I'm a bit late to the game on this one, but Jillian's post has inspired me to join this week's Top Ten Tuesday event hosted by The Broke and the Boookish. So I'm sharing my top ten favourite book covers, united by a theme of my choosing. This topic ties in perfectly with some thoughts I've been having recently about the old adage 'don't judge a book by its cover.'
I do just that and more often than I'd like to admit. I can't count how many times I've purchased a book simply because 'it's pretty' -- pretty being my adjective of choice when I impulsively splurge on yet another book I can't afford. This practice isn't always to my benefit. Sometimes I toss a 'pretty book' to the side after reading, realizing I've been the dupe of a clever design and marketing strategy.
Sometimes I get lucky.
Once upon a time, I had no intention of reading more of Charles Dickens's novels. My horrid remembrances of having Great Expectations forced upon me in middle school put me off him for good. Then these gorgeous clothbound editions of Penguin classics suddenly popped up on the shelves of the bookstore where I worked. This book lover was entranced by Coralie Bickford-Smith's stunning designs. I walked by that beautiful copy of Great Expectations, the very book I loathed beyond description, day after day. It called out to me every time I passed by, begging to be chosen. Finally, I caved and bought the damn thing -- it was just so pretty. (Are you noticing a trend with the pretty?)
Maybe, I thought, Dickens isn't so bad after all. Maybe I've misjudged him. While I thought about it, I picked up the clothbound Oliver Twist to accompany its Dickensian sibling. Just in case.
As the abundance of Dickens-themed posts on this blog will testify, I grew to love the author I previously despised. I credit Coralie Bickford-Smith with igniting that gradual change of heart. It was her 'pretty' book that urged me to give Dickens another chance. In honor of her influence on my reading habits, I would like to share ten of my favourite classic designs by Coralie Bickford-Smith. I own several of the series now and have every intention of adding to my collection.
I love the chandeliers on this cover of Great Expectations. The designs created for Charles Dickens texts are particular stellar.
The pocket watch, which Oliver is taught to steal under the tutelage of the Artful Dodger and the rest of Fagin's gang, seems like the perfect image to represent this novel. I'm admire all of the designs in this series, but Oliver Twist might be my favourite of the bunch.
The image of the birdcage is such a potent one in Bleak House. Miss Flite owns a menagerie of birds, whom she says will be released on the day of judgement. It also, I think, serves as an effective symbol for the ways in which various characters of the novel metaphorically cage themsleves to a limited existence through their obsessions with the case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce.
The knitting needles, I presume, are a direct reference to Madame Defarge. She has the stillness of the lion before it strikes. Her eerie calm, as she quietly sits knitting, presages the violent outbursts that occur later in the novel. She is a standout character in the fantastic A Tale of Two Cities. Indeed, Madame Defarge is one of my favourite characters in the whole of Dickens's oeuvre.
I'd been lusting after this edition of George Eliot's Middlemarch for months when my dear friend Liz gave it to me as a parting gift before I left England. Therefore, this design has a lovely sentimental value for me.
Clothbound editions of all Jane Austen's completed novels have been released. The intricacy of this design for Pride and Prejudice makes it, in my opinion, the best of the six.
Illustrating the flamingos who have day jobs as croquet mallets in Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is pure brilliance. I love the bright-pink-on-white color scheme.
The peacock feather motif on this cover of The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde is simply gorgeous.
The design of Emily's Wuthering Heights is another favourite of mine, probably because the image of the rose illustrates the relationship between Cathy and Heathcliff nicely. It's beautiful but full of thorns. If Cathy and Heathcliff aren't prickly, I don't know who in fiction is.
And finally...Charlotte's Jane Eyre. I have a soft spot for this cover, because Jane Eyre may possibly be my favourite novel of all time. Also, it's red, a color that makes everything vibrant.
Penguin hosted a live web chat with Coralie Bickford-Smith a few months ago, and she kindly answered my question about the extent to which the narratives of the novels influence her designs. It was fascinating to hear about the creative process behind this aesthetic series. Here is her reply:
I try to read all the books I design covers for but sometimes (due to time constraints) it is just not possible and I go to the blurbs team for a chat to bounce ideas off. For me the narrative influences my creative process massively. For the hardback classics some of the final patterns are more literal than others. The peacock feather on Dorian Grey, for example, plays on the book’s themes of vanity and the superficial, whereas the leaf motif on Jane Eyre, refers directly to the lightning-blasted chestnut tree, a concrete element in the text that serves as a potent symbol of the book’s central relationship.
So, buying books simply because they would look dashing on my shelves does occasionally lead me astray. Yet it has also opened my eyes to fabulous books I wouldn't otherwise have read and helped me to reconsider my opinions on literature. Judging a book by its cover is a practice I'll happily continue.
Do you ever embrace or reject books simply because of their covers? I'd love to hear!