Book Cover Design by Matthew Goodman, Forward by Nicole Caputo

When thinking of book covers I first want to discuss what I, as a reader, look for in a cover design. Mostly I enjoy a clever depiction which reflects a book’s theme or an important component, one that is not too cluttered yet not too simple. I want something more than an arrangement of the letters in the title and author, no matter how colorful. Not too trite or overused (recently the arrangement of sticky notes), no jarring combinations of colors, and definitely no cutouts! If the author’s picture is included, it should be a flattering portrait, not one which would give children nightmares. I don’t mind gruesome, if appropriate, but it better be done with taste and style. Despite the adage, “You can’t tell a book by its cover”, the art work should not detract from the whole, but compel me to pick up the book so as to ascertain exactly what is going on within its pages. I might decide to skip the opportunity to read a certain book, but at least the cover gives me pause before rejection. That’s not to say I haven’t read books whose covers I abhor, simply because I love the author or genre, but I have also selected sources solely based on an attractive cover design which I might have otherwise overlooked.

So that is why I was attracted to the book, Book Cover Designs, which explores the works of various artists and the ways in which they approach their craft. The majority read a part, if not all, the manuscripts and do their best to capture a particular book’s essence, each coming up with their own brand of internalizing and interpreting the subject matter. After a description of their work history and individual tactics, a series of book covers are presented representing a sample of their works.

What I surprisingly discovered is that each book cover presented by a single artist could easily run the gamut between beautiful to delightful to thought provoking to insightful to ordinary to downright awful. Many of the covers were of books I had previously read which gave me a further insight of whether they met my own criteria of greatness. I am sorry to say that only about 25% were of superior quality, with 25% ordinary, 25% barely satisfactory, and the final 25% not up to snuff. Since I’m not an artist, maybe I’m missing some essence or quality I don’t recognize, but then, most of the readers are just like me, so, as the target audience, I feel my opinion is valid. I suppose my least favorites are those covers which are so simplistic I feel I could have drawn them myself, while the ones I liked the best were quite ingenious and “artistic”. So what makes a good piece? – “I know it when I see it”.

Yet, I’m supposed to be critiquing the book, not the individual motifs. Matthew Goodman has definitely put together a worthwhile collection to peruse and ponder. His goal was to explore the future of cover designer in the digital age wth current examples from the top designers in the field. I must say that it was intriguing to see a photograph of the numerous men and women who have made cover art a career and read about their motivations and the processes they use in their creative mechanizations. Goodman, plus Nicole Caputo who contributed the Forward, write from experience since they are both cover designers.

While there were several covers which caught my eye (some which are just too difficult to describe in just a few words) here are a few I’d like to highlight:

The November Criminals by Sam Munson – mug shots of suspected criminals with their faces obscured by a thumb print (created by Matt Dorfman)

Bad Teeth by Dustin Long – two rows of white books, open pages up, arranged to represent a mouthful of teeth (created by Rex Bonomelli)

Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass – blades of grass stacked horizontally like a pile of books (created by Christopher Sergio)

Missing Link by Jeffery Donaldson – a small swarm of butterflies whose wings are arranged with just enough parts of a chimpanzees face to be recognizable (created by David Drummond)

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov – a broken lollipop still in its wrapper used to represent the o in Lolita (created by Jennifer Heuer)

At the end of the book is a list of emails and websites of all the featured artists.

A thank you to Netgalley and Schiffer Publishing for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. Three and a half stars.

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