Monday, 28 September 2009


When I was younger I loved a writer called Philip Ridley and the illustrator who illustrated his kids books Chris Riddell. I read every single one of his witty, hilarious and charming kids books, especially savouring the illustrations which accompanied the text. I've often thought it's a shame that the tradition of illustration in the books we read dies out as we grow older.

One of Ridley's books is called Mighty Fizz Chilla. It is a truly fantastic book and I recommend that you read it even if you are well past your childhood years. However I found when I picked it up that I had one small problem. I hated the cover.

Look away now!

But I loved the book and loved reading it, over and over again. So I covered the cover with a makeshift mask, fashioned out of white printing paper and marked with big red letters reading: DO NOT REMOVE THIS COVER, lest any unsuspecting browser think of doing so.

And then I could read it as much as I wanted, as I waited for Ridley to publish another book. Then I passed the Ridley books onto my little sister, who fell even harder in love with them, and removed the cover because she wasn't a scaredy-cat like me. And now she is the one waiting.


The next book I fell in love with was The Time Traveler's Wife. Often people seem to be scared of admitting this, as with Harry Potter it is not seen to be scholarly enough for a literary person to have enjoyed it. It falls under that dreaded category: chic lit. But I am not going to try to justify why I loved it so much; I just did. Enough to race and weep through it a day, before picking it up the next day and resuming the cycle (to be repeated dozens of times to this day).

As I normally do after I read a book I enjoy, I looked up the writer Audrey Niffenegger. This was her first novel. She was writing another one, and I read all she had written about it, but it wasn't going to be published for a while. So instead I devoured her other work, her art, her graphic novels.

I watched the film which came out of The Time Traveler's Wife a month or so ago, and I hated it. I committed the cardinal sin of not separating a film from the book it is based on, and I knew I was being unfair. But I couldn't help it. Every cell of my body was screaming against it: that's not the way I imagined it! That's not the way it's supposed to be!


Yesterday I had another bad mood. I was still in my pyjamas and hadn't gone outside. Everything which normally puts me in a better mood, I had already done, or couldn't do.

So I decided to walk to the bookshop. This took a lot longer than I expected. Pounding the streets, quickly, quickly, I still found that almost three quarters of an hour had elapsed before I arrived at my destination. I stepped in.

The first thing I saw was a big cardboard bookshelf. On it were displayed several copies of a brand new hardback.

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger.

The long-awaited, much read about, newly published second novel.

I read it as I was walking back; it took me even longer to get home than it had taken me to get there.

As soon as I got home, I examined the book properly. I took the time to read the blurb. I realised that I absolutely hated the cover.

It is a ridiculous photograph of a model dressed in a ridiculous white outfit photoshopped so as to make her appear like twins. Moody backdrop. OK, that sounds a bit irrational. Truthfully, I found it difficult to explain my intense dislike for the cover. As I said, I love illustrations. I love the charm they add to the text, the insight it provides into the writer's imagination and the fire it sparks in my own imagination. I can definitely appreciate this as art:

Etching from Niffenegger's Graphic Novel The Incestuous Sisters

And I definitely can appreciate the creativity of the different fonts Ridley chooses and the drawings of Riddell as art:

Top Left: extract from Ridley's Vinegar Street, Top Right: extract from Ridley's Scribbleboy, Bottom Left: a Riddell illustration in Mighty Fizz Chilla

I'd just like the cover designers to stick to their own job of making the book look pretty and leave the illustrations to the author, the artist and me.

So I took the cover off. It's so much more simple with hardbacks.


  1. A bad cover really can hurt your opinion of a book. Do let us know how the second Niffenegger novel is ...

  2. What a lovely post! I totally agree with the covers, I'm such a snob that I would never ever pick up an edition with the dreaded 'film cover', it somehow taints the writing. Maybe I should start making the paper covers too

  3. I am already a good way in, Sal! Screw the histories of certain countries and set texts I am meant to be reading. It's great.

    And Sarah, oh my god I am SO with you on that one. So pleased I bought Revolutionary Road before the film came out! xx

  4. I've done similar things to magazine covers. Too bad these covers were so offputting!

  5. I will admit to reading and liking both Harry Potter and The Time Travelers Wife. I never saw the TTW film. Sounds like I didn't miss anything.

    I have 3 different editions of the Catcher in the Rye. My favorite is the one with the illustration of the horse.

  6. I have to confess, despite being an English Lit. major, I have always been (and ever will be) one of those people who judges books by their covers! I too share your love of illustration and if a picture is worth so many words then I see no reason why the aesthetic of a story shouldn't accentuate its content!

    That said, one of my favorite illustration books growing up was "Rainbow Fish" mostly because of the water colors and sparkle.