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Nabokov backlist gets a face lift

The Original of Laura, Vladimir Nabokov’s final work, has just been released. To coincide with its publication, Vintage has commissioned new cover designs for the 21 Nabokov backlist titles to which it owns rights.

Of course, publishers do this kind of repackaging all the time. (HarperCollins Canada recently did likewise for a couple of Douglas Coupland titles.) What makes this particular instance interesting is the way the covers were created. According to print magazine, John Gall, Vintage’s art director, commissioned a number of well-known designers, but told them they had to work within certain parameters:

Gall gave the designers one stipulation: each cover would be a photograph of a specimen box, a nod to Nabokov’s passion for butterfly collecting. Within the framework of the box, and using layers of paper and insect pins, the designers were free to create more or less what they wished. The new versions have been rolled out as existing back stock of old editions are depleted. I thought that using the different designers would be a way to keep people interested in what was coming, Gall says. People stop paying attention after the major books are issued. I wanted them all to be important. So many backlist redesigns just slip themselves onto the bookshelves barely noticed.

The article contains examples of the resulting work, including the covers for the novels Glory and Despair, and the memoir Speak, Memory. One of Quillblog’s favourites is the redesign of The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, which features a stark red, white, and black colour scheme, with an open book “pinned” inside the box.


On the print site, designer Sam Potts explains the rationale behind the cover:

The specimen box was daunting because it’s such a great idea as a frame for the whole series that I was intimidated to come up with something that would serve the series well. The idea of the small book came directly from the novel itself “ it’s the story of the narrator’s pursuit of another author, who is his brother. So the book-within-a-book is embedded in the story itself. Luckily, John liked the idea and we went ahead with it. Hopefully people will see the connection between the splayed book and the way butterflies are splayed in specimen boxes.


November 24th, 2009

3:59 pm

Category: Book news

Tagged with: book design, Vladimir Nabokov