Judging Books by their Covers: 10 Unforgettable Designs

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?

Oxford English Dictionary // Public Domain
The Time the Oxford English Dictionary Forgot a Word
Sir James Murray in his Scriptorium
Sir James Murray in his Scriptorium
Oxford English Dictionary // Public Domain

When the complete edition of what would become the Oxford English Dictionary debuted in 1928, it was lauded as a comprehensive collection of the English language, a glossary so vast—and so thorough—that no other reference book could ever exceed its detail or depth. In total, the project took seven decades to catalogue everything from A to Z, defining a total of 414,825 words. But in the eyes of its editor James Murray, the very first volume of the dictionary was something of an embarrassment: It was missing a word.

Looking back, it’s impressive that more words were not lost. Assembling the OED was a nightmare. Before the first volume—an installment consisting of words beginning with the letters A and B—was published in 1888, multiple editors had taken (and abandoned) the helm, and each regime change created new opportunities for mayhem. When James Murray took command in 1879, the Oxford English Dictionary could best be defined by the word disarray.

The irony of making this massive reference book was that it required millions upon millions of tiny, tiny pieces of paper. Every day, volunteers mailed in thousands of small strips of paper called “quotation slips.” On these slips, volunteers would copy a single sentence from a book, in hopes that this sentence could help illuminate a particular word’s meaning. (For example, the previous sentence might be a good example of the word illuminate. Volunteers would copy that sentence and mail it to Oxford’s editors, who would review it and compare the slip to others to highlight the word illuminate.)

The process helped Oxford’s editors study all of the shades of meaning expressed by a single word, but it was also tedious and messy. With thousands of slips pouring into the OED’s offices every day, things could often go wrong.

And they did.

Some papers were stuffed haphazardly into boxes or bags, where they gathered cobwebs and were forgotten. Words beginning with Pa went missing for 12 years, only to be recovered in County Cavan, Ireland, where somebody was using the papers as kindling. Slips for the letter G were nearly burned with somebody’s trash. In 1879, the entire letter H turned up in Italy. At one point, Murray opened a bag only to find a family of live mice chewing on the paperwork.

When Murray took over, he tried to right the ship. To better organize the project, he built a small building of corrugated iron called the “Scriptorium.” It resembled a sunken tool shed, but it was here—with the help of 1029 built-in pigeonholes—that Murray and his subeditors arranged, sorted, and filed more than a thousand incoming slips every day. Millions of quotations would pass through the Scriptorium, and hundreds of thousands of words would be neatly organized by Murray’s trusty team.

One word, however, slipped through the cracks.

Oxford English Dictionary entry slips
Oxford English Dictionary entry slips
Media Specialist, Flickr // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Bondmaid is not the kind of word people drop during conversation anymore, and that’s for the best: It means “a slave girl.” The word was most popular in the 16th century. Murray’s file for bondmaid, however, reached back even further: It included quotations as old as William Tyndale’s 1526 translation of the Bible.

But then bondmaid went missing. “Its slips had fallen down behind some books, and the editors had never noticed that it was gone,” writes Simon Winchester in The Meaning of Everything. When the first volume of the Oxford English Dictionary was published in 1888, bondmaid wasn’t there. (That volume of the OED does miss other words, but those exclusions were deliberate matters of editorial policy—bondmaid is the only word that the editors are known to have physically lost.)

When the slips were later rediscovered in the Scriptorium, Murray reportedly turned red with embarrassment. By 1901, some 14 years after the exclusion, he was still reeling over the mistake in a draft of a letter addressed to an anonymous contributor: “[N]ot one of the 30 people (at least) who saw the work at various stages between MS. and electrotyped pages noticed the omission. The phenomenon is absolutely inexplicable, and with our minute organization one would have said absolutely impossible; I hope also absolutely unparalleled.”

All was not lost for the lost word, however. In 1933, bondmaid made its Oxford dictionary debut. It had taken nearly five decades to make the correction.

Warner Bros.
Rent an Incredible Harry Potter-Themed Apartment in the City Where the Series Was Born
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

The Muggle city of Edinburgh has deep ties to the wizarding world of Harry Potter. J.K. Rowling wrote much of the book series while living there, and there’s even a pub in Edinburgh that named itself after the author for a month. Now, fans passing through the Scottish capital have the chance to live like their favorite boy wizard. As Digital Spy reports, a Harry Potter-themed holiday home in the city’s historic district is now available to rent for around $200 (£150) a night.

Property owner Yue Gao used her own knowledge as a fan when decorating the apartment. With red and yellow accents, a four-poster bed, and floating candles adorning the wallpaper on the ceiling, the master bedroom pays tribute to both the Gryffindor dormitory and the Hogwarts Great Hall. The Hogwarts theme extends to the lounge area, where each door is painted with a different house’s colors and crest. Guests will also find design aspects inspired by the Hogwarts Express around the apartment: The second bedroom is designed to look like a sleeping car, and the front door is disguised as the brick wall at Platform 9 3/4.

Pieces of Harry Potter memorabilia Gao has picked up in her travels are hidden throughout the home, too. If visitors look closely, they’ll find several items that once belonged to Rowling herself, including the writer’s old desk.

Take a look at some of the photos of the magical interiors:

The apartment is available to rent throughout the year through And if you can tear yourself away from the residence for long enough, there are plenty of other Harry Potter-themed attractions to check out in Edinburgh during your stay.

[h/t Digital Spy]


More from mental floss studios