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Judging Books by their Covers: 10 Unforgettable Designs

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If you're a fan of this blog, you probably like to read. A lot. And you probably have your own favorite book jacket designs. Go ahead and drop "˜em in the comments so we can build on this admittedly subjective list. Oh, and if you have a book jacket you just find revolting, let us know about that one, too. We'll be doing a follow-up post in the coming week about really awful book jacket designs.

1. The Great Gatsby

Born in Spain in 1893, artist Francis Cugat couldn't have known what history had in store for him when he was commissioned by Charles Scribner's Sons to create the cover for this monumental 1925 novel. As the story goes, Cugat finished the artwork way before F.Scott Fitzgerald finished the manuscript. When the publisher shared the design with Fitzgerald, he was so enamored of it, so inspired, he is thought to have worked the design into the fabric of the narrative. Where? Well one hypothesis is often cited in Nick Carraway's description of Daisy, as the girl whose disembodied face floated along the dark cornices and blinding signs. Another possible influence may been seen in the symbolic billboard eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg. From the novel: But above the gray land and the spasms of bleak dust which drift end¬lessly over it, you perceive, after a mo¬ment, the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg. The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic -- their retinas are one yard high. They look out of no face, but instead from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a non-existent nose.

Whether Fitzgerald was influence by the artwork or not, we may never know. And this is hardly the only mystery associated with the novel. For instance, no other Cugat book jacket has ever been identified, other than The Great Gatsby, and no one knows when or where the mysterious artist died. Sounds like Hollywood material, no?

2. Darkness at Noon

darknessArthur Koestler's most famou novel was first published in 1940 and reflects the author's bleak view of Communism in the late "˜30s. It was originally published in German. This Scribner reprint came out in 2006 and was designed by the Office of Paul Sahre. It's the kind of cover that's so bright, it makes you squint, literally.

3. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

DoAndroidsDreamSignet1971Bob Pepper created a lot of amazing artwork for some of the most famous Philip K. Dick books, including A Scanner Darkly and We Can Build You. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was first published in 1968 as a hardcover by Doubleday. The Pepper paperback version came out a year later. For some more cool Bob Pepper sci-fi designs, check out this link.

4. Norwegian Wood

norJohn Gall is Art Director for Vintage and Anchor Books an imprint of Alfred A Knopf, which is a publishing group within Random House Inc. He and his team are the brilliant designers behind all those amazing Haruki Murakami book jackets (the English translation versions). In an interview I read with Gall, he said his team generally has 6-8 weeks to come up with cover designs for about 70 books! Makes me all the more appreciative of those Murakamis.

5. The Last Lonely Saturday

Picture 2No list would be complete without mentioning Jordan Crane, writer, graphic novelist, comic cartoonist, and brilliant designer. For a look at a bunch of other covers he's designed, check out his site here.

6. Jurassic Park

425px-JurassicparkLikewise, no list would be complete without author, editor, and graphic designer, Chip Kidd, who has been responsible for some of the book industry's best designs in recent years. This classic 1990 cover for Jurassic Park was so successful, Universal stole it when they put together the artwork to market the film of the same name. Kidd's designs for his own books are no less memorable. Check some more of them out here.

7. Of Mice and Men

OfMiceAndMenJohn Steinbeck's classic tale about George Milton and Lennie Small was first published in 1937. The great, original jacket design was created by artist Ross MacDonald, not to be confused with the pseudonym of Kenneth Millar, the famous crime fiction novelist.

8. Catch-22

Catch22Paul Bacon is like the Quincy Jones of book jacket design. He's designed covers for Ernest Hemingway, William Golding, Norman Mailer, Kurt Vonnegut, E.L. Doctorow, Phillip Roth, Michael Crichton, and Joseph Heller, among scores of others. This 1961 cover for Simon & Schuster's original Cath-22 has always been a favorite.

9. One Red Paperclip

clip.jpegYou may have read the blog already but if not, this is the story about a guy who changes his life, starting with a paperclip, and trading up. In just fourteen trades, he's able to acquire a home. The book was published by Three Rivers (a trade paperback imprint of the Crown Publishing Group). The brilliant design was created by Kyle Kolker. You might expect a house on the front cover, or some of the other 12 things he traded for. That's the beauty of this beauty: simple, simple, simple.

10. In Cold Blood

x3412Vintage published Capote's account of the now-famous quadruple murder case in 1966. The original jacket was designed by S. Neil Fujita, who also once served as the art director for CBS Records, and designed such iconic graphics as the Godfather logo. Speaking about the book jacket experience, Fujita said, "I showed Truman Capote my ideas for In Cold Blood. I thought of a red hat pin that I stuck into the title of the book to suggest death or something like that, but he didn't like the color. "˜It can't be red, because it wasn't a new death, it didn't just happen,' so I changed the color to purple and added a black border to suggest something more funereal. Capote loved that.

So does this blogger.

How about you all? What are some of your favorites?

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Kyle Ely
Dedicated Middle School Teacher Transforms His Classroom Into Hogwarts
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Kyle Ely

It would be hard to dread back-to-school season with Kyle Ely as your teacher. As ABC News reports, the instructor brought a piece of Hogwarts to Evergreen Middle School in Hillsboro, Oregon by plastering his classroom with Harry Potter-themed decor.

The journey into the school's makeshift wizarding world started at his door, which was decorated with red brick wall paper and a "Platform 9 3/4" sign above the entrance. Inside, students found a convincing Hogwarts classroom complete with floating candles, a sorting hat, owl statues, and house crests. He even managed to recreate the starry night sky effect of the school’s Great Hall by covering the ceiling with black garbage bags and splattering them with white paint.

The whole project cost the teacher around $300 to $400 and took him 70 hours to build. As a long-time Harry Potter fan, he said that being able to share his love of the book series with his students made it all pay off it. He wrote in a Facebook post, "Seeing their faces light up made all the time and effort put into this totally worth it."

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Though wildly creative, the Hogwarts-themed classroom at Evergreen Middle School isn't the first of its kind. Back in 2015, a middle school teacher in Oklahoma City outfitted her classroom with a potions station and a stuffed version of Fluffy to make the new school year a little more magical. Here are some more unique classroom themes teachers have used to transport their kids without leaving school.

[h/t ABC News]

Images courtesy of Kyle Ely.

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Tim Boyle/Getty Images
How the Rise of Paperback Books Turned To Kill a Mockingbird Into a Literary Classic
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Tim Boyle/Getty Images

If you went to middle or high school in the U.S. in the last few decades, chances are you’ve read To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee's now-classic novel (which was adapted into a now-classic film) about racial injustice in the South. Even if you grew up far-removed from Jim Crow laws, you probably still understand its significance; in 2006, British librarians voted it the one book every adult should read before they die. And yet the novel, while considered an instant success, wasn’t always destined for its immense fame, as we learned from the Vox video series Overrated. In fact, its status in the American literary canon has a lot to do with the format in which it was printed.

To Kill a Mockingbird came out in paperback at a time when literary houses were just starting to invest in the format. After its publication in 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird was reviewed favorably in The New York Times, but it wasn’t the bestselling novel that year. It was the evolution of paperbacks that helped put it into more hands.

Prior to the 1960s, paperbacks were often kind of trashy, and when literary novels were published in the format, they still featured what Vox calls “sexy covers,” like a softcover edition of The Great Gatsby that featured a shirtless Jay Gatsby on the cover. According to a 1961 article in The New York Times, back in the 1950s, paperbacks were described as “a showcase for the ‘three S’s—sex, sadism, and the smoking gun.’” But then, paperbacks came to schools.

The mass-market paperback for To Kill a Mockingbird came out in 1962. It was cheap, but had stellar credentials, which appealed to teachers. It was a popular, well-reviewed book that earned Lee the Pulitzer Prize. Suddenly, it was in virtually every school and, even half a century later, it still is.

Learn the whole story in the video below from Vox.


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