a moment as a kid when your mind expands. When you suddenly are aware that the world stretches beyond your home and family. That the universe is expansive, science is weird, space is amazing.
For one shining moment everything is possible.
This book was a huge part of that for me. I have a love of knowledge, science, the beauty of imagination. I can trace these to moments in Madeleine L'Engle's amazing 50 year old book.
And after all that time there is still a lot to love here. There is the absolute love of science, intelligence, and learning. L'Engle infuses her characters with a profound smartness without apology and without cliche nerdiness.
|80s kids know this version.|
The settings are epic. Camazotz and its strange bureaucratic nightmare office buildings is something out of Orwell. Even the evil of The Black Thing and IT are ominous in a classic vague/scary way that calls to mind the best of allegorical writing and Lord of the Rings.
The beauty is still there. The sense of wonder. All intact.
Coming back to it as an adult I was amazed at a huge part of the book I completely missed as a kid.
Here is what I mean. When Meg heads off to defeat the IT at the the end of the book the Mrs Ws give her 3 gifts:
- Mrs Whatsit - her love
- Mrs Who - A Bible quote about the foolish confounding the wise and the weak confounding the strong
- Mrs Which - she tells Meg she has something IT does not
All reasonable gifts that are - whataminute!? - Bible quote?
As a child reading A Wrinkle In Time the book was about being a kid, having an imagination, space travel, and science. It was kids kicking bad guy butt and saving the world. The book is about those things but it is also about religion.
I would not classify this a 'religious' book. The moments mentioning the Bible are really meant as allegory, as story-telling, and they don't really change the actual story. They could be left out and little would be damaged. Which I guess is my point. They don't serve a purpose beyond being Bible references tossed out to the world to show religion has a place. We are told that Jesus fought IT along side Ghandi and the Buddha and all are considered equally good. But the Bible is the only thing quoted from.
L'Engle says that science, art, and religion have a place together which is great. The book does little to connect any of these things. While that may be a huge undertaking for a 'kids' book, I would point you to His Dark Materials as a series that deals with religion, science, etc. in a very frank, albeit different, way.
The main evil L'Engle gives us is a giant brain. Pure thought is the 'evil' presented in this book. What is the takeaway? That thinking is only good if it is infused with religion, specifically Christianity.
I don't think that L'Engle was being malicious. The book is a clear product of its time and place. 1960s America was a strange blend of anti-Communist sentiment, cold war crazies, and general conformity mixed with hyper-patriotism and religion. It was not a place for anyone to question anything openly. Which is probably why even this book has been banned many times throughout its 50 years despite being firmly 'safe' in all of these regards.
My biggest problem with the book is a problem I see across the genre. Why are children's books full of characters who lack agency? Why does Harry Potter do absolutely nothing the whole of 7 books while others pull strings and die for the cause? He doesn't even kill Voldemort at the end. The wand Voldemort uses reflects the spell back at the villain. Why does Katniss have to remain above the frey in Hunger Games? She drops wasps, she mercy kills the already dying, she kills one who just killed a very young child. I guess I should be happy she at least participates in some way.
I'm not asking for bloodthirsty lead characters, but if you set up a world where Harry is going to have to fight a war against Voldemort then have him basically sit there while every one else does that thing...you have failed at story-telling. If your world is children conscripted into killing each other and your main character wins that contest by mainly sitting in a tree and surviving off of berries while others brutally kill you have not shown the horrors of said world.
Similarly. If your premise is that a father has been kidnapped by ultimate evil and your brother is controlled by a giant disembodied brain...I don't expect machetes and blood letting. I do expect something more than a deus ex machina and a pat love is good coda.
I know the book is meant to be allegory. But still, even in allegory the center would still have to hold. The story would adhere to its world.
|Newest cover from 2007.|
I think we should trust ourselves more. If we can stomach a world with evil, we can stomach a world where we fight that evil and do so without remaining above the dirt and shit of that battle. We can have the magic and wonder and the reality. All of it.
Re-Read is a sometime article where I go back and read a book from my childhood over and examine the threads that I find in my current adult life.
My vacuum cleaner
I have to sweep the same spot three times
To pick up all the fur
This blanket is older than I am
Crocheted by a friend of a Grandmother
The lamp is small
These energy efficient light bulbs
Stick out the top of the shade like a tongue
That toaster oven is lost
I think it was once silver - now baked
Until I feel sad for it
22 April 2012
The restaurant is decorated to look like you are in a small tin covered shelter. On the walls they show fight scenes from martial arts movies. While I was eating House of Flying Daggers and Hero played in silence.
I'm not sure why they made me think of Tilda wearing Dior. Maybe just because she's fierce as hell and would cut through anyone who dared to come at her.
House Of Flying Daggers 4/22
Leaves pick themselves up - whirl
they pinwheel until they form
A woman - Tilda Swinton in a green Dior suit
her eyes break over you like avalanche
What is she trying to direct you to - that
small crag of rocks - the path into the woods
The gingerbread house full of danger
she is motionless - and from the bottom up
Returns to leaves - they sweep over you
prick your skin with their tips - lick
Your wounds - turn fall red and lay
in piles ready for the garbage bags
21 April 2012
Cosmic Rays & Flowers 4/21
The small pink teacups of the dogwood
next to the large fingered hands of magnolia
Each face the sky waiting to be filled
with the rain waters that must come
To be that devoted that enamored
with staring into the face of the universe
Looking for cosmic rays to light
across retina for even just one moment
All goes pink then green then black before sleep
the sun feels enough you can look away
20 April 2012
Less revision, revisiting.
breaks the waves
as the shore
comes into focus
one for each
an orange a prayer
an open book
beneath is a cauldron
the mixture green
the color of leaves
early in spring
that float to the surface
are our past selves
coming up for air
19 April 2012
The shelves are empty save
the dust which is a part of myself
I scratch at the cut on my head
and think about the fluids I have lost
on these first hot days of the year
The city breathes
I feel like the mote caught in sunlight
only a speck to irritate the lungs
of the sleeping muse
18 April 2012
A triangular fingernail slid with a quick glissando over the swollen spines gazing down at us from the bookshelf.
"Plunge into a pool headfirst and your breath will rise to the surface in bubbles: swell and burst."
The speaker again surveyed the rows of silent books crowded along the walls.
"You'll say that even a bubble can catch the sun, the blue of the sky, the green curve of a coastline. Maybe so. But does that matter to the man whose mouth is grazing the bottom?"
The woman across the way is breast feeding
She is typing an e-mail while doing this
Is breast milk is like peeing - can it
be stopped mid-stream?
What muscle is it that tamps the flow
I it all controlled by the child - is that breast
always at the ready
The mind boggles at the turning over of oneself
That this is a function of our being
And that anyone would do it willingly
17 April 2012
The end date of my poem-a-day project will be pushed back a bit to make up for this. I will let you all know what is up as soon as I do.
The start of my new feature Re-Read will begin next Monday. I will be talking about A Wrinkle In Time.
Thank you to everyone who wished me well as I navigated the perils of being a NYPD procedural.
That Small Death 4/17
Outside the police station
the dead bee...
Every spring I am finding
these sudden fallen insects
Ass up on the sidewalk
This one is pitch black
and the size of a plum
It is April the flowers are done
boughs dry from lack of rain
I stare into that small death
and I cannot see anything useful
16 April 2012
15 April 2012
14 April 2012
You may have noticed that the posts are coming at odd times. My apartment was broken into on Tuesday. !
No long posts. It is hard to write extended things on a phone.
Poem-a-day will continue. I may extend it a few to make up for the next week or so of short phone-made posts.
Long posts. Like Sellers, Dust Jacket.and the start of Re-Read will have to be on hold for now :(
I will keep you all updated as I attempt to get a new computer and get all up and running again.
13 April 2012
11 April 2012
10 April 2012
All these abandoned songs
sitting in Penn Jillette's basement
Here is an ode to Jimmy Carter
sitting on a porch
breaking shit against the backdoor
This call is the voice of the bird
in the cage left on the stoop
asking the other birds what the sky is
And in that basement
irony vanishes becomes vapor
and all we are left with is everyday realness
Human beauty breaking like waves
dirty fleshy bodies and all rising up
09 April 2012
As you know I've recently expanded the posts to include my Sellers and Dust Jacket posts. Starting next week I will also add a series of posts on re-reading childhood favorites. The first post will be on A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L'Engle. I am also looking forward to doing a few one-off posts on poetry I am reading and other things on my mind.
In light of the expanded nature of my blog and my current work schedule and general feelings about the endeavor of writing every day I have decided to end the poem-a-day project at 1000. I will still post a poem here or there. Maybe once a week or so. But I am taking some time off from writing so often.
You will still see updates from me three times a week. So please come by on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for what I'm up to. And thank you all for your support over the length of the poem project.
I would appreciate you sharing with me your favorite poems from the project or just saying hello. Please share the project with your friends and feel free to post a link anywhere you'd like.
Author: Jonah Lehrer
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
This is basically a book about how to be more creative wrapped in a veneer of science.
It is a self-help book. In the new mold. Like Susan Cain's book Quiet on introverts which came out earlier this year. And like Lehrer's own book from 2010 on the decision making process. It rests in a strange new genre space. The literary self-help book.
This could not be more boring.
It seems to go something like this. Pick a trait or act that we as humans possess and then analyze it until you cannot go further with it. Preferably get it published in shorter form in some magazine. In Lehrer's case, maybe in Wired. Then take that longer version that you had all along and publish it. The problem is that these books read like one of those History or Discovery channel specials. You know the ones.
Yes. Those ones. It's taking some sciencey stuff and tossing out the boring parts and tarting it up with shots of Empire State Buildings falling down and how you can increase your creative output with the almighty color of blue.
This is a problem because at the end of it all it's just pretty hollow. There may be good anecdotes and you might even enjoy the reading the book but after you'll just change the channel and watch another program that you won't remember any part of (except the Golden Gate Bridge falling into the bay that was sweeeet!).
Books like Mauve, Salt, Rats do similar things. The idea is to take an aspect of the every day and try to make it appear profound. Jonah Lehrer has written a few of these - Proust Was A Neuroscientist, How We Decide, and now this new book. His are less biography of an object or idea and more an examination of inner mental acts.
All of which I might be able to deal with but then this:
Did you know that the most creative companies have centralized bathrooms? That brainstorming meetings are a terrible idea? That the color blue can help you double your creative output? This is from the publisher's description. I know it may be unfair to judge the work this way since blurbs are usually terrible. I could have told you that brain storming is just a way to get people to word vomit and feel more involved in a process that doesn't include them. That it actually does nothing for the creative process. I don't need a book to tell me this.
Lehrer's central thesis seems to be about the science of where in the brain creativity comes from then to veer off into tangents about how to amplify that. The fact that the book claims to shatter "the myth of muses, higher powers, even creative “types”" is just silly. I am pretty sure muses ceased to be taken seriously about the same time barbarians invaded Rome.
To continue with the description:
Lehrer reveals the importance of embracing the rut, thinking like a child, daydreaming productively, and adopting an outsider’s perspective (travel helps).
Did you know that travel helps you to relax and think clearly? I bet you didn't. Did you know that thinking like a child would open you up to more creative solutions?
He unveils the optimal mix of old and new partners in any creative collaboration, and explains why criticism is essential to the process.
Criticism helps the creative process? Really? Did you go to school to learn that? Apparently this book is here to tell us that: You need to be relaxed, around calm colors/moods, have solid input, clear away the shit you have in your head, think like a child, go on vacation, ignore the idea of muses and then (only then!) you can be creative.
And you need to be near a bathroom.
This is my main issue with these type of books. This is common knowledge to anyone who has ever attempted to be creative or has a Google. I'm being childish in my discussion on Lehrer's work. Definitely diminishing it. Not discussing it in any real deep way.
I see these types of books as a sign of a very real deficiency in our 'discussions' in general. We seem to have moved into a space where we like everything to be related back into the self somehow. Narcissism is at a high maybe. Maybe I'm too sensitive on this. Maybe this book and those like it are perfectly fine. But is our discourse that science has mapped the brain so now I know that I should be near a bathroom if I'm going to be creative? Is that why we did that thing?
We should praise Lehrer for finding the creativity to write something so banal and sell it to thousands of people. Who doesn't know that creativity works this way? Are these the same people who buy books about how to organize a closet or parent the child they already have? Or how to save money? Or any of the things that you just do because they are things that need doing? Am I insane for thinking this is a huge duh moment?
And the cover design is ironically uninspired. How many people will buy this book thinking it has something to do with John Lennon?
Sellers is my attempt to examine what books are topping the best-seller list and why. To talk about and understand the trends in popular writing.
The large reflective bags
black - void
sing into the street
I know that song.
They are stacked - ready
to be taken to the dump
someone's dead things
Is it Bach?
In a stack of endings - this
is the saddest of them all
I picture a child's piano
playing into everything
08 April 2012
The cherry tree is gone.
One of them at least - the one that remains
leaning away from the baldness of its surroundings
What do I do with this? All the things I've
written about them - combined - two
I wrote them into my grandmother's death.
There are questions - was the death natural - was it
ripped from the ground - I should have been there
Should have born witness to the passing
in that hospital in Pennsylvania -
And the remaining one blooms.
07 April 2012
A pillbox hat - opening - like hands
after praying on Easter
Her eyes were filled with terror
Arms reaching - stretching - gloved
hand closing around something
Holding tight - closing - a flower at night
She was reaching for something she was
reaching for a piece of the President's head
06 April 2012
The girl sits on the end of the slide
away from the other kids
Her eyes closed staring at the sun
wrapping her arms around herself
and rocking -
I have just been showered
in pure white cherry blossoms
that speckled the sidewalk
like dribbled paint
And I cannot feel the warmth
of this early April sun on my skin
My phone rings -
And the girl turns to look at me
deep brown and gold
05 April 2012
The sense is that I know all of this already
that before you can say what is on your mind
I will open my mouth and gnats will fly out
will swarm over you and envelop you
Like that scene in Brazil when Robert De Nemo
is covered in paper and then suddenly gone
I will out cherub your face for a second
when I speak your thoughts first
That you are a therapist and I am on the couch
is of little to no consequence
I pay you to be my angel/devil place holder
I unhinge my face and pour out these things
upon the table until the pile stinks of weighing
more than it possibly could
04 April 2012
New York at night is orange
dark recessed corners and
the stick of old grease
The flowers on the tree are white
and look yellow in the streetlight
they are orbs jellyfish in the deepness
This sidewalk ends in a crack
that is a hole and a stair
it is the Prospect Park shuttle
And it is a heap moving relentless
from one end of here to another
In this light your face is a moon
Crashing from the heavens
breaking the world into tatters
03 April 2012
The wales have been blotted out
on the wall of the school
Large pale blue squares
where they once were
This swimming geometry
bobbles along on Park and Classon
a nose breaks the confines of the square
Abrupt and mathematical
Waving cosines from the depths
02 April 2012
Designed by Peter Mendelsund
Peter Mendelsund is an associate designer for Knopf. Knopf is a part of Random House and well known for the quality of their book design. You can see his influence across the subsidiaries: Vintage, Doubleday, Knopf, Random House and Pantheon.
He helped in the recent redesigns of Dostoevsky and Nabokov. And he designed the now ubiquitous covers for Stieg Larsson's books.
His aesthetic of bold, clean lines with simple color combos is represented in books by Camus and many other titles, including an amazing line of Kafka reprints.
Mendelsund plays with old illustration tropes. His designs are flat, graphic, brilliantly colored. With Flame Alphabet we have a cover that resembles cut construction paper.
Children do it every day.
The repeating geometry of the cover brings to mind tessellations, fabric design, origami. In the Peabody winning film Between The Folds filmmaker Vanessa Gould introduces us to Thomas Hull and Erik Demaine. They are two mathematicians who use origami, one to teach, the other to solve and create art. Demaine's work is in MoMA's permanent collection:
|Computational Origami (2008)|
In the same documentary we are shown work by Paul Jackson:
And Chris Palmer:
Origami was raised from craft to art form by Akira Yoshizawa. He took it as his life's work to represent life in paper. Before him origami was mostly used in games and making simple toys. After, it was art.
Paper art has recently grown in legitimacy in the world of fine art. There are ornate paper sculptures and cut paper designs showing up in galleries all over the place. Kara Walker has filled spaces with murals large and small:
|My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love (2007)|
Mendelsund has an active web presence. He is on twitter and runs two blogs.
On his main blog he discusses the art behind cover making. His unfinished two part examination of Lolita covers is fascinating and thoughtful and worth your time. His pick for a good Lolita cover is this contest entry by Emmanuel Polanco:
I couldn't agree more.
Dust Jacket is a sometime article about the design and art of book covers. The idea is to shine a spotlight on the work of the designer separate from the author. Literally judging a book by its cover.
01 April 2012
The fingers are the lines
The lines the creases of hands
Each a border - wavering in the heat
of the skin of the blood of the water
Beating against the insides of pores
And the crossing -
This poem concludes in Z.