tshirts, cartoon cats, and why i love book covers

i had to splurge and use some of my financial aid money to buy this awesome shirt celebrating the best book ever:

check out outofprintclothing.com for more lovely shirts. they also donate one book for each shirt sold.

also, they had the smarts to recognise master and margarita (or it’s maurice sendak kitty cover) as a book worth advertising.

a recent new york times article points out, book covers, sadly, are a dying art form. as our society embraces digital readers, the unique physical appearance of each story is lost: instead, they are replaced by the plastic shell of the device used to display them. this anonymity is something new to the american book enthusiast: in japan, all paperback books are made the same size, and for the most part, have nondescript covers. book covers that conceal the details of the reader’s tome of choice are popular among those who commute via rail. after all, does everyone on the train need to know you’re reading a book about an eleven-year-old wizard ? granted, in the uk, the adults simply asked for a more sophisticated jacket for their silly sorcerer stories.

i dread the day when all our novels are electronic and all our “books” are manufactured in china, designed in california. i have always loved old book covers: my friend jon and i have amassed large collections of old, hardly bound books that, while the yellowed pages can’t seem to stay inside, are decorated with the most beautiful vintage artwork. it makes my shelf smell funny, but i like that.

in fact, the reason i picked up master and margarita in the first place was because the cover–and the man diligently pouring over it’s contents–caught my eye in a coffee shop. the man stood in line during the very busy morning rush, his nose pressed between the pages the entire time. he placed his order, and as i whipped together his latte, he stood right in front of me reading the book. i noticed the hebrew title, on what i would consider the back of the book.

“what are you reading ?”
“huh ? oh, an old russian book. but it’s in hebrew”.
“i see that. what’s it called ?”
“it’s called ‘devil comes to moscow’. it’s very interesting”.
“it must be, you read it the whole time you were in line, and it’s loud as hell in here. you recommend it ?”
“yes, of course ! i wish i knew the english title, but the author is named boolgykov”.

it took a bit of investigating, but i found the english title and picked it up the next week. i read it in one sitting, and had to call in sick to work the next day because i had stayed up all night reading about the master, his love, a vodka-drinking cat, and the fifth procurator of judea, the equestrian pontius pilate.

a random man in a coffee shop pouring over an interesting-looking volume in a language i know fifty words of somehow managed to introduce me to a book that a lifetime of russophilia, library visits, and lit classes had not.

needless to say, i’m sad to see the art of the book cover go.

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4 thoughts on “tshirts, cartoon cats, and why i love book covers

  1. I’m sooooo glad you are blogging again! I’ve always loved reading your posts :]

    I agree with the part about books being manufactured in China part. This whole kindle or iBook fad is nothing more than an end of an era. There is something completely charming about an old book or being able to physically hold a book. As a kid I used to smell all the library books because they had that “old book” smell. Definitely can’t do that with an iPad.

    Uhh… love you!

  2. Congrats on the blog. (well it is not new, then new to me)

    I agree about the death of book covers. It was like that for me for album covers. As a kid I would study them as I listen to the music as if there was some connected meaning to the artwork and lyrics. Sometime there was a match but most times not.

    Maybe you can create an alternative and make millions off of authors on iPads and Kindells. Just a thought

  3. I HATE e-readers. Not only do they destroy the cover-art industry, they’re also killing typography. Ever notice that different books have different type styles? Less so in adult books, but it’s a huge deal in YA fiction. The typography of a particular book can set the entire tone. Times New Roman? General fiction. Courier? Sci-fi or mystery. Flowery script? Teen girl diary style. It’s awesome.

    Besides, e-readers are such a pain in the ass to read from. My eyes go all cross-y after an hour or so and the text all runs together. Give me a book any day.

    1. nicky, i picked up an ipad today and was pleasantly surprised to see that the type in each of the eBooks is the same as in the original. i’m guessing they just turn the digital original for the book into an eBook and print from the same file. it definitely FEELS weird–i read part of “beezus and ramona” today, thinking how when i read that book under my covers in first grade, i could never imagined reading it on an iPad–but it was nice to see some of the originality of the book was intact.

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