Posted on August 14, 2006 Posted by John Scalzi 16 Comments
Speaking of trusting your publishers to know what they’re doing, over the weekend Small Beer Press sent along to me the three books in their Peapod Classics line, Howard Waldrop’s Howard Who?, Naomi Mitchison’s Travel Light, and Carol Emshwiller’s Carmen Dog, and I found myself inclined to like the books even before I actually, you know, opened one up.
That was almost entirely due to the playful design of each of these books; the Peapod Classics are cute as the proverbial button, from their small, nearly square proportions to the Kevin Huizenga cover illustrations, and practically beg to be picked up and looked at. Probably someone could avoid smiling at these books, but that person is not me. This is genius packaging, since if you can get people to actually want to pick up a book, that’s half the battle right there. It helps that the books themselves are short and whimsical and thus perfectly suited for their design, too; I zipped through the novella-length Carmen Dog, and am enjoying the hell out of the Waldrop stories I’ve read in the Howard Who? collection. It’s a nice marriage of content and packaging.
I like the design because of what it is, but I also like it for what it isn’t, which is exclusionary. Each of the books in the Peapod Classics line is a fantasy work (indeed, the whole point of the line is to reissue fantasy books/stories the editors like but which have fallen out of print). The design of the books doesn’t hide the fantasy element; it simply casts it in a way that people who aren’t already of the fantasy ilk could find accessible and engaging. You can get people to read just about anything, provided the cover doesn’t send them running, and these are fantasy books whose covers don’t fire off anyone’s “I can’t be seen with this” triggers. Except possibly teenage boys. But, well: teenage boys. What are you going to do.
Anyway: Nice design job, Small Beer Press. I enjoyed these books, both before and after reading them.
Incidentally, if you want an idea of what a difference a cover makes, compare the cover of the Peapod version of Howard Who? to the cover of the Doubleday version, 20 years ago, the latter pretty much being an example of how to sabotage a book with its cover art.
I’ve got my copy of Howard Who? right next to me. It arrived last week. “The Ugly Chickens” is one of my three favorite SF short stories, and I’ve borrowed the hardcover of Howard Who? from my library 20 times, at least. I was overjoyed when I saw Small Beer had re-issued it, and I just typically don’t get overjoyed. Gatorade over the head for them. (My only beef is they moved all the story notes to the back, and Waldrop collections normally have each story introduced with a note. Which I prefer. But then, I don’t own a press.)
You’re absolutely right about the design. Excellent. The Doubleday is easily among the ugliest covers on a book ever and that’s saying something.
BTW, “The Ugly Chickens” makes for a great example in the discussion about what’s SF. Here, the twist is that the science isn’t quantum physics or cybernetics, it’s ornithology and conservation. Still counts, though.
The Peapod Classics are also the perfect size to fit in a jacket pocket, which makes them excellent for plane flights. That is, if we’re still allowed to bring books on planes now.
Just as long as they aren’t liquid books, its all good.
I assumed they were children’s books.
If you are flying from London to the US they currently do not allow any carry-ons, including books or newspapers.
I wonder if teenage boys buy any books at all these days? You certainly don’t see any of them browsing around in the bookstore.
Regarding teenage boys, I have seen quite a few browsing in the craft section.
Seriously. This past winter I was busy knitting scarves and crocheting afghans, and I would bump into quite a few teenage snowboarders, especially boys making these unique hats and scarves.
Oh, thank-you John for the rec. I must say I have never heard of these books, and you are right, those old book covers, god what were they thinking?
The Ugly Chickens
Synchronicty. I was trying to remember the name of that story a couple of days ago. I loved that story, nice and simple with an effective twist at the end (IIRC). Must order books now.
I have a signed copy of “Howard Who?” The inscription reads, “Wow! Nice to see one of these again!”
Who wants to touch me?
I’ve got one of those as well.
Also a signed copy of the original *All About Strange Monsters of the Recent Past*, and a signed copy of the original *Night of the Cooters*.
And I got to hear Howard read bits from his latest story (
“The Search For Tom Perdue”, about, as Howard explains it, a guy searching for the *Citizen Kane* of stag films) at Armadillocon yesterday, too.
I’m pretty darn happy that Small Beer is reprinting *Howard Who* myself. Plus, Howard has some other stuff coming out around the time of World Fantasy, too. I’m hoping to be employed by then.
Never having heard of Carmen Dog (I know, I know), I did in fact pick up the Peapod Classic edition because the book design and cover illustration intrigued me.
Small Beer does a lot of things right, and one of the key ones, in my mind, is avoiding the Embarrassing SF/Fantasy Cover problem. There are books I can’t bear to buy because of how they look. I’m sure my lack-of-dollars are replaced instantly by the dollars of ten people who won’t buy a book without a babe, a dragon, or a planet on the front, but, yeesh.
The cover of Perfect Circle was one I liked a great deal. (I also get the sense that they make design silk purses out of the sow’s ears of cheap art and royalty-free photos, which is even more of a feat than making silk purses out of silk.)
Veejane, I’m right there with you. To use an perhaps exessively on point example, I kept not picking up the first edition of OMW because of the cover; anything lavishly compaired to Heinlein is going to be on the bubble for me anyway and the cover was in a style I just can’t stand. Its not a spaceship thing for me though. The Ghost Brigades –which I read first — obviously had the same bubble issues, but I adore that cover, so I kept picking it up and here we are. But a lot of publishers have failed to recieve my dollars on account to trying to make their cover Exciting! About Space! And! Girls! With! Guns! without taking the time to make them actually pleasant to look at. (And seriously If Impossible Boobs were my thing, I’d be looking at the comix and graphic novels).
I bought a copy of Carmen Dog because I’d loved it when it was first published. Then my cat Stinkyboy shredded it. Which my old cat BJ had done to the original lo these many years ago.
Sigh… I am destined to not actually own a copy of this book.
Well, how did you expect a cat to react to book called Carmen Dog?