As the year winds down, the lists of the best books of 2016 are pouring in as everyone takes a moment to look back and reflect. With all the great books that came out this year, there were also plenty of fantastic covers and jackets. The art director of the New York Times Book Review has recently shared his pick for this year’s top book covers, a selection that includes the playful, the witty, and the elegant with splashes of color and a sense of invitation to explore between the covers:
1. The Bed Moved: Stories by Rebecca Schiff
This collection of humorous short stories by up-and-coming author Rebecca Schiff has a cover as quirky as the stories contained within. Not only did the bed move, but its motion seems to have shifted the letters in the book’s title, scattering them all over the cover. You can’t help but smile a little just looking at it, especially when you catch on to how it’s a clever wink and a nod alluding to one of the book’s major themes.
2. But What If We’re Wrong? by Chuck Klosterman
The cover of this pop-philosophical best-seller has a very simple way of conveying its major theme on the cover. By flipping everything upside-down, Klosterman asks his readers to question everything they know, quite literally turning the things we think we know right on their heads.
3. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
This National Book Award-winning story of a young girl’s escape from a cotton plantation via the Underground Railroad has been getting much acclaim this year, and now its cover is getting acclaim, too! The railroad snaking around the title alludes to a long, winding, and arduous journey fraught with danger for protagonist Cora. I particularly like how old-fashioned it feels, how it would seem perfectly at place alongside the covers of classic pieces of historical fiction whose ranks it will surely join someday.
4. On Trails: An Exploration by Robert Moor
This cover is one of my favorites, perhaps because it reminds me a little of the newly redesigned cover of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, or maybe because it brings back fond memories of hiking down trails in some of my state’s national parks. The cover, which resembles the topography of a map, elicits feelings of nature, travel, and adventure despite only using the bare minimum of color. The way that the colors are shaded evokes shadows and creates a sense of mystery.
5. Moonglow: A Novel by Michael Chabon
The cover of Moonglow proves that we’ll never get tired of putting matches on books and calling them “matchbooks” (see also: the new cover of Fahrenheit 451). The plot of this faux-memoir is woven with Jewish history, so a burnt match takes on a particular poignancy, invoking the irrevocable loss of Jewish literature and history consumed by Nazi fires.
6. Essays Against Everything by Mark Greif
The cover of Greif’s best-selling collection of philosophical essays takes a page out of the book of M.C. Escher. The shape on the cover is called an “impossible object,” a two-dimensional object that the mind misinterprets as three-dimensional, despite the fact that it can’t possibly exist in three dimensions. It’s a testament to the mind’s vulnerability to deception and how important it is to question your own perspective.
7. The Mothers: A Novel by Brit Bennet
The title may be simple, but the cover of Brit Bennet’s debut novel is more than enough to invite readers in. The warm colors and thick black lines make the cover look more than a little bit like a piece of modern art – the movement that throws away tradition in favor of experimentation, inextricably linked with the spirit of rebellion, reflecting both the nature of the main character and the theme of adolescent motherhood.
8. The Hideous Hidden by Sylvia Legris
This book of poems and its cover seem to be working to subvert the idea that something can’t be both hideous and beautiful at the same time. It features what looks like a figure straight out of a vintage medical illustration stretching open another figure to expose the title hidden within. It’s a little creepy but also morbidly fascinating; so anatomy class, basically.
9. How To See: Looking, Talking, And Thinking About Art by David Salle
This playful cover is particularly fun to look at because of the way it tricks your mind into reading the title correctly, despite it being out of order. It goes to show the way that an artist can redirect the mind and create sense out of disorder. It’s impossible not to look at the cover twice and to smile a little when you realize your mind has been tricked, and then to look at everything else after with a little bit more of a critical eye.
10. Private Novelist: Fiction by Nell Zink
Now moving into the very weird, Nell Zink’s faux-translation of a friend’s novel has a cover that instantly betrays it as experimental post-modernism, if the title didn’t give it away. It’s very reminiscent of bizarro fiction, a bit funny and a bit gross at the same time, the cover of a novel that obviously doesn’t take itself too seriously.
What’s your favorite book cover from this year?
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