Great Representations: 11 Book Covers


It is said that readers shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. However, books such as Nicole Matthews’ and Nickianne Moody’s Judging a Book by its Cover (2007) suggest that covers have more significance than we acknowledge. In a time when brand authors and branded books are becoming commonplace, it is always refreshing to see a bit of thought put into the cover of a book. Below are a few of the more intriguing, clever book covers from literature that utilise an aspect or theme from the story itself, while others are just simply amusing.

There are very many sexually-suggestive covers for this infamous book, whose first edition was simply a blank hardback. This cover from Corgi Books ads a touch of humour to a story renowned for its lyricism and dark humour.

This playful yet subtle cover designed by Jamie Keenan explores the theme of innocence, uncertainty and deception.

Like the aforementioned Lolita cover, this Picador edition of Thomas Pynchon’s complex epic Gravity’s Rainbow plays up to the sexual, destructive nature of the book.

One of the strangest postmodern novels (although there is great competition), Ballard’s Crash features the psychological fetish known as symphorophilia, which describes the sexual gratification one gets when participating in a car crash. There are several book covers that explore the fusion of sex and cars, but this seemed the most creative and inventive.

If ever there was a novel to entice one to learn the piano, this work by Anthony Burgess would have to be at the top of the list. Better known for A Clockwork Orange, Burgess infuses the work with dark humour and poetic language. The cover on the left brilliantly details the sexual/musical nature of the book, while the right cover is even more ‘playful’, (though a rarer edition).

Italo Calvino’s mise-en-abyme, or novel-within-a-novel, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller, is an extraordinary work of postmodern experimentation and metafiction, rivalled only by his other masterful Invisible Cities. The above edition evidently displays the self-referential traits of the book.

Granta’s 110th issue, ‘Sex’, features Roberto Bolano’s fantastic, frank, profanity-laden short story The Redhead. The cover’s photograph is taken by Billie Segal, and is expertly suggestive, yet functional, and altogether deceptively innocent.

Considered the fundamental novel of the Jazz Age, this old cover of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby captures the hedonistic yet hollow nature of the flapper generation. The Y used as the cocktail glass adds more depth as a metaphor for the simultaneous materialism and loss of self that Gatsby encounters.

A concept design, this edition of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 has cleverly been made to mimic a matchbox, with the spine of the book resembling the striking surface. While most designs of this book are obvious and predictable, this one is much more subtle and creative in its suggestion of fire, although it is not available for purchase.

Borges’ Labyrinths seemed almost too obvious, and there are a few covers that feature a requisite, predictable maze. This one at least seemed to be a bit more original in its approach, not simply depicting an ordinary maze, but rather a hall of mirrors, something much more confounding in order to do justice to Borges’ stories and essays.

This complete and unabridged work is that of George Orwell’s 1984. Featuring censorship, Big Brother, and dystopia, many covers rely on the obvious, with most depicting an ominous eye. This cover goes one step further and incorporates the actual element or illusion of censorship.

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