As the associate art director of Alfred A. Knopf Books, Peter Mendelsund has designed the jackets for hundreds of books ranging from best sellers such as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to works by Joyce, Kafka, Dostoevsky, de Beauvoir, and Foucault to contemporary novels by Martin Amis, Tom McCarthy, Ben Marcus, Jo Nesbø, and James Gleick. It’s almost certain that every serious reader has seen at least one of his works without knowing it. What’s fascinating about Peter is that he has no formal training in design. In fact, his current job at Knopf is the first design job he has ever held.
After spending 11 years training to be a classical pianist, Peter taught himself design and applied for a job at Random House. In his words, “Without any training, and without the time or money to acquire any, I was forced to haunt the shelves of Barnes and Nobles. There used to be an entire ‘design’ section in these stores There, at B&N, I bought ‘how-to’ books; manuals on the various software I’d need to know how to use (Quarkxpress 4!) but also books made up of the design work of others—either volumes like, say, ‘best business cards, 2002!’ or ‘Stellar Identities!’ or else anthologies of the work of one particular designer. I learned, like most designers do, through looking.” Now his book jackets are the envy of an entire industry.
Cover contains Peter’s completed book jackets along with ephemera from his previously unseen creative method, including jacket sketches, interior art and editorial illustrations, and scores of rejected drafts. The book also includes essays from James Gleick, Ben Marcus, Jo Nesbø, Jane Mendelsohn, Jed Perl, Chip Kidd, Nicholas Fox Weber, Tom McCarthy, Alexander Maksik and others.
Peter has another book coming out the same day as Cover. The book is an investigation into what it feels like to read and visualize while we read. Did Tolstoy really describe Anna Karenina? Did Melville ever really tell us what, exactly, Ishmael looked like? Cover and What We See When We Read really compliment each other. It is a gorgeously unique, fully illustrated exploration into the phenomenology of reading—how we visualize images from reading works of literature, from one of our very best book jacket designers, himself a passionate reader. As Peter puts it “WWSWWR is a little book to Cover’s large, art book trim-size. WWSWWR is mostly words, with some pictures; Cover is the opposite. WWSWWRdescribes what I see when I read; Cover shows what I saw when I read. They are siblings, these two books. And I hope they represent, together, a more holistic view of my professional interests.”
If you would like to order Cover in hardcover, please go here! It’s an incredible piece of investigative journalism, complete with stunning book cover visuals. What We See When We Read is available here. So much of these two stories, relies on collaborative art and story telling, making this a true Wall Breaking effort.