Books, Art and Other Ramblings

Originally Published on 8th November 2016

Today I am excited to have Shalvi Agrawal guest posting on the Blog! (*Drumrolls*) She has written a thorough post on books, art, and book covers. She is a freelance illustrator and you can find some of her work on her Behance page

Books are Art

Art evokes feeling. It makes us happy. It makes us uncomfortable, satisfied, calm, confused, angry; it makes us question. Causing an emotional response in its observer is necessary for Art to endure. It is the same with some objects, inanimate material things that we buy, collect, save, store, hoard because they evoke memories, or are part of the ones we are creating now.

Books are Art. Tiny or massive, short stories or epic sagas — they are compelling, potent, commanding, thought-provoking pieces of art.

Art that has endured not only because of the words in its pages but also the distinctive memories we made with that physical copy of that book when we first beheld it, opened it, smelled it, delighted in the blurb on its jacket, giggled at the image on its cover, saved the money to buy it and escaped reality in its pages — disagreements, crappy grades, period cramps, heartaches, missed flights, bad days at the office, family dramas.

And so the hand scribbled email address that falls out of an old paperback, transports you to that trip to Amsterdam, where you almost missed your late night bus and took a chance on a person who offered a lift, despite the lyrics of psycho killer  stuck in your head. The scribbled notes in the margins remind you of the thoughts you thought and feelings you felt and also that you had to call mom before 8, sometime 11 years ago. You discovered that you might be an anarchist, a socialist, an atheist, a patriot, an idealist, a believer of magic in the pages of your well loved, tattered, heavily penciled in books or, that disturbingly, sociopaths were and still are the characters you love best.

There have been many instances where a book I read on my kindle first, I went out and bought a physical copy of later. a) I needed that tactile presence b) the hardcover was just too stunning to pass up. I am waiting to buy a copy of Dune and I just bought a striking copy of The Night Circus after reading it months ago as an ebook.

Though this may increasingly look like a paper vs digital debate in the making, it is not. I am only speaking of the physicality of reading and its beauty and the potential of that beauty to be tiny pieces of art that people want to collect and own.

When you speak of the beauty of books, it is firstly, of course, the beauty of its words. What is a book if not the thoughts penned in its pages, their formidable power to open minds, make you travel lands yet unimagined, unexplored, experience conditions you have never and may never encounter, live in eras long gone, believe in the stories of people, of myth, of magic, and of heroes. Why else would schools, from a traditional place of learning to a virtual charter school want all their students to read as much as possible? 

But a book is not just its words. It is the illustrator’s, the cover artist’s, the publisher’s rendition of those words. The always delightful line drawings or full colour illustrations we discover in its pages, the more classic vs unconventional setting of text, the use of type, the double page spread of detailed maps done in ink that become the itch in your feet and you wish that Middle Earth were a place you could purchase a one-way ticket to.

Not just Literature is Art. When you speak of books as art  you speak of the comic books, the graphic novels, the well loved and drooled and dribbled on children’s books. You speak of the pulp artists and line artists of yore and the contemporary artists they continue to inspire today. You speak of every book that made you feel and every artist that was behind that piece of art on your bookshelf or in your local library.

On Book Covers

When you walk into a bookstore, the first thing to visually arrest you are the covers. Publishers have long understood and appreciated the importance of a cover as a marketing tool for their product.

Book covers draw you in. They give you subtle clues about the genre, the tone, the author. An iconic cover like that of To Kill a Mocking Bird plays on nostalgia. Foiled, Embossed, Debossed text; Choice of cloth or leather or matte or gloss finishes; french flaps, deckled edges, dust jackets, hard cases — they all make you want to buy the newer prettier version even if you have a well-loved mass market back home. You can spot the work of an established author with the large font size and placement of their name whereas for a newer author, publishers will rely more on the blurbs on the jacket and resonance of the cover with the popular texts in the genre. This is marketing at work. But as you encounter more of these wonderful covers, you see the care that went into creating them. You realize that they were made by people who truly love what they do and what the book stands for.

Be it the thought behind the covers by Chip Kidd, the chaotic beauty in the typography of Jon Gray, the intrigue of Peter Medelsund’s work, or the art direction of Paul Buckley in introducing beautiful versions of well-loved classics under the Penguin label; Books are Art, down to their book covers. They are mini art prints we can carry with us, proudly display on our bookshelves and introduce our friends to new worlds with, without bothering about scuffing or damaging them because this art form is meant to be read and reread and marked and highlighted and shared, physically, not from behind a piece of glass.

So, here are a few book covers and their designers, not in any particular order and of any particular artistic style, but all beautiful:

Book cover


1984 by George Orwell | Publisher: Penguin | Cover Design: Jon Gray

There are a number of bold typographic covers in the portfolio of Jon Gray, however, there are also symbolic gems like the cover he did for Tampa. You can find him here:   



Book kafka

Complete works of Kafka | Cover Designs by Peter Mendelsund 

Peter Mendelsund is a concert pianist turned book cover designer who is the Associate Art Director at Alfred A. Knopf Books. A lot of his work has avant-garde influences, but for the works of  Kafka he is almost playful in his design. Like the human eye and the bug’s eye staring back at us from the cover of Metamorphosis. Find him at and

Book 1984_pearson

1984 by George Orwell | Cover by David Pearson, 

A cover design by David Pearson, this is genius in its use of the regular penguin orange cover design with the redacted text. The text is debossed and then covered with Black Foil, just to give a hint of the title and the author, in a poignant representation of the theme of censorship.




American Gods by Neil Gaiman | Publisher: Morrow Fiction | Cover Art by Robert E. McGinnis! | Lettering by Todd Klein

If you think of the James Bond paperbacks from the 60’s or movie posters like that of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, it is very likely that the image you have in mind is one of the artworks of Robert McGinnis. And recently at the age of 90, he has done covers for four Neil Gaiman books and they are so so awesome!

Read more about how these beautiful covers came to be from Neil Gaiman himself, here: and here:





Helen Yentus’ covers for the complete works of Albert Camus | Publisher: Vintage



Chip Kidd designed the cover for All the beauty you will ever need by David Sedaris based on the iconic image of a fortune cookie; however this was not the final image on the cover as the title of the book was later changed to When you are engulfed in flames and the fortune cookie imagery did not work for that title. They went with the Van Gogh painting Skull of a Skeleton with Burning Cigarette.


Penguin Fitzgerald Hardback Collection | Covers of 6 Fitzgerald books reimagined by Coralie Bickford-Smith in gorgeous Art Deco covers

They also come with beautiful attached bookmarks that have a quote from the book. And if anyone is as big a fan of shiny things as I am, they would want to have all 6 of these.


Coralie Bickford-Smith is also the designer behind the Penguin Clothbound and the Penguin Pocket Classics among others.

Books are art

Talking of collectible Penguin editions of Classics, there are the Penguin Drop Caps Editions designed by letterer Jessica Hische. 26 in number for each letter of the alphabet standing for each author in the series. Jessica was approached by Paul Buckley the art director at Penguin after seeing her Daily Drop Cap project

Also the author of In Progress, a book about lettering, she can be found at

In recent years publishers have approached some brilliant artists like Ruben Toledo, Anna Bond, Rob Ryan, Helen Musselwhite,to lend their art to book covers and each cover deserves a post of its own. And when it comes to beautiful editions of classics, not only the above-mentioned editions of Penguin, but Barnes and Noble’s Leatherbound Classics, Everyman Library’s Pocket Poets, Alma’s Fitzgeralds and so many more are not far behind. Suffice it to say we will always be short of money and bookshelf space when it comes to the gorgeousness of some of these books.


Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte | Cover: Ruben Toledo | Edition: Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition


Shalvi is a freelance illustrator, doodler, wishful traveler, food lover. She likes to travel- with friends or without; read; walk into bookstores and stare at books for hours at end (occasionally reading and occasionally admiring the book itself); dabble, in whatever catches her fancy that month, week, or year. Most likely to be found sitting in a corner at a cafe, eating cake and drawing a tree of some sort. Find her here.

You can check out some book quotes to motivate you to deal with life!


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