Shop Indie Bookstores

Sunday, November 30, 2008

My Favorite Book Covers of 2008

In no particular order, here are my favorite book covers of 2008. (And here are the 2007, 2006, and 2005 lists.)

New this year: Linked titles lead to the original post, if one exists. (The link for Maps and Legends goes to Karen Horton's beautiful photos over at design:related.) And back from last year: there's a poll at the bottom of the post. Voting is open until Dec 31; I'll post the results shortly after the new year begins.

A very small number of titles were actually published in December 2007. Last year's list was published early (Nov 15), and a few of the books published at the end of 2007 really needed to be included here. And the cover for The Medium Is The Massage? A reissue, but too wonderful not to include.

Lastly, this year's list has more U.K titles than in the past, so some designer credits are missing. Please help me give credit where there is none; leave a comment or send an email if you've got some info or need to correct any errors of attribution.

So here we go:

Things I've Learned From Women Who've Dumped Me
Design by Paul Sahre

Design by Henry Sene Yee

U.S. vs Them
Design by J. Wang

The Mayor's Tongue
Design by Gray 318

The Terror Dream
Design by Henry Sene Yee
Illustrations by Andrea Dezsö

Soon I Will Be Invicible
Designer unknown

Stuffed and Starved
Design by Carol Hayes

Something to Tell You
Designer unknown

Sharp Teeth
Design by Christine Van Bree
Illustration by Natasha Michaels

The Trouble With Physics
Designer unknown

All the Sad Young Literary Men
Design by The Heads of State

Make Room! Make Room!
Design by Jamie Stafford-Hill

The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction
Design by David Pearson

The Age of Entanglement
Design by Jason Booher

Obsession: A History
Design by Isaac Tobin

Design by Barbara de Wilde

Against Happiness
Design by Jennifer Carrow

The Medium Is the Massage
Designer by YES (London)

Maps and Legends
Design by Jordan Crane

Lopsided. How breast cancer can be really distracting.
Design by Carin Goldberg

Abraham Lincoln: Great American Historians on Our Sixteenth President
Design by Pete Garceau

Company of Liars
Design by Gray 318

Why You Should Read Kafka Before You Waste Your Life
Design and lettering by Steve Snider
Illustration by Douglas Smith

The Best Intentions: Kofi Annan and the UN in the Era of American World Power
Design by Jennifer Carrow

Bright Shiny Morning
Design by Gray 318

Man in the Dark
Design by Lisa Fyfe

The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart
Design by Paul Sahre


t said...

All of these covers are so stellar--and many for very different reasons--I had trouble choosing just one that stood out from the rest. In the end, I picked one of the three covers that inspired me to click through to find out a bit more about the book itself (and to me, all three are equally intriguing, perhaps because of some amalgamation of my own interests and the cover design):
1. Maps and Legends
2. Company of Liars
3. The Big Sort

Tropolist said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tropolist said...

I'd never seen "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" before now. I'm (pleasantly) stunned that somebody actually approved that cover.

Unknown said...

I thought 'Obsession' was just brilliant, you couldn't have more perfectly shown the nature of obsession than that. Great Idea.

Ian Koviak said...

All of these covers are wonderful. But I have to say, the ingenuity and detail of concept and execution in "Obsession" by Isaac Tobin is just breathtaking and so pure and simple—yet dynamic and engaging.

Paul Sahre's cover is my second runner up. All the others are nice, but not unique in terms of what we have all seen many times. Booher's cover is another runner up in my opinion...

Anonymous said...

not one by rodrigo corral? how shocking!

Joseph said...

Anon 11:46: I considered two Corral designs: You Don't Love Me Yet, and My Unwritten Books. The latter should probably be on the list...

Anonymous said...

i took 'all the sad young literary men' out of the library only because i liked the cover design... so much for not judging a book by its cover.

Ben Newman said...

I'm a big fan of the cover for Steven Pinker's Seven Words You Can't Say on Television, pictured here:

And I'm not even a big fan of Steven Pinker.

9876511 said...

I'm not really a fan of the blatant Kara Walker ripoff (Terror Dream), but many of the others are quite great.

Anonymous said...

I think people vote based on cleverness a little too often, and not on good design--Just saying. It's Obsession, all the way!

Joseph said...

Steven: I struggle a bit with all of the Kara Walker-inspired work out there, but this one tells a story and just seems to work. If you haven't, check out the original post:

Anonymous said...

I love Kara Walker's work - but she certainly didn't invent the silhouette cut-out narrative.

One book I wished made the list was the cover for the literary book in McSweeny's 27.

Sarah Lynn Knowles said...

very cool list.

Anonymous said...

LOVE LOVE LOVE the "Against Happiness" one. So simple, so clever. Brilliant!

Jenners said...

These were all so neat for so many different reasons. Some of them I totally want to read just from looking at the covers...I guess they are truly doing their job!

And I wanted to thank you for your recent e-mail responding to my question about the Kindle. Much appreciated!

Anonymous said...

I really like the covers that are attempting to look like anything but book is an interesting idea to skew type, or have type integrated into the cover images. "Soon I Will Be Invincible" seems to be more successful than "Stuffed and Starved" because the hierarchy of title, author, and supplementary text is a little clearer and the cover is more attention-grabbing overall. But I love the window glare of "Stuffed and Starved." The birds-eye view of "The Big Sort" is also nice.

Anonymous said...

All the Sad Young Literary Men


Man In The Dark

Anonymous said...

Only books in English?
To be considered good does design need comprehensible words?

benharrisroxas said...

What's not immediately apparent from the image is that the cover of Maps and Legends is actually a nested series of three dust jackets and printed elements on the cover itself (at least my copy is). The expereience of holding the book is a delight and actually enhances the experience of reading that book - and how many covers can claim that?

Chabon's Gentlemen of the Road also has a very evocative cover. I wonder if he contributes to aspects of the design personally.

Lola said...

I've never seen 'Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction' available on its own before. I can't find it on Amazon... where is that version from?

Bookphilia said...

These are absolutely fantastic...many of these *would* make me judge a book by its cover!

Anonymous said...

Great selection. Here's some more info for you: The Medium is the Massage was designed by YES in London. It was part of a retrospective series consisting of pivotal art/design books that Penguin published in the 60s and 70s. Their brief was to remain true to the original books while creating a completely fresh series design. That they did. (Though I think David Pearson might have to get my vote because his cover managed to trick me when I saw it in the bookshop.)

Anonymous said...

I'm only picking on the following cover because I think it'll be an awards darling in the following year...
The downside to that Maps & Legends cover is that the budget was obviously eaten up by the expensive trick of the 3 diecut jackets. The paper stock inside looks like copier paper or something from a POD press... The design is poor compared to some of the other jackets here (see any by Henry Sene Yee or Gray 318). I really hope that book jackets don't start to trend to who has a better swatchbook of funky paper stock and a gimicky idea.

Anonymous said...

If you had a 'foreign book cover' category, take a look at this:

[title translates as "I, the Animal" ]

Anonymous said...

Against Happiness. Just type and colour. And a terrific execution of both.

Joseph said...

Lola: Sorry, I didn't do a very good job indicating what published where. You should be able to find that on To the best of my knowledge, it's not available in the States.

Anonymous said...

A great selection!

I voted for "Company of Liars" because it was the cover that made me pick up a wonderful book that I might easily have missed without it. So job done!

Jeff Doten said...

This is a case of designers designing for designers ( as always ) and designers voting for designers..... I only picked up the Cabon to read because it was Chabon.

Henry Q. said...


Arthur A said...

This is a case of bloggers writing for bloggers ...

Ellie Berner said...

I vote for Obsession....the cover invites me to pick up the book, isn't that what it's all about?

Anonymous said...

Yes, cleverness counts, but isn't the only quality to judge by. I think "Company of Liars" is the best, based on my own criteria, I just buy books, I'm not a designer. And this one intrigues me, it's not one I would pass over or not see, like Against Happiness (clever as it is) or the Mechanical one (also, as clever as it is, I'd probably overlook it). Not that this matters either, if we're just judging on aesthetic merit. In that case, Obsession is good also.

Anonymous said...

If I’d been drinking coffee ‘Lopsided’ would have made me spit it out in surprise - so that’s what the perfectly executed insightful idea looks like.

Anonymous said...

The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction - This one is very ingenious too, sadly i could choose just one:(

brandsinger said...

Obviously it's impossible to de-couple the cover DESIGN from the impact of the title's WORDS. Company of Liars has drama that other titles don't... but that cover, like most of these, seems forced and affected. For me, it's the Lincoln image that dominates this group with its simple, two-toned dignity.

Arthur A said...

The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction is surprising, engaging, memorable, succinct, playful and perfectly executed. An injection of drama - whilst essential with works of fiction - would only misrepresent it's content.
It is also the cheapest book here, both to (re)produce and to buy.

Anonymous said...

We are very proud of our cover on Poems Beyond the Journey, by J. G. Woodward, publication date 11/18/08. This and the previous title were designed to draw people from across the room due to wanting to walk right into the picture. Check us out and thank you!

Anonymous said...

Kafka, of course!

Jane Holland said...

I voted for the upside-down Physics cover. Any book that forces me to turn my head upside-down to read it makes me stop and smile. Always a good thing in a bookshop.

Some of the others choices here I found incomprehensible though. I guess one person's excellent is another person's So What?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting the examples. You have a really strong aesthetic that could not be more different from my own! Really interesting choices, though. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Michael Chabon's book really needs to be viewed in person to get the full effect. The cover is actually made of three separate layers can be unwrapped individually.

Joseph said...

Anon 2:01. Yes, it is. Fantastic photos of the different layers can be seen by clicking on "Maps and Legends" in the post.

anauel said...

Wow! I'm amazed with the results (so far) of the poll. I never would guess "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" (my pick, btw) would reach such a clear advantage over the other choices (all of them quite good).

I must say my other possible choices would be "Against Happiness", "The Best Intentions..." and "The Age of Entanglement". But none of them was love at first, second, third, fourth, and so on, and so on sight...

Hilda said...

Some of these covers are really thought-provoking — I had such a hard time choosing what to vote for!

I'm so glad someone sent me the url of your blog. As a voracious reader and one time designer, I really appreciate this. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Dialogues Tibetan Dialogues Han by Hannü


DTDH is a travelogue from Tibet as well as a book of conversations with dozens of Tibetans from all walks of life in Tibet on a wide range of subjects - the Dalai Lama, polyandry, sky & water burials, the Muslims, the Han, Tibetan mastiffs, aweto, languages, thangka, Buddhism, independence and more.

Published this year, it is the most democratic and down-to-earth book to have come out of Tibet in decades.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful collection of book covers... Great choice!!

miumiu said...

I wish I could've chosen three: Things I've Learned From Women Who've Dumped Me (the design feels a little foreign to me, and definitely does not look like a hardcover, but still, I like it very much; the blue background and the entire picture are great), The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, and The Big Sort.

Anonymous said...

1. I love the Kafka one! It's funny and clever even though I hate roaches.

2. The Big Sort- because I could never be this clever

3. Lopsided

4. "Milk" or "All the Sad young Literary Men" sort of tie.

5. Violence is a striking cover but I think I may have seen this crumbled paper technic used on a different cover before. Not so original.

Melissa said...

I liked how you incorporated a voting section on your post. They all look very abstract to me. Personally I favor covers that display the whole theme of the book. Yuan-tsung Chen's novel "Return to the Middle Kingdom", is a perfect example. You can easily see by her cover what the book is about, one family, three revolutionaries, and the birth of Modern China.
Yuan's Book Cover Pic

Lauren said...

Maps and Legends. Hands Down. :)

Okie said...

Awesome covers. I love your blog. Thanks for putting it together. Very cool.

Anonymous said...

I want all of these

Adriana said...

Belated response: not sure if anyone has actually bought Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, but it has an added bonus: the between-the-spines spaces are DEBOSSED and it's so tactile and amazing. Adds a whole new layer of meaning.
Also, @Lola, it's Penguin UK, i had to order it from Worth it.

Anonymous said...

I thought a LOT of these were really boring. Slick, yes, but memorable?

So I went through them and asked myself which one I actually remembered from seeing once briefly.

My answer: The "Sharp Teeth"cover.
I even remembered the first name of the designer.

So that is one that would draw me back.

PS I am a nationally exhibited artist with MFA and visually oriented.

Anonymous said...

All of these covers are wonderful and fantastic! I like these pictures very much

Unlock iPhone 3g said...


Newmans Review said...

I love the Stuffed and Starved Cover and the The Trouble With Physics.