Thursday, January 21, 2010

Freaky academic book covers

Those of us who have written books, have thought of writing books, or even just know people who have written books think with some regularity about book covers: the ones we admire, the ones we imagine someday having, and the ones that do no one no favors.

There's not a lot of money for cover art in academic book publishing--you're a total rockstar if your cover gets a four- rather than two-color palette--and the designs tend to range from the uninspired to the reasonably attractive. Still, if there's money for a cover image at all, it usually bears some relationship to the work between the boards.

But not always. My copy of Leviathan, for example, has a close-up of the prow of a massive, early 20th-century ocean liner. (Um, I get what you were going for, Mr. Design Dude? But I don't know why you were going for it.)

However, nothing--nothing!--holds a candle to the original cover art for Stanley Fish's Self-Consuming Artifacts: The Experience of Seventeenth-Century Literature (1972):

Just to be clear: this is a book with chapters on the works of Francis Bacon, John Milton, George Herbert, John Bunyan, Thomas Browne, and Robert Burton. It is not a book about. . . well, about whatever's going on in that cover image.

(Click on the image. You have to see it in its full, terrifying glory.)

Seriously, I don't even know what to do with that cover. It's hideous and compelling at the same time, and I'm sure the Fishman loved it. I bet he chose the image himself.*

Can anyone beat that cover for freakishness, bizarritude, or barely-minimal relevance to the book it contains?

*This, by contrast, is the depressing cover of the edition that's currently in print.


FLG said...

What I find funny about that Leviathan cover is that you can't improve upon the original.

heu mihi said...

Egads! What is going on there?

Sisyphus said...

Clearly that's some 70s pomo art but I don't recognize it or have any idea who the artist is. Could it be Rauchenberg?

Flavia said...

FLG: I know! There must be some reason Broadview didn't use that image. . . but I don't know what it is.

Sisyphus: It's one of Jean Tinguely's (apparently many) self-destroying machines, entitled "Homage to New York." A brief description and another photo are here, and a Time article covering the 1960 event is here.

medieval woman said...

I was gonna say along with Sis that it's gotta be some weird late 60's early 70's trippin' out choice!

Janice said...

Well, that image is NOT what I think of when it comes to seventeenth-century topics! But cover art is something that varies wildly in style from one era to the next. I remember all those funky, flourishing serifs in early 1970s typography. . . .

Bavardess said...

This is crazy for sure, but I'm actually more disturbed by the utter lack of any artistic meaning at all on the cover of the new edition. It's like the publishers were intent on actively discouraging people from picking up this book.

Pilgrim/Heretic said...

I remember a grad school prof revealing to us the sad reality that authors often had very little control over their cover art... what sparked that discussion was Thornton's Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, a book whose goal was to acknowledge the agency of Africans and move them to the center of the Atlantic narrative, rather than portraying them all as passive victims of European expansion. The first-edition cover? A black and pink Lion King-esque cartoon of a giraffe and a lion.