Designing book covers is an art that would appear uncomplicated at first glance, but look at it another way: how do you tell a 60,000-word story with one image?
I just received four copies of the Japanese edition of COPYBOY from its publisher, Iwanami Shoten of Tokyo. The cover thrilled me. Here are four reasons why:
1. The Mississippi River Bridge at New Orleans, which figures prominently in the story, is barely visible at the top of the cover, but it’s a wonderful replication. The river is extremely wide at that point and the bridge reaches out dramatically at each end to find its foundation. The placement at the top of the cover is perfect.
2. The typewriter in the passenger’s seat, also a key part of the story, brought back a wealth of memories for me. My old Royal typewriter from my teen years –– it had to weigh at least 25 pounds –– perched in that seat beside me on many trips. On some of the trips, I never rolled a sheet of paper in it, but it was always a comfort to have it next to me.
3. I realize this is a detail lost on most, but it rings true for me. The small rearview mirror that you see on the dashboard of the car is exactly like the one in my old Austin-Healey Sprite that I drove to Louisiana from Memphis on several occasions in the 1960s. I don’t know if the artist researched this or not, but the mirror is mounted perfectly — in the exact spot where it was totally useless. I don’t know if this story is true, but someone told me in later years that the car company was forced by the USDOT to put a rearview mirror in the middle of car instead of just on the fenders like the United Kingdom version. I trust the USDOT never tried to use the mirror so mounted.
4. The map that the boy is reading is the key to the cover. Here’s a passage from Chapter 7:
Reading maps was one of my favorite things to do. I liked the idea of knowing that my body was actually at a certain place on the planet Earth but also was at a spot on a paper map that I could put my finger on. I thought of the map as fiction, and my body as nonfiction. Mr. Spiro had told me that often there was more truth in fiction than nonfiction, like there was more truth in a good painting than in a photograph. The more I thought about that, the more right he seemed to be.
Wikipedia says that Iwanami Shoten Publishers was founded in 1913 and is the foremost publisher of scholarly works in Japan. The dictionary the company published in 1955 is said to be the most authoritative in the Japanese language. Did I mention the publisher also creates great covers for its books?