Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret
among contemporary American writers. --John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture Marly Youmans is a novelist and poet out of sync with the times
but in tune with the ages. --First Things

Friday, August 03, 2012

Twitterian: on book jackets

Twitter. It's an enjoyable fritter, especially when one has a huge mountain of an assignment to do (as I do), and much house-drudgery ahead (as I also do.) It's a great deal of fun to talk to poets in Wales and Britain, a favorite editor in the midwest, a friend in California, and so on...

I'm still thinking about last night's back-and-forth conversation with book designer John Coulthart on the whole business of how and why men get so many covers without images but instead with bold (shall we even say aggressive and insistent?) typography that shouts at the passers-by from bookstore displays. I read several books with such jackets yesterday. All men. (And was wondering: is it a male thing? Are men simply anti-image? (Orange Prize studies and others suggest the limits to what men will accept on a cover, versus how women will accept many jackets/covers.)

Or is the key a bestseller status--one is BIG? I looked up J. K. Rowling's first book for an adult audience; her jacket is like that, if they stick to the current jacket proposal. So, as John says at one point, it may be primarily a nod to the fame and bestsellerdom of the writer. It is a kind of minimalism that relies on color and typeface only (rather than what is called "emotional engagement" in the book-design biz), and yet it hits the maximum in being hyper-bold. That giant type size always has clarity of a kind--and perhaps ignores that jacket/cover goal of being connected because it assumes you are already linked through at least general knowledge to the writer. Buy me, I'm by an important writer!

Certainly such a jacket tends to stand out on a display crammed with images... I guess its message is twofold: you know the writer is "big" in sales numbers, if nothing else; you know this is a book that a man or boy should be willing and confident to pick up (see those infinite studies about men being unwilling to pick up books with pretty jackets.)

No doubt all this has something to do with what we find in results like the annual VIDA count. Because if women are reviewed less often and appear as reviewers less often, well, that is going to have an impact on how "big" they are seen to be. (Confession: I rarely review--only when bothered into it.) And then I start to wonder if "literary" women are more prone to such lesserdom than "genre" women. That would be interesting to know; has somebody studied it? And I think about how these questions impact jackets like The Marriage Plot: literary book, domestic subject matter, and yet very restrained jacket. (Didn't Meg Wolitzer get into that issue during a certain recent fracas?) But I can't think about all that right now. Right now, dear people, I must go clean my house! 

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Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.