One-Minute Book Reviews

October 29, 2008

Rating the Book Covers — Steve Fraser’s ‘Wall Street: America’s Dream Palace’

The upside-down flag is a metaphor.

A few comments on the cover of Steve Fraser’s Wall Street, reviewed Monday:

This brief history of Wall Street is part of the small-format “Icons of America” series from Yale University Press. Because it’s a good book, you might want to look for others in the line. But nothing on the cover identifies it as part of a series, so if you’re hoping to spot its kin easily at a bookstore or library, you’re out of luck.

Wall Street and “Icons of America” are recent examples of trend at university presses to publish more books with mass-market appeal. The older Harvard Business School Press “Ideas With Impact” series is another And so far it’s been more successful, partly because it has a distinctive visual identity: You can spot HBSP books from halfway across the store at any airport Borders. Clearly Harvard had an advantage in that the “Ideas With Impact” series gathers articles from the Harvard Business Review, which itself has a distinctive look. But if U. S. News & World Report rated the covers of university-press books the way it rates colleges, Harvard would still win by a mile.

Apart from not establishing a brand identity, the cover of Wall Street uses yellowish tones that give it a retro look – a bit misleading given that Fraser carries the history of Wall Street into the 21st century. The cover appears to show a montage of shot-from-below pictures that suggest the dizzying, topsy-turvy action of the markets, partly through the upside-down American flag. It works well as a metaphor. For the same reason, you don’t want to look too long at it.

To its credit the cover avoids a static head-on shot of the New York Stock Exchange and visual clichés such as the Merrill Lynch bull. The montage also wraps in an interesting way around the spine and about two-thirds of the back of the book, which you can’t see here. On most covers, only the background color wraps front-to-back — the cover image stops at the spine to make for room blurbs or a large author photo. The unusual use of art on this one creates a handsome effect that says “money.”

Wall Street was reviewed on Oct. 27

Jacket illustration: Hirooki Aoki/Getty Images

Note: A thousand apologies to anyone who can’t see the image on this post. I’m working to solve technical problems that cause only part of the images to appear to some visitors, particularly those using browners other than Firefox. I’ll repost this page after I’ve fixed this. In the meantime you can see the cover on the Yale University Press site Thanks so much for your patience and for visiting One-Minute Book Reviews.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

October 14, 2007

What’s in a Book Cover? New on One-Minute Book Reviews

Filed under: Uncategorized — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:37 pm
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When critics get together, they never say, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” If you get more than 500 books a week from publishers — as the editors of major book-review sections do – you know that a cover can tell you a lot. It can tell you whether a book technothriller (look for the metallic Stealth bomber) or a romance novel (look for the bare-chested man with hair longer than yours) and whether a book is a Library of America edition of a classic (black and white) or a “Complete Idiot’s Guide” to the Bible or Tantric sex (orange and white). And covers are becoming more important as the publishing industry becomes ever-more market-driven.

So there’s a new section called “Cover Story” at the end of some reviews on One-Minute Book Reviews that comments on especially strong or weak covers. The first dealt with the cover of Rebecca Gowers’s first novel, When to Walk These occasional remarks follow the reviews — instead of appearing in the text — because authors typically have little or no control over their covers. If the writers are lucky, publishers will listen to their views about them. But often they are unlucky. Do you think that the authors of books marketed to women really like those pink covers that publishers put on so many of them?

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

September 14, 2007

Do Children’s Books Need Pictures? Quote of the Day

Many people assume that books for young children need – or at least benefit from – pictures. But is it true? Canadian scholar Perry Nodelman writes that many parents and teachers think that children respond more readily to pictures than to words:

“Yet there is no irrefutable psychological or pedagogical reason that young children should be told the vast majority of their [stories] through combinations of words and pictures. Indeed, there is evidence that the presence of pictures in books may be pedagogically counterproductive; in a study of young children beginning to learn to read, the psychologist S. Jay Samuels confirmed his hypothesis ‘that when pictures and words are presented together, the pictures would function as distracting stimuli and interfere with the acquisition of reading responses’… and presumably, therefore, of the story information that texts convey. Given the opportunity, as were most children prior to the last century and as some modern children in developing countries still are, many young children find it possible to enjoy listening to or reading books without illustrations.”

Perry Nodelman in Words About Pictures: The Narrative Art of Children’s Picture Books (University of Georgia Press, 1988). Words About Pictures is an excellent reference book for critics, scholars and others and perhaps the best available study of the relationship between words and pictures in children’s picture books.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

May 13, 2007

What Makes a Book Well-Designed? Quote of the Day #24

Filed under: Book Covers,Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:00 pm
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Why are some books more visually attractive than others? Here’s a partial answer from book designer Carol Goldenberg.

” … book design and typography are at their most successful when not immediately apparent to the reader. It can even be said that book design is a kind of ‘invisible’ art.

“In her book The Crystal Goblet (1956) British typographer Beatrice Warde likened good book-making to a crystal goblet of wine: ‘Everything about it is calculated to reveal rather than to hide the beautiful thing it was meant to contain.’ As she further pointed out in her metaphor, to pour wine into a solid goblet would be to disguise the drink – one would appreciate the vessel itself perhaps, but that is all. And so it is with good book-making – good design provides the form or framework within which words and images can shine through.”

Carol Goldenberg in The Essential Guide to Children’s Books and Their Creators (Houghton Mifflin, 2002), edited by Anita Silvey, a former editor-in-chief of Horn Book Magazine.

Comment by Janice Harayda:

The Essential Guide to Children’s Books and Their Creators is an excellent reference book for anyone with a strong interest in children’s literature. As this quote suggests, the encyclopedic text also offers insights into other kinds of books.

Design and typography are greatly underestimated partly because, as Goldenberg notes, we often don’t notice them. But they can make or break a book. (This is one reason why you typically see the font identified on the last page.) The best-designed books I have reviewed on One-Minute Book Reviews include Fiona French’s picture books for children, Easter (March 17) and King of Another Country (March 30), and Eric Hodgins’s comic novel Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (April 9), which has brilliant illustrations by William Steig. An example of stellar design that I haven’t reviewed here is Nick Bantock’s “Griffin and Sabine” series that takes the form of the correspondence between Griffin Moss, a London card designer, and Sabine Strohem, who lives on a remote island and sends him a notes on his postcards.

I chose Chris Costello to do the site for my novels because he has designed beautiful books, in a great range of styles, for major publishers of titles for children and adults, including Random House and Simon & Schuster. You can see some of his covers by going to and clicking on “Typography” and then “Children’s Titles.” Chris has won many awards for his work.

What books have you read that are exceptionally well-designed?

(c ) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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