So much to read, so little time #2

Get any good books for Christmas? I got the obligatory gift voucher, just trying to decide what to spend it on now.

The best books of 2020Kottke
Let’s start with the NY Times. Their 10 Best Books of 2020 includes Deacon King Kong by James McBride while their larger list of 100 Notable Books of 2020 has both Maria Konnikova’s The Biggest Bluff and The End of Everything: (Astrophysically Speaking) by Katie Mack on it. The Times’ critics have their own list for some reason; one of the books they featured is Anna Wiener’s Uncanny Valley.

I came across that last one back in February, still not got around to it. I’m in good company, at least.

Building an antilibrary: the power of unread booksNess Labs
For Umberto Eco, a private library is a research tool. The goal of an antilibrary is not to collect books you have read so you can proudly display them on your shelf; instead, it is to curate a highly personal collection of resources around themes you are curious about. Instead of a celebration of everything you know, an antilibrary is an ode to everything you want to explore.

But that doesn’t help me pick what to get with my voucher, does it?

Help us pick the best book cover of 2020Electric Literature
This hasn’t been an easy year for sustained, careful reading. But you know what doesn’t take any attention at all? Judging a book by its cover! That’s why we’re doing our first ever “best book cover of the year” tournament—and we want you to weigh in.

These were their finalists. Which one do you think won? I think they made a good choice.

Clowns and sewers and balloons, oh my!

I feel old. Stephen King’s It celebrated its 34th publication anniversary earlier this month. To mark the occasion, Dan Sheehan from Literary Hub has gathered together a whole bookcase of horrors. Or not.

10 covers for Stephen King’s It, ranked from least to most terrifyingLiterary Hub
Dutch paperback edition. My personal favorite. The cool 80s glam rock lightning bolt in the background. The Saturday morning cartoon font. The stupid kid’s stupid face. The fact that the balloon is too prominent, the wrong color, and actually looks kind of friendly. The words “de stank van HET” lined up with the kid’s mouth as if he is whispering in Dutch (objectively the most ridiculous-sounding language) to the friendly balloon. It’s all great. Alas, it is not very frightening.

The perils of DIY book cover design

Well, at least they’re trying, I guess.

The worst book covers on AmazonDesign You Trust
Who needs a professional designer when you can save money and make a book cover by yourself, right? Wrong.

But are the professionals doing a better job?

Horror books have lost their identityIn Praise of Shadows

Book cover comparisons

Further to some previous posts about book cover design, here’s a birds-eye view of a whole load of them.

11 years of top-selling book covers, arranged by visual similarity
An interactive map of over 5,000 book covers, organized by machine learning.

It’s interesting to play around with the filters, to see how samey some of the genres are. It all reminded me of those photomosaic images from the 90s.

Instagrammable and Amazonable

Remember those cricked necks we used to get, wandering up and down the books shelves in Waterstones, Borders and the rest, head at an awkward angle to read all the spines? Book buying looks different now, with our stiff necks due to staring down at our screens.

Welcome to the bold and blocky Instagram era of book covers
None of these titles is available yet, but anywhere you find them online will likely direct you to preorder on Amazon. In fact, their covers are designed to ensure that you will. At a time when half of all book purchases in the U.S. are made on Amazon — and many of those on mobile — the first job of a book cover, after gesturing at the content inside, is to look great in miniature. That means that where fine details once thrived, splashy prints have taken over, grounding text that’s sturdy enough to be deciphered on screens ranging from medium to miniscule.

Social media has a part to play now, too, in our book-buying habits.

“Instagram is a major tool now in ginning up excitement that we used to see in print magazines,” says Emma Straub, Riverhead-published author and owner of the Brooklyn bookstore Books Are Magic.

She’s referring, of course, to the latte-laden still lifes that influencers post to brag about receiving an advance copy of a book, or the artful arrangements they use to signify literate lifestyles arranged in bold colors.

Judging a book cover by its book cover

Another fine 2018 retrospective, another rabbit hole to fall into.

The 75 best book covers of 2018
But it is December, and therefore I am inclined to ask: which book covers were the best? As I did last year and the year before that, I asked the experts: book designers. This year, I asked 27 designers to share their favorite book covers of the year, with a bit about why—and they came back with a whopping 75 different covers of note.

I especially liked reading about the trouble with designing a book when its author is in jail.

Burning Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451Elizabeth Perez
Fahrenheit 451 is a novel about a dystopian future where books are outlawed and firemen burn any house that contains them. The story is about suppressing ideas, and about how television destroys interest in reading literature. I wanted to spread the book-burning message to the book itself. The book’s spine is screen-printed with a matchbook striking paper surface, so the book itself can be burned.