Thinking Inside the Box

One of my favorite afternoon past times is browsing through used book stores. Fortunately, there is one around the corner from me, which helps facilitate this spontaneous idleness. Used book stores are a hit and miss affair. They can have stacks of nothing or you can walk out spending a hundred dollars on a yard of books. In an age of the instant gratification and purchase on Amazon, I suppose this is a large part of their appeal.

Recently, I hit the motherlode. My corner store had a stack of Nabokov books, all of which I have been meaning to read. Nabokov is a bit like Kerouac. Everyone has read Kerouac's On the Road or Nabokov's Lolita. However, most of their other titles are largely ignored by the reading public. That's probably a wise move with Kerouac, but Nabokov's catalog is well worth exploring in depth and it has been on my literary to-do list for years.

So with this treasure trove of books that I've been coveting, what do I do?

Walk away without making a single purchase.

The reason? They were the wrong covers.

I'm hopelessly obsessive about making sure any book I buy has the best cover design for that given title. Vintage Books recently commissioned designer John Gall to redesign the entire Nabokov series of books. The result is a magnificent series of covers, created by multiple designers based around a single theme: a specimen box. Vladimir Nabokov was an avid butterfly collector, and the image of the specimen box forms the visual axis around which the series revolves.

The above example is Paul Sahre's contribution. Twenty-one designers submitted designs based around this construct, the results of which you can see here in their entirety.

Designers as a rule tend to do their best work when given a specific and narrow range of parameters. Give us a white slate with unlimited options, and we tend to be a bit paralyzed with indecision. Provide a focused set of objectives within a specific set of parameters, and we are bound to defy expectation. The Vintage covers does a good job of illustrating this literally and metaphorically.