Ever since I was a little boy, I always wanted to see my name on the front cover of a book. (The other way of putting this is that from whenever I can remember, I wanted to be a writer without the faintest idea of what I should write about. George Orwell and VS Naipaul said the same thing, I think. So I was in good company – till I actually began to write.)
I progressed in small steps. First, I appeared on back covers of books: excerpts from reviews I had written appeared on the back covers of subsequent editions of the books that I had written about. Then I got on to the dedication page. (The Picador Anthology of Modern Indian Literature in case you are remotely interested.)
Finally, I did get my chance to have my name on the front cover of a book. It was a thrill like no other. I agonised about the cover for months, and engaged my publisher in many hours of (very) long-distance phone calls about (largely inconsequential) changes I wanted.
In the end, it turned out nicely – perhaps because some of my suggestions had been politely declined. And I always felt a surge of (quite undeserved) pride whenever someone referred to my book as “beautifully produced”.
I often end up buying copies of books I have for the cover alone. And I buy books I haven’t read or know little about merely because of their covers.
So I was delighted to come across this piece, which told me that there were millions of dotty people like me out there.
It turns out that AbeBooks has done a promotion titled ‘Thirty Novels Worth Buying for the Cover Alone’.
Have a look.
I was particularly struck by David Pelham’s design of the cover of Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange; Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich’s cover of Milan Kundera’s Unbearable Lightness of Being; Amy Goldfarb’s design of Martha Cooley’s The Archivist; and the cover of Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf designed by Seth Rubin and Cynthia Krupat.
Now I have three of those four titles. Not one of my copies has the cover showcased. If I were to chance upon those ones…
Oh, and by the way, it’s not merely people like us. Even great writers fret and fuss about covers. Here is Orhan Pamuk, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, in an essay called Nine Notes on Book Covers:
“We cannot recall the books we most love without also recalling their covers.”
“If, years after reading a book, we catch a glimpse of its cover, we are returned at once to that long-ago day when we curled up in a corner with that book to enter the world hidden inside.”
Are you crazy about covers? Which are your favourite ones? Let me know.
Here is a random selection of covers I adore from my shelves. I’m afraid I couldn’t find the links for all of them.
Tarkovsky: The Diaries (Seagull)
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (Vintage International)
The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford (Penguin Modern Classics)
Atomised by Michel Houellebecq (Vintage, Random House UK)
The War Against Cliche (Cape, Random House UK)
In the Land of Pain by Alphonse Daudet, translated by Julian Barnes (Cape, Random House UK)
Maps for Lost Lovers by Nadeem Aslam (Faber)
What do you make of them?