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Posts Tagged ‘cover design’

Thomas Berger, 1924–2014

July 22, 2014 | by

The Times has reported that Thomas Berger died a little more than a week ago, on July 13, just shy of his ninetieth birthday. Berger wrote twenty-three novels, the best-known of which is 1964’s Little Big Man, a western picaresque that was later adapted into a movie starring Dustin Hoffman.

The Times obit finds a through-line in his work: “the anarchic paranoia that he found underlying American middle-class life.” “It was Kafka who taught me that at any moment banality might turn sinister, for existence was not meant to be unfailingly genial,” Berger said in a rare interview. He enjoyed a cult readership throughout his prolific career, and his books bear blurbs from the likes of John Hollander and Henry Miller; in 1980, The New York Times Book Review proclaimed, “Our failure to read and discuss him is a national disgrace.”

Today, his most outspoken advocate is probably Jonathan Lethem, who discusses an early (and démodé) fondness for Berger in his Art of Fiction interview: “When I got to Bennington, and I found that Richard Brautigan and Thomas Berger and Kurt Vonnegut and Donald Barthelme were not ‘the contemporary,’ but were in fact awkward and embarrassing and had been overthrown by something else, I was as disconcerted as a time traveler.” And Lethem effused in an essay for the Times a few years back,

Berger’s books are accessible and funny and immerse you in the permanent strangeness of his language and attitude, perhaps best encapsulated by Berger’s own self-definition as a “voyeur of copulating words.” He offers a book for every predilection: if you like westerns, there’s his classic, “Little Big Man”; so too has he written fables of suburban life (“Neighbors”), crime stories (“Meeting Evil”), fantasies, small-town “back-fence” stories of Middle American life, and philosophical allegories (“Killing Time”). All of them are fitted with the Berger slant, in which the familiar becomes menacingly absurd or perhaps the absurd becomes menacingly familiar.

Berger, who spent most of his life diligently removed from public life, seemed to submerge himself in a goulash of genre fiction, emerging every few years with something new and piquant. The variety of his books is borne out by their incredible first-edition jacket art, some of which I’ve gathered above—vibrant pastiches of everything from noir to Arthurian legend, many of them with a unabashed lowbrow strangeness that’s anathema to jacket designers today. As the author himself put it: “I am peddling no quackery, masking no intent to tyrannize, and asking nobody’s pity.”

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Vancouver in Neon, and Other News

May 14, 2014 | by

vancouver neon

Photo: Vancouver Public Library

  • “University presses don’t just publish books: they keep books in print and rescue out-of-print books from obscurity … But the digital age complicates and threatens the mission of the country’s approximately 100 university presses. Ellen Faran, who has an MBA from Harvard and is the director of MIT Press, recently told Harvard Magazine: ‘I like doing things that are impossible, and there’s nothing more impossible than university-press publishing.’”
  • Almost every book set in Africa seems to have the same cover art: “an acacia tree, an orange sunset over the veld, or both … the covers of most novels ‘about Africa’ seem to have been designed by someone whose principal idea of the continent comes from The Lion King.” (Plug: Norman Rush’s Whites, Mating, and Mortals, all set in Botswana and all excellent, have acacia-free covers.)
  • Why have we ceased to eat swans? “Often served at feasts, roast swan was a favored dish in the courts of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, particularly when skinned and redressed in its feathers and served with a yellow pepper sauce.”
  • Midcentury Vancouver “had the second-most neon signs per capita on the globe, after Shanghai … neon signs fell victim to a ‘visual purity crusade’ in the 1960s. Critics thought that the neon cheapened the look of the streets, and obscured Vancouver’s natural beauty. (‘We’re being led by the nose into a hideous jungle of signs,’ wrote a critic in the Vancouver Sun—a newspaper whose headquarters was prominently bedecked in neon—in 1966. ‘They’re outsized, outlandish, and outrageous.’)”
  • Remembering the artist Richard Hamilton: “One evening, Hamilton told me he had developed a method for photographing the toaster prints, so as not to interrupt the surface with his own reflection: he would move his tripod off to one side to take the picture, later returning each image to its original orientation using Photoshop. Today, when I think of Hamilton, I think of that illusive process: the mirrored surface, the lens’s sidelong glance, the almost complete disappearance of the artist from the work—like a hotel lobby that someone has just walked out of.”

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A Battle for Souls, and Other News

July 30, 2013 | by

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  • “But ultimately, I decided that the committees overseeing these sorts of things (editorial, sales, marketing) would never approve this. ‘The title is hard to read,’ they would complain. ‘The book is hard to read,’ I would silently retort. ‘That’s one of its principle merits.’” A glimpse into the process of cover design.
  • Stephen King on opening lines.
  • The London Fire Brigade blames a 10 percent increase of handcuff-related calls on Fifty Shades of Grey.
  • Speaking of London: “In one corner sit the tut-tutting ‘serious’ readers. In the other, flirtatious undergraduates with their iPhones and social lives. At the heart is the battle for the soul—and control—of the British Library.”
  • Libraries team up with airports in a campaign called, appropriately enough, Books on the Fly. Here’s how it works: “Scanning a QR code, available on cards throughout the airport, sends users to a site where they can access the Kansas State Library’s eLending service. Visitors without a library card are directed to Project Gutenberg’s mobile-optimized site, where they can download titles in the public domain.”
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