Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Cover Art of J.D. Salinger

I read The Catcher in the Rye for the first time when I was about 21. My copy of this book is white with black type, and colored bands going off the corner. I bought Franny and Zooey in the book store at UofL, and later, bought Raise High The Roofbeams, Carpenters, and Seymour an Introduction, and found an old copy of Nine Stories in a box of old books that used to belong to my aunt. All of them except for nine stories have the distinctive design.

When I thought about the reasons for designing these books, I always pictured this particular edition, being designed with schools in mind. No fancy covers, no great designs, because school children were forced to read this book, and it wa one of the best known books out there, so why waste time with graphic design when a white cover with black text will suffice?

Later, after I ran out of Salinger written books to read, I did some internet research into the life of Salinger, and his work. I had read somewhere that the true reason his book covers had no images on them was that pictures give you preconceived notions about the story before you read it. Salinger essentially thought that most people-although warned against it-judged books by their covers.

I believe he was on to something with that. Imagine if Holden Caulfield was on the cover staring you right in the face. Would he still be the likable anti-hero that he is in the book now? Without seeing who he is or what he looks like, he can be anyone, and to me, part of the appeal of Holden Caulfield is that he can do the things that I cannot. Holden shares in some of the misanthropy, and simultaneous loneliness that everyone feels at some point.

Apparently early copies of the book seem to go down the route of putting a descriptive image to the books cover. In the image below we see Phoebe and Holden at the Carousel, a scene which takes place at the end of the book. Aside from the fact that the reader is now told what these characters look like, it could be assumed that now the reader will be looking for the carousel.

Those are all old editions though. The only J.D. Salinger book that I have ever seen in real life that had some sort of image on it followed the same carousel theme. It depicts a horse in red, yellow and cream colors. This edition seems to have started showing up more and more as the standard cover for Salinger's classic.The fact that the carousel was important enough for the cover, could also make readers focus so much on the meaning of the carousel, that they focus less on other aspects of the book.

I don't know where to fall on the subject of whether the covers to Salinger's books should be left blank, or should be designed better. On the one hand, I love a well designed package. A good design sells, and it gives an extra something special to the beholder, I love to physically own CD's for the same reason.

I suppose in the end though, I must show solidarity with the creator of the work. The artist's say in his creation is a very special thing that should not be tampered with, I mean look at what happened to American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis. Ellis' novel was turned into a movie, which was fine. What was not so fine, was that the movie spawned a sequel called American Psycho 2. If Salinger wants blank covers, then Salinger gets blank covers. I guess that is what fan art is for.

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