Author: Guest blogger
As The Simpsons character,Troy McClure, would put it: “Hi, I’m W.H. Chong and you may remember me from the covers of Helen Garner’s The Spare Room, Tim Flannery’s The Weather Makers, Peter Temple’s Truth and books by Kate Grenville, Peter Singer, Shane Maloney etc etc.”
A friend of mine was telling me about reading Lloyd Jones’ new novel, Hand Me Down World. She had an unusual take on book covers: “I noticed”, she said, “that you had done the cover. (I designed and illustrated the jacket.) You know, I see the cover in the shop, but I don’t really look at it. I know if I like it or not, but it’s not till I start reading the book that I really look at the cover — and this is to see if the cover fits with how I see the book. So I kept checking to see if your African woman felt like the one I was reading about.” I said, “And was she?” “Yeah, she really is,” said my friend. Phew!
That kind of connection is rich and potentially deep. Orhan Pamuk has written that, “if years after reading a book, we catch a glimpse of its cover, we are returned at once to that long ago day when we curled up in a corner with that book to enter the world hidden inside.” Which is why I have trouble thinking of my favourite covers — I tend to think of the book before its cover, which is surely designer heresy. To forestall the local chapter of the Design Police, here are some of my favorite* covers (*I’ve only read the Hamsun):
The Book of Prefaces, Alasdair Gray. From a true eccentric. My view is that authors should never be in charge of their own covers, but Gray has been designing and illustrating his own books for a long time. He is excused on the basis that he is a sui generis genius.
Knut Hamsun, Hunger. The Nobel laureate wrote his astounding novel in 1890. The US paperback (left) from 1967 was designed by one of my heroes, Milton Glaser. I remember seeing the cover many years ago and thinking what a great idea — corny but irresistible. It remains one of my all-time most affecting novels. In 2006 I had the opportunity of revamping the concept for a local edition. (Not only was the title word split, but I broke the cover quote too: “One of the most” on top … “disturbing novels in existence. — Time Out” below.) I sent a copy to the great Glaser, who was 77 at the time. He graciously sent a note saying that he liked what I did and was touched by the homage.