Saturday, 8 August 2009

Book Cover Collecting

If you managed to read my guest post for Verity's Virago Venture then you will know that I am hopeless at resisting a pretty book cover and if you read my blog regularly then that probably didn't escape your notice; I also enjoy owning matching sets of books and today's blog post covers both. Virago Press have over the last few years begun marketing beautifully illustrated re-issues of books that feature on their Virago Modern Classics list by some of their most popular authors; first came new editions of the Angela Carter books that they publish, followed by Muriel Spark (some of which are still forthcoming) and now they are in the process of publishing new editions of Barbara Pym's novels. These series of books had to be part of my collection as I find the artwork stunning.

I would have entitled this post "book cover coveting" but have purchased all of the ones published thus far. This week saw the re-issue of both The Comforters (her debut novel) by Muriel Spark and Some Tame Gazelle by Barbara Pym, hence the timely post.

The Muriel Spark copies are photographed above and I have read the first to be published, Symposium and Loitering with Intent. Expect to read a review of The Comforters soon as I expect that it will be a book that I love based on the fabulous synopsis:

In Muriel Spark's fantastic first novel, the only things that aren't ambiguous are her matchless originality and glittering wit. Caroline Rose is plagued by the tapping of typewriter keys and the strange, detached narration of her every thought and action. She has an unusual problem - she realises she is in a novel. Her fellow characters are also possibly deluded: Laurence, her former lover, finds diamonds in a loaf of bread - could his elderly grandmother really be a smuggler? And Baron Stock, her bookseller friend, believes he is on the trail of England's leading Satanist.

To introduction to this new copy written by Ali Smith can be read here.

The cover art (and lettering) for these editions is done by Martin Haake and the cover for Symposium can be found on his website. Re-issues of both A Far Cry from Kensington and Memento Mori are forthcoming in this series.

As yet I have not read any Barbara Pym novels but I have heard delightful things and look forward to reading these funny novels.

The cover illustrations in their case are courtesy of Jessie Ford and I think they are fabulously colourful and amusing. An article this week accused these covers of belonging to the '"chick-lit" genre' (the photograph featured is the cover for A Glass of Blessings, which will be published later this year as well as other Pym titles) but I don't agree. Virago have been guilty of publishing dubious covers for other VMC reissued titles that can be completely misleading (see this) but I think that the Pym covers are fresh and fun and to be taken in the witty light of their content.

The commissioned covers for both Spark and Pym are reminiscent of the wonderful covers and typography for Virago's Angela Carter titles by Roxanna Bikadoroff, some of which are photographed below. These are by far my favourite illustrated covers and I upgraded my Angela Carter collection to include these editions as they encapsualte her rich, lush, and bizarre creations. I think this is an admirable marketing ploy and coup for Virago.

Roxanna Bikadoroff is also the illustrator for the North American Penguin copies of Angela Carter's work, a fact that I am amazed I did not realise sooner as I also have a couple of those copies from across the pond. I found a great blog post by Caustic Cover Critic that features images of some of those editions (look at the very clever Penguin logos). It interests and pleases me greatly that Carter can now be universally identified (well, despite for the Vintage editions of her work. I love Vintage Books but their Carter covers don't excite me nearly as much as the ones photographed).

I hope you have enjoyed today's foray into the wonderful world of cover art.


Darlene said...

I brought home Some Tame Gazelle today from the library, it's a hardcover from 1983 and not nearly as attractive as the new editions. Quite often I get comments from co-workers that another one of 'those' books has arrived for me at the library. If new cover art attracts a wider audience then I say "hooray". A very eye-catching post Claire.

Paperback Reader said...

Darlene, I think that rather than judging books by a dull cover people will be more inclined to buy one with an attractive, eye-catching one.

I like the colourful photographs in this post :).

Tony said...

There's definitely something about a good cover (and collecting a set). One author that springs to mind is Haruki Murakami; I love the British editions we get here in Australia, and, having seen the pop-art American versions, I think the minimalist black and red on white works far better for Murakami than the more colourful, dotty, spotty version!

Danielle said...

I like my sets of books to match, too, but sometimes my budget constraints mean I buy the cheapest (and in some cases the least pretty) books. I do like the new Viragos-the Pyms and Sparks are very different from those I have (published here in the US). Angela Carter's books are either very similar or just the same, however. (How often does that happen?).

Carl V. said...

I can see why you are attracted to those covers, they are really quite fun. My favorites are the Angela Carter ones and thank you for answering my question. Whenever I see a cover in a store or online that I like the first thing I do is make sure to look up the artist online to see if they have a website and examples of their work. Some of my very favorite artists came to my attention because of their book cover illustrations.

Carl V. said...

Oh, and if you like Roxanna Bikadoroff then I really think you would like the work of Richard Sala:

I suggest visiting his website with your computer sound on. It is more fun that way.

claire said...

You know, you've certainly influenced me in wanting sets. I never really minded before if I had sets, for as long as each edition has a cover design that I like. But after seeing your complete set of Toni Morrisons I'm tempted to do the same. I don't have three of my Morrisons anymore (left at dad's house halfway across the globe). I only have four here but they're all different editions (old hardcovers). Lately I've been thinking about getting all in the coloured editions. The ones that don't have pictures on the cover, just the slanted title in cursive, with each book having a different colour. Have you seen those? I checked The Book Depository and they have all but Love and Paradise in that edition. (Not including A Mercy, of course.) He he heh. You are such a bad (no, good!) influence. Lol!

Anonymous said...

I think Angela Carter maybe my future book addiction as I have now decided I want to read her entire works after seeing Kate Atkinson praise her! Novel Insights is a huge Spark and Carter fan too.

Anonymous said...
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Paperback Reader said...

Tony, I love the British Murakami editions are great (have a look at my White Shelf post and you'll see that I own a few of them) and agree that the minimalist work is highly effective.

Danielle, I try always to buy the editions that I want to own and if it involves saving up for a while or putting it off to a later day then I often will. Substance over style wins every day but I'm a sucker for a pretty cover!

The Carter editions being the same both sides of the pond surprises me but it's a good surprise :). It occurs so seldom.

Carl, I am becoming more conscious of the artist behind the cover art and what works for me/markets well.
I look forward to perusing Richard Sala's site.

Claire, I looked up those covers and they are lovely. It's hard to choose between them and mine, which I prefer! If I am ever upgrading a series then I will sell the other editions I already own (of duplicate titles) so that it is not so much of a loss.
I am an enabler!
I can't resist the aesthetic side of my book collection as well as its content.
It frustrates me when authors/publishers change cover style of an author whose work I haven't finished collecting/works are still forthcoming and I will try to hunt down copies that make a matching set.

Simon, Novel Insights has good taste! You will probably hear/read me wax lyrical about Carter often; I recommend her above any other writer.

StuckInABook said...

I do love those Pym covers. My only Pym was Excellent Women five years ago...

Paperback Reader said...

Simon, I've pre-ordered my copy of Pym in this design :). I really hope I like her!

Samantha said...

What a great post. I love all these quirky type covers. I am currently collecting Barbara Pym but think I should dip my toe into some Angela Carter as well.

Paperback Reader said...

Thanks, Samantha! I love the colourful vividness of the covers and think that they instantly attract and their quirkiness intrigues.
I hope you enjoy Angela Carter :). I haven't read any of the Pym books yet but intend to soon.