Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Judging by the cover

John Updike has written a somewhat sour review in The New Yorker of a book about the covers of books. He uses the occasion of the review to digress on the subject of book covers in general. I like it that he mentions the peelability of the film of cellophane on the covers of the original Pocket Books. His is the first mention I can remember seeing of this nearly irresistible temptation. I worked many hours on Bambi (Felix Salton). He also notes with approval what he calls "the quiet, hand-lettered, crosshatchy covers" by Edward Gorey, done for Doubleday Anchor (in the fifties, he says, but, I think that at least some were from the early sixties). It was thanks to these covers that I read my first Henry James (What Maisie Knew) and also the stories in Come Back, Dr. Caligari, with the surreal pots on branches. I still have both of these, although others with these covers are long since gone. I bought them because I was attracted by the covers. I see from the list that Redburn is one of his, also, but that came used into the house. He also did the typography for Goffman's Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, which may still be here. My second Henry James was The Turn of the Screw and Other Short Novels, which was a Signet. I bought many, many Signets because I liked the covers, but all Signets used an inferior adhesive for the perfect binding that held (or in this case, did not hold) the pages. Signets were among the paperbacks available only in a peculiar little store run by a grumpy man whose main business was cut-out LPs and worn 78 rpm and 45 rpm records retired from jukeboxes (these all had a hole drilled in them, as I recall). Dust covers were seen on "real" books when they were new from the stationer's and they soon disappeared, being discarded almost at once or, if kept, were kept merely so that the flap could be used as a bookmark for as long as it lasted. "Real" books were for gifts. The giver was expected to read the book first. After the recipient had his or her turn at it, it circulated first among relatives, then among friends, and eventually among people unknown. Public libraries did not invest in plastic covers so that they could keep the book jackets, although department-store paid lending libraries did so.


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