Book Cover ~ Making Cocoa For Kingsley Amis

April 12, 2013 § Leave a comment

Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis, Wendy Cope, Faber & Faber Limited, 1997

Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis, Wendy Cope, Faber & Faber Limited, 1997

It’s been a while since I posted anything in the Book Cover category so it was about time I should ‘break the silence’. And what better way to do so than with a Faber & Faber.

Everyone knows these recognisable covers, always in the same font, size and contrasting colours. They feel nice, a bit like a thick, soft craft paper you would use for present wrapping and they are the right mix of rigid and supple. They are Faber & Faber.

I’ve always admired English publishers for their capacity to come up with new aesthetics for their covers: new series, new formats, inventive artwork for every single new book. But I have to say I like it that these poetry volumes have become a bit of a classic; they have their own character, like a signature. Closer to French publishers like Folio or Gallimard I suppose. Understated in their predictability so that only the content matters. But elegant enough that they are worthy of their content.

I particularly like this one for its vibrancy  And its title. If I’m completely honest, that’s why I bought it. It was one of those spontaneous buys. But I didn’t regret it. You only have to look at the first poem, ‘Engineers’ Corner’ to realise that Wendy Cope is a talented poet indeed.

And of course there is the last one entitled ‘Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis’:

It was a dream I had last week

And some kind of record seemed vital.

I knew it wouldn’t be much of a poem

But I love the title.

Enough said.

Book Cover ~ I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

March 13, 2013 § 6 Comments

caged bird

I read this back in January/February and never wrote a review. Why? I couldn’t tell you. I really did enjoy this book – the contrast between the quiet, pious, traditional life in a small city of the South with her grandmother and the exciting, fast-paced, violent one of the West Coast. The hardships of a life truly lived, the reflections on lesson learnt the hard way, the too real suffering of events so hard to write about. The honesty.

I find autobiographies truly admirable and brave because of their honesty. Perhaps it scares me. Because I find it so hard myself to uncover aspects of my own being – especially via such a public, faceless medium as a blog or a book. This might be why I never wrote about this very good book. Because it felt too personal – she was writing it to me, and it is not my place to repeat what she wrote. You’ll just have to read it for yourselves.

And you should read it.

So I will focus on the cover. I like its cover, deceptively innocent and happy in deep blue with flowers in the background  – and the words hanging like notes would in the air. And yet the title is so sad. And so beautiful.

Would I read the sequels? Maybe. Probably. But not now. Not yet. She is such a great lady that I feel it’d be interesting to learn about her relationship with her son and what she taught him. She is certainly someone I could learn a thing or two from.

If you still doubt this, go and listen to this beautiful, inspirational speech she gave in front of a bunch of very lucky students, some years ago.

Book Cover ~ The Great Gatsby

December 30, 2012 § Leave a comment

the great gatsby

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald, first published by Penguin Books in 1950

So far, all the book covers I have talked about are my own copies, scanned by me. I think you can tell with this one, given how battered it is at the corners. I studied The Great Gatsby in my penultimate year of high school and it was a bit of a revelation. Or perhaps my brilliant teacher made it one.

The style, filled with nostalgia and roaring twenties charm is beautifully captured by this picture. Or rather, this half-picture. One can guess what the other half is. And in a sense, it’s very fitting that the man should be forever separated from his lovely partner with short hair and fine eyebrows  since Daisy remains forever and always out of reach – right there, inches away, on the other side of the cover -other side of the world, other side of his world. And so my opinion is that this cover is both beautiful and very clever.

Book Cover ~ The Hobbit

December 1, 2012 § Leave a comment

The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien, George Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1975

The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien, George Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1975

Technically, this should fall in the ‘Just Read‘ category but The Hobbit‘s book cover in this edition is so famous that it felt more appropriate to discuss the book here. It seems particularly appropriate when we remember that Tolkien made the illustrations himself.  I think the fact that the maps, drawings and runes alphabet are all his only makes it easier to dive into this imaginary world. It certainly testifies to the depth of this man’s imagination. What I liked about it was how unassuming this imagination was. It sounded like he was letting us into this world he’d created for himself as a child and had escaped into ever since – it was like sharing his playground. I say child’s world because the songs and occasional nursery-rhyme rhythms help create this impression – and he did read the stories to his children after all.

As someone who hasn’t read the Lord of the Rings trilogy and watched the films only very recently, I do not believe I have the knowledge to say much about what has become an institution. I can only say I have lot of respect for the author who based a lot of the fantasy of this novel – or rather this world – on real ancient myths and languages: Tolkien was a professor of English language and literature and a specialist of linguistics, especially Anglo-Saxon. I appreciate his enthusiasm whilst writing something that was clearly a way to use his field of study in a playful way. The story itself takes on a Gandalf-like aspect or tone, full of sparkle and fireworks, yet revealing only a fraction of what it knows. I am not much of a fantasy kind of reader but I think this book goes beyond that category anyway. It stems from something very ancient, mystical; a heritage that we have almost forgotten about, echoing times passed.

the hobbit back

Book Cover ~ Sense and Sensiblity

October 24, 2012 § Leave a comment

Sense & Sensibility, Jane Austen, Pocket Penguin Classics, 2006

Well it was bound to happen at some point. The day would come when I would mention Jane Austen.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but, as a woman who writes about books and literature, I find it incredibly dangerous to talk about Jane. It’ s always difficult to know which approach to take: should I play the ‘you’ve-got-to-admit-Darcy-is-wonderful’ card? Or I could use the ‘her-books-are-actually-a lot-deeper-than-you-think’ angle, or even ‘I-bet-you-don’t-even-know-that-she’s-written-more-than-six-novels-you-amateur’?

So I will circumvent the issue by talking about this fine collection of covers Penguin has recently made for Austen’s novels. I like that they break away from the traditional covers that are all too frozen in their 19th century paintings to offer a new angle from which to approach the book.

The covers drawn by Kazuko Nomoto are both very modern through their ethereal quality and clear lines yet also nostalgically romantic through their pastel colours and fine contours. The texture of the ink and the unfinished lines of the illustration bring depth to the composition but also turn it into more of a suggestion than an affirmation of a drawing.

In that sense, the illustration is closer to Austen’s notoriously nuanced, measured style. Everything is hinted at in little touches, little spots of ink that take on different hues, denoting contrasting yet also complementary meanings. Thus, these covers’ minimalist aesthetic is a nice change from the usually stuffy and repetitive portraits displayed on the cover.

That being said, Austen does have an incredibly dry sense of humour that deserves to be admired. Romantic moments oozing with sentimentality are only an exaggerated interpretation of an author who is most eloquent through what she chooses to leave out yet who is not afraid to say what she means without coating it with sugar. Plus, she never takes herself or her characters seriously. And we can certainly all learn from that.

There. I’m sorry, but I couldn’t resist.

Book Cover ~ Love Poems

October 18, 2012 § Leave a comment

Love Poems, Carol Ann Duffy, Picador, 2010

I apologise for being so quiet over the last week, but in my defence, I had a very hard paper to write and… had the best surprise birthday weekend one could wish for with my boyfriend and some dear friends flying over just to be there on my special day! But I am back here now, feeling a bit sentimental, missing them already.

And so here is the book cover I chose for this week, because it is about love and it is so pretty and reminds me of Chinese silhouettes (and I love Chinese silhouettes). It pretends to look innocent but cunningly hides what we learn inside about the difficulty of uncovering one’s feelings, talking about pain and love. Duffy does it so simply it is easy to identify with some of what she says. Love always sounds the same and she is aware of that – so much so that, even though what she writes has been written before, she manages, unlike so many, to make it sound right. The cover reflects this beautifully. After all, the trinkets that remind us of loved ones are the same, whoever we are – a train ticket, a necklace, a little note, a few pictures, a dried up flower or a lovely pen. This is perhaps the true beauty of Love Poems: they are universal, yet remain so personal. But these are commonplaces, and since I didn’t offer you a quote to start the week with, I will let the poet speak for herself with her beautiful ‘Valentine’ :

Not a red rose or a satin heart.

I give you an onion.
It is a moon wrapped in brown paper.
It promises light
like the careful undressing of love.

Here.
It will blind you with tears
like a lover.
It will make your reflection
a wobbling photo of grief.

I am trying to be truthful.

Not a cute card or a kissogram.

I give you an onion.
Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips,
possessive and faithful
as we are,
for as long as we are.

Take it.
Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding-ring,
if you like.

Lethal.
Its scent will cling to your fingers,
cling to your knife.

Book Cover ~ On Art and Life

October 10, 2012 § Leave a comment

On Art and Life, John Ruskin, Penguin Books, Great Ideas, 2004

What an ambitious title! But Ruskin’s beautiful descriptions do bring Art into Life  – and vice versa – I suppose… Have you ever read ‘Of the Open Sky’? (Modern Painters I, Part II, Section III). You will never look at clouds in the same way again – or rather – you will start looking at them.

“…And every man, wherever placed, however far from other sources of interest or of beauty, has this doing for him constantly… the sky is for all…”

I admire the talent of creating a cover that suits the content of the book and describes one of its main aspects in one glance and I think this one truly does it, blending Pre-Raphaelite and Neo-Gothic aesthetics. I also love that Penguin’s Great Ideas’ series has embossed covers that make these slim, simple-looking books so precious, adding yet another dimension to their exterior design. It’s so pretty!

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