Peter Mendelsund’s 16 Favorite Book Covers of 2012

Recently, we polled book jacket designers on their favorite book covers of the year, and we were dazzled by what they came up with. But Peter Mendelsund (who happens to be one of our very favorites) had a bit more to say on the subject than we could fit into our other roundup. Here we give you his full report on the state of book jacket design (and his favorites of the year!)

“The story of this year in book jackets was the story of how we book designers were finally given the go-ahead to use illustration and hand drawn typography instead of photos on covers for blockbuster novels,” Mendelsund says. “It only took ten years worth of badgering from art departments to get traction with the idea — and the tipping point came in the form, I believe, of Keith Hayes’ very pretty and commercially viable Art of Fielding jacket produced by Little, Brown in the Fall of 2011. This jacket looked ‘big,’ and it was made of cursive! What a coup. It was a real floodgate opener. Copycats abounded in ‘12. (Inevitably, this is also the year in which I became bored with illustration and hand-drawn typography on book covers—just as these methods had become so popular, and just as publishing clients everywhere were asking for them.)

“2012 was also a year in which production values got a little bit spiffier. Suddenly designers were allowed to budget for foils, die-cuts, spot colors, spot glosses, glow-in-the-dark inks, slipcases and other effects which were considered cost-prohibitive in the past. I attribute this trend to the fact that physical books needed to justify their existence in the face of the cannibalizing effects of electronic reading. And they did so, partially, by having some money spent on their appearance. Did it pay off? Well it certainly did for the consumer.Which is to say, all in all: a very good year for book jackets. Here is some of the work I found most memorable (In no particular order).”

“Jonathan Gray’s cover for The Yellow World. What can you say? It’s perfect. Nothing is out of place. (Imagine, for a moment, the jacket above without the yellow and white circles being out of registration — it is just such a detail that makes this cover sing.) There are moments when the field of design encroaches on the fine arts — this is one such time. I would happily frame this jacket and hang it on my wall. A special nod goes here to the publishing program itself — as it is not every day that a designer is allowed to work type-free on a book cover. But Jon Gray took the assignment and made something flawless of it.”