p u l p i t j e r emy l e w i s

Judging by the Cover

Literary Review has a new look and we hope you’ll share our enthusiasm for it. Chris Riddell, who succeeded Willie Rushton as our cover artist in February 1997, will continue to provide us with his witty and colourful encapsulations of our lead review, but with a larger canvas at his disposal. The pages inside have also had a facelift. The contents remain exactly as before in terms of the quality, number and length of reviews, but the page, reset in Caslon, is less cluttered with lines and boxes; the illustrations will be larger and clearer, and we plan to include some more cartoons. The review headings constitute the only text not set in Caslon; they are set in Janet, which the artist and typographer Reynolds Stone designed and named after his wife. Newly digitised, it is based on characters that were engraved rather than drawn, giving it a distinctive feel. And finally, readers who have felt frustrated by the rather arbitrary nature of our notes on contributors will be pleased to learn that, from now on, everyone will be included.

I spent the first half of my career in publishing, and since I turned freelance more than twenty years ago I have worked for three magazines and written several books of my own: so over the past forty-five years, book jackets and, to a lesser extent, magazine covers have loomed large in my life. Both need to give the casual browser and the regular reader some idea of the contents of a publication, and its overall tone; they are sales tools, and as such they need to be striking and alluring, and suited to a particular market and readership. They also provide a blank page on which artists, photographers and typographers can exercise their gifts. Magazine covers are, by their very nature, even more ephemeral than book jackets: The Economist, the New Yorker and, from days gone by, Picture Post, Encounter and the short-lived Night and Day stand out.

In the case of book jackets a further complication is provided by the need to reconcile the demands of commerce with authorial aspirations, and by the fact that the jacket is the most obvious visual means whereby a publishing house promotes its own image. We tend to think of branding as a modern phenomenon, but in the 1930s go-ahead publishers were quick to exploit a visual style or motif as a means of promoting their firms’ identities. Victor Gollancz started a trend with his lurid yellow, black and magenta typographical jackets, designed by Stanley Morison; a few years later Allen Lane followed suit with his horizontally banded Penguins and Pelicans, and – never too proud to borrow a good idea – copied colour-coding and symmetrical typographical jackets from Tauchnitz’s Albatross editions. (The Penguin jacket as perfected by Jan Tschichold after the war is probably the most famous book jacket, while his slimmed-down penguin is publishing’s best-loved logo.)

A standardised, instantly recognisable jacket enables a publisher to promote a particular list as an entity, encouraging readers to move on from one title to the next. In the

Sixties Tom Maschler published Cape Editions, a series of short, small-format, upmarket paperbacks, with beautiful lettering covers; although many of the titles were unreadable and unread, they soon became collectors’ items. From an author’s point of view, a standardised jacket was a mixed blessing: although denied ego-boosting individual treatment, he benefited from the impetus of the list as a whole, and – in the case of Penguins in particular – was flattered by the company he kept.

Jackets are a frequent source of conflict between authors and publishers. When I worked for André Deutsch in the late Sixties, the firm had lost Norman Mailer and Mordecai Richler to Weidenfeld & Nicolson, and Philip Roth and Brian Moore to Jonathan Cape. Mordecai Richler told me later that the exodus wasn’t simply prompted by Deutsch’s modest advances: whereas Cape and Weidenfeld gratified their authors with four-colour jackets and an author photograph on the back panel, Deutsch – like many of his contemporaries – stuck to two colours, and covered every spare inch of the jacket with advertisements for other books published by the firm.

Authorial expectations often run foul of commercial priorities – and if the author is a big enough name he may well prevail. In the early Sixties Allen Lane, under pressure from competitors and from his own sales people, reluctantly abandoned lettering for illustrated jackets. Penguin covers lurched from one extreme to the other: Graham Greene so objected to the virulent new picture jackets that he threatened to withdraw all his books from Penguin unless sobriety returned, and insisted on lettering on a plain white background. Eventually he allowed Penguin to include a small Paul Hogarth drawing on his covers – but that was as far as it went.

No doubt Greene would have approved of the lettering jackets Berthold Wolpe designed for Faber, using his own Albertus typeface and solid blocks of colour to produce typographical works of art: they must be the most beautiful book jackets of all, with Ted Hughes’s Lupercal and Robert Lowell’s For the Union Dead topping the bill. My favourite picture jackets are the poster-like English landscapes painted for Batsford by the young Brian Cooke (later known as Sir Brian Batsford, the Tory MP).

As an editor at Chatto in the early 1980s I thought our jackets staid and old-fashioned compared to those of Jonathan Cape. In 1969 Cape had produced a particularly stunning jacket for Portnoy’s Complaint, and thereafter they were the arbiters of taste. Thirty years on, the Chatto jackets have worn better than those of their trendier rival. One’s eye alters with the passing of time and the changing spirit of the age. We think the new-look Literary Review is more readable and more elegant than its predecessor, and no doubt it will look even better as the years go by.

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