Friday Book Design Blog: Black Vodka by Deborah Levy

Jonathan Gibbs

And Other Stories is one of a collection of exciting small publishers that have sprung up in the UK over the past few years. Like Peirene Press it models itself as a ‘subscription’ publisher, meaning that it hopes to part-fund itself through readers signing up to receive a certain number of books per year.

black vodka cover 192x300 Friday Book Design Blog: Black Vodka by Deborah LevyPeirene has identified a particular niche product – novella-length works, in translation – which means that people more or less know what they’re signing up to, but And Other Stories is more wide-ranging. Its ten books so far have included more translated fiction than not, but they have also snapped up overlooked books in English, including Swimming Home by Deborah Levy, which went on to be Man Booker-shortlisted (and I wouldn’t be surprised if the wonderful designs for Levy’s older books in Vintage paperback popped up on this blog at some point), and Helen DeWitt’s acclaimed corporate satire Lightning Rods.

If subscription publishers like Peirene and AOS are to convince people to put up their money for books sight-unseen, as they would for, for instance, a literary journal, then it clearly helps to have – like those journals – a clearly defined identity. It’s no surprise, therefore, that both publishers keep their cover designs under strict control.

AOS has gone for a distinctive typographic look, with the author details kept to the bottom and the title stamped boldly across the standard off-white cover. There is a pleasing contrast between the title text, blocky and aggressively corroded, and the author text at the bottom, altogether more modern and restrained.

The final element is a single additional graphic element, unique to each book and vaguely illustrative of the title – a star lifted from a vodka bottle label for Levy’s story collection, Black Vodka, a downward arrow for Juan Pablo Villalobos’s Down The Rabbit Hole, and so on.

don delillo picador covers Friday Book Design Blog: Black Vodka by Deborah Levy

Crucially, this graphic element is never allowed to dominate the cover, as with the covers for the most recent reissue of Don DeLillo’s backlist for Picador, with (award-winning – and generally well-received) illustrations by Noma Bar. Where the graphic for AOS merely offers a gentle, take-it-or-leave-it echo of the title, Bar’s more sophisticated double-entendre images seem to want to reduce the whole of DeLillo’s really rather complex novels to a single two-way gag. Cosmopolis? Limousine plus share price graph. Underworld? Baseball = globe.

Clever as the images are, I find they do the books a disservice. AOS’s ones I do, while admitting that the series is unlikely to come up with one particular cover to blow us all away. They’re playing the long game, using design to build a brand, rather than sell individual books.

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