Monday mornings can be tough. If you’re suffering Mondayitis and could use a little pick-me-up, take time out to browse these particularly good-looking book covers we’ve sourced from around the internet.
Some are bizarre, some are clever, and some are just plain gorgeous. Enjoy!
Cheers: A History of Beer in Canada by Nicholas Pashley. Designed by David Gee. (via The Book Design Review.)
Very clever. (And disorienting to look at.)
Hawthorn and Child by Keith Ridgway. Designed by Tom Darracott. (via Flavorwire)
This one’s in the bizarre category.
Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm by Philip Pullman. (via The Book Case.)
Grimm meets Alfred Hitchcock?
Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. Designed by David Pearson. (via Flavorwire.)
Crafting with Cat Hair by Kaori Tsutaya. (via Pinterest.)
It’s the title that really makes this one.
Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier. (via The Book Design Review)
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. (via Pinterest.)
A new book from Phaidon gathers 500 of the best graphic designs created since mechanical reproduction began. The images span magazine covers, advertising logos and images, film graphics, book covers and more. Actually, it’s not a book; it’s a box of 500 image cards, each of them with the stark image on one side and the history of the image, its creation and its use on the other.
New York ad man George Lois, whose Esquire covers are featured in the collection, gave a brief interview, in which he reflected on the ‘terrible’ state of current graphic design. What’s missing? Courage, he says.
I think a lot of it is terrible. I had the misfortune six months ago of giving a lecture to 800 people at this once-great advertising company. Their work was all over the walls and I was looking at it thinking it was all terrible. You understand why when you talk to them – a lot of them told me how lucky I was to work in an era that didn’t have bad clients. Are you kidding me? There have always been pain-in-the-ass clients, and there have always been problems. Nothing’s easy in this world. We didn’t just do great advertising out of our asses. We came up with an idea and believed in it and fought for it and had the courage to not do anything we didn’t consider to be great.
Perhaps the most famous of Martin Sharp’s acclaimed covers for Oz magazine was this Bob Dylan cover (1967). (via Guardian)
This August 1940 issue of Vogue was designed by art director Mehemed Fehmy Agha from a photoshoot by the great German fashion photographer Horst. (via Guardian)
The subscription-only erotic magazine, Eros, was created by Ralph Ginzburg in 1962. It was the first American magazine to feature intimacy between a black man and a white woman. (via Guardian)
Here are the box and index cards (which can be categorised in the way that makes most sense to the user).
Looking for a literary rest-stop on today’s tour of the internet? Sit back and have a browse at these weird and wonderful libraries from around the world, from the Michaelangelo-designed Laurentian Library, to a home bathroom library, to Diane Keaton’s personal reading room.
Florence’s Laurentian Library was designed by Michaelangelo. So, why are you surprised that it’s a work of art?
[via Art Trav]
This home library, shaped like a map of the USA, is more weird than wonderful. And not very practical either … (but certainly inventive).
[via Beautiful Libraries]
Diane Keaton’s memoir has been much-praised. So, it’s not a surprise that the quirky actress, an early muse to Woody Allen, has an inviting-looking personal library that just begs you to sit down, pick up a book and stay awhile.
[via Beautiful Libraries]
If you like the idea of reading in the bath (perhaps with a lazy glass of red), then you’ll love the idea of this handy bathroom library.
[via Beautiful Libraries]
The gorgeous Abbey Library (Stiftsbibliothek) is one of the oldest libraries in Europe. It’s famous for its superb baroque interior and its collection of rare books and manuscripts, but it also functions as a lending library.
[via Thinking Shift]
Designer Karl Lagerfeld is batty about books – so much so, that he’s designed a perfume, Paper Passion, that takes its inspiration from the smell of printed paper. His personal library houses over 300,000 books.
[via The Hairpin]
What to do when you have so many books, you don’t know where to put them? That’s where this staircase library comes in – making use of every available space.
[via Beautiful Libraries]
The library and Gothic suite from Hearst Castle, built by twentieth century media mogul William Randolph Hearst, said to be the model for Citizen Kane’s main character.
[via Beautiful Libraries]
If you need to get hold of a book and can’t find it anywhere, Nigella Lawson may have a copy on her shelves. Her personal library is as voluptuous as her, um, cooking.
[via Beautiful Libraries]
In his spare time, Pixar story artist Josh Cooley likes to sketch wildly inappropriate cartoon images of classic movie scenes, in the style of the iconic Golden Book children’s series.
After two years of fooling around for fun, he gathered the images into a book, Movies R Fun, which is bound with a cardboard cover and foil spine, just like the original Golden Books.
Images include the famous horse’s head in bed scene from The Godfather, Kurtz’s immortal lines (‘the horror, the horror’) from Apocalypse Now and the seduction scene from The Graduate.
You can buy your own prints of these images at Cooley’s website, though the book has recently sold out. Only 1000 copies were printed.
We’ve toured the web and found some of the world’s worst book covers, for your amusement. Some are the victims of bad design, some of unfortunate titles, and others were just plain bad (or weird) books to begin with. Enjoy!
We take a look at five features from around the internet that caught our eye this week. Enjoy!
This week, a Northern Territory coroner has found that a dingo was responsible for the death of Azaria Chamberlain in 1980, bringing to a close one of Australia’s most notorious mysteries. Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton, who was jailed for the murder of her daughter Azaria (and whose marriage dissolved under the strain) has spoken to ABC Radio about the finding, and reflected on the past 30 odd years.
John Bryson’s book on the case, Evil Angels, was an international bestseller and was adapted for a major film starring Meryl Streep and Sam O'Neill. It remains a classic of Australian reportage. He has a timely piece in the current Meanjin revisiting the subject, reflecting on the injustices done:
Judy West, reading at her tent, heard a dingo growl. So did her husband. Sally Lowe, talking with the Chamberlains, heard a baby cry and alerted the mother. Mrs Chamberlain headed for their tent. A dingo was bounding from the flap. The baby’s crib was empty.
Shortlist magazine has compiled a gallery of what they deem the 50 coolest book covers ever, from versions of 1984 and American Psycho to schlock classic Jaws and James Bond. ‘Some are iconic; some are clever; some are beautiful; some are scary and many have transcended their original home to become as famous as the book itself.’
Rapper Snoop Dogg is known to be fond of a smoke (of the green variety). So is it entirely surprising that he’s published a book with pages designed to be used as rolling papers? (Okay, yes it is.)
He explains how it works in this book trailer with a difference.
At the recent Hay Literary Festival, Martin Amis shared his view that women write better sex scenes than men – brave of him, as he’s written more than a few himself. He said:
I’d say the reason why women write better about sex – which is almost impossible to write about and no-one has done it very well, ever – is that as a novelist you are in a God-like relation to what you create. You are omnipotent and the question of potency is embarrassing for men. It is the great hidden weakness in men, that potency can fail, and it’s not something that troubles women.
In the spirit of inquiry (and fun), the Guardian has come up with a quiz to test his theory, where you can guess whether ten extracts are written by a man or a woman. Is there a difference?
Following the 2010 VIDA count of women reviewed (and reviewing) books in the literary pages of major US and UK publications, writer Roxane Gay wondered what a similar survey looking at representation and ethnicity would discover. It’s obvious that non-white writers are under-represented in the literary pages, but she wanted hard facts – so she hired an assistant to look at every book review published in the New York Times in 2011. The project took 16 hours a week for 14 weeks, as the ethnicity of each writer had to be actively researched.
The results? Of 742 books reviewed, across all genres, 655 were written by Caucasian authors; 31 by Africans or African Americans; 9 by Hispanic authors; 33 by Asian, Asian-American or South Asian writers; 8 by Middle Eastern writers and 6 wereby writers whose racial background the researchers ‘were simply unable to identify’.
‘Nearly 90% of the books reviewed by The New York Times are written by white writers,’ concluded Gay. ‘That is not even remotely reflective of the racial makeup of this country, where 72% of the population, according to the 2010 census, is white.’
Ford’s Theatre, the site of Abraham Lincoln’s 1865 assassination, is still operating. And they must be carrying around some serious guilt, because they’ve recently invested in a (literally) towering monument to Lincoln’s legacy: The Lincoln Book Tower.
This awe-inspiring sculpture represents (and resembles) the tower of books written about the man. Though it looks like it’s built from actual books, they’re actually bent aluminum book replicas, with covers printed on.
Roughly 15,000 books have been written about Lincoln. Paul Tetreault, director of Ford’s Theatre, says this makes Lincoln the most written-about person in world history, apart from Jesus Christ. Nearly 7000 books (or, book replicas) are contained in the tower.
205 titles are represented, most of them still in print. Because the tower was designed in 2010, there are no books published after that year.
‘There are books here for people of all ages,’ says Tetreault. ‘There’s young people’s books, there’s an Abraham Lincoln stickers book, there’s an Abraham Lincoln coloring book. And then of course there’s all of the bestsellers: David Herbert Donald’s great book about Lincoln, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book Team of Rivals — all of these major scholars who’ve written about Abraham Lincoln, they’re all contained in this stack.’
If you love books and love design, then this Thursday’s free event, How to Design an Australian Classic, with W.H. Chong, is for you.
Join us at the Wheeler Centre from 6.15pm. You can book here.
The Australian Publishers' Association celebrates the best in Australian cover design once a year, with the APA Design Awards. This year’s winners were announced last week; here’s some of them.
The full list of winners is available at Bookseller and Publisher online.
In the first of a new event series on the art of book design, multi-award-winning cover designer W.H. Chong will present an illustrated talk on how he turned much-loved Australian classics into art for Text Publishing’s Australian Classics series.
Beautiful Books: How To Design an Australian Classic with W.H. Chong will be held at the Wheeler Centre on Thursday 31 May at 6.15pm. Free, but please book.
Winners of this year’s Prix Ars Electronica were announced this week. Celebrating artists and projects at the forefront of media experimentation and digital innovation, the awards are considered amongst the most prestigious and coveted in the field. Six Australians were acknowledged in the honours list.
In the Interactive Art category, It’s a jungle in here by Melbournians Isobel Knowles and Van Sowerwine (with programmer Matthew Gingold) was given an Award of Distinction. The piece – ‘a confronting tour of the fragile rules that organise our public lives’ – reflects the regular collaborators' preoccupations with creepy, unsettling scenes and playful representation.
Controlled by facial recognition, voice and pressure sensors, attackers morph into grizzly bears or crows; their victims can retreat into a turtle shell, or be subjected to the unwanted advances of snakes.
In the Hybrid Art category, Peta Clancy and Helen Pynor received Honorary Mentions for their piece The Body is a Big Place. Prue Lang scored the same for her system Un Reseau Translucide, which harvests dancers' kinetic energy.
Life as an artist can be a slog, and many practising artists choose to refocus their energy on the daily grind: a more regular job, perhaps, or a family, wondering what may have been.
Writing for GQ, Eric Puchner was wondering the same thing when he met his doppelgänger, a singer-songwriter named Kyle Field. ‘As a writer, I’d always been fascinated by the trope of the doppelgänger and its long literary life, from Dostoyevsky to Nabokov to Spider-Man,’ he offers. ‘I’d started wondering if there was someone out there who embodies not your worst self, but your freest one – a person who encapsulates everything you’ve ever dreamed of becoming.’
The 99% Conference recently wrapped up in New York – its name not Occupy-related, but rather gleaned from Edison’s adage that ‘genius is 1% inspiration, and 99% perspiration’. With a broad focus and a diverse roster of speakers, the event generated a slew of suggestions for snaring the muse. They’ve posted a list of ‘key takeaways’ on their website, quoting figures such as Atlantic Senior Editor Alexis Madrigal, Radiolab co-host/creator Jad Abumrad and Harvard Business School Professor Teresa Amabile.
One of the 99% Conference’s guests was Australian designer/illustrator Rilla Alexander of art and design collective Rinzen. Alexander was showcasing Her Idea, an adult-friendly picture book about the tension between ideas, focus and realisation.
On the subject of picture books, we couldn’t let this week go without a nod to the genre’s hero Maurice Sendak, who passed away on Tuesday aged 83.
Tributes to the iconic author and illustrator have been made far and wide, but perhaps the most unusual comes via Best Made Co. – a customised, coloured and spotted axe dubbed Max’s Axe.
Looking further back, a 2006 New Yorker profile entitled ‘Not Nice’ reveals Sendak’s early loneliness, raw wit and close ties to the mystique of childhood.
Questions of life and death did not elude Sendak. In interviews such as the one below, he spoke about living and dying, asking: ‘Why bother to get born?’
‘I have adult thoughts in my head, experiences – but I’m never going to talk about them,’ he says. ‘I’m never going to write about them. Why is my needle stuck in childhood? I don’t know, I don’t know. I guess that’s where my heart is.’
A terrific new coffee table book by the art director of the New Yorker, Françoise Mouly, collects her favourite covers that were either rejected (often for being too controversial) or have an intriguing story behind them. Blown Covers: New Yorker Covers You Were Never Meant to See comes with commentary by Mouly – and the images range from the shocking to the hilarious, to the absurd. Here’s a taste:
At the height of the Lewinsky affair, Art Spiegelman proposed this sketch titled ‘Clinton’s Last Request.’ ‘When a word like “blow job”, which you never dreamt of finding in the paper is on the front page every day,’ he explains, ‘I had to find a way for my image to be as explicit without being downright salacious.’
Sometimes it looks like an artist is poking fun at the more sedate New Yorker covers. This was proposed by M. Scott Miller, years before Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction. He claims that the inspiration for this jeté is an experience familiar to anyone who follows classical ballet.
Fans of Wire and Treme, rejoice! David Simon, creator of what is generally agreed to be the Best Television Series Ever, is now blogging. Simon was a writer of journalism (and books) before he turned his hand to television, which means that his writing is well worth reading. What’s more, he’s opinionated and loves to share his opinions. The posts so far vary from an impassioned article on journalism, prize culture and the Pulitzer to bite-sized observations from the streets of Baltimore, or his own lounge room. Bookmark this one.
A Belgian not-for-profit, Responsible Young Drivers, has hit on a brilliant strategy for teaching teens that texting-and-driving is insanely dangerous. They tricked student drivers into believing that in order to pass their driving tests, they also had to demonstrate proficiency in texting while driving. The responses? ‘I’ll stop driving if this is introduced as law’, ‘People will die’ and ‘This is dangerous’.
It’s a bit like that urban myth, where a parent catches their kid smoking and forces them to chain-smoke an entire packet of cigarettes (and they never smoke again). From the looks on these kids' faces, the message has sunk in. This video is genuine car-crash viewing – almost literally.
Jason Epstein, former editorial director of Random House and co-founder of the New York Review of Books, has written optimistically for the former about why he believes ‘actual’ books will survive the digital age (as will bookshops and libraries), and will coexist with digital books:
Few technological victories are ever complete, and in the case of books this will be especially true. Bookstores will not disappear but will exploit digital technologies to increase their virtual and physical inventories, and perhaps become publishers themselves. So will libraries, whose vast and arcane holdings will soon be available to everyone everywhere.
All book lovers are fond of the idea that books are art. Chinese artist Lui Wei has taken the idea literally, creating intricate cityscape sculptures from stacks of schoolbooks, held together by steel rods and wood clamps. His sculptures include a range of iconic buildings from the Pentagon to Saint Peter’s Basilica, and depict cities in a state of metamorphosis, a concept familiar in his native Beijing.
Fans and sceptics alike will enjoy this chuckle-worthy breakdown of a typical Murakami novel. there’s cats, classical music, bizarre dream sequences and jazz. It’s all there; the only thing to disagree about is the percentages. Personally, we think 25% cats may be overstating it a bit.
Three years ago, architect and blogger John Bertram ran a competition asking designers to come up a better cover for Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, a novel that has been often misinterpreted as portraying a teenage sexpot and seducer. ‘We are talking about a novel which has child rape at its core,’ says Bertram, who challenged the designers to do justice to its dark complexities. The competition has spawned its own book, with 60 new designs. A Salon article shares a few of them.
We all know that The Hunger Games is the new Twilight, which was the new Harry Potter. When books strike such a chord with such a broad and populous fan base, they usually says as much about our culture – and the fears, desires, fantasies or questions it’s tapping into – as it does about the book or its author. On the eve of The Hunger Games movie, Salon’s Andrew O'Heihr takes a deeper look.
‘The Hunger Games taps into a vibrant current of pop culture and indeed of Western civilization in general, one that never really runs dry. It’s the idea that our species remains cruel and barbarous at heart, that the strong will always rule the weak by whatever means necessary, and that our collective obsession with sports and games and other forms of manufactured entertainment is a flimsy mask for sadism and voyeurism.’
Ten years after Fast Food Nation was published, Eric Schlosser reflects on what’s changed and what hasn’t. It’s sobering. He reports that the annual revenues of America’s fast-food industry have risen by about 20 per cent since 2001. The annual cost of the nation’s obesity epidemic (‘about $168 billion’) is, alarmingly, the same as the amount Americans spent on fast food in 2011. And in 2008, 143 million pounds of meat (one fourth of it purchased for federal school lunch and nutrition programs) had to be recalled.
On the other hand, there is a significant growth in those who are embracing a new food culture, championed by the likes of Alice Waters and recent Wheeler Centre guest Jamie Oliver, involving farmers' markets, organic food and school gardens. ‘The contrast between the thin, fit, and well-to-do and the illness-ridden, poor and obese has no historical precent,’ writes Schlosser, in a piece published by The Daily Beast.
Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City is now officially middle-aged: the series celebrates its 35th birthday this year. To mark the occasion, Maupin – whose life was so entwined with his stories that he used Michael Tolliver’s coming-out letter to his parents to come out to his own – has written a gorgeous reflective piece for the Guardian. He was often at odds with his editors over his insistence that ‘gay folks’ were part of the human landscape and deserved equal billing in his chronicle of modern life. ‘One of them even kept an elaborate chart in his office to insure that the homo characters in Tales didn’t suddenly outnumber the hetero ones and thereby undermine the natural order of civilisation.’
There’s been a bit of interest in the subject of book covers lately. The Millions recently compared the US and UK covers of prominent novels. Closer to home, recent Debut Mondays guest and cover design enthusiast Jessica Au has started an occasional series over at the Readings blog, sharing her favourite recent book covers.
In the second of our two-part series on book covers, we talk to Chris Womersley and Kalinda Ashton about the different covers for their latest books – and we look at four of the covers for Christos Tsiolkas’s international bestseller, The Slap.
I really love the original cover for Bereft and I think the success of it can be measured by the fact that it has been adapted for the paperback edition and the UK edition. I also really like the US one, even though it’s quite a bit darker in tone.
I was consulted by Scribe for the original cover. We had a few versions floating around, most of them featuring a girl – or part of a girl. I guess the aim was to represent Sadie Fox in some way without identifying her too closely, in order to maintain the air of mystery around her character, which is slightly ethereal. From memory, that final version came in quite late – just before going to press – and it immediately clicked not only for me but for everyone involved in the book at Scribe.
As for the UK and US editions – I wasn’t really consulted, but I rely on the fact that publishers know their own markets pretty well and what will appeal to readers. There will be a French edition in May that will use the same cover as the first Australian edition but I’m unsure if the German or Croatian editions will use the same cover.
I probably like the Sleepers cover best (this is at least partly for sentimental reasons as this is the Australian one, and the first cover). Before I saw the artwork, I had initially envisaged a photographic cover for The Danger Game; one very much, in fact, like the image that ended up being used for the first UK version. I imagined a grungy, grainy black-and-white melancholy close-up (along the lines, as I thought then, of M.J. Hyland’s first cover for How the Light Gets In). So it took me a while to adapt to a much more abstract and bold cover, particularly one which, at my first glance, did not necessarily seem to immediately/instantaneously resonate with the themes and story of the novel. Yet I do absolutely adore it.
Not only is it eye-catching (I have a love affair with wearing clothes of headache-inducing bright intensity, so the orangey-yellow splash felt quite right for me), but I am very fond the retro feel and the unusual placement of the title lettering on the spine. When you look closely, there are small details that suggest menace, such as the sinister jaggedness of the writing and the tiny figure literally sprinting across the top of the word ‘danger’. The more I look at the cover, the more I like it. And it stands out on bookstore shelves! My one regret is that we didn’t have an actual blurb on the back (or at least on the inside front cover) but I thought about this too late. I’ve had a lot of compliments on the Australian cover.
I had quite a bit of input, as the first, very early cover attempt was pink and white and involved a silhouette of a woman; I was very firm that I thought this looked far too chick-lit for a book as bleak as mine (and was possibly more of a young adult genre cover too). Thankfully Sleepers, my Australian publishers, are very consultative and supportive and generally amazing, so they came up with a new version (which is what we have now). I hadn’t been intransigent about much else during the production process – I quite like, for instance, being edited – but I tried to politely and carefully make it known that I was not a fan of the pink-and-white look. Because Sleepers are quite flexible and work closely with their authors, it was a very collaborative process. I’m pretty hopeless when it comes to actually suggesting much and I respect designers' own creativity and expertise, so I try to put my thoughts into genre and mood rather than aesthetics.
The first UK cover I’m happy with as well, although I found the back too cluttered/busy for my tastes. (I would like to emphasise I am no designer … indeed absolutely dismal at most spatial-relations. I’m just am amateur.) And I felt the dreamy/melancholy boy in the photo was probably too young-looking to depict a ten-year-old.
I did get the chance to comment, but because we were working to a very tight schedule (I think the release date was about six months after we first signed the contract) and I was actually insanely busy travelling and living overseas and doing non-writing ‘real world’ work, we didn’t have the same leisurely back and forth as with my Australian cover.
I think the latest UK cover is fantastic: I love the writing in sparklers (or fireworks) and the tiny glimpse of the top of suburbia you see at the bottom of the page. It’s very atmospheric and heightened but still very clean. I loved it straight up and only commented briefly on the lettering for the title, as there were a few versions. I have been pretty lucky. As an author I think it’s tricky to be open-minded and considerate of others' skills and ideas while managing to be forceful when it’s required – you don’t want a cover you loathe and wince at being chosen, but you need to be prepared to see your own work in a new light too.
Finally, we couldn’t resist taking a look at some different covers for The Slap, an Australian book that’s been hugely popular overseas. We’re sure there are more cover versions out there, including one that ties into the ABC TV series, but here are four we found.
Moving from left to right: the first, with its image of a howling child, is the original Australian cover (as most readers will recognise). Eye-catching and effective, there’s something about it – juxtaposed with the words ‘The Slap’ – that demands an emotional response, whether that’s curiosity, revulsion or empathy.
The second is the original UK cover, with an image of a middle-class suburban barbecue – reframed and matched with different font for the third cover, the US version. Curiously, there’s something that seems more English than Australian about this image; more garden party than backyard barbecue. Maybe it’s the suit on one of the men (how many Australian men wear a suit to a barbecue?), or the ladylike pastel dresses of the women.
And lastly, there’s the (again, pastel-hued) illustration of a naughty little boy, standing on a green lawn, hands planted in his pockets of his beige shorts, that is the latest UK cover. This boy seems composed in his anger, spoilt and entitled in a different way from Tsiolkas’s earth-mothered Hugo. And the crossness of this cry is far removed from the primal, grass-tugging, out-of-control howl in the original cover.
What matters most when you’re judging a book cover – that it grabs your attention in a way that leaves you wanting to know more, or that it genuinely captures the contents of the book?
Book covers are such an important part of the process of matching readers to books. The old adage ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ is balanced by another, equally telling one: ‘First impressions count’. And for most readers, a book’s cover is what makes that all-important first impression.
In the first of a two-part series, Wheeler Centre regular Cate Kennedy shares her thoughts on three different covers (Australian, UK and US) for her novel The World Beneath.
It seems to me a cover is like a promise – I actually do think people ‘judge’ a book by its cover, because they are hoping on some level that the cover accurately hints at what’s inside in terms of style, tone, atmosphere and genre.
Occasionally I’ve been reading a book and feel an odd sense of jarring dislocation that it wasn’t what I thought it would be. And what’s given me that expectation? I ask myself. Why did I think it was going to be set in the fifties, say, or be a rural love story? Because that old photo of the girl in the 1950s dress walking down a country road on the cover gave me that impression, that’s why. This is true of abstract covers as well as ‘figurative’ ones – I unconsciously look to the font of the cover text, or the design, or whatever it is, to convey a freight of meaning about the book itself.
I like a cover in which the title and the image, whatever it is, seem to work together, in tone and implication, to let me know what’s in store. So I should say I loved the first edition Australian cover of The World Beneath, because it came from an image I found myself, uploaded on Flickr by the photographer himself, of a tarn in The Labyrinth, the real place where my characters become lost. (The photographer’s name is Lee Berlin, and the designer who transformed it into the final cover is Miriam Rosenbloom).
I loved the image because it operates as a promise on a number of levels. First, it’s not a landscape we traditionally associate with ‘Australian wilderness’, which tends towards the ‘rugged desert majesty’ kind of photo – this image just oozes dampness and chill and mystery. It’s not a place you want to be lost in, but this is just what happens to the characters in the book, who become totally disoriented there. I love how lonely and forbidding it seems – in fact, there’s lots of imagery in the book about the Underworld, and this is just how I imagine it to look: distances disappearing into cold mist, an implacable and empty world. Last of all, I love the ‘matching’ of the tree’s reflection and the real tree above with the title of The World Beneath – the world that exists below, underneath everything else, the mirror image of the reality on the surface. It promised just the reading experience I was hoping to create.
I wasn’t involved in the decision-making for the second cover (the turquoise UK-based cover which was also used for the Australian second edition), but I quite like it. That mirror-image idea is still there, the idea of disorientation – you look at the people walking in the emptiness then you suddenly realise you’re looking at an upside-down world, with small vulnerable-looking human figures traversing a big lonely space.
The US cover is clearly looking for a different kind of audience, with its goth girl making dreamy eye contact and the rainforest-y image placed below her, under the grass she’s lying on, suggesting something elemental happening under the surface. The actual Labyrinth is still my favourite.
It might be true, as some designers and marketers say, that a potential reader is drawn to a human glance which compels your own attention in return, to eyes looking back directly at you from a cover, or to human figures we can immediately project ourselves into as we take a risk with a new book. But for me, the most evocative covers are the ones that demand something of us to do with metaphor – a combination of image, colour, design, font and style which acts as a set of symbolic signifiers.
Occasionally I’m stopped in my tracks in a bookshop just by the beauty of a cover image – David Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars springs to mind, as does Dirt Music by Tim Winton (I see a tree preference emerging here …) and it seems so deliberate and careful; I hope the whole thing has been as crafted and thoughtful as the image which draws me in.
The World Beneath was Cate Kennedy’s first novel. She is also an acclaimed short-story writer and poet. Her most recent book is The Taste of River Water: New and Selected Poems.
Tomorrow, in Part 2 of our book covers series, we’ll hear from Kalinda Ashton and Chris Womersley – and we’ll look at four different covers for The Slap.
David Nichols concludes his series on urban liveability with a visit to Baltimore.
Liveability is a lot about perspective. Melbourne may well be a terribly liveable city from some points of view; a glib reading might even suggest it’s a better place to be homeless than, say, Anchorage. The biggest problem with ‘liveability’ is, of course, the failure of imagination of the majority of people who it.
Of all the cities I visited in the USA, Baltimore is the one which most intrigued me; if the rest of the world outside the US fell into the sea (which, for a large percentage of Americans, may as well have already happened) there’d be worse places to live than Baltimore. But that of course is me, middle-class and riddled with assumptions about what a life I can expect to lead in the west should consist of. Baltimore would be amazingly liveable – if you had a good job, lived near the light rail for your commute, had a car to get out to other places, and knew where ‘not to go.’
Baltimore is, like a good many similar American cities, racially divided. I stayed in a neighbourhood whose inhabitants seemed simultaneously relieved and embarrassed that it remains a ‘white enclave’. That this is a city in rather acute crisis is evidenced by the many inner city streets (such as Broadway) on which block after block of elegant row houses stand, but maybe only one or two are occupied.
Randy Newman, on probably his least impressive 1970s album Little Criminals, sang a fairly humdrum song called ‘Baltimore’. He sang of a place where it was “hard … just to live”. Baltimoreans have probably long ago gotten over that well-meaning slur, although they’ll be dealing with The Wire for some time to come. There is a pervasive ambience of difficulty in Baltimore. Its surface is tough, barely scratchable. To live here, no doubt, you need the long view.
I did hear testimony – credible testimony – that many find compensation for the poverty and other tribulations of Baltimore in its community life. I also saw some of the humble delights of a city which has kept some of its institutions from long ago: for instance, I visited one of the most delightful, run down, deco cinemas I’ve seen since the 70s, still functioning as a single-screen, apparently fairly unrenovated cinema. It’s called the Senator, and it features remarkable painted foyer decorations, including an extraordinary image of a young man in medieval garb using a large film camera to record a stationary owl. It also boasts despondent teenage staff who – when we turned up to see J Edgar on time to find it had already started – had no special advice to offer other than we had better go in. In a high sheen nation full of obsequious courtesy and replicated, predictable experiences, this was refreshing. And I was lucky enough to visit The Book Thing, a huge (three room?) book redistribution centre. It distributes free second-hand books on Saturdays and Sundays for anyone who wants them, and plenty do.
Later, I chanced upon a downtown church book sale and picked up a remarkable tome from the early 20th century on the growing and marketing of celery, as well as a copy of George Bernard Shaw’s The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism. I was blessed to have a guide keen to show me some of the city’s various delights, such as a vegan soul-food restaurant, the Goldstein’s bagel house in Pikeville; additionally, a museum of ‘outsider’ art. Which only goes to show the dangers of popping into a city for a few days with one’s curiosity intact and a still-not-quite-yet-maxed credit card.
But there’s more to Baltimore than the doldrums. The city has held onto – even despite a little bit of pomo eye-rolling – many of its pop culture icons and sumptuous facilities from its industrial glory days. The opulent Peabody Library is by any measure one of the world’s finest.
What Baltimore actually suffers from the most is that it’s in the United States of America, a nation where out of sight is out of mind, and movement of capital is so heartless it’s hard to believe it’s controlled by actual humans. Piecemeal solutions to problems abound: the city’s crushing difficulties are, however, so extensive as to be insurmountable. Liveability? In Baltimore the emphasis is more on staying alive.
David Nichols continues his series investigating what makes a city liveable with a visit to a town dubbed one of Britain’s ‘funkiest’, and a city built on reclaimed land in the Netherlands.
Though not a city, Hebden Bridge – in England’s north (Yorkshire with a frisson of Lancashire) – nevertheless has many of those attributes often associated with successful cities. And yes, it does actually feature on some important lists: it was named in the British Airways magazine as the fourth ‘funkiest’ town in the world (Daylesford outside Melbourne was the funkiest). It also has, since the 70s, had the highest concentration of lesbians in Britain.
Naturally the combination of funk (translated, in some accounts, to ‘quirkiness’) and gayness has seen the town’s profile increase amongst yuppies espousing ‘tolerance’ (perhaps even of each other) and house prices rise accordingly.
It’s not only the price of real esate that rises. Imagine if, instead of dropping into the doldrums of a quasi-‘ghost town’, little Walhalla in Gippsland had thrived due to some obscure industrial specialisation (in Hebden Bridge it was knee-high clogs, apparently). The two places have the same kind of gully trap focus: a village in a valley, straddling a waterway. In Hebden Bridge’s case – just to emphasise its bridginess – there are two waterways: a sleepy canal riddled with picturesque boats and a wide but shallow stream. The houses seem to sit on top of each other like a mediaeval painting from before perspective was discovered.
The populace – well, you know what the funksters are like – are clearly shopaholics, and the village has much to recommend it in the realm of charity shops, antique shops, book shops and a boutique rather amusingly called ‘Home… Oh!’ which my guide – from nearby Accrington – pointed out to me, then apologised for. The place drips with Doing the Right Thing: within minutes of arrival I saw a woman wipe her dog’s arse with a plastic bag and go searching for a turd while two friends tried to help by pointing.
When in doubt about what kind of society you might be encountering in a town, look to their gig guide. The last few months in Hebden Bridge have been humming with the obscure hits of rockers whose rise to semi-prominence 30 years ago rarely saw them top the pops. These include Lloyd Cole, Julian Cope and the redoubtable Spizzenergi, whose ‘Where’s Captain Kirk?’ was described by DJ John Peel as the best Star Trek-related single on its release in 1979. They also have burlesque. Of course they have burlesque.
I scoff, but of course if you put a gun to my head and said I had to live in England, this is precisely the kind of place I’d want to live. Good coffee, charity shops and always the possibility Spizzenergi might play again.
If I may draw from folk wisdom (i.e. what I was told by my Dutch hosts), the two new Dutch lands created decades either side of World War II were the idea of a man named Lely. He died in the knowledge that the dyke-pumping-draining scheme that he designed in his younger years, and for which he had been scorned, would earn him eternal fame (except for the fishermen of the Zuider Zee).
Not only were the two large open areas in the former Zee (now a more or less freshwater lake) available for farming; they were also now available for the building of new towns. Hence, Almere – not yet 30 years old and an experiment in creating a city at once livable and affordable.
In Australia there’s enough bollocks spoken about the redolent history of streetscapes just over a century old. Imagine then the Netherlands, where a town hall might be half a millennium old and passed by with nary a glance. It would seem that there are plenty of Dutch people who shun a place like Almere for being cultureless, in the ‘if those walls could speak they might tell tales of being sacked by the Spanish or burnt by the French’ sense, or at the very least, occupied by the Germans. The only tale Almerean walls can tell is that of Dutch ingenuity and the fine spirit of a progressive nation willing to look for new solutions to old problems. I’m told housing in Almere’s clean and distinctive suburbs can be a third cheaper than similar housing in older towns or cities in the enormous, patchwork agglomeration of the Netherlands and beyond.
Although the city is still being built, it’s already the eighth-largest in the Netherlands. There are dedicated busways at key points on the edge of suburbs. The suburbs themselves are unashamedly experimental, though all seem to adhere to the conventional regional pattern of attached two- (or three-) storey homes. Some experiments are more successful than others, but encouragingly, newer developments are less car-centric and adhere more closely to the classic template of the community hub.
The centre itself is a cross between Canberra’s Civic and Melbourne’s Federation Square: it’s a carless series of open-air malls with carparking underneath. An enormous lake at one edge of the centre reinforces the Canberra-ness of the affair, as does the ostentatious embrace of cultural consumption mixed in with the material acquisitiveness. But this is not to deride Almere. The city is proactive. Whereas early campaigners for the Federal Capital – 110 years ago, in Melbourne, a gaggle of distinguished and semi-professionals and experts – considered the possibility of pumping hot water throughout the new best-practice Australian city, Almere has actually done it. While it may at present be for many not much more than an affordable dormitory town for those Amsterdam commuters, it is nonetheless both of those things in spades.
There are so many Dutch people in such a small space – they can’t get away from each other. So, they create solutions. It makes perfect sense, but it’s something Australians aren’t used to seeing that often in urban planning, where there’s no true sense of a broader communality. A plus for effort, Almere.
And the coffee is good. And the poffertjes rockin’.
The ancient Greeks used to build cities to be confusing: the idea was that enemy invaders had to be met by surprising twists and turns which would pose no problem to locals fleeing and/or plotting ambush. Dublinites of 2011 have no particular control over the wackiness of their prehistoric city, shaped by waterways natural and unnatural, topography and the whims of their ancient forebears. But due to some current whims, they make very certain that their streets are their own: unsignposted and with few directions given. It might be that there is a Dublinite belief that to not know one’s way around is itself a little wicked, or that if one needs to ask how to get somewhere one has no particular business trying to go there. (Or maybe they think everyone has a GPS – not if they ordered one with their Thrifty hire car, they don’t.)
Dubliners in the post-Celtic Tiger world are perhaps tossing up whether to go back to their crappy old ways of the 80s, where at least no-one had expectations or aspirations. Once again, coffee serves as a useful example: they have coffee machines in their cafes but they’ll chuck together a cup of instant if they think you won’t notice. The central city is full of people milling about (European tourists mainly), whom the locals entertain and disturb in turn by demonstrating a dysfunctionality of epic proportions. For instance, I pass a man with a mobile phone to his ear, yelling incomprehensibly to his girlfriend, who stands a mere half a block away, bent double and yelling, ‘I! Can’t! Hear! You!’.
I’m not telling you anything new here, but it nonetheless bears bearing in mind: the Irish are distinctly and undoubtedly in enormous trouble, and things are unlikely to improve very soon. It would be nice to say their philosophical outlook and resilience will pull them through. But many of them have tasted prosperity and even come to accept it as the norm. And, as if specifically intended to rub it in, everywhere around is evidence of Euro-crumbling: the demise of the empire that only recently was an Ireland that had never had it so good. It doesn’t help that, even before the crash, polls indicated Dublinites were unhappier than people in the rest of Ireland.
Emblematic of Dublin’s afflictions is the suburb of Clongriffin. In close proximity to pre-boom suburbia, Colgriffen consists of icon buildings and rows of apartment blocks above retail space, separated by long stretches of fencing, behind which lie vacant sites. The retail space is almost completely empty, its capacious windows covered in advertising suggesting here might one day be a take-away or grocer no yuppie can do without. In one section of housing between Colgriffen and Balgriffin – detached two storey houses all the same – a street may feature two dozen homes with manicured front hedges, the plastic still on the windows, and maybe a single one of them occupied.
At the end of some streets, houses are left half-built, the concrete and other construction materials strewn or stacked around the block (as if the builders had been spirited away, although the more likely story is that they got a call telling them don’t come come back to work). Clongriffin has a glorious new station; on one side, apartment blocks tower, and the other side looks like a bomb hit it.
Dublin’s liveability, then, is a curate’s egg – which is to say, unpalatable. As it happens, I don’t like eggs anyway.
Not only liveable but also lovable, Tel Aviv strikes a midpoint between Hong Kong and Melbourne for density, scores a little higher on the pet scale, much lower on the tofu tally, and slays ‘em in coffee.
Israel is, in both the nicest and nastiest possible ways, an insane country of people seemingly perennially at each others' throats (when not at other people’s). It is both dazzling and perverse. It is also cosmopolitan, primitive, supercilious and eccentric. Tel Aviv not only encompasses all of the above, but adds a certain Tel Avivness (Tel Avividness, Tel Avivity?) to the whole.
The benignly mad Scot Patrick Geddes designed Tel Aviv in the 1920s as a model garden city attachment to the old city of Jaffa. Though its administrative district is still known as Tel Aviv-Yafo, the original settlement has become no more than a tiny tail to Geddes’ guinea pig: a peculiarly successful city of squares, neighbourhoods and boulevards.
All are charming, though the boulevards in particular are impressive. A small number of long, wide roads serve as city spines (although, strictly speaking, while the ideal city might be like an organism – a guinea pig, say – no organism has multiple spines). Tel Aviv is famous for its Bauhaus buildings, and most of them – and most of the residential buildings generally, in central Tel Aviv – are three- to five-storey apartment blocks set in small gardens. Since seemingly everyone not only owns but also dotes on some kind of pedigree dog, each with its own bemused or otherwise quirky expression suitable for an animated creature voiced by a beloved comedian, boulevards like Rothschild are full of hounds, terriers and their owners, often simultaneously pushing ubiquitous baby strollers.
The cats of Tel Aviv are a world unto themselves. Often unowned, they loll about in the streets like little lions, playing out their own dramas. They are lean and muscular, and people seem happy to feed their local clusters without giving much more thought to them – perhaps in the way one might water a street tree. Programs are in place to round up cats, desex them and return them to their territories. I told my host in Tel Aviv that given the realities of feline territoriality this was better than killing them. Animal rights groups, he replied, would not stand for the killing of cats. This, I thought, is a civillised society indeed.
One might find entertainment in a search to discover bad coffee in Tel Aviv, but would become utterly frazzled after a few tasting exercises of the very rich, strong and high quality stuff sold everywhere. Up in the northern suburbs, I took a mid-morning breakfast with some activist architects impassioned by the current housing crisis protests (I’ll get to that, though it does kill the utopian buzz a little). We met in Le Corbusier-style high-rise apartments, wherein each apartment is two storeys and has a balcony that doubles as an open extra room. Many jokes were made about Tel Aviv residents baffled by American coffee, particularly its Starbucks variant.
Yes, the housing crisis is an issue. In mid-2011 young people began revolting in Tel Aviv (and elsewhere in Israel) about the government’s inability or unwillingness to address housing affordability: the boulevards, identified as the place of privilege and leisured luxury, became a tent city. An attempt was made to hold a protest rally of a million Israelis: several hundred thousand showed up, no mean feat in a country this size.
Affordability has to be a part of liveability, and this of course is the catch-22; when a place becomes truly liveable, it doesn’t stay secret. Any urbanite who ever yearned to live in a city would want to live in Geddes' downtown Tel Aviv, and all the metal detectors and gun-toting teen soldiers in the world can’t change that.
Melbourne is consistently rated at the top of liveability surveys year in, year out. When Melbourne was rated number 1 in one such 2011 poll, we wondered, just what does liveability mean? We asked the peripatetic David Nichols to explore that question as he set out to travel the world at the end of last year. This week, we’re kicking off 2012 with our ‘Liveability’ series, beginning today with Hong Kong.
Last year, one of several liveability surveys ranked Melbourne the most liveable city in the world. As well as giggling and preening (as Sydney was somewhere inconsequential on the list, like number 2 or something), Melbournians everywhere greeted the news with shrieks and groans. This was the best life had to offer?
Liveability surveys score cities on such variables as stability, crime, health, culture, environment, education and infrastructure measures. It strikes me as I trudge through the streets of central Hong Kong that the liveability criteria might perhaps be a little staid. A day walking in Honkers (new boots and blisters rub up against an irrestistible urge to see, feel, smell and experience more of the city) has me wondering whether perhaps we can learn more about the liveability of a city from the way its people treat their pets. Boutique pet shops are ubiquitous and everywhere I turn, dogs and their owners pound the pavement. What about scoring liveability on the availability of tofu? I stumble across a 24-hour café called the Flying Pan – delightfully décored in ad hoc 50s style – where tofu is substituted for eggs in any dish. There’s got to be a good coffee score as well. In HK, order a double espresso and that’s what you get – strong and small.
A visit to the Hong Kong Planning and Infrastructure Exhibition Gallery reveals ‘the government’ (it’s always ‘the government’) has big plans for making the city even more liveable. For one thing, it plans to take care of the environment – no mention of global warming here – with umpteen (that’s the word they used) new railway lines, mountain and underwater tunnels, and some massive roads, all calibrated around the magic number 2030.
As it happened, when I visited there was little in the way of crowds for all this hi-tech propaganda. In fact, the security staff, for want of something better to do, helpfully followed me around, showing me how to interact with the displays. Where was everyone? Out in the humid, sunny street, traveling, walking and shopping. Or protesting. In fact, while I was gawking at Hong Kong’s future, “about 1,000” (the newspaper’s estimate, though it was probably more) people marched through Central “to demand the government… increase transport allowances for workers, speed up construction of public housing and restart the Home Ownership Scheme.” While ‘the government’ crows about its future-proofing of Hong Kong, thousands are demonstrating outside in the heat about the city’s present state.
Housing is extraordinary in Hong Kong. Indeed it’d be hard for many Australians to recognize it as actual housing. Many in the Australian press concluded that it was Melbourne’s low density which accounted for its high liveability scores. Hong Kong – brace yourself – might not score quite so well. Ridiculous (perilous?) skyscraper apartment buildings spring out all over the place like limbs of a cactus in need of pruning, there for no reason other than that more people have to be stored all the time.
There are, no doubt, other options for the privileged few. And there is an upside to living in central Hong Kong. The residents might live in a stacked shipping crate, but at least they can walk to work and the Flying Pan any day they wish. It’s the dogs I feel sorry for.
Towards the end of his recent Skype appearance at the Wheeler Centre, UK fashion designer Gareth Pugh was asked to sign off with some advice to aspiring fashion designers in the audience. Here’s what he said:
“People get very confused, I think, when thinking about fashion and design. Especially with fashion because obviously you see it everyday …. I think if you want to be a designer and do it for a long time, you have to not think at all about how you’re going to sell those. You shouldn’t think in terms of commerciality. It should be more about the ideas, because without the ideas you don’t have anything. You just have a collection that you could get anywhere or you could see anywhere. It needs to speak to people on a level for people to actually believe it and to want it ultimately.”
Pugh’s appearance was presented in partnership with the State of Design as part of a series of ‘9 to 5’ talks, in which Melbourne’s leading designers posed nine critical questions to five of the world’s most important design thinkers. Other videos/podcasts in the series: interior designer Ilse Crawford, design group Troika, Korean urban designer Kyung-won Chung and US designer-illustrator Milton Glaser.
“Anyone who used a computer in the late twentieth-century,” writes Edward Mendelson on the 2007 documentary Helvetica in the New York Review of Books blog, “remembers Helvetica as one of the three typefaces available in almost any word-processing program and on almost any printer. The other two were Times Roman, based on the type designed by Victor Lardent for the Times of London in the 1930s, and Courier, based on the type designed by Howard Kettler for IBM typewriters in the 1950s. Helvetica was also designed in the 1950s … produced by two designers working together to create a neutral typeface, neither of whom (as the son of one of them says in the film) was capable of designing a typeface by himself. Still, Helvetica is so anonymous and impersonal that the thought of two human beings conceiving it over a drawing board seems faintly obscene.”
Mendelson goes on to discuss the possibly fascist – or at least proto-fascist – origins of sans-serif typefaces: “Starting in the 1920s, many European designers convinced themselves that sans-serif types were rational and modern, while serif types were bourgeois throwbacks like lace antimacassars.” Serif typefaces have little decorative addenda at the tip of each line in a letter (such as in this website’s headings), whereas sans-serif typefaces are unadorned (such as the typeface you are reading right now).
What’s the difference between a typeface and a font? According to a new documentary, a typeface is a typographic family while a font is a specific member of that family.
If you already knew the answer, congratulations, you qualify as a typography obsessive. As such, you won’t need us to tell you that the shape of a letter is no accident of history: typography is an obscure object of desire for many designers. And it’s the subject of a seven-minute PBS Arts/Off-Book documentary simply called Typography. The documentary investigates typefaces as tools, as markers of identity, as readable texture, and as data.
“Typefaces aren’t merely about forms, they’re about design systems. They have to do with the way things relate to one another,” says custom typeface designer Jonathan Hoefler. Paula Scher, a graphic designer who to a great extent has based her designs of record covers and posters on playful experimentation with type, explains her interest with typefaces as a joy: “It’s the joy of what happens with colour and form and information.”
Over at Brain Pickings, one of our favourite websites, Maria Popova has curated a list of books to immerse you in the world of typeface – proof that we have now officially entered the domain of obsession. Even if you don’t count yourself among the officially obsessed, it’s worth visiting the page for the lavish photographs.
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