Friday, December 07, 2007

Judging Books by Their Covers

Once upon a time, book jackets existed primarily as protection for printed and bound material. No longer. Nowadays, they’re integral to a carefully stage-managed advertising campaign. They’re meant to entice, but also to communicate to prospective readers how a book ought to be received--as noteworthy literature, thrilling escapism, light beach fare, or what have you. There’s an art to the conception and execution of modern book jackets that isn’t always recognized, much less appreciated. But it exists nonetheless, and ought to be valued.

This page has been critical in the past of covers that employ duplicative artwork and overplay a theme, and elsewhere I’ve disparaged a trend toward repeating the arrangement of jacket imagery. Yet those of us at The Rap Sheet share a tremendous respect for book fronts that strive to convey subtle or overt messages about the text within, whether by use of type, photography, or original illustrations. In the best cases, covers don’t just divert the eye, they arrest it, and they stick in your mind even after you’ve ceased browsing the shelves of a bookstore. Maybe it was the distinctive arrangement of illustration and typeface that captured your attention; perhaps it was a particularly striking central image, or the juxtaposition of more than a single picture that caused you to glance back more than once. No matter in what way the jacket accomplishes its task, the point is that it should do more than simply tell you the title and author of a work; it should catch your eye and give you a sense of the story inside--a feeling for it--before you so much as crack the spine.

Over the last few months, we’ve had a number of discussions here at Rap Sheet headquarters about what constitutes a particularly memorable cover. And as with all debates about art, much is in the eye of the beholder. What one person finds striking, another may see as ordinary--and vice-versa. So we thought we’d throw this question open to you, our loyal readers.

There have been dozens of crime-fiction book fronts turned out this year that are worth commenting on, and perhaps some that are deserving of awards. However, it remains an open question--at least in our minds--as to which of those covers might be considered the best. With the able assistance of Kevin Burton Smith, a longtime January Magazine contributor and the creator of The Thrilling Detective Web Site, and after consulting with January editor Linda L. Richards, I’ve narrowed an initial list of 25 jackets down to a more manageable 10. Included are detective novels, historicals, contemporary suspensers, one short-story collection, and even an erotic thriller. Most are U.S. works, though three come from Britain.

Now it’s your turn to voice an opinion. Look through the book covers featured below, and then at the end of this post, vote for your favorites. We will leave our cover contest open for the next week, until midnight on Friday, December 14. Then we’ll report the results.

And if you think we’ve missed one of the handsomest, most eye-catching covers of the past year, let us know about it in the Comments section. Just be sure to include a URL where readers can see that alternative jacket for themselves.


Karen Olson said...

Peter Spiegelman's RED CAT had the most amazing cover, I'm surprised I don't see it here.

Anonymous said...

I guess it's just me, but only two of the books have major eye appeal to me. Two others fall into a lesser category, and the rest are in the grouping of why'd you pick those?

For examples of what catches my eye, though none of them are from 2007, you might check out my blog, where I've posted 11 now in a series of paperback covers of eye-nabbing quality.

To me, that is!

Anonymous said...

As long as I posted the URL, I might as well have posted the correct one.