The 10 Best Book Covers of 2011

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We’ve talked about book cover designs — both new and old — quite a lot this year, and it’s no surprise. Being completely obsessed with pop culture as we are, we’re more than a little bit fascinated by covers, since they manage to combine two of our favorite things: literature and design. We’ve been tracking our favorite covers all year, but to get an expert opinion on the topic, we asked illustrator and graphic designer Andrew Henderson, who runs one of our favorite Tumblrs, Lovely Book Covers (tagline: yes, you should judge a book by its cover), to curate this list of the best book covers of 2011. Since he’s based in Scotland, several of Henderson’s choices are from UK or other foreign editions, which we think makes the list all the more interesting. Click through to see his picks for the most evocative, beautiful, and well-designed book covers of the year, and let us know if you agree with his assessments in the comments!

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

There have been few book covers more talked about this year than Chip Kidd’s already iconic design for 1Q84. The hardback makes fantastic use of the medium to create a layered design with the girl’s face printed on the cover below the transparent dust jacket. Kidd, the patron saint of book covers, had this to say about his design: “logistically the title is a book designer’s dream, because its unique four characters so easily adapt it to a very strong, iconic treatment.”

Vault by David Rose

David Pearson is an unbelievable designer whose most notable work has been with the Penguin Great Ideas Series and his epic redesign of Cormac McCarthy’s back catalogue. It was nice to see him break away from series design here with this great, striking cover that seems reminiscent of Berthold Wolpe’s classic work for Faber & Faber. The basic shapes, the depth given by the ribbon and the clean, considered typography all equate to a really memorable design.

Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch

If the 2011 Man Booker Prize winner was judged on cover design alone, Jamrach’s Menagerie would have walked away with the award in a heartbeat. I really can’t get enough of that illustration, and the circus-like typography is a beautiful accompaniment. The cover is by Jonathan Gray (also known professionally as Gray318) for Canongate Books, an independent publisher that has really stepped up to the plate when it comes to book design in the last few years. The cover even seems slightly intimidating, which is a surefire way to ensure your design stays in the mind of those compiling the end of year book cover design lists…

Sete by Alberto Riva

I feel a little lost for words when it come to writing about this cover. From the sepia background to the embossed, considered type, the whole thing just feels so complete. Designed by Manuele Scalia, this Italian cover even gives a nice international feel to the list. I’m not usually taken by images of skulls in creative media — it can come across as a little cliché — but it just works so perfectly here that I couldn’t resist.

Great Apes by Will Self

My original favorite of the new series of Will Self covers was Cock & Bull, but Great Apes has since taken its place. Speaking on his covers, designer Greg Heinimann claimed that “the idea of this organic pool was to try and get across the fluidity of Will’s writing, almost like a petri dish” and that the title font was chosen because he “wanted to use something that would convey the punkiness of his writing, and the descenders and points seem to have that edginess.” He has done a fantastic job of capturing the author’s work while still managing to create one of the most outstanding series designs of recent years.

The Waves by Virginia Woolf

My favorite series design from last year was Coralie Bickford-Smith’s new set of covers for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s backlist, and they were exactly what sprung to mind when I saw this new project by Angus Hyland and Masumi Briozzo at Pentagram. While the Fitzgerald jackets represent the grandeur and the fanciful side of the author’s work, these Woolf covers show the experimental and unconventional nature of her writing. I chose The Waves for this list because I love the flow of the image — it couldn’t be more perfect for the book title — but honorable mentions also go to A Room Of One’s Own and To The Lighthouse.

A Dissertation Upon Roast Pig And Other Essays by Charles Lamb

The Penguin Great Food Series might be the publisher’s best collection yet. It is, arguably, the definitive collection of food literature, featuring twenty books adorned with twenty of 2011’s best covers. The aforementioned Coralie Bickford-Smith worked on the designs with picture editor Samantha Johnson and lettering artist Stephen Raw, and of all the series designs on this list, this was the most difficult to choose a particular favorite from. Whether it’s their wallpaper-inspired backgrounds or their beautiful hand-lettered typography, I just can’t get enough of these books. Ms. Bickford-Smith has said she wanted “these books to be cherished like the literature inside” and I think she will definitely get her wish.

I Was A Dancer by Jacques D’Amboise

I love a cover with a sense of humor. I also love a cover that manages to be both understated and flamboyant at the same time. This design by Jason Booher is a perfect example that sometimes a simple but well executed idea does more than endless detailed line drawings, fancy typography or patterned backgrounds ever could.

Palo Alto by James Franco

When I first found out that James Franco was a published author I was less surprised than I was when I saw how amazing the cover of book was. Released by Faber & Faber in the UK way back in the first week of January, this illustration by Miriam Rosenbloom might seem a little unspectacular at first, but once you see it printed in blue foil I think you’ll reconsider. I really am a sucker for completely hand drawn covers, and this one is no exception.

The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson

Either one of these designs would make a respectable book jacket — but when you throw them together, you get something really special. I don’t think there’s a cover on this list that better captures the mood of its respective book than this one — thankfully, designer Matt Dorfman was lucky enough to get a publisher willing to really go all out with production costs. Dorfman’s thought process behind the design gives the cover yet another dimension: “They sprung for a combination gritty matte finish (which covers the white paper portions of the jacket) and a shiny gloss for the yellow/magenta ‘crazy’ half, thereby giving your sense of touch a noticeable edge if you find yourself blindly scanning your shelf for this book in a dark room (which I have done).”