5 January 11 | Chad W. Post

Over at Imprint there’s an interview with me, Nathan Furl, and E.J. Van Lanen on Open Letter, in particular our book design. J. C. Gabel of the excellent Stop Smiling magazine and books put this all together.

Here’s a bit from Nate and E.J. about our covers:

What immediately struck me about Open Letter Books was its strong yet minimal visual presence. Was there a conscious decision, early on, to make these books objects as well as books? And what were the major influences when it came time to flesh out how the catalog should look and feel?

Nathan Furl: Independent of any design, production, and marketing choices, printed books will always be objects, whether you care or not, so it’s really a question of how much attention you pay to those objects you’re making. For us, we knew early on that we’d like to give the books, as well as the larger personality of Open Letter, some sort of cohesive look—a family of materials and an identity that somehow all make sense together and, hopefully, that do a service to the books, the content, and the press as an entity. It’s not an uncommon idea, but I think it’s a great one for smaller publishers, especially, because it takes advantage of their nimbleness in order to achieve something that feels larger than any of the individual parts. As it turned out, successfully creating and agreeing upon that look for our first season was a real challenge. Eventually, we turned to a fantastic designer named Milan Bozic, who was a friend of E.J.’s. Milan built the foundation of our look by designing the covers for our first two seasons. With that difficult piece in place, we’ve been been working hard at it ever since. (I’ve designed a handful of covers, as well as all the interiors, catalogues, posters, etc., which we aim to fit within our larger personality, too. And, over the past season, E.J. has been designing nearly all of our the newest covers.) I should mention, too, that creating a whole visual identity for us isn’t a goal in itself. The point of all this, first and foremost, is to use any tools at our disposal to get English-language readers excited about international literature and to get our books into as many people’s hands as we can.

E.J. Van Lanen: There was definitely a conscious decision to think about the books as objects. There’s something that Dave Eggers said once that I really felt applied to us, and I’m paraphrasing, and misremembering, but when he was asked about the design of the McSweeney’s books, he said that they wanted their books to not only win readers in the bookstores, but to win on people’s bookshelves too–to be irresistible once they’re home. It’s one thing to get there, and it’s something else again to get picked up and read.

So we had this sort of idea from the outset. Our first decision on that front was to do our books paper-over-board, which is pretty common in a lot of book markets around the world, but isn’t so prevalent here, with the idea that this would be a way to stand out from the crowd. And we did; but it didn’t last, unfortunately, because although we were selling the books at paperback prices, people tended to think that the books would be expensive. It’s a hardcover format, and the natural tendency, after years of training by big publishers, is to expect hardcovers to cost thirty dollars. Maybe one day we’ll go back to that format, but I think the designs we have work really well on paperback as well.

For the look, we were really fortunate to work with a great designer, Milan Bozic, who works for HarperCollins, to develop the designs for our first 12 books. We wanted to have a look that would feel coherent from one book to the next, so that eventually our books would have some sort of Open Letter-ish feel to them, but we didn’t want to do something so rigid that we’d get bored with it or be trapped in a format that wasn’t really working or that we didn’t like. We also knew we didn’t want to use any photographs, nor could we afford to pay an illustrator. So, we sent Milan these parameters, which on reflection sound pretty limiting, along with descriptions of the books and a few ideas for images and asked him to see what he could do. Of the first six designs he proposed, I think three or four—The Pets, The Taker, Nobody’s Home—had this bold, sparse, graphical feel to them. And although they’re very different designs, they felt as though they somehow belonged together, I suppose because they all came from Milan and this was a mood he was in at the time. We asked him to continue on in this direction, and after the first 12 books were published, the mold had been set. Milan is far, far too busy for us now, and, frankly we couldn’t afford to pay him what he really deserves, but because the original notion was so strong, and so flexible, we’ve been able to approximate that look, with varying success to be sure, in his absence.

Click here to read the full piece and to see some Really Big jpgs of our covers.


Comments are disabled for this article.
....
The Odyssey
The Odyssey by Homer
Reviewed by Peter Constantine

Now goddess, child of Zeus,
tell the old story for our modern times.

–(The Odyssey, Book I, line 10. Emily Wilson)

In literary translation of works from other eras, there are always two basic tasks that a translator needs. . .

Read More >

I Remember Nightfall
I Remember Nightfall by Marosa di Giorgio
Reviewed by Talia Franks

I Remember Nightfall by Marosa di Giorgio (trans. From the Spanish by Jeannine Marie Pitas) is a bilingual poetry volume in four parts, consisting of the poems “The History of Violets,” “Magnolia,” “The War of the Orchards,” and “The Native. . .

Read More >

Joyce y las gallinas
Joyce y las gallinas by Anna Ballbona
Reviewed by Brendan Riley

This review was originally published as a report on the book at New Spanish Books, and has been reprinted here with permission of the reviewer. The book was originally published in the Catalan by Anagrama as Joyce i les. . .

Read More >

Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World
Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World by Ella Frances Sanders
Reviewed by Kaija Straumanis

Hello and greetings in the 2017 holiday season!

For those of you still looking for something to gift a friend or family member this winter season, or if you’re on the lookout for something to gift in the. . .

Read More >

The Size of the World
The Size of the World by Branko Anđić
Reviewed by Jaimie Lau

Three generations of men—a storyteller, his father and his son—encompass this book’s world. . . . it is a world of historical confusion, illusion, and hope of three generations of Belgraders.

The first and last sentences of the first. . .

Read More >

Island of Point Nemo
Island of Point Nemo by Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès
Reviewed by Katherine Rucker

The Island of Point Nemo is a novel tour by plane, train, automobile, blimp, horse, and submarine through a world that I can only hope is what Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès’s psyche looks like, giant squids and all.

What. . .

Read More >

The Truce
The Truce by Mario Benedetti
Reviewed by Adrianne Aron

Mario Benedetti (1920-2009), Uruguay’s most beloved writer, was a man who loved to bend the rules. He gave his haikus as many syllables as fit his mood, and wrote a play divided into sections instead of acts. In his country,. . .

Read More >

I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World
I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World by Kim Kyung Ju
Reviewed by Jacob Rogers

Kim Kyung Ju’s I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World, translated from the Korean by Jake Levine, is a wonderful absurdist poetry collection. It’s a mix of verse and prose poems, or even poems in the. . .

Read More >

Kingdom Cons
Kingdom Cons by Yuri Herrera
Reviewed by Sarah Booker

Yuri Herrera is overwhelming in the way that he sucks readers into his worlds, transporting them to a borderland that is at once mythical in its construction and powerfully recognizable as a reflection of its modern-day counterpart. Kingdom Cons, originally. . .

Read More >

The Invented Part
The Invented Part by Rodrigo Fresán
Reviewed by Tiffany Nichols

Imagine reading a work that suddenly and very accurately calls out you, the reader, for not providing your full attention to the act of reading. Imagine how embarrassing it is when you, the reader, believe that you are engrossed in. . .

Read More >

The next few events from our Translation Events Calendar: See More Events >