Some of today’s most striking, original book covers are being designed by Peter Mendelsund. He’s done book jackets for Stieg Larsson, Ben Marcus, and Sonia Sotomayor, as well as new editions for Dostoyevsky, Joyce, and Calvino. All of Mendelsund’s covers look very different from each other — and from anything else on the shelf. He avoids genre clichés not only for creative reasons, but as simple business sense. “I think the best bet that any book jacket has of getting your attention is by being different from everything else around it,” he tells Kurt Andersen.
Mendelsund’s designs always start from a close reading of the book. For example, he recently redesigned the covers of Kafka’s novels. Instead of the grim, mostly black covers we’re familiar with, Mendelsund chose bright colors and playful designs. “They’re funny books, in their own way,” he says, recalling anecdotes of Kafta reading The Metamorphosis aloud and laughing. “My hope was, if you make playful and exuberant covers, people will bring that to a reading of the books.”
Even though his job involves reading books and coming up with images from his reading, Mendelsund says he had never really thought about what happens in his mind as those images are forming. How does a reader transform words on the page into mental pictures? And how is it that we feel so sure we know what characters look like, when often an author only gives us the sketchiest of descriptions? Those questions led Mendelsund to write a book of his own, What We See When We Read, which distills his research into the neuroscience of reading. He also has a new collection of his first decade as a book jacket designer, Cover.
Slideshow: Mendelsund's Covers
Book and a CoverArtist: Suzanne VegaAlbum: Book and a Cover (Single)Label: Pid