The Clothing of Books

Jhumpa Lahiri



This small book, taken from a speech, expresses the love-hate relationship between an author and the book cover designed by a traditional publisher. The author has very little say in how the cover looks. Remember all those headless women on books covers not so long ago?

She also talks about the dust jacket. I can’t remember the last time I bought a book, even a hardcover book, with a dust jacket. These days, almost all my books are for Kindle, and their covers are seen when I buy the book and the forgotten once I download it. If the price for an ebook is too expensive due to the publisher’s desire to discourage people from buying the ebook, I look for a used paperback copy or get it from the library.

The one exception to this is a book with a cover by Kinuko Craft. I love her art work so much, I have several books with her covers. They don’t have dust jackets, though.

She reflects back on a time when dust jackets and covers mattered, mentioning the books of Hogarth Press and the art work by Vanessa Bell for her sister Virginia Woolf’s books. A personal relationship with the author and the artist to produce a cover that is inspired by the book’s contents is unusual. Today a traditionally published book’s cover is done by in-house artists who may or may not have read the book or even know what it is about. Of course, an author may object to a cover and depending on sales, the publisher may listen to them. Only an independently published author has the luxury of a personal relationship with the cover artist.

Although dated, this small book is an interesting reflection on a time when book covers were an integral part of the book.



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