Friday, October 28, 2005

the profound mystery of book design

Honestly, now, which would you read? I'm still circling round the Oct 17 Art and Architecture Issue of The New Yorker. These thoughts in response to Updike's book cover art article, which I've mentioned already.

This is my recent haul from the book sale shelves of the Squirrel Hill Public Library. Total cost $6.00. I think the guy cut me deal, the softbacks alone are $.50 each. But some of these withstood (note the past tense) only one reading.

The Man Without Qualities, Robert Musil - Recommended in passing by one of my favorite profs.

All Passion Spent, Vita Sackville-West - With a title like that you could put a parsnip on the cover. I love Woolf, so I thought I'd give this a try. I also loved Mr. Skeffington, a less properly "modernist" novel in the same vein. More like Edith Wharton or Henry James.

The Documents in the Case, Dorothy Sayers - Not a mystery. Could have been so great, if the letters (this is an epistolery narrative) had obscured the solution to the crime, rather than just given evidence in a straightforward way. And she does all this modernist name dropping, DH Lawrence here, DH Lawrence there, and everyone in the novel discusses the uncertainty of empirical knowledge but what for? She doesn't even exploit the untrustworthy narrator possibilities of the form, the easiest play in the modernist book. Is she pulling a double switch? I don't think so.

The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club - Here she has this guy dump his fiancee and accuse her of being a lesbian. He does this so she'll be too ashamed to discuss the break up with anyone. Spoiler: he's the murderer, so clearly he's evil when he does this. It's interesting, Christie wouldn't go there.

And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie - Those crazy racist Brits. I would call this popular modernism. Or "vernacular modernsim" if necessary.

The Man in the Brown Suit - Those crazy racist Brits, part two. This one is set in South Africa during the Boer War. Actually, this one, which relies on diary entries for its narrative, suckers you right in with the untrustworthy narrator-diarist. I didn't notice until I took the photo that the gems are arranged in a skull shape. Scary.

N or M? - Nationalism, national security and a generally light hearted look at WWII . . . Impossible now, but interesting.

Ursula H. Le Guin, Three Hanish Novels - A favorite profs favorite sci-fi, but I don't like sci-fi so I think this will be a holiday gift . . . It's gift quality, no?

MLA Handbook - A real page turner.

I just finished a fellowship application so I'm in a euphoric state.

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Blogger juniper pearl said...

odds are i would not have picked up any one of these. maybe it's a boy/girl thing.

towards the end of my publishing internship i was given the assignment of finding some kind of suitable image for the cover of the publisher's new printing of george perec's a void. for anyone who doesn't know, the novel was written in french without using a single letter e, and the story is supposedly an allegory for the disappearance of jews in nazi-dominated europe. i spent a month collecting pictures of empty rooms and auditoriums, of blurred faces and crowds with strange spaces in the centers of them, whatever i could find that i thought represented a vanishing or a loss. the designer and the production assistant were mostly on board with my picks, but in the end the publisher went with a lowercase e with a line through it. we did, after much bullying and whining, manage to talk him into using a single brushstroke line instead of the "no smoking" circle with a line, but still, he was the only one who was ever happy with it. i guess he was counting on it attracting readers who were already familiar with the story or the author, but we thought he'd have a better chance of attracting browsers with something that spoke more to the plot. really, though, who wants to draw impulse buyers? profound mystery, indeed.

7:53 PM  
Blogger Molly said...

I have the MLA handbook, that very one, from High School. And then I had to buy the APA style handbook in college, also a real page turner. I read it when I can't sleep, works everytime.

4:49 PM  
Blogger zp said...

Hi Molly! Thanks for leaving a comment. For my loyal readers, Molly (and the thrifiest girl in LA) are the only people I actually know who read or know about my blog . . .

JP, I would so love to see your resume. From cover art to abused pooches . . . My college writing prof gave us a "no e" assignment. I wrote mine on "Tillamook" (as opposed to ch--s-) . . . Congrats on opposing the no-smoking logo, how cliche.

10:05 AM  

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