Monday, January 14, 2013

Book Spotting: Tracking Great Design at the Biblioasis Shop

Happy Monday Bibliofriends!

Because no one really likes Mondays (least of all our pal Bob Geldof), we've put together a special treat that will, with our best intentions, become a regular feature here on Thirsty.

As one of our resident typography nerds / paper lovers / book designers, I've started photographing the most striking book designs that I come across in the shop. These are books I pick up and think, "wow, what a fantastic idea" and then spend a few hours grumbling about how I wish I had thought of it first. They are books that use type, image, paper stock and a variety of other elements to grab my attention and remind me to consider design differently next time I sit down at the computer.

As we have a wealth of beautiful and well-designed books coming through the doors every day, I have an abundance of material with which to bombard our kind readers.

For now, I'll restrain myself and limit my post to a few covers I've been admiring lately (all of which are, at the time of blogging, available in store at Biblioasis):

Carnival by Rawi Hage (House of Anansi, 2012)
This one may be a bit obvious, but I couldn't leave it out of my post just because so many "best book designs of the year" lists have included this cover. Designed by Brian Morgan with illustration by Lorenzo Petrantoni, this cover is complicated without confusing the eye. The kaleidoscopic feel is at once chaotic and extremely well-ordered and balanced. The red and blue on the white background, combined with the overlap of semi-transparent images add to the optical illusion effect, giving the impression of some sort of 3D without the glasses that tie everything together. Plus, the choice of images is intriguing enough to make me wonder what spiders, cars, and guns have to do with the novel, which, by book cover standards, sounds like a success to me.

Building Stories by Chris Ware (Pantheon Books, 2012)
 When this "book" (more accurately a set of books, pamphlets, and newspapers, among other exciting bits of ephemera), arrived in the shop, the entire Bibliostaff stopped what we were doing to take a closer look and open up our display copy. Packaged in a large box (pictured here), Building Stories is a like a graphic shuffle text on an extreme scale. When you open the box, you find tiny comic strips bound in miniature book form, full-sized newspaper fold outs, maps, pamphlets and other "book objects" (14 in total). These can be read and experienced in any order and, with their forces combined, create a sprawling, non-linear plot. Not only is this a super ambitious project, the execution is impeccable. The art is striking and colourful but also at times sparse and quiet, and the production values on this set are high. Everything in the package is clean, crisp, and neatly put together for an experience that makes opening the box and examining its pieces part of the fun of following the story.

 Ariel by Sylvia Plath (Faber, 2010)
I bought this edition of Ariel when I was studying it in a grad class a couple years back despite owning several copies of the text already. And why? Because it is a truly gorgeous edition of the book. The matte illustrated cover in white, teal and black definitely has Faber's signature all over it, and that is not a bad thing. It is busy, when I usually favour simplicity and clean lines, but the way the images flow together along with the minimal colour palette make this a cover that really stands out. Beyond the cover design, the book feels great to hold. It's a sturdy little hardcover that feels like it will last long enough to read, re-read, re-read again and maybe pass along to someone else twenty years from now.

Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm by Philip Pullman
A bit of a change of gears here, as this one caught my eye in the children's section. Although, there's something about this cover that, while it is clearly a children's book, with its traditional fairy tale characters and soft landscape, suggests a maturity and darkness that certainly exists in fairy tales. I think my favourite aspect of this is the interaction of type treatment and image. The way the ominous black birds sort of cut in and out of the text really brings the two design elements together, while at once keeping the book from appearing too soft and sweet. The type treatment alone is also quite contemporary and stark, not something we often see on a children's book, but in this case, it works. The designer has pulled together a cover that makes sense for fairy tales, stories we've told to children for hundreds of years, with an underlying darkness that adults will even find a bit chilling. 

The Blondes by Emily Schultz (Doubleday, 2012)
Again, this one has appeared on quite a few "best of" lists for book design this year, but with good reason. I am a sucker for a repeated but slightly altered pattern. I like symmetry and grids. But I also know that without the right treatment, these elements can come off a little flat. Not so with the design for The Blondes. Though it may be hard to tell from my instagram photo here, the swatches of hair are gloss, while the rest of the cover is matte. Just this choice takes the repeated pattern to a completely other level in terms of visual interest (and texture, when you run your hand over the cover). The distressed almost daytime sky background gives a sense of erosion and falling apart, but the colour choice also suggests (at least to me) a sort of typical happy suburban film set, where the sky is always bright blue. Changing the colour of the hair from blonde to a selection of multi-coloured jewel tones as the blue fades to brown gives the impression that while things may seem pretty normal and together, that feeling is not going to last. Pair this great visual with a clean and plain typeface that doesn't compete for attention, and you've got one of the best covers I've seen all year.

More to come in the next Book Spotting!

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