The Art and Business of Book Covers

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As I read more online, and since my physical shelf space has dramatically shrunk, I wonder: what makes an eye-catching, effective book cover? Which books will make the final cut?

Here are pieces I’ve enjoyed, new and old, about the art and business of book cover design… More at Longreads.

Possibly more than in any other industry, it is ironic that the age-old analogy of ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’ is exactly what happens when it comes to books.

With music, you tend to know what artists you want to look for in a record store and the cover of the CD or album means little to your purchase decision. With books, however, the opposite is true because besides from looking for books from your favourite authors, it is the cover that makes it stand out above all of the others on the shelf.

Real books up, eBooks down

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Figures released today by the Publishers Association shows that 2016 was a record breaking year for the publishing industry with sales of books and journals reaching £4.8bn, their highest ever level.

Highlights include:

Overall digital sales up 6% to £1.7bn despite a continuation of the drop in eBook sales down 3%
Physical sales up by 8% to £3bn on last year rising to the highest level since 2012
Europe remains the largest export market accounting for 35% of exports. More at The Publishers Association.

We expect trends to move is expected directions in the tech world, but I for one did not expect eBook sales to drop and paper books to become more popular.

I suspect that the pricing of eBooks is one factor and I am often surprised at the cost of eBooks, especially when they are priced at a higher level than the paper equivalent. Also, when I speak to people about eBooks, they almost always say that they like reading on paper and want to get away from screens. The fact that devices like the Kindle offer a non-screen experience does not matter.

Books are special to the majority and it could be that this is the one hold-out in a world where music became streamed and films became files. I guess I struggle with the idea because I have been reading eBooks for 2 decades now and I could never go back.

Day One / Book

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Day One has helped millions of people worldwide easily capture life as they live it. To help you preserve and share these memories, we’re pleased to introduce Day One Book.

Beautiful design
Maps and stats for added insights
Full-color photo printing
High-quality paper and coating material
Customizable covers and content
Simple ordering process
Affordable pricing
Flexible amount of pages (400 page max)

Great idea, but more importantly the end product looks splendid.

Climate change’s worst case scenarios

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Climate change has become a major focus in recent decades, and while 120 nations across the world ratified the Paris Agreement a year ago, significant challenges remain in the years and decades to come. Which is to say that to think about climate science is to think seriously and passionately about the future.

Of course one group that keeps a close eye on what the future might hold for civilization are science fiction authors. For decades, they have used the idea of a changing climate in their stories, extrapolating the latest scientific evidence into tale of how humanity is coping (or not) with rising sea levels and temperatures.

We’ve collected eight stories that explore climate science and what the future could hold for us… More at The Verge.

I love these kinds of books and have picked a couple to add to my reading list, which will take until I am 90 years old to read at the going rate.

Hidden Figures

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Before John Glenn orbited Earth or Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon, a group of dedicated female mathematicians known as -human computers- used pencils, slide rules, and adding machines to calculate the numbers that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space.

Among these problem-solvers were a group of exceptionally talented African American women, some of the brightest minds of their generation. Originally relegated to teaching math in the South’s segregated public schools, they were called into service during the labor shortages of World War II, when America’s aeronautics industry was in dire need of anyone who had the right stuff. Suddenly, these overlooked math whizzes had a shot at jobs worthy of their skills, and they answered Uncle Sam’s call, moving to Hampton, Virginia, and entering the fascinating, high-energy world of the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory.

Even as Virginia’s Jim Crow laws required them to be segregated from their white counterparts, the women of Langley’s all-black -West Computing- group helped America achieve one of the things it desired most: a decisive victory over the Soviet Union in the Cold War, and complete domination of the heavens.

Starting in World War II and moving through to the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Space Race, Hidden Figures follows the interwoven accounts of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden, four African American women who participated in some of NASA’s greatest successes. It chronicles their careers over nearly three decades as they faced challenges, forged alliances, and used their intellect to change their own lives and their country’s future… More at Amazon.

My reading list is filling up fast.

New York 2140

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Over the course of his career, Kim Stanley Robinson has written some of the best known — and most plausible — works of science fiction: Red Mars, 2312, and Aurora, just to name a few. Robinson’s books are incredibly detailed, chock-full of realistic science, and almost always carry with them a relevant message about the present.

In his latest novel, New York 2140, Robinson takes a look at the future of the planet as sea levels rise due to a warming climate and the changes civilization needs to make in order to survive. It’s surreal to be reading this book right now, especially against the backdrop of the Trump administration’s dismissal of the dangers that climate change poses. There’s already a number of fairly bleak novels out there about the affects of climate change. (Look no further than Paolo Bacigalupi’s excellent novels The Windup Girl and The Water Knife.) But Robinson’s book feels like the most optimistic take on our future yet. Sure, the water levels will rise, the Earth is going through a mass extinction event, and a lot of people will die as a result, but when things get really bad, society, he seems to suggest, can still manage to survive… More at The Verge.

That’s on my reading list.

Amazon just killed Pocket and Instapaper

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The quiet update that Amazon made to its iOS Kindle app took me by surprise because it is a feature I have wanted for a long time.

Pocket and Instapaper make great jobs of presenting long articles on phones and tablets in easy to read ways and they have been firm app friends, but there has always been something missing. The ability to easily transfer long articles to read on my Paperwhite has involved using the Amazon extension on my desktop and even paid services in the past, but now I can transfer these articles to my reading cloud with one tap and they will appear on my iPhone and Paperwhite ready to read. They will synchronise at all times and the Kindle app just ate 2 icons on my iPhone which no longer need to be used.

The presentation is comparable to Instapaper and with my books also residing on the iOS app or my Paperwhite, there is always a sense of continuity.

It could be argued that Amazon is using its position to kill off the competition, but in this case I jumped at the chance to use just one app for 99% of my reading and it works superbly.

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This Book Left Me in Tears

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When Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2013, he was a 36-year-old on the verge of making big contributions to the world with his mind and hands. He was a gifted doctor—a chief resident in neurosurgery at Stanford just months away from completing the most grueling training of any clinical field. He was also a brilliant scientist. His postdoctoral research on gene therapy won him his field’s highest research award.

As if that wasn’t enough, he was also a great writer. Before attending medical school, he earned two degrees in English literature from Stanford and gave serious consideration to pursuing writing as a full-time career… More at gatesnotes.

On my reading list.

Terms and Conditions by R. Sikoryak

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Suspect that the vast majority of you have not read the iTunes Terms and Conditions (Neil may have), but even I may be able to get through the text given how creatively R. Sikoryak has presented it.

For his newest project, R. Sikoryak tackles the monstrously and infamously dense legal document, iTunes Terms and Conditions, the contract everyone agrees to but no one reads. In a word for word 94-page adaptation, Sikoryak hilariously turns the agreement on its head – each page features an avatar of Apple cofounder and legendary visionary Steve Jobs juxtaposed with a different classic strip such as Mort Walker’s Beatle Bailey, or a contemporary graphic novel such as Craig Thompson’s Blankets or Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis.

Adapting the legalese of the iTunes Terms and Conditions into another medium seems like an unfathomable undertaking, yet Sikoryak creates a surprisingly readable document, far different from its original, purely textual incarnation and thus proving the accessibility and flexibility of comics. When Sikoryak parodies Kate Beaton’s Hark A Vagrant peasant comics with Steve Jobs discussing objectionable material or Homer Simpson as Steve Jobs warning of the penalties of copyright infringement, Terms and Conditions serves as a surreal record of our modern digital age where technology competes with enduringly ironclad mediums.

The Origins of the White Collar Worker

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They labored in poorly lit, smoky single rooms, attached to merchants and lawyers, to insurance concerns and banks. They had sharp penmanship and bad eyes, extravagant clothes but shrunken, unused bodies, backs cramped from poor posture, fingers callused by constant writing. When they were not thin, angular, and sallow, they were ruddy and soft; their paunches sagged onto their thighs.

Clerks were once a rare subject in literature. Their lives were considered unworthy of comment, their workplaces hemmed in and small, their work indescribably dull. And yet one of the greatest of short stories is about a clerk. In “Bartleby, the Scrivener” (1853), Herman Melville, who had become famous for writing memoirs and novels about spectacular sea voyages to exotic islands—gaining a readership he eventually lost with that strange, long book about a whaling voyage—decided to turn inward, to the snug, suffocating world of the office. The titanic hunt for the white whale was exchanged for the hunt for the right-sized pen. And for finding the right position to sit at a desk: “If, for the sake of easing his back, he brought the table lid at a sharp angle well up towards his chin, and wrote there like a man using the steep roof of a Dutch house for his desk, then he declared that it stopped the circulation in his arms. If now he lowered the table to his waistbands, and stooped over it in writing, then there was a sore aching in his back.” More at Longreads.

After reading that, I think I need to buy the book.