The Year in Stuff We Liked: Quality Design

This week, in lieu of a BEST OF 2011 series, we’re running five stories focused on Stuff We Liked in 2011.

Book design: You’re not going to get much of an Inside Baseball discussion from us. We don’t know much about it. We can’t offer much in the way of judgment other than that looks cool, yuh-huh, yuh-huh. Still, we know what we like — and what we don’t like.

The Publisher’s Weekly blog PWxyz offered their favorite covers of the year. It was something of a puzzling list, as the explanations were lacking (for Helen DeWitt’s Lightning Rods, they said: “The bright blue background conveys the off-the-wall aspects of the book, and the repetition of the eyes hints at a maddening condition.” Hm.) and their number one choice — Colson Whitehead’s Zone One — baffling. Another weird explanation:

The best book cover of the year offers a glimpse of an empire, mostly obstructed, put through a filter so desaturated it’s almost black and white, making the book’s dread insidious rather than explicit. It looks like an old, important photograph, but with something unsettling, though you can’t quite put your finger on it. The zombie apocalypse has never looked so subtle or refined.

What is an “important photograph”? Jackie O. with blood on her dress?

Anyways, we’re being too critical, due in large part to how much we adored certain designs this year. Here’s a few, in no particular or-der.

David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King

David Foster Wallace's "The Pale King"

Let’s be honest: How cool is this cover? Designed by Wallace’s wife Karen Green, The Pale King is — like its cover — jarringly spare (white spaces) and precise in its text (hey, like the tax code on the cover!). And aside from linking it to what’s actually in the book, The Pale King is just a pleasing design. Plain and simple.

Peter Orner’s Love and Shame and Love

Peter Orner’s Love and Shame and Love focuses (almost solely) on one city: Chicago. And no matter where the characters go, the lake is always in one direction: east. It’s a simple message, conveyed beautifully in the book. Aside from the aesthetically pleasing cover (which obviously features the lake), sketches introducing various residences in the book are a nice addendum to Orner’s second novel.

John Warner’s The Funny Man

There wasn’t another book in 2011 we were harder on than John Warner’s debut The Funny Man. Subjective judgments on the quality of the story itself aside, the cover is beautiful. Drawn by Dave Eggers (what can’t he do), The Funny Man’s cover fits well with the book: a half-faceless man in casual garb holding his jail placard (what the hell are those actually called? Bueller? Bueller?). The colors jump out, and your computer monitor probably isn’t doing the design itself justice — that is, unless you’re on one of those 22″ Apple super-monitors; in which case: I HATE YOU. THOSE ARE SO GREAT. Anyways, pick up the book next time you see it in your local bookstore, it’s really a beautiful cover.

Shel Silverstein’s Every Thing On It

As we said in our review of this posthumous September release, every aspect of the book’s production was a labor of love on the part of Silverstein’s surviving family, friends, and editing team. Given the way the book was assembled (sifting through thousands of doodles and mismatched scraps the author left behind upon his death in ’99), the book came together in a way that fits smoothly with Silverstein’s past releases. That is, all the boundaries of a traditional book are flouted: the dedication page breaks the fourth wall. Characters chase each other around the endpapers. The index has old friends from past collections making appearances. And most of all, the cover captures the wild motion and zany predicament that gained Silverstein all his fame in children’s publishing in the first place.

Up tomorrow in our Stuff We Liked in 2011 series: Patchwork Stories

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