Thursday, July 8, 2010

Cover Me

I've a collection of essays coming out next year from Norton called Sweet Heaven When I Die. Subtitle to be determined. It's a collection of previously published pieces and some new work, but it's not a grab bag. Rather, it's organized around some themes that guide some of my favorite work outside the subject of fundamentalism. There's the last Yiddish writer, a forlorn banjo player, an anarchist martyr, a blues philosopher, a bewitched preacher, and the long unpublished piece that I'd originally planned to title the book after, "Sweet Fuck All, Colorado." I'm keeping the "sweet" but saving the "fuck" for inside the covers. The book, sadly, is not as naughty as that sentence. Fortunately, it's not as corny, either.

Other titles I considered and rejected: "Old Enough to Die," "Still Waiting to be Born," "The Point of Despair," and, most bluntly, "This Is Not a Redemption Story." But nor is it as grim as that list would suggest. The pieces I've included are almost all in one sense or another blues stories, which means they're attempts to squeeze from brutality something that's near-tragic, near-comic, to paraphrase Ralph Ellison. I don't know if I've succeeded, but I've "done all I can do" -- which is another title I considered, a line from an old Dock Boggs song. As is Sweet Heaven When I Die.

The question then becomes: What should the cover be? It's a serious question. I'm asking for your help. A suggestion of an image or a concept. If Norton uses it, I'll send you a free copy.*

Here are my past book covers and some other covers I covet:

This is the cover for Killing the Buddha: A Heretic's Bible, which Peter Manseau and Published in 2004. It's my favorite of my book covers, and a favorite in general. It shows up in books about design, too. But, for obvious reasons, it didn't work so great in bookstores. Free Press put the title on the paperback, which really crowded it.

I wasn't crazy about this cover, but other people liked it. I thought it was a bit of a cliche, since other books have used the fake Bible approach. (Though none have the pun. "The Family Bible." Get it? Nobody else did, either.)

This is the cover for a sort of sequel to The Family forthcoming this fall from Little, Brown. Evidently, the designer wanted to evoke the heavy brown of The Family. I like the title treatment. With this one I need to wait to see it in the flesh, so to speak. But for Sweet Heaven When I Die, I definitely want something lighter. And without Christian elements.

I love this cover for my friend Peter Manseau's travelogue, Rag and Bone:

But if that cover is beautiful, the paperback, sadly, is a case study in how to go wrong:

Awful! What's with the turquoise? Is that meant to be sky? This looks like a couch in a Russian dentist's office. (It's a great book, though, in cloth or paper.)

I think this one's so great this is the third time I've posted it:

This one's beautiful, all the more so when one considers that the painting is probably an archival image, but the car detail at the bottom really cheapens it, as if the publisher got worried that people wouldn't connect "Fordlandia" with Henry Ford. I'm a fan of covers that are beautiful but don't try to explain too much.

I've been reading The Gloves: A Boxing Chronicle and I think the cover is as well matched to the book as the title. It's a photograph of the author, cropped just below the eyes so he becomes a sad sack every man, wrapping his hands. The gloves desired by Anasi, a past boxing prime writer with a chip on his shoulder, are the golden ones you win in amateur boxing's biggest match, so the font is gold, too. I'd have made it a little shinier. But they handled placement just write. This is a book about a man with questions about manliness (he routinely gets thumped by his female sparring partner, a better and stronger boxer), so there are The Gloves, down between his thighs.

* At least two of this blog's three readers know that I'm not very fast about mailing things, which is putting a crimp in my new mail order free bookstore. But with this, I promise you'll get your copy in timely fashion, since I'll just put the winner on the comp list for the publisher.