One of the most anticipated books of the year has to be Murakami Haruki’s (or Haruki Murakami’s) 1Q84, an epically long book that Random House is bringing out in October.1 And to warm up the publicity machine, they just released an image of the cover and a blog post from Chip Kidd discussing the design.
Logistically the title is a book designer’s dream, because its unique four characters so easily adapt it to a very strong, iconic treatment. The plot follows two seemingly unconnected stories that eventually weave together. The first involves a woman named Aomame, who in the opening scene finds herself descending a service staircase off a busy elevated highway in Tokyo to escape a traffic jam. Once she gets to the bottom and out onto ground level, she eventually comes to believe that she has entered an alternate reality, one only slightly different than what she had known. She refers to this new dimension in her mind as 1Q84 (the book takes place in 1984 and in Japanese ‘Q’ sounds just like ‘9′), with the Q standing for “Question Mark. A world that bears a question.” This concept becomes one of the novel’s major themes.
Upon reading the manuscript, it soon occurred to me that the duality of Aomame’s situation could be represented by an interaction of the book’s jacket with the binding/cover underneath. By using a semi-transparent vellum for the jacket, and printing the woman’s image in a positive/negative scheme with the title on the outside layer and the rest of her on the binding, once the jacket is wrapped around the book it ‘completes’ the picture of her face. But something odd is definitely going on, and before the reader even reads a word, he or she is forced to consider the idea of someone going from one plane of existence to another.
1 Now I’m not going to tell the largest publisher in America how to do their job, but please please please please please don’t publish this as a straightforward run-of-the-mill hardcover. This isn’t Stieg Larsson or Suze Orman—it’s a book that could be a major cultural event. And not only is the idea of paying $30 for a large, unwieldy tome totally insane, it’s also incredibly passé, as demonstrated by the genius marketing of 2666. I’m guessing you—the anthropomorphized version of an inanimate, heartless corporation that exists in my mind—are thinking that your “mature” readers will shell out way too much of their retirement income to read this “serious literary work they heard about on The NPR,” whereas the hipsters will download the $15 ebook and show off their iPads by flipping imaginary pages and posing in subway stations. And sure, you may well be right. But that’s totally irrelevant. What matters here is long-term image management. You don’t want to be “that dinosaur press” anymore, do you? I mean, you must know we all laugh behind your back at parties about how out-of-touch you are with your non-musty offices and your corporate stationary. Book publishing isn’t about money, it’s about showing off how smart you are and about creating intellectual objects that other people crave. Will I read 1Q84 when it comes out? For sure. But if it’s in a multi-volume form housed in a cardboard slipcase, I’ll read it in public. Rather than completely concede to the advent of e-everything, it would be a public service to the last remaining readers if you gave us all an object that we could cherish. An object that is inherently cooler (in a retro way) than the iPad. Instead of having Chip Kidd just design the cover, give him the opportunity to create a stunning object. Or don’t. I’m sure you’ll still make enough profit off this to feel justified. Justified, but incredibly empty on the inside.
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