Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Wednesday Jacket Changes in Paperback--Amy Grace Lord, Scott Turow, Fannie Flagg, Tash Aw, Simon Van Booy, Jayne Anne Phillips.

Today I am highlighting a few recent paperback reprints. Some changed a lot, while others not much at all. I have a tendency to go on a high horse about paperback changes for no reason, so I had to remind myself that many jackets stay pretty much the same, and others change for a perfectly good reason.

 Here, for example, is The Affairs of Others, by Amy Grace Lord. The book received a Lambda Literary Award nomination for debut fiction, but I must admit that some awards have so many categories that I just bleep out everything after best novel and best nonfiction work, or the equivalent. It's the story of a young widow who used the insurance money to buy a small apartment building in Brooklyn, only problems with several tenants threaten to envelope her in their messiness.

The book was reviewed everywhere, and got an A- from Entertainment Weekly, which I event subscribe to in hard copy, and yes. Jess Walter called The Affairs of Others "a wonderful novel, beautifully written and sensuous, rich with emotion and psychological truth. Amy Grace Loyd's prose hums with desire as she creates a Brooklyn walk-up that comes alive with the yearning of its tenants and moves them toward an unforgettable ending--suspenseful, erotic, and ultimately hopeful." The only change to the jacket in paperback was the addition of some quotes in the stylistic window panes.

I'm always interested in changing art for paperback. It's my assumption that if the book moves to another imprint within the publishing house with a different art director, the cover will likely change. If the book is a huge success, it's less likely to change in paperback, though a very simple type cover has more pressure to call out on a new release table. And then again, if the book is a huge failure, the next step up from not releasing at all in paperback (happens more often than you'd think in the modern age) is sending it out with the same cover--why put the effort into a revamp. This is why I think there was something to be said for selling paperback rights, but on the downside, it led to the practice of not listing an author's previous works in the paperback edition, unless it was published by the same house (whereas in a hardcover, you tend to always list the previous works).

I have found that Hachette is one of those houses who changes a paperback jacket when they have reason to, but seem more likely to hold onto an idea that they like. The jackets for Identical, the recent novel from Scott Turow, are also pretty much identical. This is a thriller about twin brother's in fictional Kindle County (a now ironically named place, considering that Amazon is likely suppressing its sales in the name of negotiation, but this Yoknapatawpha was coined many books ago in Turow's literary universe), one a politician and the other an ex-con, and this is where one of you makes a cheap joke. I guess that the publisher decided that the book did well enough and the image conveyed the message. My one complaint is the quote on the paperback: "Turow is always a pleasure to read" from The Washington Post.  Why bother with such a milquetoast recommendation?

I'll tell you what I miss. Remember when a successful hardcover would be followed up by a paperback, always a mass market, with multiple jacket designs. I don't know what the world record is, but four wasn't unusual. Often it was just a different color. Honestly the last trade paperback I can remember with multiple jackets was No One Belongs Here More Than You, Miranda July's wonderful short story collection from way back in 2007 (with the paperback out in 2008). Can you remember anything more recent?

This Fannie Flagg paperback for The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion reminds me of this, as they kept the cover image and layout, but changed the background cover from blue to red. Why do this? Are they thinking people would be confused otherwise, even though there's a price difference and, not to be too obvious, but a paperback jacket. But they kept the Norman Rockwell-ish art, which says "we know who this customer is and we're not messing with it." If someone came into Boswell jazzed about Fannie Flagg, I might recommend Jana Bibi's Excellent Fortunes, from Betsy Woodman, whom we're hosting on Friday, September 12, and we're experimenting with a daytime event too.

Once again, I'm not sure how I feel about the use of The New York Times quote, "Fannie Flagg is a born storyteller." Publishers do two things that drive me crazy about quotes. First of all, they never include the author of the quote, just the newspaper or magazine it came from. I find this really strange, because at the same time, they really push us to acknowledge the photographer in author photos--doesn't it seem that acknowledging the writer to be the equivalent courtesy? And the other thing that drives me crazy is they don't ever mention what book was being reviewed. This quote could be for Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, which came out in 1987. Heck, it could be from one of her appearances on Match Game '75. She was charming in both, honestly.

The new novel, Five Star Billionaire  had a type treatment in hardcover, a publisher (the Random House division of Penguin Random House) that does like to switch up paperbacks, and enough momentum to invest in attracting a new audience.  In addition to being long-listed for the Man Booker, it made several best-of-the-year lists, including one on NPR. It's likely recommended by a person at NPR and not the network itself (see above), but this isnt' worth chasing down. It was also on my sister Claudia's best-of list for last year, and since I'm currently visiting her at the moment, it made sense to feature this titlle. I think the jacket is great, with a hip Shanghai-at-night vibe, don't you think?

Pico Iyer gave the book a strong review in Time magazine (currently not linkable to my knowledge, these things change weekly) who wrote "As Aw orchestrates the overlapping of his lost souls, the story comes to acquire the mirrored complexity of its setting. No one knows who anyone is—not even themselves—and when one character reveals himself as a (real) celebrity, he’s taken to be the most shameless fake of all. And because Aw’s polyphonic structure shows us every character as they look to themselves, and as they’re seen by others, we teeter at every moment on the gap between reality and appearance." Now there's a quote to put on a jacket, right?

Here are the hardcover and paperback jackets for The Illusion of Separateness. I suspect the publisher had a bit of trouble with this one. I was pretty sure the jacket wouldn't make the transformation t paperback, and honestly, I wasn't wedded to it, plus that aqua color is currently associated with summer comedies like Where'd You Go, Bernadette? and The Vacationers. The image and type on the cover do not say comedy, and much as I think it is a bit cliched, the child-on-the-beach image conveys that Little Bee sort of vibe, without the silhouette, which still hasn't gone away as a design trope.
We can't talk about paperback reprints without talking about the transformation of

There was a transitional cover that Sharon and I saw, and I think we agree that the final jacket is better, but I'm not sure who the woman is (the blind curator? I'm sure Sharon will know) and I'm not sure it conveys the sense of wonder that comes with reading this rather magical story. Yeah, that's a not-so-subtle way of saying Van Booy is coming on September 30. I'm looking forward to re-reading the book again for our book club discussion on August 25. And here's Jessica Lasko's Wall Street Journal review if you need a little more persuasion.

And finally, here's Jayne Anne Phillips' Quiet Dell, a historical novel about a real predator from the 1930s who prayed upon widows, first stealing their savings after which he killed them. The story follows Asta Eicherand her children, lured in to this terrible trap, but it also follows a journalist who covered the story, a fictional character named Emily Thornhill, who covered the story for the Chicago Herald Tribune. Mark Lawson in the (UK) Guardian called this "an absorbing and captivating retelling of the birth of one force for good – female empowerment – and of another progressvely destructive trend: scandalous and disproportionate reporting of crime."

In this case, I can see why the changes were made in this jacket for the paperback. That hardcover image is trying to convey the historical origins of the story, but it does a better job of just seeming creepy. Are these the dead victims, gathered together as ghosts, floating in West Virginia? The paperback jacket's empty swing conveys the creepiness in a more straightforward way--we know what we're getting into.  That hardcover image isn't just creepy; it's a bit bizarre as well.

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