Best Book Covers of 2009 – Part 1

There’s been a lot of talk this year about e-books replacing traditional books and I have wondered what it means for book jackets and book design. Will an image on a screen be the book cover of the future? Will it matter?
The current year’s crop of excellent book jackets beg my own answer to that question – a resounding YES! It will matter! I’ve posted here digital representations of three of my favorite book covers of the year, and two of them are jackets you must see for yourself to truly appreciate. Printing techniques – embossing, metallics, various varnishes that change the look of the light reflection – you simply cannot get a sense of the artistry here without feasting your eyes on the hardcopy.

This book may be my number one pick for the year. Not just the cover, but the whole book design. The Monstrumologist is historical fiction/horror by Rick Yancey (Simon & Schuster). It poses a true dilemma for me. The cover has a magnetic pull I find it difficult to resist – and the reviews tell me it is not the kind of book this squeamish reader can stomach. So what is a reader to do? The book has sat in my reading pile for weeks  now, begging me – “just give it a try,” the small quiet voice says. “You can stop the minute it gets too gory,” it tells me…
Then the guy on the other shoulder reminds me of how distressing I find this kind of book. Blood, guts, gore is a no way, no how read for me. So the book remains in my pile. Waiting. Daring me. Will I have the courage?
The eerie lighting, the mysterious backlit life in a jar. Where are we? Whose hand? What is that in that jar?
Historically many of us have scoffed at the use of metallics on books as gimicky. The raised, slightly tarnished gold rectangle of the title is not gimicky here. It is in perfect keeping with the design, looking like a plaque on the picture. A blood-smudged plaque…
The cover photograph is by Jonathan Dorfman. The book was designed by Lucy Cummins, and the design doesn’t end at the cover. Many small details add to the total package. End papers support the eeriness with small medical drawings of various body parts and organs. The ink drawings are depicted in the negative – white against a black (or dark grey) background. Chapter headings are interesting, and random pages include drawings of medical instruments in the white margins, bleeding out to the edge of the page.
The UK version – ICK! I would pass this by in a heartbeat! Maybe the lesson here is that what you don’t tell on a cover can be more effective than what you do. When I was looking for links for this book, I found a blog posting where two of the three titles listed in this post were mentioned – both in regards to the more interesting covers to be had here in the U.S. What’s left to the imagination is creepier by leaps and bounds.

As a design element, I’ve always loved the look of stripes juxtaposed against pattern. The peppermint here has that effect. This was another cover that stopped me dead in my tracks (pun intended ;-). Large closeups – closeups that render an image larger that the way it would normally appear – tend to work well on book covers. Here, the clarity of every wrinkle on the lips, the yellow light reflecting back, and the stark line of the mouth shape – all set off-center and against a pleasing warmish white (but not skin-toned) background, is so arresting that it is hard to pass by.
When I first saw Pretty Dead by Francesca Lia Block (HarperTeen) I didn’t even notice that vampire tooth… I know, I know – I should have, given the year of vampire books. But the candy-colors belied that detail for a second look. I like being fooled like that. It makes me think this vampire book is different. This one stands out. (And it’s Block! Of course it will stand out!)
The jacket photograph here is by Karen Pearson/Merge Left Reps (Pearson’s comment on shooting the photo) and the design is by Jennifer Heuer.
I like the title text with fonts fitting the words they depict. I’m not as sure about the placement, and do wonder about the little shape outlined in white on the tail of the P. I do not like it when a beautiful cover is cluttered up by quotes. Clearly somebody believed Cassandra Clare could convince someone to read Francesca Lia Block (what????).
Small negatives, though, in a cover that scores a hit with me.
(An aside, the cover depicted on Block’s website has a bigger mouth, and a black peppermint. This one is more effective. Kudos to the designers/marketers for the right choice)

This is another book where the whole book design is thoughtful, interesting and well integrated. I’d seen the cover online on Westerfeld’s website and thought it was good. Steampunk stuff is cool these days.
But when I ran across the book in a bookstore, I wanted to own it. As an object. The combination of metallic inks, with faux tarnish, and the many raised elements, combine to make a book cover that has to be seen in the hardcopy to be appreciated.
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld (Simon Pulse) is designed by Sammy Yuen Jr. and illustrated by Keith Thompson. The map on the endpapers is fascinating. Many illustrations of various animals and objects meld to form a map of Europe in 1914. The colors are muted suitably to match the subject. I’d like to have a framed, mounted copy to hang in my house (see it here at a cartographers guild forum).
The layout of the pages is open and sprinkled with illustrations of various sizes.
A beautiful package for Westerfeld’s story.

The Monstrumologist: In 1888, twelve-year-old Will Henry chronicles his apprenticeship with Dr. Warthrop, a scientist who hunts and studies real-life monsters, as they discover and attempt to destroy a pod of Anthropophagi. Ages 14+. Reviews: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. Book Trailer.
Pretty Dead: Beautiful vampire Charlotte finds herself slowly changing back into a human after the mysterious death of her best friend. Ages 14+. Reviews: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.
Leviathan: In an alternate 1914 Europe, fifteen-year-old Austrian Prince Alek, on the run from the Clanker Powers who are attempting to take over the globe using mechanical machinery, forms an uneasy alliance with Deryn who, disguised as a boy to join the British Air Service, is learning to fly genetically-engineered beasts. Ages 12+. Reviews: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7Book Trailer.

12 Responses to “Best Book Covers of 2009 – Part 1”

  1. I totally agree with you about the NEED to own Leviathan after seeing and holding the book. I normally try to hold off and buy books in paperback once I’ve read them from the library, purely because of storage issues. This book, however, I went out and purchased in hardcover immediately after finishing it. The book is a work of art itself, never mind that the story is excellent!
    I also agree with you about the Monstrumologist dilemma. So not my type of book, but the cover is very cool!

  2. All the illustrations in LEVIATHAN, including the end papers, are by Keith Thompson, not Sammy Yuen Jr.

    • Thanks for correcting me. The jacket flap only attributes the “Mechanical wing illustration” to (you?) Keith Thompson. But now that you pointed it out, the title page says “Written by Mr. Scott Westerfeld, illustrated by Mr. Keith Thompson.”
      Beautiful work!

      • Correct Keith Did all the great illustrations, end papers and interiors, i used the wings Keith did on the top part of cover and I illustrated the rest of the cover, gears etc.

  3. The Monstrumologist is one of the best books I’ve read this year, but it’s definitely not for the squeamish. I suppose you MIGHT be able to skim past the gory bits, but they’re such a large part of the story I’m not sure how it’d work out. I suppose if you can handle something like Hellraiser, you’d be able to handle The Monstrumologist.

    Uh…but the cover is fantastic! Yes.

  4. My credit card curses you! I’ve been putting off buying Leviathan until I read this so now I just ordered it. Looks fantastic and I know both my son and I will love it.

  5. These are great covers, and I *loved* Pretty Dead. The dripping candy, the sparkly lipstick…the word “luscious” comes to mind.

  6. I love your blog!

  7. And The Monstrumologist won an award. Imagine, an award going to a book that’s really good. Downside– now we’ll get the covers with the award seal on them. Bummer.

  8. Awesome CSS Gallery…

    Best Book Covers of 2009 – Part 1 « Jacket Whys…

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