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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Burn This Book

Designer credit to come
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Fellow book design bloggers Ben and Eric over at The Book Cover Archive blog posted the cover for the new paperback edition of The Ballad of Abu Ghraib earlier today, and I'm glad they did, as it gives us the opportunity (on two blogs) to discuss covers like the one you see below, the subtitle of which is "PEN Writers Speak Out on the Power of the Word."

Of The Ballad of Abu Ghraib, Ben or Eric (sign your posts, fellas! :-)) writes "I find it timeless and wonderful, with a gravity rarely seen on the shelf...Solid, well balanced, impactful." As the day has drawn on I find myself agreeing with that assessment more and more, and it's helped me to see what's so strong about the cover for Burn This Book, a "collection of essays that explore the meaning of censorship and the power of literature to inform the way we see the world, and ourselves."

Both designs provoke us to think about definitions. Publishers Weekly calls The Ballad of Abu Ghraib "the complete story of Abu Ghraib." I'm old and cynical enough to know there's never a complete story, and I think the Penguin designer of The Ballad of Abu Ghraib knows this too. We're familiar with some -- but not all -- of the images of torture perpetrated at that prison, but no matter how "complete" the visual and historical record becomes, there will always be something about what happened there that is not accessible to us as readers or to designers who are tasked with defining, visually, what the book tries to communicate.

Americans throw around the word "censorship" like Krewe members throwing beads off a Mardi Gras float. You're not being censored if you can't wear shorts to work. You're not being censored if Apple doesn't sell your stupid app. Not being able to mourn your dead, getting shot for demonstrating election results, governments banning art and books as incendiary: that gets us closer to a definition. But what does it feel like? What does it look like? Again, wisely, Burn This Book's designer knows better than to try to reduce censorship to a single visual conventional image.

So. Check out the cover design for The Ballad of Abu Ghraib (and Burn This Book, of course) and tell me what you think about what I contend is thoughtful, brilliant design.


Ian Shimkoviak said...

I think the words here are so powerful and in your face that it makes up for anything a designer could have come up with visually/graphically and still retain that force of words.

Anytime you have a title like "Don't Read This Book" or "Steal This Book" etc—it merits a simple treatment that allows the message to sink instantaniously into the readers mind.

So thoughtful, brilliant? Maybe.

belhana said...


Kathryn said...

The cover was designed by Mary Schuck.