Title: "On Telling/Selling a Book by Its Cover"
Author Corinne Katz explores the question: "What picture can help sell a thousand books?" (179) Photgraphs, she explains, have many uses; Katz is here concerned with their usefulness as a marketing tool. As she explains, "Different readings, conventions of representation, and institutional settings intersect on a book cover; a cover is a marketing device, an aesthetic production, and a representation that may relate to a book's content" (179). Katz provides three ways to understand book covers: Telling as Allegorical Narrative; Telling as Categorizing; and Telling as Identity and Lure. These three headings provide a useful matrix for considering the various uses of book covers.
Hans Schmoller Essay: "The Paperback Revolution"
Schmoller outlines the history of the paperback, tracing the tradition leading to the first paperback publications in 1935 as well as the innovations and changes up through the 1970s. A discussion explicitly about book cover design does not arise until the last two pages of the essay, but Schmoller puts forth an interesting introduction to the topic. He discusses the role of the cover designer, whose "problem is this: a cover design should reflect, or be relevant to, the contents and character of the book; it should appeal to, or intrigue, the potential buyer; it should be recognisable as a member of a family (a group of volumes by the same author, for instance, or a series of books on related subjects); it should be easily identified as coming from a publisher proud of his imprint..."(317) The list of requirements continues extensively. Although Schmoller does not present an exhaustive discourse on the necessities of cover design, he does introduce a number of elements to consider, providing a firm framework.
Essay: "Book Covers"
This essay provides a brief description of Edward Gorey's career, with the emphasis on his extensive book cover designs. In 1953, he accepted a position at Anchor/Doubleday, doing pasteups and lettering. Before he left the company in 1960, he had designed approximately fifty book covers. Author Steve Heller describes the importance of these works. "These illustrated covers comprise a small but significant chapter in the history of paperback cover design and in the legacy of the white-bearded, fur-coated man who made them. All but forgotten today, these covers established a visual personality for a company that was founded to reprint many of the world's classic texts, some of which were previously published in paperback versions during the late 1930s and 1940s, when virtually all mass-market books were adorned with prurient covers designed to pander to the voyeuristic reader" (71-2) Gorey's covers were essential to the success of Anchor's paperbacks, as they established a distinct identity for the company; the artist's style was more mature and refined that that featured on pulp fictions, and it was idiosyncratic, and therefore remained in the viewer's consciousness.
Danielle St-Laurent explores the evolution of spy novel covers, grounding the essay in an anecdote explaining the intrigue of first seeing an attractive man pick up a thriller with a pin-up girl on the cover. St-Laurent examinesthe critical shift in the roles of women on the covers of spy novels over the course of the 20th century.
She references Klimt and Muncha as marking "the beginnings of the use of women in advertising and, by extension, on the covers of spy novels" (277). Many early spy novels covers featured men as the primary subject, with women in various states of undress relegated to the background. Even as women came to the fore of the covers in the 1930s and 1940s, a clear subjugation of the female gender remained; hieratic ideals (with their roots in Egyptian iconography) such as larger and darker-skinned male figures continued to be employed.
Over time, the covers evolved further, with women depicted in minimal clothing, and, often, fully nude [N.B., St-Laurent examines covers in French Canada, where there is less prudity regarding nudity]. A number of other conventions come into play as well: almost all the women are young (under 30), white, depicted frontally to emphasize primary sex characteristics. Furthermore, the women, almost without exception, are depicted with a gun, and gaze beyond the scope of the cover, thus enlarging the pictorial space to envelop the viewer.
Walker and Chaplin walk through the theory and history of Visual Studies. They begin with an exploration of the notion of culture, particularly as a foil to nature. The notion of culture, they argue, is inextricably linked to what the economy allows and, perhaps more importantly, deems necessary, allowing the members of a society to establish a hierarchical pattern. Now, however, "culture" is increasingly used to describe any aspect of daily life. Next, the concept of the "visual" is explored, both in how it is sensorally experienced, and what the repercussions of this perception are.
Chapter four's discussion of theory and its various manifestations is particularly interesting, as it explores not only self-conscious theory (e.g., philosophers and people who fancy themselves theorists) but also theory-as-byproduct; that is, theory that developed more organically. "In sum, there are not only theories of art, but also theories for art; theory-informed art, and even theories as art" (62). This is an especially helpful screen for considering why book covers are designed as they are.
The chapter entitled "Production, Distribution and Consumption" has a helpful explanation and description of consumer models, and examines the theories behind the design and distribution of products. In the following chapter, they examine the roles of institutions in creating various products designed to perpetuate their ideals. They explain: "in the case of large, complexly structured arts and media institutions employing or commissioning teams of specialists to produce films, televesion programmes, etc., the influence of the institutions on the content, form and ideological agenda of the final product is likely to be harder to judge because of the many functionarires and levels of mediation involved" (94).
The notion of looking and voyeurism is also explored. This is a critical concept when considering the "why" of book covers; people's selections of books mirrors their interests, and the visual to which they are drawn is an immediate indicator. Therefore, one can extrapolate from the text, that selecting a book by its cover is a sort of narcisistic voyeurism.