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Judging books only by their covers: Standouts of 2008

December 6, 2008 |  3:11 pm

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The Book Design Review has posted its selected covers of 2008. The highly subjective, visually luxurious list is about equal parts strong visual statements and trompe l'oeil. Take "Violence" by Slavoj Zizek, with its faux crumpled-paper cover, or the cover of Austin Grossman's "Soon I Will Be Invincible," which looks like a box of comic books sitting on a table. There is something silly and fun about holding a book that looks like something else.

The blog is running a poll; currently in first place of the 27 favorites is the very illusory "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" by Walter Benjamin (the U.K. version). I admit, I find it so distracting that I can't bring myself to include it above. The cover of the book appears to be 15 copies of the spine of a book titled "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," bound in olive-green leather with gold lettering. And when it's reproduced online, it doesn't look like a book cover, it looks like a photo of the spine of 15 copies of the same book. Which is beautifully connected to its contents, and it is lovely to look at, and I'd love it in a bookstore. But staring at in on a screen confuses my brain, insisting on being 15 book spines and refusing to settle down into one book cover.

If tricking the eye is a theme this year, so is, contradictorily, a very strong and simple graphic scheme. Like "Against Happiness," above, with its plain smiley-face yellow cover interrupted by nothing but the title in the shape of a frown. Or other covers not pictured here: with silhouettes (people, a barking dog), or those two with bold text in a black, red and white color scheme. The black/red/white combo is a theme itself.

Reviewers like me often only see the early versions of books, without their final cover art. We spend so much time with the contents that it's a treat to look at the surfaces. Books are lovely, after all. Check out the Book Design Review's list and judge the covers for yourself.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

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