Shop Indie Bookstores

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Not Everyone Loves the New Nabokov Editions

Lots of folks are talking about the John Gall-curated Nabokov redesigns. And well they should -- it's not often that we see an author's entire body of work redesigned by such an impressive cadre of designers.

Three days before Gall posted the series at Design Observer, though, a BDR reader wrote in about the "best Nabokov cover I've ever seen--blows the sh**ty Vintage/Random House motif out of the water." His words, not mine. Here's what he sent in (source here); if anyone's got any info on this cover, please pass it along.

(UPDATE: "(the designer is) Jerzy Faczynski, a well-known Polish ex-pat who not only did book design, but built a few churches, painted watercolors, made prints, and fought wars. He died, I believe, in 1994.")


Here's Carin Goldberg's new cover for Pnin:


Oh, and what the heck: via Wikipedia, here's another:

20 comments:

Ian Shimkoviak said...

i feel for that person. there is such fine care and finesse in the new covers from Vintage on every level of the word, that it would be hard to ever find a series so well thought out and executed with such thorough delight. Of coarse design is subjective like nobodies business, but it behooves any reader to take a second look at what makes these so special...

po6ot said...

I don't love the new Nabokov editions either.

It is an ok concept (if Tolstoy had collected stamps, would we have War & Peace stamp collector edition?) for an exhibition. In a gallery, where you could walk around admiring all the little boxes.

But, they make rubbish book covers. I hate the black edge of the box. I don't like the idea: book -> box -> graphic

Nabakov is an author, who has not, in my mind, got the covers he deserves, and I'm not just talking about these vintage editions.

I think I will opt for the new Penguin Nabakov's at least they look like books (how boring of me!)

I expect hipster designers will be all over these though.

Anonymous said...

The "impressive cadre of designers" should not have included Dave Eggers. Guess what? He's not a designer.

strng said...

well, maybe this words are not correct, but frankly speaking two-coloured one exploits russian shablons, and new ones are really new and fresh-looking.

Joseph said...

"The "impressive cadre of designers" should not have included Dave Eggers. Guess what? He's not a designer."

Guess what: yes he is. He can walk and chew gum at the same time, too.

Jason Gabbert said...

Uh… I love the new Gall covers… so… I'm guessing that opinions are vast and it's all personal preference. I prefer the new ones by far!

Anonymous said...

No he's not. He's a hack writer that puts his money (which I'm assuming is inherited) into his publishing company. None of that equals "designer". Just because he has something to do with the world of design, doesn't make him a designer. Just like you.

Joseph said...

Anon: we're just not going to see eye-to-eye on this, especially because I've always defined design as the process by which hack writers put inherited money into publishing companies. If we can't agree on fundamental definitions, what are we to do?

Catherine said...

I'm surprised that someone would call that Pnin cover "the best Nabokov cover I've ever seen." I was expecting something mind-blowing after reading that description and was pretty disappointed when I scrolled down to the image. Although the Jerzy Faczynski design may hold sentimental value for the submitter, I doubt it would appeal to a modern audience. It looks pretty dated— do you know the pub date of this edition?

Redesigning the backlist of an iconic author is no easy task and I think Gall commissioned some really original pieces. Where most publishers are throwing stock art on their entire backlist (Random House's Modern Library), it's refreshing to see hand-done work.

On the Eggers issue, McSweeney's books have not only elevated the level of production and design within publishing, they have been awarded a spot in AIGA's 50 books/50 covers competition almost every year. And wasn't A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius a finalist for the Pulitzer? I wasn't aware they considered "hack writers"...

Joseph said...

Catherine: I don't know the pub date of that edition, but I'll certainly post it if someone sends it in.

jw said...

For the most part, the Gall covers are nice enough. Taken together, all at once, as they rarely will be, they're even better.

But go back through the years, folks, and think about the covers that Nabokov's editions have been saddled with by American publishers. They fester and reek and their designers should rot in hell. What dada-bullsh*t excuse is there for this: http://i43.photobucket.com/albums/e379/edwardhenry/weblog/myrtias/0679723412.jpg ?

Further, I do love that vintage Penguin design. It captures the tone of the book better than any cover since. And my initial disgust with Vintage/Random House covers was directed at their last series, before Gall. The covers by Susan Mitchell and Marc J. Cohen are awful, and the ubiquitous Updike blurb is inane.

Enough.

Joseph said...

JW: Thanks for jumping in on this. And a lesson learned for me: I thought you were referring to the Gall covers, particularly because you referred to a "motif," which I took to be the specimen boxes. My fault for not confirming with you first.

Sergio said...

Joseph, you are a class act. Makes an already excellent blog that much more enjoyable.

Jacob Covey said...

For my money the best Nabokov cover of all time was already done by John Gall himself. The "lips" Lolita cover turned vertical accomplished so much in the way of suggestion and metaphor as well as literalness. Turned horizontally, it's limp, so to speak.

Here's a link for anyone unfamiliar (God, it makes me shudder every time): http://covers.fwis.com/a_general_theory_of_love

That said, maybe I'm just a hipster but the new series concept is brilliant and exciting.

"Anonymous", you really should learn something about the people you detest so much: Eggers got rich by writing a novel that a lot of people loved, then he used that success to push the publishing industry forward by showing how design isn't just a two-dimensional medium. Plus he cares if the next generation is engaged by books, which presumably you care about yourself if you're hanging out here.

Shorty said...

I don't want to turn this in to a Dave Eggers fan fest, but here's a link a web site for some of the great work he has done helping kids from underprivileged backgrounds find a way out through writing.

http://www.826valencia.org/

And he EARNED his money, dammit. HACK?!?!? He's a terrific writer!

Joseph, Sergio was right -- you are a class act all the way.

Jacob, right, the Lolita cover by John Gall was wonderful.

Alex Knowlton said...

Taken together, all at once, as they rarely will be, they're even better.

Go to Three Lives & Company in Greenwich Village, where many these books are lined-up.

http://www.alexanderwhitneyknowlton.com/*/3_lives.jpg

dves said...

aw! the Russian great men.

Tara said...

It's clever, certainly, but I'm not sure about the execution. At all.

Dan said...

I agree with Po6ot, although I wouldn't go as far as to call the new designs 'rubbish'. I think there's some excellent designs contained therein, but I don't see why they couldn't just be presented as collages, without being shown in their containing black frame picture box. In general, I think this sort of meta playing-with-the-surface-of-the-book-cover trick has been absolutely done to death and desperately needs to be retired. Really, I see it done over and over again and people continue to gush about it.

Dan said...

I agree with Po6ot, although I wouldn't go as far as to call the new designs 'rubbish'. I think there's some excellent designs contained therein, but I don't see why they couldn't just be presented as collages, without being shown in their containing black frame picture box. In general, I think this sort of meta playing-with-the-surface-of-the-book-cover trick has been absolutely done to death and desperately needs to be retired. Really, I see it done over and over again and people continue to gush about it.