There are two things I have to admit before we can talk about the Southern Reach trilogy:
My partner and I have a secret, special place online… a shared folder of ebooks. This magical spot includes every DRM-free file we’ve ever bought, plus all the digital books and magazines we’ve gotten free at cons, as contributor copies, or in giveaways. Between the two of us, we have hundreds of reading options, collected over a decade.
Last November, he got me a tablet for my birthday. It was inexpensive, a few years out of date, and doesn’t run very quickly, on purpose, because I wanted something with a 10 inch screen that I couldn’t use for games. I wanted a reading tablet, something to help me get through that giant digital to-be-read pile. The tablet I was gifted is absolutely perfect for the job.
So, you’d think I read a lot. I haven’t been. For a couple of years, I haven’t been able to get into a headspace for reading for pleasure, so unless a book or story promised to enhance my writing techniques or was for research, I put in the “someday” pile and moved on.
Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation, US cover.
Last week, I opened up Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation, the first book in his Southern Reach trilogy. I’d put off reading it for a long time, partly because I had this idea in my head that it was going to be hard to read. Smarter than I am. Too literary for my mood. More… something, than I was ready for. It’s not.
Annihilation is so well written that it feels easy. I didn’t notice the work that must have gone into writing it at all, even though it’s my job to analyze writing, break down work into its component parts. I planned to, when I started reading, but I forgot about studying the technique as I got into the story. Annihilation is that rare kind of beautiful epic which creates an entire world yet effortlessly flows from the page as fast as you can move your eyeballs. I tore through the first book and ended up reading the whole trilogy in two days. Continue reading →
I recently made the decision to expand this blog from simply talking about writing to talking about stories. Stories told in film, in images, and – most often – in words. Though many of you know that my academic field of study was art history, what you may not know is that I specifically study book history, which (for me) includes techniques of book creation, and the book as art. I love Early American books the best: hand-printed manuscripts on hand-made paper, pressed into a hand-built machine and gifted with words by hand-carved type bearing hand-made ink. How is that not an art?
While the evolution of book history means that the construction of most books has been industrialized (for large print runs, though there are still amazing artists making hand-crafted books, and I’ll talk more about them later) and even removed as we move into digital reading, the two places that you can still find art in a book are in the font choices, and in the cover. Some books go farther and incorporated art and design into the layout, but even the most minimal of interiors uses a font, and probably has a cover.
Book cover design is its own kind of art. It can be, when done well, its own kind of beautiful. Here are a couple of resources to get you introduced to the possibilities:
Some recent examples at The Book Cover Archive
The Book Cover Archive, “for the appreciation and categorization of excellence in book cover design”. Not only do they post their favorite new book covers, but they also offer up a blog about book design news (it doesn’t update often but I love the very visual aspect of their posts). The whole site is built around the visual so you won’t get too much design discussion but they 1300+ pages of material to scroll through give you an immersion into cover design that can’t be beat. Continue reading →