Book Covers, Storytelling, And The Mind’s Eye

Author Ben Marcus described Peter Mendelsund's cover for his story collection Leaving the Sea as "sumptuous, playful and gorgeous to look at."

Author Ben Marcus described Peter Mendelsund’s cover for his story collection Leaving the Sea as “sumptuous, playful and gorgeous to look at.”

We are most of the time sharing stories, told by our own contributors or chosen by them from other sources, that say something relevant about community, about collaboration, and/or about conservation.  And many of us are involved day to day in hospitality that offers authentic experiences of immersion in “faraway places” relative to where the traveler comes from. We frequently share stories about books and libraries because they are the building blocks of preparation for appreciating what one finds on a long journey away from the familiar. So, this story about a book cover designer was destined to capture our attention:

Peter Mendelsund estimates he’s designed “somewhere between 600 and 1,000 book covers,” ranging from Crime and Punishment to Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. But the self-taught, sought-after designer says he spends a lot of time reading, too.

“It’s always surprising to people when they come to my office or they walk by my door and they see me with my feet kicked up with a manuscript,” he tells Fresh Air‘s Dave Davies. “But I read constantly from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to sleep.”

Now Mendelsund has designed the covers for two new books of his own. Cover is a collection of hundreds of his book covers, including many that were rejected, along with commentaries on his technique. What We See When We Read is about how words give rise to images in our minds.

“When I’m reading, I’m marking up the text and I’m trying to be very alert for anything in that text that has structural importance or a particular kind of emotional weight,” he says. “I’m trying to establish what the affect of the book is, in general, because mood is very important on a book jacket. … You’re just trying to translate the feeling of what it’s like to read that book.”


Interview Highlights

On what a book jacket is and does

I think there are two primary jobs that a jacket has to do: It has to represent a text and it has to sell it. In a way, a book jacket … is sort of like a title that an author comes up with. It’s one thing that has to speak to a big aggregate thing, which is the book itself. And it has to be compelling in some way such that you’re interested enough to pick it up — and perhaps buy it. … It’s like a billboard or an advertisement or a movie trailer or a teaser. …

I think of a book jacket as being sort of like a visual reminder of the book, but … it’s also a souvenir of the reading experience. Reading takes place in this nebulous kind of realm, and in a way, the jacket is part of the thing that you bring back from that experience. It’s the thing that you hold on to…

Read and/or listen to the whole story here.

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