Tag Archives: Ben Marcus

Cover – Peter Mendelsund

I was very, very lucky this Christmas as Santa brought me not one but two books imported all the way from America, and to note not via a certain evil website, both of which were by book jacket designer extraordinaire Peter Mendelsund. I was told about both Cover  and What We See When We Read by many, many people (indeed the later was in the Yankee book swap but I wasn’t mean enough to swap it for Gone Girl) when I was at Booktopia Asheville, indeed Ann and Michael have sung their praises on Books on the Nightstand. Having read Cover I can completely understand why; it is such a wonderful ode to books and a book which safe to say will be riding very high on my books of the year tomorrow.

powerHouse Books, 2014, hardback, nonfiction, 256 pages, brought by Santa for Christmas

Peter Mendelsund was initially a classical pianist, or a recovering one as his bio says, who after the birth of his first child realised he needed a more stable job with a regular income. But what? Well, as it happened he liked design and then his mother knew someone who knew someone at Knopf Books and after a chat, a viewing of his portfolio (which Knopf being pretty bowled over by what Mendelsund calls “shockingly wince-inducing” self taught designs) and some interviews he then became a junior designer. Now he is Associate Art Director there and his book covers are world famous, though you might admittedly not know they were by him. He is one of those wonderful people who make us want to pick up ALL the books, from Lolita to The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo literally. Well, if you live in America, though some have come here too. Cover is his story of how he came to cover books and what doing so means.

During those years at the piano, I was completely unaware that book cover design, as they say, “was a thing.” Though I’d read plenty of books over this period, it had not occurred to me that a book’s cover was consciously composed and assembled by a human agent. Not that I assumed book jackets were made by machines, or committees (it turns out they can be made by either), I had simply never given book jackets a passing thought.

What did I see then when looking at the front of the book if not the cover? The title and the author’s name. Which is to say, I saw past the cover to the book.

However Cover is not just Mendelsund’s thoughts on what makes a book cover so important. As we go through the sections Classics, Vertical (which is all about Manga), Literary Fiction, Genre Fiction and Non Fiction & Poetry we hear from the writers who Mendelsund has made covers for, well apart from in Classics then Jane Mendelsohn discusses Kafka whose reissues were one of the first works that made everyone really sit up and pay attention to Mendelsund’s work. (No I am not popping pictures of those in, you will have to go and buy the book to see them, and they are stunning.) Here is Ben Marcus discussing the importance of the cover for the author and what the power of a cover can do…

The missing jacket is the final piece to by which nearly everyone will come to know the book. The writer wants the jacket to stand up for the book, serve as the most perfect flag. The jacket should celebrate the strengths of the book and conceal the flaws. It should perhaps rouse dormant chemicals in the body of and cause a sharp kind of lust in the buyer, that might only be satisfied by actually eating the book.

Of course it is Mendelsund and his work, and the process of it, that links this book. Throughout you really get a fantastic insight into how the idea’s for covers are initially formed and then how the process carries on. I don’t want to spoil any of this for you but I thought I would give you a sneaky peak, for example here is the final design for Steig Larsson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (which Mendelsund jokes, in one of his many brilliant footnotes on some of his designs, thankfully lost the title of The Man Who Hated Women which he had to have as one of his design’s titles) the he created…

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Here are many of the ones that didn’t make the cut, these are marked throughout with red X’s…

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You therefore get the mental process and the design process which I found completely fascinating, as I am sure any book lover would. And this is a book for book lovers. Did I mention that? I have come away with an epic list of books; obviously Mendelsund reads all these books and was an avid reader and book lover before, and I have now an urge to read many he has covered and clearly loved. (He even almost convinced me about Kafka at one point!) I am particularly keen to read Lolita as Mendelsund has some interesting thoughts on it. I know, I know I should have read it already. Also added to the list are now in particular Hopscotch by Julio Cortazar, which Mendlesund has a fascinating relationship with, and these two books by Imre Kertesz. I don’t care what they are about (Mendelsund has done his job as he does) I just want to read them for their covers…

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On top of these are The Woman Destroyed by Simone De Beauvoir, the aforementioned Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, Something is Out There by Richard Bausch, Things We Didn’t See Coming by Steven Amsterdam, Sorry Please Thank You by Charles Yu and both Never Fuck Up and Easy Money by Jens Lapidus. (You can find these again on my new To Get My Mitts On page here with some others.) Oh and the whole of the Pantheon Folktales and Fairytale Library. Though I couldn’t work out if these had been commissioned or not. I will do some digging; if they have they will be mine.

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You might have possibly had the merest hint that I bloody loved Cover. It was a book I thought I would dip in and out of over time, I sat with it and lost several sittings perusing the covers, taking in peoples thoughts on reading and books – it is rather like a book version of having a relaxed mooch through a book shop perusing the covers and eavesdropping on the other book lovers, no higher praise can be bestowed really. As I mentioned before Cover will easily be in my best books of the year and I am now very excited to read What We See When We Read, though I think I might just spend some more time revisiting and staring at Mendelsund’s collection of books and their covers, again and again and again.

Oh and if you want to hear more about book covers then do listen to this edition of Front Row, which I had the joy of whilst getting home in a snow blizzard (I exaggerate not) on Boxing Day on the way home from my mothers. Have you had the joy of reading either of Mendelsund’s books? Do you own some of his covered books in your collection? Which other wonderful books about books would you recommend? I have a new fancy for a selection of my new shelves (yes I have been shopping for more today) being dedicated to books about books of all shapes and sizes.

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Filed under Books About Books, Books of 2014, Peter Mendelsund, powerHouse Books, Review

The Long Falling – Keith Ridgway

There are some books that are an absolute bugger to write about, simply because you don’t want to ruin a moment you yourself had as a reader for anyone else. In the case of Keith Ridgway’s ‘The Long Falling’ it is a moment where your jaw drops and you have to re-read the page to check what has just happened really has. This happened to me in chapter one, making it really bloody difficult (thank you Keith, tut) to extrapolate on the book too much, which I so want to do, without giving that moment away. I shall try though…

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Faber & Faber, paperback, 1998 (2004 edition), fiction, 305 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

 

Grace Quinn is a woman lonely and lost, yet actually not alone. First there is her husband, a man who likes to drink so much he killed a local girl in a hit and run. Secondly are the ghosts of her past lives, the one she had before she became Mrs Quinn and the one that she had with her sons; Sean who died, an accident but one she feels very much responsible for partly through her husband’s and the locals responses, and the other who left for Dublin as soon as he could after he had told his mother and father he was gay.

As you get to know Grace and learn of the sorrow at the centre of her life, which is really all encompassing, you don’t feel that things could go much worse for her, but they do. What happens I will not say, as you need to read this book for yourself to find out, yet it means she must go and take some time out from the world with her rather estranged son Martin and the big city life of Dublin. Yet the mother and son bond that was once so tight seems to have become elastic and awkward and there is the fact that both of them are trying to keep their lives rather secret from the other, only projecting the side  of themselves  that they think the other wants to see.

“Martin had always known something about his mother that nobody else knew. But he could not have said what it was. He was aware only that there remained something unspoken between them. Perhaps it was a simple thing, Common memories. Love. But Martin thought that it was something else. To do with their walking away and coming back. The risk in it. Like a dare. It played in her eyes. It had strength. It had stared out at him, and she had allowed no one else to see it but him. He remembered the strength of it. He looked for it now, but either it had gone, or he had forgotten how to see it.”

Once in the city, and in Martin’s world, initially we see just how much the distance has grown between them. Dublin is a city that is trying to modernise itself whilst in the papers and on everyone’s lips is the case of a 14 year old girl who is being banned from leaving the country to abort a pregnancy caused by rape. In fact one of Martin’s friends, Sean who I thought was a right ‘bod cac’ (look it up), is working on the case as a journalist which in itself becomes a twist in the book. Martin’s gay lifestyle is also completely alien to his mother, even though they take her to a gay pub, not only that but Martin is madly, almost recklessly, missing his lover Henry, a feeling Grace has no idea of. The more we read the more we see they are at odds yet the more we know this relationship and its bonds will be important as the book, plot and indeed characters unravel.

Ridgway’s prose is stunning. He can make the grimiest, and in the case of one of Martin’s less glamorous haunts (what is it with Ridgway and saunas? I must ask him) greyest, of scenes somehow beautiful. The writing can occasionally be repetitive and sometimes a little emphatic yet somehow he makes this seem like the poetry of his prose. He also creates brilliantly vivid and flawed characters that you care about, despite some of their darker traits. You can see why it won both the Prix Femina Etranger and Premier Roman Etranger in France.

“Imagine falling from a great height. Without panic. Imagine taking in the view on the way down, as your body tumbles gently in the air, the only sound being the sound of your progress. Your progress. Imagine that it is progress to fall from a great height. A thing worth doing. Though it is not a thing for doing. You do nothing, you simply allow it to happen. Imagine relaxing into the sudden ground. Imagine the stop.”

If I had a little bit of a literary crush on Ridgway’s writing after reading ‘Hawthorn and Child’ last year, I now have something of a full on crush on it from reading ‘The Long Falling’. It shocked me from the first chapter which slowly meanders before a sudden twist, which happens a lot in this book actually, yet unlike some books that first amazing chapter is bettered as the book goes on and for all these reasons I strongly urge you to give it a read. I loved it, if love is the right word? I was also thrilled that this was as brilliant as the previous Ridgway I read yet a completely different book in a completely different style.

You may now see why I am thrilled I will be talking to Keith Ridgway, along with Ben Marcus, tomorrow night as part of Liverpool’s Literature Festival ‘In Other Words’, more details here – do come. Who else has read ‘The Long Falling’ and what did you make of it? For another, and I think much more eloquent review see John Self’s thoughts here. Have you read any of his other novels, like ‘Hawthorn and Child’, at all?

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Filed under Books of 2013, Faber & Faber, Keith Ridgway, Review

Head Down; More Reading, Less Everything Else…

I shouldn’t really be typing this. I should actually be busy reading and nothing else. But having looked at the next few weeks it seems that all I should be doing is reading and pretty much nothing else. You see, the thing is my bookish projects have started to get a little out of hand, though in a good way, I think…

Books Ahead

What you see above this is two piles of books I really need to read over the next few weeks, yes I said weeks. On the left are some of the books that I need to read or re-read for discussions that I will be having at the Liverpool Literature Festival (you can find the brochure here IOW Listing Brochure 22-3). I say some of the books as I am still waiting on a few and need to dig out a few Jeanette Winterson and Philippa Gregory novels before the big World Book Night launch that I will be reporting on and involved with launching this year in Liverpool and sort of kicking the festival off.

On the right we have some more books that I need to be reading (again am waiting on a few copies of other books by these authors) in preparation for forthcoming episodes of You Wrote The Book! which seems to have kicked off with a bang and now I am kicking myself with joy at some of the authors who have said yes (though Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Caitlin Moran still need final confirmations) and so might be making the podcast weekly instead of fortnightly.

Here I should note that I am in no way complaining about all this, it has left me all a bit daunted/panicked and a little muddled too. Which is why I need to stop talking, tweeting, photo posting, and blogging – well at least lessen them all – and just get on with reading shouldn’t I? I haven’t even taken into account that I will be reading the entire Women’s Prize shortlist for We Love This Book. Erm, let’s move on, shall we? Ha!

Anyway, I thought I would explain where I am at and why the blog and I might be a little quieter for a month or two (of course reviews of these books will pop up, as will bookish thoughts and reports from various events and things). I have said ‘Middlemarch’ reading is now postponed until further notice, I was going to say May or June but I don’t want to make a promise that I can’t keep so will update you after May if that is ok. Right, best get on with some of this lovely reading hadn’t I and stop this waffling on. What are you all reading at the moment?

P.S if you see me on Twitter too much can you tell me off, ha!

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In Other Words

So over the last few weeks I have been mysteriously hinting at what I have been up to as I have been working with Culture Liverpool on the first Liverpool literature festival. Well now I can finally tell you all just what I will be doing and all the events that I have planned for ‘In Other Words 2013’, and I am really, really excited about it…

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One of the things I am super excited about is that fact that Liverpool is the only city outside London that is hosting World Book Night for 2013. So on the opening night of the festival, which is in honour of the library re-opening after a huge revamp, is jam packed with exciting things as the ‘marketplace’ will be brimming with book swappers, book shoppers and even a cafe that is doing a special literary based menu. If that inst enough some of the authors (Philippa Gregory, Jasper Fforde, Jeanette Winterson, Jackie Kay and Patrick Ness) will all be at events on the opening night. Naturally I will be clamoring to get to these events, and these authors, to report back and have some serious fan-boy moments.

Over the next three weeks there are even more stonking events with James Herbert doing a special night of ‘Tales of Terror’ in some very dark and spooky infamous Liverpool tunnels, the Mersey’s finest poets Roger McGough and Brian Pattern (my favourite author as a kid) are appearing, as are Denise Mina, Janet Street Porter, Melvyn Bragg, Karen Campbell and Helen Walsh (who will be giving a writing workshop) and Rosie Garland having a book launch with a big circus… and much, much more! How awesome is that? And all of it will be (almost) on my doorstep. It is too exciting for words, in other words.

Now apart from going and being a real fan boy and a punter, I will also be hosting some events which are;

Novel Approaches: Ben Marcus & Keith Ridgway

Free | 24th April

6.30pm , Studio 2, Parr Street, 33-45 Parr Street, Liverpool, L1 4JN

Join authors Keith Ridgway and Ben Marcus in conversation with Simon Savidge about the novel, what makes it a novel, how it is evolving and how both authors, rather infamously with two highly talked about books of last year, are breaking the stereotypes of what can constitute a novel and how the written word can be used in many different ways.

Afternoon Tea With John Whaite

Ticketed | 28th April

Afternoon Tea With John Whaite , Liverpool Town Hall, High Street, Liverpool, L2 3SW

Join the winner of the Great British Bake Off 2012 for tea and, most aptly, baked goods in the delights of the Town Hall to talk about his time on the show, swapping banking for baking and how his new book John Whaite Bakes looks at food for any mood, plus he will share some top tips too.

Cost: £10 includes afternoon tea made by the Town Hall , Please book in advance at http://www.itsliverpool.com/culture

Council Estate Of Mind: Class And The Novel

Free | 29th April

6.30pm – 7.30pm , Kuumba Imani, Millennium Centre Cafe, 4 Princes Road, Liverpool, L8 1TH

Join authors Kerry Hudson, James Smythe and Claire McGowan, currently Director of the Crime Writer’s Association, in conversation with Simon Savidge about class and the novel. Why is it that the middle and upper classes have been more predominant in fiction and how the ‘council estate’ novel is now rising as its own sub-genre and how to give voice to the unspoken in society.

First Words; Debut Authors In Discussion

Free | 30th April

6.30pm – 7.30pm , The Attic, 33-35 Parr Street, Liverpool L1 4JN

How hard is the road to getting your first book published? Is being an author all you expect it to be? These questions and many more will be answered by debut novelists of 2013 Beatrice Hitchman, Sarah Butler and Gavin Extence, John Ironmonger and Kerry Hudson who debuted in fine form in 2012. They will also offer tips to budding debut novelists out there too.

Celebrating The Bookshop

Free | 5th May

2.30pm – 3.30pm , The Bluecoat, School Lane, Liverpool, L1 3BX

If you love words, you have to love a bookshop. Join Jessica Fox; who swapped NASA and the US for a book shop in Wigtown, Sarah Henshaw; who sells books aboard a barge she lived, worked and travelled on all last year; Jen Campbell; a bookseller whose books are about the odd things people say in bookshops and Mandy Vere; of independent bookshop News from Nowhere for a discussion on why we love a bookshop, why we need them and why the future is bright for them even in the age of the e-reader.

So all in all I am excited on all sorts of levels, in part because I am getting to interview some cracking authors for my own events, in part as I have been loving being involved in the cities first literary festival and also because I am going to just geek out with lots of book based goodies for a solid two weeks.

I will of course be reporting back on the blog and also on The Readers and You Wrote The Book! too, so if you have any questions for any of the authors or want me to report on any of the events specifically then do please let me know. I really had better get a wriggle on with some serious reading hadn’t I?

(Oh and well done Kateg who correctly guessed that all the books in the picture yesterday were off books by authors, well some of them, that I will be having events with at In Other Words, email me with your details to collect your prize!)

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Filed under Liverpool Literary Festival, Random Savidgeness