By Geo Ong
As a bookseller and a book lover, I’m around books all day. The old adage of never judging a book by its cover has never really applied to me, and I’m quite confident that I’m not alone in this. It’s always an exciting feeling to see a striking cover, and there have been multiple times when a cover has physically made me pick up and read the book. As we find ourselves in a digital age, certain publishers have focused less on the importance of the book cover, while others still recognise the artistic possibilities of what a book cover design can do to a reader.
Here are three covers of one of the most widely read novels of the last fifty years, The Great Gatsby. The leftmost cover features the iconic image done by Francis Cugat for the novel’s first edition, though it has been tastelessly minimised and bordered in this edition. It also tends to remind many people of being forced to read a book they didn’t understand in high school. This is what happened to me and my opinion of the novel. However, several years later, I jump across the pond and find a Penguin Modern Classics edition with such an arresting image, so different from that which I most associated with the book, that I reread it and loved it. Thankfully, Simon & Schuster came to some sense and released two new covers, one with Cugat’s image uncropped, and another featuring an elegant flapper.
Really, this is just an article of how cool Penguin Modern Classics covers are. Here are two more examples. The top left features the only edition of A Clockwork Orange available in the United States. While interesting in its own right (though looking a bit too much like a Palahniuk novel), it is nothing compared to the Penguin version to its right. And while HMH’s latest cover for Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle lends the science fiction author a bit of class and literary respect, Penguin once again shows you how to take a chance.
Here are three book covers that resist the urge to capitalise on media familiarity. Both the Penguin Classics and Everyman’s Library editions of Frankenstein offer two different visuals, and neither of them is green nor has bolts coming out of its neck. NYRB’s edition of Pinocchio possesses all the macabre darkness of the original story. Walt Disney’s animators never have a chance.