When Book Covers Came of Age

We take beautiful book covers for granted these days. Subtly or blatantly, they tell us so much about books’ content and mood. It’s hard to imagine browsing without them! But as Martin Salisbury explains in the introduction to his own beautiful book, The Illustrated Dust Jacket, 1920 to 1970, just published by Thames & Hudson, book covers were once simply protective wrappings, designed to be discarded.

Salisbury says, “It was not really until the 1920s that the jacket as we know it today became a familiar sight in bookshops and the art of book jacket design became an important branch of the applied arts and an area of opportunity for artists.” And what artists they were, from the Bloomsbury painters Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant to Milton Glaser, N.C. WyethRockwell Kent, Tomi Ungerer, and Edward Gorey.

We hope you’ll enjoy the following excerpt from The Illustrated Dust Jacket.

The Illustrated Dust Jacket 1920-1970

Introduction, by Martin Salisbury

In 1949, the then editor of Graphis, Charles Rosner, curated the first international exhibition of book jacket design at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Of around 8,000 jackets in the museum’s collection, 460 were selected that were “deemed to be worthy of hanging on the walls of a national museum.”  Presumably, such a statement addressed the possibility of the illustrated dust jacket’s aspirations to the status of art. The jacketed books in question were selected for the outstanding quality of the artwork that adorned them and the extent to which each one fulfilled its function in exciting interest in the book itself. The word “illustrated” of course embraces the use of a variety of forms of imagery, including photographic, hand drawn or painted. This book is particularly concerned with the last of these – the work of artists whose hand-rendered pictorial illustrations were reproduced on book jackets over a period of fifty years, from a time when publishers were beginning to see the possibilities of high-quality artwork in this context around 1920, to one when photography increasingly began to usurp the traditional artist’s skills at the end of the 1960s. The purely typographic tradition, exemplified by the work of Berthold Wolpe at Faber and Faber in these years, is also outside this book’s remit.

In Rosner’s later publication, The Growth of the Book Jacket (1949), he quotes from a deliciously pompous comment on the exhibition in the Observer newspaper by the essayist, caricaturist and general wit Sir Max Beerbohm. Writing from his home in Italy, Beerbohm pronounces:

I gather that to many other arts has now been added the art of the book-jacket, and that there is an exhibition of it in the Victoria and Albert Museum. I doubt whether, if I were in England, I would visit this, for I have in recent years seen many such exhibitions. To stand by any book-stall or to enter any book-shop is to witness a terrific sense of internecine warfare between the innumerable latest volumes, almost all of them violently vying with one another for one’s attention, fiercely striving to outdo the rest in crudity of design and color. It is rather like visiting the parrot-house in the Zoological Gardens, save that there one can at least stop one’s ears with one’s fingers, whereas here one merely wants to shut one’s eyes.

Beerbohm, by then in his late seventies, was of a generation that had seen the book jacket grow from its humble origins as a purely functional plain protective bookseller’s wrapping in the nineteenth century, to something closer to the illustrated jacket with which we are familiar today. Beerbohm was not alone in being somewhat underwhelmed by the virtues of this emerging area of the graphic arts. In his Dent Memorial Lecture in 1936, Richard de la Mare, a member of the board of Faber and Faber, commented that:

The history of the book jacket is a strange one. The wretched thing started as a piece of plain paper, wrapped round the book to protect it during its sojourn in the bookseller’s shop; but it has become this important, elaborate, not to say costly and embarrassing affair, that we know today, and of which we sometimes deplore the very existence. How much better might this mint of money, that is emptied on these ephemeral wrappers—little works of art though some of them may be—be spent upon improving the quality of the materials that are used in the making of the book itself!

Moby Dick illustrated by Rockwell Kent

Such skepticism about this nascent field of creative endeavor was clearly not uncommon despite the contribution of a number of outstanding artists, who were beginning to apply their talents in this direction. Among those doing so in the UK were Edward Bawden, John Piper, Barnett Freedman and Edward Ardizzone, while in the USA, jackets designed by N. C. Wyeth, Rockwell Kent, Arthur Hawkins, Jr. and Cleonike Damianakes were adorning some of the great works of literature. In fact, far from working to the “fallacious doctrine that the loudest shout brings in the most customers,” these and other artists were contributing to the development of a new art form that the Book Jacket Designers Guild defined in terms of “successful integration of concept with graphic means, taste in design and idea, and expression of the spirit of the book.” The Guild had been formed in New York in 1947 by a group of graphic artists who were applying their talent to this field. They were keen to raise its profile and to gain wider recognition for designers and illustrators who were creating something a little more subtle than a squawking parrot.

More generally, the illustrated dust jacket as an integral aspect of the hardback book has been variable and patchy in its evolution around the world. In many cultures, including China and Japan, the jacket seems to have been something of a rarity. In Japan, the obi, a wraparound paper band much smaller and narrower than a full jacket, is used to give most of the textual information about the book, and folds over the printed boards, or sometimes over a jacket. Within mainland Europe there has been variation too, with some countries tending towards the use of illustrated stiff-card wraps as part of the binding, extended to form flaps that fold in and contain further information. For many years in France, certainly until the mid-1930s, the ubiquitous yellow paper jacket printed with black letterpress type prevailed. In Eastern Europe, the richly inventive graphic traditions were often applied in the form of printed, paper-covered boards rather than the detachable jacket. An exception was during the Weimar Republic. In that period, Germany, and Berlin in particular, was at the epicenter of avant-garde experimentation in book art and design, with richly varied approaches, including photomontage, pictorial typography and painting.

There is thus an inevitable bias in this overview towards the English language book. Though even here there can be found differences between British and American developments, as greater emphasis was placed on formatted series with consistent visual identity in Europe, whereas US publishers tended towards a more individualist approach to commissioning jacket designs. From the illustrators’ perspective, the emergence of the dust jacket opened up a new source of freelance employment. It would be rare, however, for an artist to be seen as specializing in jacket design; most would need to work across many other areas of commercial art. Nonetheless, the critic Steven Heller has observed that jacket design in America in the late 1940s “was still practiced by a small tight-knit group.” He quotes Ben Feder, one of the founding members of the Book Jacket Designers Guild, as recalling that, “There were probably no more than thirty artists working on a regular basis.”

The Otterbury Incident illustrated by Edward Ardizzone

In view of its origins as a plain protection to be discarded on purchase, and the relatively recent acceptance of the detachable jacket as an integral part of the book and its identity, it is ironic that for today’s book collectors the jacket is key—the presence of an original jacket on a sought-after first edition now greatly adds to its value. And if the design of the jacket is by a highly acclaimed artist, then that value will often increase further, at a time when awareness and appreciation of the book as a designed artifact is growing.

Before attempting to trace a brief history of the dust jacket, it might first be advisable to untangle the terminology, which has become confusing. The first “jackets” were generally referred to as “dust wrappers” and were exactly that, plain paper wrappings that protected the booksellers’ wares from the dust and dirt of the city up until the point of purchase. At which time the buyer would immediately discard it in order to enjoy the often ornately decorated leather binding that it had protected. The term “jacket” specifically describes the detachable paper cover that wraps around the hardback book, extending beyond its overall length and folding in at either end.

These “flaps” hold the jacket in place and are usually printed with information relating to what the book is about. The jacket’s role as a protector has diminished over the years as it has become primarily a form of display and promotion, a mini-poster that gives a taste of the contents, catches the eye and, once picked up, leads us to a “blurb” about the author and perhaps advertisements for other titles from that author and/or the publisher. Although bookjacket would seem the more proper term now for this object, dust jacket has clung on tenaciously in everyday language, long after its role in protecting the book from dust and dirt has become redundant. And although opinions vary among scholars, bibliophiles and the general public as to whether the jacket should be seen as part of the book itself or as an entirely separate, ephemeral addition, it would seem clear that the jacket is a historically important indicator of, and contribution to, contemporary graphic style and visual culture.

Although the almost universal early tendency to discard the jacket has hampered later scholarly research, it used to be generally accepted that the first printed dust jacket was forThe Keepsake of 1833 for the publishers Longmans in London. Until 2009, this was considered to be the earliest surviving example of a designed wrapper printed front and back, with a title design on the front (including border and decorative fleurons) and text on the back advertising other titles in print. Then a librarian at Oxford’s Bodleian Library unearthed an example from 1830: a printed wrapper for a book called Friendship’s Offering. However, in general through the 19th century publishers were slow to see the possibilities of the jacket as a promotional tool. The jacket itself became an increasingly common phenomenon as leather bindings were gradually superseded by cloth-covered boards, but most of them continued to be in the form of plain paper. Occasionally, transparent glassine coverings were supplied, which allowed a view of a pictorial binding. Plain jackets were also produced with die-cut “windows,” giving a glimpse of what was underneath.

By the early 20th century jackets were becoming increasingly common but design tended to be limited to the addition of an image taken from the interior of the book or some form of random decoration. It was not really until the 1920s that the jacket as we know it today became a familiar sight in bookshops and the art of book-jacket design became an important branch of the applied arts and an area of opportunity for artists.

Dance of the Quick and the Dead illustrated by Barnet Freedman

The process of arriving at a design for a book’s jacket is and has always been a collaborative one. Those involved include some or all of publisher, designer, illustrator and printer. Once the brief for the work is agreed, accommodating whatever house/series style or other ingredients are required, the design begins. A jacket might be purely typographic or may combine typography and image, photographic or illustrative. As indicated, this book is concerned with the latter and aims to spotlight the high-quality pictorial art and design that adorned the jackets of books through much of the twentieth century and, more particularly, the contribution of the artists and illustrators who created that work. Terminology is again an issue here and, happily, for a considerable portion of the period under discussion, the words “artist” and “illustrator” were not quite as irreconcilable as they are today. Some of the leading gallery artists of the time engaged with the design of book jackets, particularly in the immediate postwar years, notably John Craxton, John Piper, Graham Sutherland and Keith Vaughan. In many instances “artist” and “designer” were one and the same person.

A well-designed jacket requires close synthesis between type and image. Some of the best designs therefore have been by artists who were comfortable working with type themselves, often in the form of hand-rendered lettering, or by artists with an empathy for type and able to consider the overall balance of the design  in relation to the ideas of the typographic designer. As Steven Heller has observed, “successful cover design requires the expertise of an artist, typographer, poster designer and logo maker,” For much of the period surveyed by this book, the artists also needed to have a thorough grasp of the reprographic processes by which their work would be transferred to paper if they were to achieve the best results. Understanding and exploiting the limitations of, for example, letterpress line-block separations or autolithography was a feature of the work of a number of artists who became particularly influential in Great Britain, notably John Minton, John Nash and Barnett Freedman.

The legendary American designer George Salter outlined some of the key skills of the pictorial jacket designer in his article The Book Jacket in 1950:

The question whether a jacket can be designed by one artist and lettered by another may be answered in various ways. As it is possible to use an old print or photograph for a certain function in a jacket it must also be possible to combine the work of two artists in one jacket. Both drawing and lettering are a means to an end: the jacket.

Salter goes on to make it clear that the design process must always come first and that lettering and image must be considered in harmony from the outset. Equally important is the artist’s sensitivity to the text. An ability to absorb fully a book’s meanings and “tone” is essential:

Two elements not necessarily interrelated establish today the basic requirements for the makings of a good book jacket: graphic interpretation of the book’s intrinsic character and the method by which the publisher wishes to promote the title.

And on the importance of reading the full manuscript rather than submitting to publishers’ instructions or designing on the basis of a plot synopsis, he is even more unequivocal:

It seems utterly paradoxical to think that a person who makes it his profession to promote reading should voluntarily claim exemption from it for himself.

Salter was the chairman of the Book Jacket Designers Guild and he and his fellow founders were keen to counter the rise in sensationalist and titillating pulp-fiction design. Salter’s writings in the catalogues of the annual exhibitions have a somewhat evangelical and at times puritanical tone, perhaps reflecting the ongoing battle to gain acceptance of their work as a serious area of creative endeavor. Eventually, however, the importance of maintaining a record for scholars was acknowledged by the Library of Congress in the USA in the form of an archive of almost every published example. In the UK, what is now called the British Library Dust Jacket Collection had been started in the 1920s, initially in the form of a selection of jackets that were chosen on the basis of being of particular artistic interest.

Phocas the Gardener illustrated by Edward Bawden

As in most areas of the commercial arts, the graphic style of dust jackets through the twentieth century generally mirrored the fashions and movements of the times, and some are outlined on the pages that immediately follow. However, in the case of the more pictorial, illustrative jackets featured in this book, an artist’s unique personal visual vocabulary could often transcend fashion and in some instances lead to a long career. Artists such as Boris Artzybasheff, Bawden and Victor Reinganum employed their instantly recognizable talents across many decades without needing to reinvent themselves artistically in order to accommodate changing graphic trends and motifs. But others came and went or cleverly developed multiple visual personalities that brought them commercial reward but perhaps less cultural, critical acclaim.

What was clear as the century wore on was that the pictorial design of dust jackets was becoming an increasingly appealing and prestigious area of employment for the illustrator. Having your name on the dust-jacket flap (or perhaps even a discreet signature on the front of the jacket) could mean considerable exposure for the artist and, on occasion, close association in the public’s mind with great works of literature. Conversely, for some authors it would be seen as a major boost to have the work of certain high-profile artists gracing their covers or jackets. Regrettably, many dust-jacket designs also appeared with no acknowledgment of the artist, with some publishers being more routinely guilty of this crime than others. Of course, ultimately, as the writer Jhumpa Lahiri observes in The Clothing of Books, “What is the perfect book jacket? It doesn’t exist. The great majority of covers, like our clothes, don’t last forever.” Nonetheless, I hope we can extend the lives of a few in this book.

Excerpted from The Illustrated Dust Jacket, 1920-1970© 2017, by Martin Salisbury 

Reproduced by permission of Thames & Hudson Inc.

By Sarah Harrison Smith, December 7, 2017, first appearing on Amazon Book Blog

Dittos are back!

For the new and the forgetful, Dittos are the Moline Library Adult Services Department’s version of a read-alike.

For more information… see the Ditto below, you’ll get the idea.

Little Fires Everywhere Shelf End Ditto NU

Want more? There are plenty at the library!

Here’s Why Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women Is Forever Relevant

Kathryn Newton, Maya Hawke, Willa Fitzgerald, and Annes Elwy in Little Women (2017) © BBC

“Every few weeks she would shut herself up in her room,” author Louisa May Alcott writes of her most famous heroine, Josephine March, “put on her scribbling suit, and fall into a vortex, as she expressed it, writing away at her novel with all her heart and soul, for till that was finished she could find no peace.” Indeed, Little Women, the first novel Jo appears in, traces her life as a poor but spitfire New England teen — one of four sisters — who moves to New York to pursue her literary dreams, marries well, and turns her aunt’s estate into a school for boys.

Though Alcott wrote Little Women at Orchard House, her family home and where she also placed the March sisters, the autobiography stopped short of Jo’s reverie in the “vortex” expressing “all her heart and soul.” Rather, Alcott was pressured by both her father and her publisher to write Little Women, and did so for money in record time. “I plod away,” is how Alcott herself summarized the process in her journal, “although I don’t enjoy this sort of thing.” The book debuted in 1868 and each further installment churned a buying frenzy not seen until more than a century later with the advent of Harry Potter.

That beloved character’s salty creator, J. K. Rowling, stands as a sort of proto-Alcott, as Alcott’s 40-year career spanned more than 200 works under an equally sexed nom de plume, and dashed off at high speeds, never for love, but always for money. Where the Rowling comparison really breaks down is under the pure American-ness of Alcott. PBS’s American Masters purports that with lovers like Emerson and Thoreau, and time spent as both a Civil War nurse and European Grand Tour companion, Alcott “was her own best character.”

“The real Louisa Alcott,” American Masters goes on to say, “was infinitely more interested in the darker side of human nature and experience than in telling polite stories to nice children. She was a protean personality, a turbulent force, a passionate fighter attracted to danger and violence.” Though Little Women is her best-known work, none of her eight works of juvenilia has ever gone out of print, and the same year she launched her March sisters saga, she also dashed off a short story featuring picnicking socialites getting blotto on hashish.

“I loved the book so much that I didn’t think twice about saying yes,” BBC show-runner Heidi Thomas tells an audience who’ve just watched the first part of her “Little Women” trilogy at the Tribeca Film Festival, “but then I sat down with the book and boy, did I think twice then! The thing is, the great books come up for adaptation perhaps once every generation, so I thought if I don’t do it now, the chance will never come again.”

“I think a novel about young women finding their voices and learning to sing is totally relevant,” Thomas continues, “and, as an older woman, I just wanted to pick that baton up and run with it. I read that book when I was eight and I just couldn’t not do it, but I was scared and overwhelmed. Still, I find that’s when I do my best work, when I’m scared and overwhelmed; that’s when I find something new.”

What she found was Colin Callender, executive producer for the BBC, and Rebecca Eaton, executive producer for PBS, putting her on a short, almost Alcott-esque turnaround for the miniseries. “This was January of last year,” Callender remembers, “so this was one of the fastest turn-arounds on a commission for the BBC.” But rather than the truncated production schedule, Thomas chooses to focus on the expanded breadth that the mini-series three-parter afforded her.

“The real gift was having three hours to tell the story,” Thomas adds, “because at the end of the day, it’s two novels: Little Womenand Good Wives (the two appeared as volumes in 1868 and 1869, respectively, but were published together as Little Women from 1880 onward) and when I was working on each of the three-part structures, I gave them each a theme. The first is childhood. You see the girls at the most joyful they will ever be again — that kind of running wild — so this was about lightness more than hope and optimism because at this point in life, the girls don’t even realize that hope and optimism are necessary to get them through life.”

“The second part is about challenge and the approach of adulthood,” Thomas continues. “Their sister dies and they’re having to deal with the idea of time. The tone darkens. And then part three was change. In that section, I found myself in Marmee’s shoes just watching these young women finding their place in their lives.” Thomas takes a pause, and then perfunctorily sums, “So: childhood, challenge, and change.” But she’s not quite done, not quite ready to move off Marmee, played here by Emily Watson.

“She was very much in my mind when I was writing,” Thomas explains of the Academy Award nominee. “It was a very interesting pair of shoes to walk through this in. I think of Marmee as being very liminal: saintly, but also very much present as a mother. You never know what you’ll find in a book and this time around for me, it was Marmee. She’s very complicated. She’s angry, but she doesn’t seem angry. There’s a prism with which you can look through that character that gives brilliant actors material they can thrive on and that’s a very, very important part of an adaptor’s craft.”

Thomas clearly has more to say, but Callender preempts with a congratulatory, “That was quite a piece of casting!” Rebecca Eaton, executive producer of Masterpiece Theatre since 1985, but rebranded as simply “Masterpiece” since 2008, has a slew of recent hits under her belt with both “Downton Abbey” and “Wolf Hall” and is by no means a shrinking violet, but does see an opportunity to talk about the complicated two-network deal. “I can tell you about the deal we made at Masterpiece with Colin?” she posits, almost as a question.

When no one speaks over her, she continues, “Well, this is a BBC production. It’s an American book and it’s a BBC production. Masterpiece hasn’t done much American drama, usually we do mid-Atlantics, the Edith Wartons or the Henry James, but this is an all-American book. But it was going to be British. Colin, the writer, and the director are British. So Colin and I made a deal: the girls would be American. They just had to be American. And he kept his word three out of the four times because lovely Beth is Welsh. But Colin also said all of the adults would be British-acting royalty and he was able to get that because the BBC has a lot of money — people like Sir Michael Gambon and Angela Lansbury, although I think a  lot of people think Angela is American.”

“She’s the best!” offers Kathryn Newton, who plays the blond, book-burning Amy March. “When she walked in, it’s just Angela. I loved talking to her about being our age and being a contract actress. She told me to never give up. That was her advice to me.” Newcomer Maya Hawke, who plays headstrong Jo March, adds, “She’s also so amazingly porous. There’s this false idea that people, as they get older, get more stuck, but she was more flexible — changeable — than anyone I ever met. She’d do each take so differently. She had a thought and you’d watch it going across her face. She was so hungry and passionate and curious and generous, it’s a real inspiration to meet someone who’s been doing something for this long and still finds such wonder in it.”

“You start with the book,” Hawke continues when asked how to tackle an iconic role she could probably still be researching, “everybody does. Preparing for this role, you love acting, but you will love this book from the moment you pick it up. Then you start to prepare the ways in which you let the book affect you. In the ways you let Jo and her independence and her bravery and her courage perforate your being as a young woman, and hopefully impact the ways in which you go about the world. And then you get sent a script and all of a sudden you are presented not with a character in a book, but an opportunity to perform and take yourself and this person and mold them together into one.”

“Then you get really inured,” Hawke expands, “and really historical about it; you read as much as you can and you go and visit the Orchard House, which is a really beautiful, historically preserved home in Concord, Massachusetts. And you visit Walden Pond and you read Emerson and Thoreau. You read The Bible and you think about all the things these women, both the real Alcotts and the March family, try to figure out. Where their minds were going and what they were thinking and feeling while they were growing up, and then you try to give yourself ownership to be yourself and not be too weighted down by all that information. And then you try to act on instinct and be brave.”

“It’s really lovely to hear you describe your process,” Thomas responds, “because it’s so similar to mine, and sometimes the script bridges the gap between our two disciplines. You go back and read the King James Bible, in particular, and it gives a certain cadence to the language because that was the most permeated piece of literature in that home. I would read Civil War magazines because you could see what women’s preoccupations were. There would be three advertisements for hair products and one advertisement for artificial limbs because your husband was likely to come home from the war with a missing arm. It was this textual peg for what was going on. It’s also what prevents the novel from feeling like it’s been preserved in aspic jelly; these women just leap off the page as being actual, and they were, they were just put there by Alcott in the 1860s.”

Loved ‘Ready Player One’? Check out these 8 Books

Image result for ready player one wallpaper

Photo Credit: Ready Player One © 2018 Warner Bros. & De Line Pictures

by Cybil, March 28, 2018, first appearing on Goodreads Blog

With Steven Spielberg’s shiny new adaptation of Ready Player One hits theaters this past weekend, we thought it would be a fun game to round up eight more highly rated books for people who loved Ernest Cline’s dystopian science fiction debut.

Set in a rather bleak 2045, Ready Player One centers on a young Wade Watts who’s searching for the ultimate Easter egg in a global 1980s-themed virtual reality game—and the chance to win an outrageous inheritance from the game’s creator. The book has become beloved since its 2011 publication, with more than a half million reviews on Goodreads and a very robust 4.30-star rating from the community.

With such talented competition, we made sure that every sci-fi book in this roundup also has at least a four-star rating. And we looked at what books people who highly rated Ready Player One also read…and loved.

Ender's Game Snow Crash Warcross Red Rising
We Are Legion Daemon Nexus Altered Carbon

Everyone can use a bit more wisdom.

Becoming Wise

We can’t guarantee you’ll find any extra wisdom here, but the library certainly seems like a good place to start looking.

British Writer Kazuo Ishiguro Wins Nobel Prize In Literature

Kazuo Ishiguro

by Lynn Neary, October 5, 2017, first appearing on npr: Books Blog

The Swedish Academy chose Kazuo Ishiguro as the winner of the Nobel Prize in literature Thursday, October 5. Ishiguro’s most well-known work is likely The Remains of the Day, a 1989 novel.

Click here for a transcript of the awards ceremony.