To all those who say, ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’, here’s a question. Have you ever browsed a bookstore (in that nostalgic time before Kindles become commonplace) and picked up a book simply because you liked its cover? Chances are you did so, more than once.
Book covers are a fascinating piece of art that try to distil the essence of an entire book via design. And sometimes the results are exceptionally spectacular. Here are some such spectacular examples in one convenient slideshow:
1. The Great Gatsby
F Scott Fitzgerald’s Depression-era classic deserves a cover that evokes the opulence and charm of lead protagonist, Jay Gatsby. This edition by Penguin captures the spirit of the novel perfectly.
2. The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay
This sexually charged cover tells story of ace photographer Karan Seth, whose disenchantment with Mumbai’s grimy underbelly of sex, crime and politics forces him to leave, only to be lured back (much like the flamingos who keep coming back to Sewri mudflats every year) by old loves. This sexually charged story might not be Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi’s best though.
3. A Million Little Pieces
The autobiography might have been outed as one big lie, but the cover of James Frey’s book perfectly captures a body’s breakup after being subjected to crack addiction for three years and alcohol addiction for 10 years. The cover becomes crystal-clear, literally, once you complete reading it.
4. The Catcher In The Rye
The first-edition cover of JD Salinger’s literary masterpiece, created by E Michael Mitchell, captures the angst and rebellion of its central character, Holden Caulfield, in a way no other edition has so far
5. Atlas Shrugged
The image of a kneeling golden man, sculpted to perfection by Nick Gateno for Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, is one of the most recognisable of all time. You will have to get through the tome that this book is to fully appreciate the cover art though.
6. The Godfather
The minimalistic puppeteer cover art created by S Neil Fujita for Mario Puzo’s book became so popular that it carried over onto the movie poster as well.
7. A Suitable Boy
One of the longest books in the English language, Vikram Seth’s novel is based on the Indian tradition of groom-hunting. This story of Mrs Mehra’s quest to find a suitable boy finds the perfect allegory in the ‘wedding flowers’ that decorate the cover of its 20th anniversary edition.
8. The Little Prince
Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s novella is one of the best-selling books ever published. The novella’s cover, too, has benefitted and become one of the most recognised artwork of all time. The book, which has been illustrated by the author, tells the story of a pilot stranded in a desert and his meeting with a young prince who has fallen off an asteroid and landed on Earth. The cover makes a whole lot of sense now, doesn’t it?
9. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Hunter S Thompson’s most famous book introduced the world to his typical gonzo style of journalism. The supressed violence of this story of illegal drug use and the failure of the 1960s countercultural movement is beautifully captured on the cover.
10. The Palace of Illusions
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni retells the Mahabharata from Draupadi’s perspective in The Palace of Illusions, and the green palace on the cover depicts the one she owned after marrying the Pandavas. Definitely an apt introduction to this acclaimed book.
11. The Grapes Of Wrath
John Steinbeck’s classic chronicles the dust bowl migration of the 1930s in America during The Great Depression, and its original cover has remained timeless over the 75 years since it was first published.
12. Kafka On The Shore
Surrealism takes on new meanings with every Haruki Murakami book. None more so than in Kafka On the Shore where fish rain down and cats share as much importance in the story as humans. An apt cover this one, then.
13. The Museum Of Innocence
Orhan Pamuk’s novel is much more than a simple love story set in Istanbul in the 70s and 80s. Yet you can glimpse a part of the story’s joie de vivre on its cover.
14. Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure
This is Sarah Macdonald’s story of settling in India and dealing with the chaos, confusion and contradictions the country has to offer, something that the book’s cover, with a sunglass-wearing Shiva, captures quite eloquently.
Marjane Satrapi established herself as one of the world’s foremost graphic artistes and opened a new window to the world by depicting her growing up years during the Islamic Revolution in Tehran – all of which is beautifully summarised in the cover art of her book Persepolis.
16. The Reluctant Fundamentalist
The cover art poignantly captures the inner turmoil faced by Changez, a Pakistani man who returns to his homeland in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. A quietly powerful story, filled with the right tone and ironic situations, this Mohsin Hamid book was rightly acclaimed upon release.
JM Coetzee’s Booker prize-winning novel has an unforgettable image of a dog along a village road on its cover. Seen as an allegory of post-Apartheid South Africa, the novel is a must-read.
18. One Hundred Years Of Solitude
The dreamy world conjured by Gabriel Garcia Marquez finds a perfect depiction in this grassy cover that simply implores you to grab the book and explore Macondo, the fictional town where the Buendia family’s story is set.
19. The Color Purple
Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book tells the tale of African-American women and the graphic violence that they endured in rural Georgia in the 1930s. Designed to evoke a sense of poignancy this cover shows one such woman, from the legs down, standing in a garden of flowers. This graphically violent novel grabs you by the throat and leaves you rooting for these brave women who endured so much.
Jeet Thayil’s non-linear narrative style and multiple references to opium and its hallucinatory effects are stylishly captured on the cover of his debut novel.
21. Nine Lives
It might be clichéd, but the cover of this William Dalrymple book captures the essence and vibrancy of religion and traditions in India to the T. We reckon it’s one of his best book covers yet.
22. The Hungry Tide
Amitav Ghosh’s searing book on the Sunderbans couldn’t have asked for a better cover than this.
23. On The Road
Jack Kerouac’s book, which introduced the Beat Generation to the world, is best depicted in this cover that gives a quick intro to the author’s work.
24. Panther’s Moon and Other Stories
Can we just say that this book has the best cover illustration of any Ruskin Bond’s works?
25. The Motorcycle Diaries
A defining account of Che Guevara’s life, The Motorcycle Diaries is one of those rare books that has adopted the much better looking movie poster for its cover.
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