Cover Trend: Neon Lights

I haven’t been able to shake neon covers from the back of my mind since early April, when Catherynne Valente’s star-reviewed Space Opera released. Valente’s wasn’t the only SFF in the first quarter of 2018 to deck itself in a striking glow; Chandler Klang Smith’s The Sky Is Yours and Sam J. Miller’s Blackfish City were rocking similar covers. Shockingly similar, in fact—down to their centered circular emblems.

So I kept digging, and it’s no surprise cover designers are using the attention-grabbing look to, uh, grab our attention. This summer alone we’ve seen Rachel Heng’s dystopian debut Suicide Club, Caroline Kepnes’ thriller Providenceand Rachel Kushner’s prison novel The Mars RoomThe neon works to evoke the novels’ subject matter well, despite their range: Heng’s novel is set in a near-future New York, while Rachel Kushner’s title refers to a strip club in the story.

Neon isn’t just for fiction. Comedian Amy Poehler’s 2014 autobiography Yes Please dons the trend, as does the 2008 memoir No Man’s Landin which Cambridge University graduate Ruth Fowler recounts her years working as a stripper in Times Square. Randi Hutter Epstein pairs an eye-catching neon sign title with her exploration of hormones in the June release Aroused. If you’re a judge-a-book-by-its-cover kind of person, you might note that all three of these neon covers received starred reviews from Booklist. 

Poetry, like Glyn Maxwell’s Pluto (companion to his essay collection On Poetry) and Lorna Crozier’s God of Shadows, and short story collections, like César Aira’s The Musical Brainare in on it too.

YA is never one to be left out. Iva-Marie Palmer’s The End of the World as We Know ItNorah Olson’s Before Now, and Kerry Winfrey’s Things Jolie Needs to Do Before She Bites It use their covers to evoke the teen angst and quirk within.

Even Bukowski got a snazzy reprint. Interestingly, only three of the five novels starring his alter ego Henry Chinaski received the neon treatment. If you weren’t already familiar with Bukowski, these covers would be a good indication that the stories you were about to embark on had a cynical sense of humor.

And just in case you still aren’t convinced that neon signs are a cover designer’s best friend when it comes to evoking anything from sad seediness to flashy fame, here are a few more examples from the last decade of fiction. Thomas Pynchon’s cover designer for Inherent Vice nailed his or her assignment; Donna Seaman described the 1960’s-set mystery as a “bawdy, hilarious, and compassionate electric-acid-noir satire,” which is pretty in line with what the cover suggests. Neon covers have been bestowed to mysteries (like John Burdett’s The Bangkok Assetthe sixth installment in his Royal Thai Detective series) and thrillers (like Ned Beauman’s Glow and Garth Risk Hallberg’s star-reviewed debut City on Fire), to famous memoir-fabricators (James Frey with Bright Shiny Morning), and to both contemporary (Merritt Tierce’s Love Me Back and Heather O’Neill’s star-reviewed The Girl Who Was Saturday Night) and historical fiction (Francine Prose’s Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932).

What do you think of the trend: over-stimulating or perfectly arousing? Tell me what I missed!

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About the Author:

A former Booklist intern and current Booklist reviewer, Ellie is a reader and writer based in Chicago. She holds a BA in writing from Wheaton College (IL) and is the assistant to the president at Browne & Miller Literary Associates.

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