Under the Covers

charlie+and+the+choclate+factoryYou’ll notice that there’ve been more book cover posts than reviews recently – I’m currently plodding my way through Lauren Beukes’s The Shining Girls (not the easiest read of my life) and trying to avoid reviewing books from last year. But anyway, I thought this new Charlie and the Chocolate Factory cover warranted a mini post since everyone seems to be talking/complaining about it.

I think a lot of the criticisms of this cover are just knee-jerk responses: ‘It’s not as good as Quentin Blake’, ‘What does it have to do with the story?’, ‘It’s pornographic!’, ‘It’s supposed to be a children’s book, this isn’t appropriate’. There’s obviously some basis to these critiques, but mostly they seem to be coming from old Roald Dahl fans – those familiar with the old Quentin Blake version. Some people just don’t like change. Certainly, it’s different to the covers illustrated by Quentin Blake, but is different always bad? It’s arguably a more mature cover, but, as many people have said already, the content of the book is very mature. Instead of trying to downplay the explicitness of the content with a younger cover, we need to be more aware of the ability for young readers to digest mature content. This can be seen across all kinds of media: film, music, books and games. But anyway, that’s a topic for another day…

As for it having ‘nothing to do with the story’, I disagree. The story explores the nature of children who have been spoiled and ruined by their parents – it’s about children, family and the relationship between the two. The cover represents that perfectly. Also, I don’t see how this could be inappropriate, and people who think it’s more closely linked to Lolita are out of their minds. Just because there’s a little blonde girl on the cover. Sigh.

All that being said, I don’t particularly like it. I prefer the Quentin Blake covers. But this all just comes down to modernisation, and targeting new readers and new markets. If you don’t like the cover, you don’t like the cover. I think this one just comes down to personal taste. Like it or lump it.

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Ciao!

So, you haven’t heard from me (Robbie) in a while, because I’ve been on holiday, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t seeking out interesting gobbets of information to feed you with, one of which to follow. I’ve also got reviews up my sleeve for a whole plethora of books, including Evie Wyld’s debut novel, Judith Schalansky’s The Giraffe’s Neck, and the 1180 page epic tome by Michael Schmidt, The Novel, A Biography (I admit, I haven’t read it all yet, but I will make that clear) and many others that I can’t bring to mind at this moment. For now, though, let me tell you about an Italian publisher who is doing something rather special.

Beautiful sea urchin

There are a lot of sea urchins in Italy (I think this is a different species, however)

Whilst I was on my version of the Italian Grand Tour (going to as few places as possible, and only if they are very quiet) I came across a bookshop, and being of a mothlike bookish persuasion I was drawn inescapably in, even though I struggle to find enough Italian to ask for a glass of white wine. Inside I saw a lot of books, some of which I liked the look of and some that I didn’t, but one particular imprint caught my eye for three reasons: they were brightly-coloured enough for my sun befuddled eyes to be able to see them clearly, they were by ‘canonical’ authors I could recognise easily, and they were cheap. Seriously cheap, and for reasons I will go into in the following paragraph-but-one I will tell you why this is praiseworthy, and why it should be held up as an example to the publishers of so-called classic literature in this country. But before I do that I should give you a picture of one of these books, because so far all I’ve given you is a sea urchin, and tell you a bit about the publisher (I only know a bit).

Dante's Divine ComedyNewton Compton Editori may not seem like the most Italian of names (without the helpful Editori, anyway) but it is Italian through and through, having been started by a Vittorio Avanzini in Rome in the 60s. NC is primarily interested in publishing classic fiction, but have recently moved into contemporary translations, which we thoroughly approve of. They produce two forms of Classic – their paperback, which sells at 1.90€ (about £1.50) and a hardback (3.90€ // £3.10). They have only just put up the prices on their paperbacks, so if you fly out quick you can still swipe copies for only 99 cents (like I did).

Oscar Wilde's the Importance of Being ErnestThe reason I feel like this is noteworthy is that these books are not poorly made, are not going to discolour in a week (I’m looking at you, £2 Penguin Popular Classics). I tested my paperback copy of Bulgakov’s Cuore di Cane in Italy by leaving it in the baking sun whilst taking my siesta, holding it in my armpit whilst walking along the sea wall of the port, and it also spent quite some time lightly folded over in the bottom of my bag on the flight home, where it came out looking pretty healthy. What I am alluding to here is that Classic can be cheap (more on this in a moment) and well made, because you will sell hunners of them so they can be printed in bulk, which reduces the cost of production massively. Flaubet's Madame BovaryRight, cost. I have talked about this in passing before, but this gives me the opportunity to have a good rant. For many of the cannonical classics there is no living author, and often no rights either. Thus, if I wanted to, I could typeset, print, bind and sell a copy of Great Expectations tomorrow and wouldn’t have to pay anyone (If I did all the production). So how is it that companies (Cambridge Modern Classics and Penguin Classics being the big players here) can rationalise a £9.99 price tag (going all the way up to around £17 in some cases) for a book where there is no advance or royalty needing covered?

Bulgakov's Master and MargheritaNow of course, occasionally you will change the cover, or order a new translation, or even deign to actually pay an academic to write a forward, but largely these texts haven’t changes for decades. Just imagine the money being taken, and (in my opinion) taken unfairly.

978-88-541-6972-2I would like to hear any defense of the extortionate prices involved for out of copyright text, so if you have one please let me hear it. I have heard it said that a cheap classic will put people off buying modern fiction, but it just doesn’t wash with me, because what is on offer is a completely different experience.

Under the Covers

‘New York Times bestselling author and illustrator, Kazu Kibuishi, created extraordinary new covers for each of the seven
Harry Potter books.
In each of the new cover illustrations he perfectly captures a
pivotal moment from that specific book.’

hp usI’ve been keen to do a blog post on the exciting new Scholastic (US) and Bloomsbury (UK) Harry Potter covers so here I go! I’m going to start by looking at the new US covers as I absolutely adore the new illustrations – I think Kazu Kibuishi has taken a lot of inspiration from the original covers (the UK ones have gone in a wild new direction). Kibuishi has retained a similar style, though his drawings have a greater depth to them – they almost look three-dimensional!

He has also used the finer details from each book, and from the world in general, to render a rich fabric to the cover designs. I also think (and this is entirely my preference) that he has selected much better scenes from the book in which to place the characters on the cover. The moment where Diagon Alley is revealed to Harry, and he takes that first stroll down its cobbled streets, is the moment where everything becomes real to him. Up until that point, Hagrid’s words could still unravel. When Harry sees the Wizarding World for himself, the story really begins. The new cover places Harry in the heart of Diagon Alley and I thought this was a much more apt welcome to new readers.

Harrypotter_1

New (left) and original (right)

There’s also something much more adult about these covers, despite the fact that they are still targeting children. I think he has taken a leaf out of the book of the film adaptations and chosen to show the dark side of the Harry Potter story. And it is pretty dark when you think about it. And I think any rendering if the cover, or the story itself, that attempts to disguise the inherent darkness of the text is doing it an injustice, because it’s the darkest moments that really reveal the soul of the story. It’s the most terrible twists that bind you to Harry and his world. Continue reading

Under the Covers

Love is strange. Love is beautiful. Love is dangerous. Love is never what you expect it to be. Here PENGUIN brings you the most seductive, inspiring and surprising writing on love in all its infinite variety.

This week is the third week of our Under the Covers feature, and I suppose sort of tying in with the whole bedroom suggestion of the feature, I’m going to pick on the Penguin Great Loves collection. These covers are absolutely stunning, and I struggle to actually read the books from fear of inflicting any damage to the aesthetic package. Penguin Great Loves CollageThe collection focuses mostly on classical, romantic/erotic literature, and offsets the passion and emotion of each title with a subtle but suggestive cover, laden with symbolism. Continue reading