Some notes on book covers


By the time I was leaving San Francisco, the airport authorities warned me about my excessive baggage. It should be ten pounds lighter, they said, or I won't get in that last flight to Manila. That meant waiting overnight for the first flight in the morning. I hurriedly unzipped my bulky luggage and removed everything on top of my luggage without thinking: rubber shoes, some suits which won't really be useful in the tropics, and this book by Georges Perec, Things: A Story of the Sixties and A Man Asleep, along with Nowhere Man by Aleksander Hemon. I told my aunt, who was kneeling on the cold, marble floors of the airport, very nervous while I was tossing garments here and there, to ship them to Manila anytime she wanted, maybe before Christmas.

It just arrived a week ago.

I learned that this book is a new translation, and I have a hunch that this isn't a good version, since I haven't done much research on the various editions and translations. I bought this from Amazon (the words USED BOOK printed on a sticker on its spine, which makes it ten dollars cheaper, but still in mint condition) and something about the cover made me buy this edition. 

The photo was shot by Duane Michals and I think it's wonderful. I initially thought the man was on the phone, talking to someone. The blurred man in the picture looks frantic with movement and worry as well, looking at all the clutter in his flat--from the upturned chair to the silver teapot (?) sitting right next to the television. The man's hand were placed just below his neck, as if caressing his chin, but he looks bemused or worried, which made me think that the picture isn't just about, say, cleaning one's house twice a month, or dismissing my initial assumption about the phone (since there's no cord, is there?).

It's a thoughtful cover to go with the title: Things becomes more of a problematic, an abstract concept vis-a-vis the tangible things or objects, the trivial. The photo contributes additional insight to what exactly the book is all about (or, at the very least, what it isn't about), and I wish all other book covers are just as thought-provoking. (I mean, look at this horrible cover of Truman Capote's In Cold Blood.) 

Other book covers:

I recognize this as a Magritte painting: The Six Elements. The paragraph in French, I think, is the first paragraph of the book: "Your eye, first of all, would glide over the grey fitted carpet in the narrow, long and high-ceilinged corridor. Its walls would be cupboards, in light-coloured wood..."


This cover looks very hippie. There are overlays of things (is that a perfume bottle?) over a portrait of an alluring lady which I assume is Sylvie, one of the main characters. But why a woman?


This is more of a literal rendering of the book. From the first few sentences that I've quoted in the beginning, Perec immerses his readers in a very meticulous description of a house, complete with its corners, the provenance of objets d'art, along with settees, sofas, lampshades, bookshelves, etc. to make explicit the sheer, senseless and pretentious materialism of its owners. It doesn't do much justice to the book's rather philosophical take since the drawing looks like Harry Potter to me. Maybe that's why the black-and-white portrait of Duane Michals appeals to me: it's sober, and it goes well with the removed voice of the narrator when describing things.