Edward Gorey's Book Cover Design + Links from Around the Bookish Web

Earlier this week was dreary here in North Carolina, unseasonably cold and rainy, the last vestiges of winter refusing to retire. That (combined with the bizarre gas shortage we are experiencing here in the Southeast) meant that the store was slow that day. People trickling in and out—a few order pick-ups and a handful of browsers. It was one of those days when you are reminded how much to live the retail experience is to be tossed to and fro on the whims of the moment. So, while there is always plenty to do of course—bills to pay, books to organize and shelve, emails to write—I found myself browsing a handful of art books. It’s hard to beat a rainy day jazz playlist, a large cup of tea, and a pile of oversized art books (a category we are trying to expand right now, by the way). I have been on an Edward Hopper kick recently and so I have been reading this wonderful book, but that day I spent a while with this issue’s featured title, Edward Gorey: His Book Cover Art and Design, one I enjoyed so much I wanted to share with you. It was published by Pomegranate in 2015 and includes an enlightening essay by Steven Heller, which is especially interesting if you want to learn about the history of book cover design.

You perhaps know Gorey for his mysterious (and sometimes scary) children’s books, but he was also one of the most renowned book jacket designers of the twentieth century, having created covers for authors like Kafka, Eliot, Checkov, Gogol, Wolfe, Conrad, Proust, and the Henrys (Green and James), as well as covers for a series of essential classics (his cover for Doubleday’s centennial edition of Bleak House brilliant).

Thanks in part to Heller’s essay, which focuses on Gorey’s artistic instinct and process (his use of cross-hatching and color in particular), Edward Gorey: His b]Book Cover Art and Design is a fascinating look into the mind of an artist so mysterious some people thought he was deranged. In truth, he may have been a genius.

Here are three fascinating things you can learn in this book:

  1. One of Gorey’s “defining traits was his hand-lettered titles and subtitles for most of the book covers and jackets he designed,” an art form that became so attached to this name that a Gorey font was developed. It’s used on the cover of the book.

  2. Gorey was a serious book collector, ultimately amassing over 25,000 titles in his personal library. He was particularly fond of French symbolist and surrealist literature (which Heller tells us Gorey studied at Harvard alongside Chinese and Japanese literature.) Gorey wrote, “I was much better read than most of the people who were doing artwork.”

  3. Gorey did not care for Henry James’ work. He wrote, “I became very well known for my Henry James covers. I hate him more than anybody else in the world except for Picasso . . . I’ve read everything of Henry James, some of it twice, and every time I do I think, “why am I doing this again? Why Am I torturing myself?”

Of course, what you really want to see is some examples of Gorey’s work itself. Here are some favorites:

It’s the perfect book for a rainy afternoon, a misfit coffee table, or a gift for the book-lover in your life. You can grab a copy through our shop here.

Are you looking for books to give the high school or college graduates in your life? We made a list to help you out.


In the New York Times, Dwight Garner wrote about Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, who wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Yearling:

Rawlings was grateful that Perkins took the long view in literary matters. Art mattered more than money; fame was OK, but only if noble and deserved. Rawlings had that kind of fame in the early 1940s, but her reputation has slipped.

In part, it’s because “The Yearling,” about a boy whose father orders him to kill his constant companion, a pet deer, after it eats too much of the family’s sorely needed corn, is misperceived as a dewy young adult novel. In reality, it’s as unsentimental as a blade of saw grass.

In his newsletter, Culture Notes of an Honest Broker, the wonderful music historian Ted Gioia told the story of the time “When a Famous Literary Critic Unraveled Silicon Valley’s Most Sensational Murder Case.”

I’m not a Hollywood scriptwriter, but if I were, I know what screenplay I’d write. Imagine a violent murder at the epicenter of early Santa Clara Valley—soon to be renamed Silicon Valley in the popular imagination—and an innocent man sent to Death Row at San Quentin. But a famous literary critic emerges as the super sleuth who gets him freed, amid dark evocations of scandal involving corrupt politicians and murky underworld figures. 

You don’t need to imagine it, because it really happened.

Plus, Peter Jones wrote in The Spectator that Virgil (he of the Aeneid) understood the power of Nature:

It rapidly becomes clear that farming is no joyride and the wise farmer must be guided by Nature’s signs. But Nature’s recent signs — volcanos, earthquakes, comets — turn out to be its own response to that bloody war and a world out of control, ‘where right and wrong change places’, a world swept along like a charioteer at the races tugging hopelessly at the reins of a ‘heedless chariot’. The social and political are also in play here. Nature warns: will man listen?

Meanwhile . . .

That’s all for this issue. Until next time . . . 

— Your Friends at Goldberry Books