Six Covers In Search Of A Book
THE POWER OF NARRATIVE IMAGERY A book’s cover is always created after the book has been written – and its design is what attracts eyeballs, piques interest, and helps sell copies to readers. However, having trudged through a good number of books with more memorable covers than content, I’ve decided to reverse that order for this post.
Below are six covers for imaginary books.
A Dilemma For Señor Magalhães
Several years ago on a trip to Madrid, I spent an afternoon at a used book shop, flipping through an endless stash of dusty exhibit catalogs from the Prado Museum. I was specifically looking for images of Spanish art that I could incorporate into a future project. But, having devoted the previous day to the actual Prado, the shop’s moldering and faded reproductions of Velázquez and Goya just weren’t what I’d hoped for.
At the front counter on my way out, I picked up a business card that featured a simple line drawing of a very serious looking gentleman – possibly another shop owner. The bottom of the card reads “collection of T. Magalhães” – and contains little other information.
The shop also specialized in mystery and crime novels. This sketch, with its aquiline profile and pencil mustache, comes to mind when I think of vintage cloak and dagger – Madrid style.
On Being Frank
I purchased a couple of dog-eared black and white photos in New York that came from the collection of a 1950s LIFEmagazine photographer. According to the dealer, one of the photos was of the photographer’s wife – and the other was of his brother-in-law. Both were likely taken in the 1950s or early 60s. The man is identified with the name Frank – scrawled in pencil on the back.
I’m guessing that Frank was a straightforward type of guy.
As with much of the “art” I’ve collected, this 1947 portrait first caught my eye because of the fact that the subject is just shy of not-altogether-right.
In the full portrait, the emotionless boy sits, staring directly at the viewer. He’s holding a small dog on his lap – and has a firm, two-handed grip around its neck.
I found the painting in the small and uneventful (for me anyway) town of Kennebunk, Maine.
Forrest McLinn – 1955
This 1955 portrait by a presumably amateur artist named Forrest Ages McLinn, was purchased online and shipped from England.
The unnamed subject sits with a ramrod posture at an office desk, smoking the painting’s center-of-focus cigarette. On his right hand, he wears a Dark Shadows, Barnabas Collins-style ring.
The subject seems to be hiding behind both his desk – and his success.
The Panjiayan Merchant
Panjiayan, an enormous open-air antiques and crafts market near the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, is well-known to jade and silk seeking tourists from across China and around the world. On the bone-chilling mid-December weekday that I happened to visit, the market was mostly empty – its stalls shuttered and the famous goods and faux treasures were packed for warmer days and larger crowds.
It was here that I purchased a well-worn, grungy and weirdly beautiful acupuncture mannequin. The merchant, realizing I might be her only sale for the day, refused to take bù shì for an answer.
Her hand, reaching out and pleading that I complete the deal, is what comes to mind for me with this photo.
Could Be Good
At some point, not long before 9/11, I chanced upon an impromptu swap meet near New York City’s Chinatown. Always on the lookout for new textures, patterns and images to use, I purchased a boxed mahjong game that, with its deeply yellowed tiles, had to have been in frequent use for decades. Stashed and apparently forgotten at the bottom of the storage case was this photo of a young sailor, kneeling and embracing a theatrically dressed Asian woman. They’re both smiling at the camera – and the studio backdrop suggests a Waikiki Beach view of Diamond Head. Written directly on the photo are the words “could be good.” I’ve often wondered if being this sailor, stationed in Hawaii at Pearl Harbor – during what appears to have been the early 1940s – was actually “good.”