Friday, December 26, 2008

First Among Lincolns

His birthday is still more than a month away, and already the Lincoln books are rolling in like thunder! With what seems to be a new or reissued title coming in almost every day, it's going to be hard for a regular Lincoln reader to choose.
One I already know I'll want to own has finally arrived at the store and... gravely disappointed me. Not the book itself, you understand, it is still a marvelous idea for a book, edited by a very good historian and published by The Library of America, (one of my favorite undertakings in publishing in my lifetime.) But the design of the book jacket -- the thing that most obviously sells a book when there are so many Lincoln books to choose from -- the design of this one is easily among the worst I have ever seen. Ever. Bookseller for more than twenty years, mind you, and I can not remember a worse. Ever.

What am I going on about? The Lincoln Anthology: Great Writers on His Life and Legacy from 1860 to Now, edited by Harold Holzer, published by the Library of America, jacket design by "Doyle Partners," (may they collectively and forever vanish from the face of the Earth. Amen.)

Look at the thing! If you can even see it in the photo. The spine and back covers are a dead white, with the title in black, red and blue. The print otherwise is a fuzzy, eye-straining gray. But all of this, if dull, is surpassed in pure design arrogance by the front cover: a long quote in the unreadable gray with the attribution at the end in blue, in a type so small that I believe it's only other use to date has been on postage stamps. No title, no author, no mention of the name of the man being described -- you know LINCOLN!

This is the kind of idiotic, anti-commercial, amuse-the-darlings-in-graphics design is usually reserved in publishing for the catalogues of performance artists and the like. And here it is on a potentially great anthology about Lincoln.

Still, I'll be buying the book. But, for perhaps the first time ever, I may actually have to throw the dust jacket away, or at least cover it with a brown-paper grocery-bag. Anything would be better than this constant reminder of good books on great subjects undone by marketing -- ahem -- tools.

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