July 25, 2010

Rewarding Book Designs

The Packard automobile and the sleek passenger cars of the Santa Fe Railway were obsessions of Merle Armitage when he was a boy growing up on a ranch in Kansas, and he collected all the advertising "literature" (as it was called) about them he could find. Years later, having become a celebrated avant-garde designer of books -- and sometimes author or editor too, as with this one, a memorial to his friend George Gershwin which we have in the Central Library basement in a republished facsimile -- he told an interviewer that his boyhood collection of advertisements for those two splendid combinations of aesthetics and utility had been his University.

I love this story for how it associates book design with leather seats, purring carburetors, streamlining, speed and a lounge car called the Pleasure Dome.

I’m going to say something a little heretical here. If I order in a book I want to read, sight unseen, and its design is annoying or its cover boring, even if the story turns out to be good it’s not going to completely dispel my sense of disappointment. But if the book is beautiful and the story turns out to be not so great, I don't feel let down. I might read just a few chapters and turn it back in, but I feel as though the whole thing was worth it, all told.

It was a real treat on July 22 when I got to attend the 2010 PANZ (Publishers Association of New Zealand) Book Design Awards Ceremony at the Auckland Art Galcover of Magpie Halllery lounge. There were many people there I am a fan of, and many trays of fantastic canapes passing and repassing.

The Harpercollins Award for Best Cover had us all holding our breath as the presenters talked about the desirability of creating a cover which makes you want to open the book. The winner was Rachael King’s Magpie Hall, designed by Sarah Laing who photographed her own forearm for the cover photo. On either side of me people nodded at it up there dead christ by andrea mantegnaon the giant screen and concurred that it was definitely enticing them to get their noses into the book.

Not me. For me the image is too bloodless, too amputated, too creepy. Actually (maybe this was the intent?), it reminds me of one of my least favourite, also creepy, Renaissance paintings, Mantegna's Dead Christ.

 cover of "A beautiful game"The book I wanted to see win was called A Beautiful Game. The cover is a photo of a white soccerball in extreme close-up – when it first flashed on the screen I didn’t grasp the dimension and thought the stitching was some kind of magnified gene sequence. Now I know it’s a soccer ball and I can’t get over how alluring, not to say erotic, its roundness and puckers are. I can’t believe that the PANZ programme didn’t mention it. Or maybe the final line did: "This handsome hardback's subtle and appealing cover challenges our assumptions of what a sports book ought to look like." The book design and the image research were by Carolyn Lewis, and the production and origination by PQ Blackwell.

cover of Mirabile Dictu by Michele LeggottKeely O’Shannessy was chosen as the Awa Press Young Designer of the Year, deservedly so. Some books of hers you may have seen around are Martin Edmond’s Zone of the Marvellous, Alison Wong’s As the Earth Turns Silver, and Mirabile Dictu, the fantastic collection of poems Michele Leggott wrote during her Poet Laureateship which also won the Hachette New Zealand Award for best non-illustrated book later in the evening, all from Auckland University Press, and Ned & Katina by Patricia Grace, from Penguin.

O'Shannessy's work is remarkable focover of "As the earth turns silver" by Alison Wongr how much her book designs differ among themselves, and how carefully she has thought each one through. She takes the book seriously and takes us, the readers, seriously as well, disdaining the easy emotional grab. This might be what Merle Armitage meant when he said good book design should have 'integrity'.

The awards were judged by Graham Beattie, Peter Gilderdale and Sharon Grace. Here is a link to the article on the PANZ website where you can see the other nominated works and read more about the rewarded designers.

cover of "Katie Stewart's guide to Danish bacon cookery"

Book cover from the 1950s which I found on the Book worship website. I think it makes me more afraid than curious about what's inside the book.

Ditulis Oleh : tosca // 03:30


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