Sunday, September 23, 2012

Book Covers

When I was twelve, my English class read a fantastic book about a boy that lived in a world without color.  I think this was the first time in my life that a book stood out.  It made me want to understand the meaning behind the symbolism.  I wanted to dissect it and figure out all the little pieces in it that made it great.  The trouble was, I moved from one continent to another that year, and my brain had too many new things to process, so it quickly forgot about the book.  It would be nearly fifteen years before I would find the book again.  It wasn't the plot or the characters that helped me hunt it down.  It was the cover.

The Giver, by Lois Lowry.  The man in the picture is a painter named Carl Nelson, and the picture was taken by Ms. Lowry herself during a time when she worked as a photojournalist.  I had to email her to find this information out.
 
This is the image that was burned into my memory for a decade and a half.  I walked into a book store one afternoon, went directly to the children's section, and described it.
 
"I'm looking for a book, but I can't remember the name.  I think it is about a world where there is no color, and the front has a black-and-white picture of an old man with a long beard."
 
I expected the girl to stare at me blankly, or shrug me off.  Either I was exceedingly lucky and happened upon a woman that knows her children's literature, or this book has a really iconic cover.  (I suspect it was a little of both.)  She walked me directly over to the Independent Reader section, pulled out The Giver, and said, "Is this what you're looking for?"
 

Had the story been less powerful, I'm sure I would have simply forgotten the book.  A cover can only do so much.  As Chip Kidd said in a TED Talk, "A book cover is a distillation."  It has to condense the story down and summarize with a single glance.  If it's done well, it will pull the reader into the book.  If the book and the cover come together as one perfect unit, it will imprint itself on the memory of the reader for the rest of their life.
 
That was such a short post that I'm going to leave you with the very informative, and really funny talk that Chip Kidd gave regarding book covers.  I hope you enjoy!
 
  video

8 comments:

  1. Fascinating! I loved that TED talk and to see all the thought that goes into a cover. Excellent post.

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    1. As a reader--even as a writer--you don't always think about what goes into designing a book cover. I love seeing that side of the process. Glad you enjoyed the video! It's one of my favorite TED Talks. Makes me laugh every time.

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  2. I agree, excellent post!! That cover of The Giver is very memorable.

    I love the Ted talk. It was really fascinating, and I really believe a well-designed cover can do so much for a book.

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    1. I agree. Especially in an age of instant gratification. We have so many options for books and entertainment, and so many obligations pressing us for time. The book cover really has to be something special to hold our attention long enough to get us to read the back blurb.

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  3. Chip Kidd's website has an excellent GALLERY of his Book Covers, check it out!

    http://www.chipkidd.com

    Thanks,
    Tommy

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    1. Thank you for the link! What can I say, the man is a genius. He really makes book covers into a work of art.

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  4. This is exactly where my mind has been lately--lost in the overwhelming world of book covers. Thank you so much! And I love the Giver, and had a similar experience with it. I read it when I was young, forgot all about it, and read it again as an adult. Every page was an a-ha!-I-remember-this moment. Great post!

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    1. It really is one of those books that sticks somewhere at the back of your mind. It was the same for me as I re-read it. I kept thinking, "Oh wow, I forgot that happened! This is amazing!"

      If you liked The Giver, Lois Lowry wrote two follow-up books, Gathering Blue, and The Messenger. She's releasing her final book in the series this coming Tuesday. It's called Son. From the description, it sounds like the book follows a birthmother from Jonas's community. I believe she escapes to a new community, though she can never forget the little boy she gave birth to--something that I suspect will be the catalyst for major change in their world.

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