Brain Pickings

The Best Book, Magazine & Catalog Covers from around the World


Reasons to buy yet another Nabokov, or why first impressions still matter the most.

“You can’t judge a book by its cover, or so the saying goes. We beg to differ.” So opens The Best of Cover Design: Books, Magazines, Catalogs, and More, a new title from Rockport Publishers. Assembled by Altitude Associates and its principal Brian Singer (creator of another beloved Brain Pickings gem The 1000 Journals Project), The Best of Cover Design selected the strongest covers from an open submission process that produced more than 2,000 entries.

The images that made the grade represent a cultural range from Australia to the United States, and 21 countries in between. The one hard criterion for inclusion was that the submissions be from practicing professionals rather than students because, as the introduction states:

Designing covers isn’t an easy task. It’s a minefield of requirements, constraints, and subjective opinions, oftentimes resulting in what we like to call the “design-by-committee pit of despair.” Make the logo bigger. The CEO’s daughter doesn’t like orange; change it. The sales team begins art directing. Welcome to the land of mediocrity. We’ve all been there, and it requires ninja-like skills to traverse and emerge in one piece.

Each spread in The Best of Cover Design presents ideas to ponder and images that invite lingering. The compilation features nearly 300 beautiful and bold works from large firms as well as independent designers, including the 2010 TED conference publication and a series of gorgeous covers by Vintage books, which gave its designers the brief of using butterfly boxes for the reissue of 18 Nabokov titles.

Spread from The Best of Cover Design

Covers by Design Ranch (left) and Paper Plane Studio/Jennifer Bostic (right)

Spread from The Best of Cover Design

Covers, from upper left clockwise, by John Gall, Paul Sahre, Yentus & Booher, Stephen Doyle, Michael Bierut, Rodrigo Corral, Carol Devine Carson, Appetite Engineers/Martin Venezky

Spread from The Best of Cover Design

Covers by Mucca Design/Erica Heitman-Ford (left), Base Art (middle), Jens Magnusson (right)

We’re exposed to several thousand messages a day, creating an environment where the sheer mass of information can overwhelm us. After a while, it all looks the same… To be successful, covers not only have to stand out amongst all the clutter, but they also need to make a connection with us. In just a few seconds, they need to communicate what they are, pique our curiosity, or simply make us smile. They need to engage us through inspiration. ~ Brian Singer, Altitude Associates

In addition to being full of pure design delight, The Best of Cover Design will inspire anyone who’s ever had to think about how to communicate a message clearly and, most importantly, convincingly.

Kirstin Butler is writing an adaptation of Gogol for the Google era called Dead SULs, but when not working spends far, far too much time on Twitter. She currently lives in Cambridge, MA.

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Renata Salecl: How Limitless Choice Limits Social Change


Why having more options makes us more critical of ourselves and more politically passive.

I love the work of RSA Animate. (Previously: Sir Ken Robinson on changing educational paradigms; Steven Johnson on where good ideas come from; capitalism explained five ways.) Last year, I recommended 5 essential books on the psychology of choice, and the latest RSA animation tackles the same subject through the work of professor Renata Salecl, who explores the paralysis, anxiety and dissatisfaction that come with limitless choice — a curious existential question about freedom and its flipside.

Having grown up in Eastern Europe, I can attest to this. As socioculturally toxic as communism was, before its fall, when we had to queue up for bananas once a year because that’s how rare this “exotic” fruit imported from the West was, people seemed somehow more content, more peaceful, even if that peace was really a trance state. After the initial exhilaration about democracy and capitalism in the early 90s, however, the marketplace exploded and this radical shift from extreme deprivation to extreme abundance made people ultimately more unhappy, unleashing a rapid rise in everything from crime to obesity to corruption — all expressions of the ceaselessly wanting self. Is contentment based on illusion worse than discontentment based on reality? I have no answer.

The ideology of choice is actually not so optimistic [and] it actually prevents social change.” ~ Renata Salecl

The problem is actually that today’s ideology of choice-led capitalism, the idea that everyone is a maker of his or her life, which goes very much the reality of the social situation, actually pacifies people and makes us constantly turning criticism towards ourselves instead of organizing ourselves and making a critique of the society we live in.” ~ Renata Salecl

Salecl is the author of Choice, a concise yet deeply insightful new read on the complexity of the human capacity to choose, drawing on everything from philosophy to pop culture to psychology to online dating.

via Open Culture

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The Open Day Book: Perpetual Calendar by 365 Leading Artists


How to fill your days with art and your art with days.

This week’s summer solstice offered an invitation to revisit our civilization’s cult of the calendar. Stepping outside its conventions, The Open Daybook by LA-based writer and artist David P. Earle offers an interactive perpetual calendar with artwork by 365 of today’s most exciting visual artists, one for each day of the year. Each dated page allows you to fill in your schedule or jot down a creative response to the artwork, turning it into a weird and wonderful hybrid of datebook, sketchbook and daily art journal. (And we know sketchbooks hold a special place in the Brain Pickings heart.)

Featured in the book are favorite artists like Chuck Jones, Miranda July, Dallas Clayton (), Stefanie Posavec ( ), and Christoph Niemann ( ).

Christoph Niemann

Dallas Clayton

Miranda July

Chuck Jones

Chris Scarborough

Deb Sokolow

Starlee Kine

Mark Alan Stamaty

Stefanie Posavec

Luke Ramsey

The Open Daybook comes from Mark Batty Publisher, who also brought us Shapes for sounds, Notations 21, Cultural Connectives, Drawing Autism and many more gems.

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.