By Paul Levine
Lots of people compile lists of their favorite books. So why not the best book covers? I thought I’d share a few of my favorites, my personal list of the Best Book Covers of All Time.
I’d start with Joseph Hirsch. He was a Social Realist painter whose cover of Arthur Miller’s classic “Death of a Salesman,” is…well, social realism at work. (Yes, I know it was a play, but it’s in print so it qualifies as one of the best book covers of all time).
Now, going way more commercial, how about Chip Kidd’s iconic vision for Michael Crichton’s “Jurassic Park?” (It was so good the moviemakers used it, too).
Many people regard fellow Penn State grad Kidd as the designer of the best book covers of the past quarter century. According to Wikipedia:
“Publishers Weekly described his book jackets as ‘creepy, striking, sly, smart, unpredictable covers that make readers appreciate books as objects of art as well as literature.’ USA TODAY called him ‘the closest thing to a rock star’ in graphic design today, while author James Ellroy has called him ‘the world’s greatest book-jacket designer.’”
Best Book Covers: “Psycho” is Just Perfect
Then there’s Tony Palladino’s fractured cover image for Robert Bloch’s “Psycho,” which of course was adapted into the scary-as-hell Hitchcock film.
I like (but have mixed feelings about) the cover of Joseph Heller’s “Catch-22.” It was designed by Paul Bacon, known for large type and small illustrations. Hey, you need good eyesight to find the B-25 bomber. The cover wouldn’t fly in the era of the Internet with postage-stamp size images on Amazon, Barnes & Noble et al. Still, the wacky image representing Captain Yossarian strikes me as just the right note.
(Like the fictional Yossarian, Heller was a bombardier on a B-25 in World War II, flying 60 combat missions over Italy. When I met him once in Key West, I told Heller he was my father’s favorite writer and that my father had been a navigator on a B-29, flying combat missions over Japan. “Then your Dad’s my hero,” Heller replied).
Now, you may disagree with me here, but I really don’t like one of the most famous book covers of all time. It’s Elmer Hader’s illustration for John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath.” Hader wrote children’s stories and this cover, it seems to me, is too optimistic and cheery. I would have liked something more grim, along the lines of Hirsch’s tone with “Death of a Salesman.” But I could be wrong.
Certainly, Steinbeck would not agree with my position. He chose Hader for the book, approved the cover, then had him do both “East of Eden” and “The Winter of Our Discontent.”
I asked a reader (a fan of my Jake Lassiter series) for her favorite book cover. She chose Lawrence Block’s “Getting Off.” Subtitled, “a novel of sex and violence,” the pulp cover delivers what is promised. Maybe more than is necessary. It’s what people in Hollywood would call “on the nose.”
What say you? Do you have any favorite book covers?