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Monday, August 17, 2009

Everything Matters!

Painting by Amy Bennett
Design by Paul Buckley

"Do you read all the books you blog about?" is the question I'm most often asked about The BDR. It's also the most frequently-leveled criticism (yes, I get hate mail).

The obvious answer is no. I don't read all the books whose covers we discuss here, nor do I think I need to. But certainly there are times when the choices made in the design of a book cover only make sense with the understanding and perspective that comes with reading.

I started reading Ron Currie, Jr.'s Everything Matters! based on the strength of early reviews and my own literary predilection for pretty much anything with equal measure of doom and humor (yes, Harry Crews is a favorite). Long story short: while still in his mother's womb, Junior Thibodeau receives a prophecy that the world will be annihilated by a comet in a little more than 36 years. Currie's writing is glorious -- in one scene, after the space shuttle Challenger has blown up, the booster rockets "fly wildly away from the initial breakup, still under their own power, tracing slow, chunky vapor trails like illiterate skywriters" -- and there is more than enough sadness and ruin to keep someone with my tastes reading (I'm about halfway through the book).

But what of the cover? It's designed by the insanely talented Paul Buckley (great interview from '06 here), and clearly its greatest strength is its use of Amy Bennett's painting "Sleeping Separately." The painting is from a series called Neighbors, and Amy was kind enough to let me reproduce the painting in full (click the image for a slightly larger view):

Amy's process is amazing: she builds miniature 3D models that serves as still lifes which she then paints. Again, Amy was kind enough to give me permission to quote from her Web site:

"I constructed a fictional model neighborhood. I considered who lived in each home, their family dramas, and the way their private lives might spill into view of their neighbors. The model became a stage on which to develop the psychological implications of belonging to a particular family, with all of its dramas, struggles and familiar routines. I thought: this tree will be taken down after an old man crashes into it; a father will transform this lawn into an ice skating rink; this house will be abandoned after its residents are scandalized on the evening news."

There's an initial peacefulness and traquility to this painting that's ultimately betrayed by loneliness and isolation and, ultimately, by the terror of the night sky and the destruction that it will bring. It's a staggeringly appropriate image for the cover of this book. Does the painting lose a little bit of its power with the crop and the title placement? Sure. But these are the realities of book cover design. Kudos to Paul Buckley for finding and using this wonderful image, and to Amy Bennett for painting it. It makes a lot of sense if you read the book :-)

See Amy Bennett's Neighbors series here, and Paul Buckley's Flickr stream here.

Buy this book from, or from Indie Bound.


Anonymous said...

I saw Bennett's paintings and now I want to read the book(s) that must be waiting there.

Anonymous said...

I've seen this cover in person and think it's average at best... It certainly does not convey any of the innovation of the book. I think this is a classic case of liking the cover because the book is so good. I also think Bennett has much better paintings than the one on the cover.

Joseph said...

Anon 4:39: Guilty as charged. I'm definitely more jazzed about Bennett's work, which is new to me, and about the book. I'm just glad to see great art used on covers.

ULAND said...

Incedentally, Amy's husband, Jon, is a great cartoonist and photographer.

Anonymous said...

How anyone call this evocative cover art "average at best..." when there's so much bad design out there, beats me.