It’s the time of year for renewal. To restart cycles, redye the hairdo, rewind the cassette tapes. Snow melts, songbirds sing, colors bloom, the sun comes out and old things come back to us in new forms. For example, books come out in paperback. You might say, well, books come out in paperback all year. Sure. That’s true. But I’m painting a larger picture here. Anyways all the paperbacks I’m talking about came out in spring. Good enough? Moving on.
Like a butterfly from chrysalis, a paperback doesn’t necessarily match it’s larval, hardcover iteration. For anyone like me who, for better or worse, went to art school, the design decisions are more than kind of interesting. Some books keep the original design. Those who do are often the mainstream mega-bestsellers – Dan Brown, Sue Grafton, Janet Evanovich, even Game of Thrones – but the literary stuff usually gets a fresh breath of life, or at least a new take. To illustrate, here’s a selection of my 2013 favorites that have come back around with new plumage.
The People in the Trees knocked my socks clean off. When I finished it was hard to read anything else for a while, and even now I’ll stop reading a book that I realize is trying to do something The People in the Trees did much better – namely, be haunting, wonderfully crafted and well-told, like Shirley Jackson’s stuff, or The Sparrow or Geek Love. It lingers like a bad, beautiful dream. And as for the covers, the hardcover (left) gets the moody strangeness and the paperback (right) gets the violence. One great thing about the hardcover is that if you were holding it in your hands you’d see the maggots all over the spine. It’s brilliant. The paperback is handsome, too, but moreso than dreamlike/odd it falls toward edgy/gritty. And if you haven’t read it and are wondering what the deal is with the turtle, well, then, read the book.
This I read in one sitting. We Need New Names was a finalist for the Man-Booker Prize and why was obvious in the reading – swift prose and a powerful narrative voice telling a damn good story. The hardcover (left) is electric yellow with skinny typography, which gets the exotic setting and the skinny legs of the young protagonist & her pals. The plane in the center takes the protagonist from her friends in Zimbabwe to America, and her aunt. The paperback (right) borrows much of the same palette but has the feel of U.S. propaganda painted on wood panels, maybe the side of someone’s home in Zimbabwe shortly before it’s bulldozed by Revolutionaries. As you might notice, the book got some good attention. Paperbacks often wear awards & praise like generals wear war medals, to gaudy results. This cover handles its accolades well. I hope it means this book will be noticed and read.
Perhaps you’ve also noticed that all these entries are debut books by women writers. All I can say is, so they are. It’s exciting because every book here is incredible and these writers are young and just getting their motors going. The Panopticon was written by a Scottish poet. The protagonist is a young girl and the setting is a prison. The hardcover (left) gets the prison (bars, keyhole), but the paperback (right), in a very subtle upgrade, really hints at what kind of prison – circular, with a watchtower in the middle to observe all prisoners at once. Also hypnotic, radiating lines which evoke the concentric circles of the prison and the protagonist’s often drug-induced, quasi-hallucinogenic, paranoid experience of her world. Both covers are stunning and capture well how unlike this book is from almost any other. And of note, both covers may have subconscious appeal to Hitchcock fans. And that’s all for now, til the next installment – happy reading, whether your book be hardcover, paperback, or e-.