Big Words: Literary Covers, Reviewed

With few exceptions, fall is the season when publishers release their biggest books, a batch that inevitably includes the year’s most anticipated literary novels. Whatever your definition of or feelings towards literary fiction, we call all agree that it is a thing that exists. (Right? Right?)

But literary merit is not my concern. Instead, I’ve turned my attention to the way publishers have marketed fall novels by known quantities—authors with a proven track record of critically acclaimed, popular works. Novels guaranteed review in all the major newspapers. Novels that might even sell through their first print run.  These cover designs have been labored over to justify large advances. These covers hope to say, “Read me! I’m worthy!” What else do they say? Let’s find out. (Please note that I’ve read none of the following books. I have, however, linked their titles to their actual Booklist reviews when possible.)

Hhere-i-amere I Am, by Jonathan Safran Foer

Bold, large, semi-transparent letters on a backdrop of words. Is the background a painting? An after-school punishment? A diary? A diary written in watercolor by someone so taken by the written word that he or she records his or her thoughts in different-colored paints? Is the authoritative sans-serif of the title text an assertion of selfhood over the cacophony of the crowd? Of history? No matter. Here I am!






nutshellNutshell, by Ian McEwan

This is a novel about a contact lens. Perhaps it’s also generally about seeing, the prism evoking the different perspectives inherent in all human interaction. Very multifaceted. Very McEwan.








swing-timeSwing Time, by Zadie Smith

The Arts and Crafts-style lettering meshes nicely with the colors of the Zimbabwean flag, but Smith’s publisher should really consider letting her design her own covers. I saw her at BEA once, and she was wearing jeans and a white button-down, and she was easily the most glamorous woman in the whole room, if not all of Manhattan. Maybe it’s cause she’s rich and famous and her clothes are made out of rare feathers or something, but I really think it’s just that she knows how to put together a look. If I wear jeans and a white button-down, people try to hand me a mop bucket.





ann-patchettCommonwealth, by Ann Patchett

This looks exactly like a design from Rifle Paper Co. citrus-fruitsThey made this really adorable iPhone case with gold leopards on a field of turquoise, but not for the model I own. Even though like six of my friends had it, it still makes me kinda sad that I don’t have one and never will.





judasJudas, by Amos Oz

No gimmicks here! Just huge lettering and a scary, blood-colored knife triangle thing. And gravitas.



About the Author:

Eugenia Williamson is the Associate Editor of Digital Products at Booklist. She worked in bookstores for twelve years, reviews books for The Boston Globe, and writes about books, culture, and politics for several other publications. Follow her on Twitter at @Booklist_Genie.

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