Beautiful Books

I’m not a graphic designer, or a designer of any sort. I’m not an artist, either, so I don’t know what technically constitutes good design, though I am sure of what I like and what works. I pay attention to the design of everything, whether how something was engineered or how things like fabric and wallpaper and furniture and books present themselves. Mainly, I simply appreciate beautiful things, and for me books are very much among them.

Since I’m a bibliophile as much as a bookworm, most of the time I don’t just buy any edition of a certain book. I buy the one I think looks and feels best. I notice a book’s cover, and I often buy because I’ve been attracted to that first. If it’s a hardbound book, I like to take off the dust jacket and look at what’s underneath and how it is bound at the spine (I notice the endpapers too). I love when books showcase a designer’s creativity and ingenuity.

If it’s trade paperback, which is my preferred form (though clothbound is certainly yummy), I am attracted to matte covers, like Penguin’s Eat, Pray, Love (though the layout design and typesetting and print quality leaves something to be desired), for example, and I pay attention to the spine design and how the book falls open (hopefully the binding is not too tight and the book falls open nicely. Usually these have soft paper, too, or deckle edges).

The cover, finish, binding, paper, and layout design all have to complement the story well to create a fulfilling experience for me. The bonus: if the book smells great. I adore my hardback copy of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. Everything about it is perfect. And the fragrance, divine.

Here is a random sample of book covers I find attractive.

Evokes the mood well
Another woodcut-y silhouette and a design trend I can't resist
An excellent read too. This cover really captures the characters and story
Like the story, delicate and beautiful
Can't wait to buy this one!
Another sea monster one!
Love the simplicity and style of this
I love Penguin editions!
Another Penguin, another silhouette cover
Just like Atwood, this cover is CLEVER!
The UK design is much nicer than my edition
A design trend I love
Seeing a pattern here?
Similar to the ones above. Love the colours in this
Love the colours and the design. Suits the story well
I can't wait to read this one
I think I like this one better. UK edition

Speaking of Penguin, I could post a million of their covers here. Their clothbound classics (above) would look stunning as a set on my shelves, as would their other sets, particularly their Dickens one and the Bill Amberg set. Gorgeous! Coralie Bickford-Smith is Senior Designer for Penguin Books and man, can she design books! She is quite possibly my favourite (I absolutely love everything on her site and covet all of it—I can’t choose), though I also absolutely love award-winning Canadian book designer (and author! Have you read the End of the Alphabet? It’s a gorgeous book designed by Kelly Hill, and a lovely story) C.S Richardson, and might prefer him. He designed a few books I own (not just the covers) The Bedside Book of Birds, and the now infamous Nikolski.

For more lovely covers, check out The Book Design Review’s posts here.

Lastly, here is one more cover that doesn’t particularly fit in my list above but I have to include it because I think it’s very funny:

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40 Comments to “Beautiful Books”

  1. Marie Clausén

    Beautiful designs! I picked up two of these yesterday at Chapter’s solely because the cover design grabbed my attention. Something else I love is thick, structured cover stock. One thing I have noticed is that as much time and money and creativity as is often poured into the cover design there is rarely if ever as much care taken with the interior – the choice of paper, the typesetting…I wonder why? That is every bit as important to me as the cover – after all it is the interior one will be looking at – reading – mostly.

    1. I totally know what you mean about the inside being unsatisfactory at times. Do you think this has anything to do with budget, from a publisher’s perspective? What else might it be?

      My copy of Eat, Pray, Love is like that. The layout is meh and the quality is totally lacking. If ever they come out with a special edition of some sort, I’ll have that on my shelves as well.

      Lately, though, the books I’ve chosen have been lovely inside, too, thank goodness! C.S. Richardson’s books are all gorgeous. The man is incapable of doing anything meh.

      1. Marie Clausén

        Budget is one likely culprit (as always) – certainly when it comes to paper choice.

        It could also be that there are no typesetting schools in Canada anymore – probably not many other places either, except Germany. So it is relatively easy to get hold of a talented graphic designer to do the cover, but not quite so easy to get hold of an inspired and gifted typesetter/compositor.

  2. Marie Clausén

    I think perhaps my favourite is “The Sea Captain’s Wife” although “The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate” and “Leviathan” are both smashing as well. Have you seen “The Poisonwood Bible”? I saw it yesterday and almost bought it just due to how it looked and felt, but then i ended up buying a lovely softcover edition of “Anne of Green Gables” with deckled edges and a small paperback copy of Thomas Hardy’s poems (perfect for trips).

  3. I’m always jealous when people go bookshopping and I love to know what they get! Your copy of Anne of Green Gables made me smile, seeing as you’ve been longing to go east lately. Which edition is it? I’ll look it up. I have a very old hardback copy of it and then the softcover set. Was my very favourite book at one time! Did I ever pretend I was her!

    I have seen the Poisonwood Bible and years ago I tried to read it but couldn’t get into it. Every time Kingsolver comes out with a new one it grabs my attention but then I leave it behind. I must just need to be in the mood for her. I’d like to try it again.

    Hard to say which one is my fave. I think The Waterproof Bible. It’s a lovely hardcover with a shapely sort of jacket.

  4. Marie Clausén

    Yes, I admired the scalloped jacket on the Waterproof Bible yesterday, too. That must be so expensive to get the printer to do that!

    I grew up reading my mother’s old (1940-ish) hardcover of Anne – in Finnish translation no less! I loved it, but believe the spine has come off it now (it’s in Stockholm). This new edition of mine is published by Anchor Canada.

  5. Marie Clausén

    Yes, that’s the one. The cover feels matte and smooth – I actually prefer the feel of the interior paper which feels very soft and almost feathery to the tough. And the paper is a nice shade of off-white, easy on the eyes.

  6. Of course! :)

    And I know exactly what you mean about those soft, feathery pages. I love those.

    I thought the cover might be matte but a bit embossed. Like my Clara Callan, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, or To Kill a Mockingbird editions. Your edition sort of reminds me of those.

      1. Marie Clausén

        I’d love to go in May (around Victoria Day) to see the apple blossoms and live the first chapter in “Anne…” but am not sure finances will stretch that far this year…perhaps next May?

  7. Guess what? I didn’t pick up The Waterproof Bible! I read the first page, and to be honest, didn’t like it at all. I thought the writing was kind of…amateur-ish? I think it’s meant to be that way, but regardless, didn’t like it. Disappointed. And puzzled. Maybe I just wasn’t in the mood for it, or maybe it really isn’t that great, in which case, why the expense on the design?
    Read the first couple pages and tell me what you think!

  8. Hmmm, okay, when I’m at a bookstore next, I’ll check it out. Or maybe it’s on Amazon where you can look inside.

    Maybe that’s why it was already second-hand, eh? Disappointing! I’ll check anyway. Seems like a neat story idea…

    Did you get anything else instead?

  9. No, I have to take it easy for awhile. Maybe I’ll wait for Curiosity to come out. Sort of in the middle of The Enchantress, which to be honest, I’m finding difficult to really get into. Was liking it at first, but at times it can get tiring. His “in your face-ness” is good, but he never lets up, know what I mean? It’s constant hyper tongue in cheek.

  10. That’s my main criticism of Rushdie. His constant cleverness is kind of a put-off because it’s seemingly self-conscious, too much so.

    This is my second time trying it; this time I got much farther in and I am rather enjoying it. I must be in the mood. Like with Fury. It took me a few tries, that one, but on the last try, I started and finished it in one go!

    1. Marie Clausén

      I can’t read Rushdie’s fiction at all – I tried “Midnight’s Children” a while back and I don’t think I’ve ever been so bored. I ended up giving it away. I find his non-fiction far more readable.

      1. I’m not sure bored is the right word for me, but I do lose momentum; some of them do become work. I really do enjoy his books at first and I love the magic realism and humour and fairy tale-ishness of them, and one of my favourite books is Haroun and the Sea of Stories. I also love his short stories, and I did like Imaginary Homelands. But I still haven’t been able to finish Midnight’s Children or the Satanic Verses. Yet. I would like to try again.

      2. Marie Clausén

        I am unable to identify with his characters (as I can’t say I understand them), and without that crucial sense of identification, without particularly caring what happens to them, the story is flat for me, regardless of how many adventures they are written into. Does that make sense?

  11. JK

    Ah, we have similar taste once again! A shout out is also deserved by my fave book designer, Kelly Hill (who actually was the one who did Scott Richardson’s the End of the Alphabet, though you can see some of their sensibilities). Kelly’s done such gems as the Ecoholic Cover, the Birth House cover, and recently, Come, Thou Tortoise (and many more).

    And those Penguin hardcover redesigns are to die for!

    1. JK: Oh my gosh, you’re right! I thought Richardson designed his own book. How embarrassing. Well, cool, because I’ll definitely keep my eye out for Kelly Hill.

      I love the Birth House cover, and, funnily enough, I carried around Come, Thou Tortoise in Chapters just a couple of days ago but ended up putting it back only because I had to choose between it and another, which was my new Alice in Wonderland edition illustrated by Robert Ingpen. I have a set of his because his illustrations blow me away, and I hadn’t seen this before…

      Have you read Come, Thou Tortoise? It’s still on my list!

      1. Marie Clausén

        I’ve been looking for a nice illustrated edition of Alice actually. So you recommend the Ingpen one, eh? Any others you think I should be looking at?

  12. Oh, Steph, what a beautiful post! Makes me want to shove my laptop aside and run right to my bookshelves.

    Of the covers you posted above, my favorites are The Sea Captain’s Wife and Sea of Poppies. Of the books I have at home, my favorite book cover is One Hundred Years of Solitude ( I love the colors and the texture. And, I’m sure there’s a technical term for it, but the pages are cut at different widths, which I really like. I’m so excited to break it open and devour it!

  13. Rebecca,

    Ooo! Your Harper edition matches three of my books; they must be a sort of set! Hmmm. I never finished a Hundred Years of Solitude; I should try again one day. I have Clara Callan, A Tree Grows in Brookyn, and To Kill a Mockingbird in that set. I know precisely what you mean in describing the colour and texture!

    PS. The term for the pages is deckle edges.

  14. Marie: I have at least three very nice editions of Alice, and there are a billion different ones out there. It’s hard to say! The clothbound Everyman’s Library one is a nice edition. I think the illustrations are the original ones, too (Sir John Tenniel’s anyway), but I’m not positive about that. Penguin has a couple of nice editions, totally different looks. Macmillan did a lovely boxed set, but I don’t fancy the illustrations much. They’re a bit creepy or something.I guess it all depends on the paper, binding, and illustrator you fancy!


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