Friday, March 30, 2012

Where beauty's veil doth cover every blot,

Last week I talked about a couple of books I read, only because of the cover.  I don't consider this to be a bad thing at all, as that is exactly what covers are supposed to do; draw readers to the book.  And walking the shelves of the book store, one sees such a wide variety of covers.  At the end of the day, every single one of them was chose for a reason, be it commercial reasons to sell more copies, or merely to fit in with the author's artistic vision.

But whatever the reason, a great cover is one that makes me pick up the book.  Of course it helps to have a great title if it's a novel, or to be about a topic I'm interested in if it's non-fiction, but the cover is what will almost always catch my eye first.  Two of my favorite covers from books I've read the past few years are Paris 1919 by Margaret MacMillan and The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt.  As is the case with these two books, I find non-fiction much more likely to have a photograph on the cover, opposed to a drawing on the cover of a novel.  I suppose this makes sense, as one is depicting real world events while the other is fictitious.

When Paris 1919 was first released, I remember the cover jumping out at me.  I found the photo of these three men, Georges Clemenceau, David Lloyd George, and Woodrow Wilson, simply fascinating.  With top hats, which by today's standards look quite silly, and each using a walking stick, despite not having any need for a cane, the three leaders walk the streets of Paris, en route to hammer out a lasting peace for Europe and the World.  Together, they represented the last of the old guard, as Western civilization shifted from the aristocratic, old-money leaders to new, industrial wealth.  It can even be seen in this cover photo, as the men walking behind them wear the much hipper and more stylish skimmers.

Having been quite familiar with the Paris peace treaty before reading this book, I also knew how old fashion their thinking was and how disastrous that would be in the years to come.  This photo just captured it so well for me, and worked so well for this book.  Without a doubt, this is one of my favorite non-fiction covers.

The Sisters Brothers, by contrast, has a completely different style of cover, fitting for a novel.  I first saw this cover when I started working with WordFest, as it was scheduled to be one of the featured books (after being nominated for so many awards, Patrick deWitt was unable to make it to Calgary until two months after the festival).  These two one-eyed cowboys staring right at me, seemingly cloaked in shadows with guns drawn, intrigued me.  Their mysterious nature made me want to learn their story.

But I also love that their heads are lined up perfectly with the eyes of what I assume is Ben Franklin on an American one hundred dollar bill.  Maybe a little foreshadowing to the brothers' main motivation?  Maybe not though.  When I asked Patrick if that was indeed Ben Franklin, he was unsure, saying it was simply a cover by a Portland artist that he really liked.  But I'm almost positive that is Ben Franklin, and I can't imagine that would be a mere coincidence.  Either way, it's a great cover; and a great book.

There are so many book covers that intrigue me, and it's something I truly enjoy talking about.  Not only are there covers that draw me in, but also covers that drive me away.  Sometimes, a cover image leaves me baffled and wanting to learn more about it (not an easy task might I add).  I'm pretty sure I'm going to have to write a few more posts about book covers in the coming weeks and months, there are just too many that need to be discussed.

What are some covers that you love or loathe?  Or ones that simply stick out in your mind for whatever reason?

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