Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Catcher in the Rye Cover

The reclusive author J.D. Salinger is in the news today. He's suing to block the publication of an unauthorized sequel to his 1951 novel The Catcher in the Rye.

Many of us remember the novel from its plain red cover (right). But its first paperback edition went through 27 printings with a cover by James Avati. Salinger was against showing Holden Caulfield on the cover of the book.

After some tense meetings, Avati won over the editors, arguing:
"Mr. Salinger felt that since he had not described Holden in physical detail his face sould not appear on the cover. We always had that problem. It is, in fact, quite frequently the core of our cover thinking, to the extent that it is the resolution of personality as expressed by some graphic device that makes up the cover. We try to find a way of conveying the mood of the book rather than describing some particular scene. Within reasonable limits it has proved true that physical characteristics are of much less importance than reactions expressed."

Which cover do you prefer? Please vote in the poll. (Added later: The plain red cover won 87 percent of the voting with 178 votes, compared with 25 votes for the Avati cover.)

More about the Salinger lawsuit, link.
Quote from "The Paperback Art of James Avati" by Piet Schreuders, link.


Steve said...

Perhaps it's my deeply ingrained familiarity with the plain red cover, but somehow the illustrated cover seems mildly tacky. Even so, it was a revelation to learn Holden was a style pioneer: a backwards baseball cap decades before the look became mandatory for with-it young men!

Unknown said...

I always prefer the illustrated cover. However, in this case, the large text blurb to the right of the figure ruins the illustration.

They are giving me an illustration to illicit emotion and then yelling at me through text of how I am going to feel!

i, me said...

I never liked the book, i never 'got' the book, but respected it as literature- this illustrated cover just made it feel trashy. Its a poor illustration for such a book.

This, actually is interesting, is it perhaps the illustrations by wyeth that made us take say, RLS's work less seriously, and treat it like a children's story?

I remember reading something about the limits of certain arts- for example ballet can express joy perhaps like no other art- but it can't say, convey tragedy very well (some would argue the point but i think its true)

I always tell people that classical music and say traditional anglican hymns, can express a grandeur, a joy that pop music is simple not made to do, the same way a comic book, though enjoyable is limited in what it can express.

i, me said...

PS RSL: robert louis stevenson :)

craigstephens said...

I read the red one in high school and I think the fact that there was no illustration on the cover made me feel slightly more grown up.

Jesse said...

I like the idea of not showing his face. It leaves your imagination free. Perhaps you see you're own face on him.

Apparently Kafka had the same idea with The Metamorphosis, he wanted illustrations to show no reference what so ever to the main character, even by shadow. As an artist, that's the part I'd get excited about illustrating, but I can see the writers point of view.

Pete said...

My favorite book! Normally I'm a suck for good cover art, but in this case I like the plain. Lends an air of dignity I think.

jeff jordan said...

Some books are far too complex to find an overarching cover image. Think of ANY book by Thomas Pynchon. In his case they end up doing something with typography.
If it's a novel, that's when word is more important than image, so your imagination will really kick in, no visual clues from the cover.
Another example is listening to a popular song--it takes you somewhere in your head with just music and/or words, but so often a music video will completely destroy any interesting thoughts you might've had, plus then you're stuck with the images in your head that won't allow your original thoughts to return.....

Gene Stewart said...

In France, it has been traditional never to put illustrative covers on books. Just the title and writer's name. This, to keep from the inevitable editorializing or characterizing a pictorial cover entails. One interesting compromise is a graphic design cover, such as the one adorning the original paperback to Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. Interesting, pertinent, yet ambiguous and abstract.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

The pure typography solution is usually a pretty good route to go. And in this case, the clear winner.

Though I have always preferred the merry go round illustration for this book. Unlike the other illustrated cover, it doesn't get bogged down with trying to portray holden or with unnecessary type.

( http://dangerousbooks.files.wordpress.com/2008/05/the-catcher-in-the-rye-cover.jpg )

Larry said...

If asked if I would prefer to look at a James Avati painting or a red swatch of color. It's no contest, I prefer to look at the painting, but I can see why Salinger wanted to develop the character and paint his own portrait in the readers eye. Does one better represent the literary work? Tough question, but as an illustrator I have to stand in solidarity with Avati.

Trish said...

Funny, the creepy horse cover that Vidaurri linked to is the one I'm most familiar with. That said, I like the red cover. The illustrated one is very nice, but the text block is just silly.

Julia Lundman said...

I have always preferred the plain cover. It is what it is.

I think there is a description of Holden in the book, from what I remember anyway.

I think with other books I prefer to have illustrations. This one, hey - if he wants it that way, it should be respected. He is the author. That is his work, his art, and how he wants it presented.

Richard Smitheman said...

It looks as if the block of text was an after thought, or is it censoring that part of the illustration for some reason? Very strange.

Scott Radtke said...

I love the plain cover, that doesn't mean I'd prefer one without an illustration, just not that one.

Smurfswacker said...

I've often wondered if the text block on the Avati cover deliberately covered part of the original painting. A poster for what they used to call a "girlie show" seems to peek out from beneath the box. However Avati was a seasoned illustrator and I doubt he'd be stupid enough to paint naked women or some such. My guess is that the editors were responding to negative press about the book and covering their arses by "warning" the buyer. Or maybe they just hoped to increase sales. Either way the text ruins the cover.

As far as a preference, I don't like either very much. The Avati painting is nice, but still rather literal, and the red cover always seemed to me a cop-out. I picture the publisher saying, "Just put a solid color and the title on the cover. That'll shut Salinger up."

Anonymous said...

Strange coincidence. After going through a few boxes of books to give away, I pulled this exact book from the stack and put it on my daughters desk. I am thinking it is a 12th grade read, and didn't want to buy a second copy. Can't say I ever read it, but just might now.
I like the red cover, I think because I am over powered by visuals lately.

Anonymous said...

I'm not too fond of that illustration. I don't think it captures the mood of the book at all - it just shows some young man in a busy street scene.

I am not familiar with the plain red cover; when we read the book in English class in high school, we had a paperback with a plain yellow cover. Afterwards, I found the Danish translation. It had an illustration, showing Holden face-on on an abstract background that somehow suggest the city. I don't have it by me right now, but a tiny photo can be seen here: http://bogrummet.dk/ind.asp?visanm=134

Erik Bongers said...

I read the book at school (dze inglisj claz). It's a psychological story, not a visual one. I vagely 'remember' Holden with a face not unlike my own.
But I mainly remember the atmosphere of the book, or rather, the line of thinking of Holden, even though I hardly remember the facts of the book.

Together with the author's wishes, that gives three major reasons for a plain cover.

1. psychological story, not visual, and that's the way I want to remember it as my 'personal' reading experience with my own memories of it.
2. Identifiyng with the main character (whether you like him or not) invariably leads to a vague visual likeness to yourself which could be disrupted by an explicit portrait.
3. The explicit request of the author should be respected. At most, negociated by the publisher, but I believe an author should have a veto on the cover (of course, a publisher also has a veto on publishing it or not!)

The third reason is a matter of principle, but the first two reasons, at least to me, are fundamental. The go to the core of the decision.

Erik Bongers said...

On the cover itself.
The cover does in no way reflect the mood of the book.
Where's the lonelyness, the (ahum) 'existential questioning', the sense of being lost before you have lived, of falling down and not really caring about it, the (true or faked) indifference to it all?

A Hopper onn the covver wold hov bon botter. (Edward that is, not Dennis)

And lastly, in defence of visual covers. For a children's SF book I created a cover displaying a 'ring' around the earth.
The author was trilled as he now finally could 'see' what he had written about. Apparently he himself found it difficult to (visually) imagine what he had written (and strangly enough) clearly described in his book.
As I said before, this shows again that it's not a bad idea to devide people into visual and non-visual thinkers when you are making a book.

Unknown said...

I had a paperback version, plain white with blue and orange lines across the cover, I think. I'll agree in this case, though, that the red cover looks better. The illustrated one is much too cluttered and the text gets in the way. I don't object to an illustrated cover-- an image of a wheat field with maybe a silhouette wouldn't be too terrible, but the one they have there is pretty bad.

However, for me it doesn't really matter because I hate that book with a deep and abiding passion. D< Ugh. I almost want to know what this "unauthorized sequel" is about because I might actually want to read it. It can't be worse than the original, right?

Smurfswacker said...

Thanks, Beth, for being the first to say it. My son had to read it in high school. He was unimpressed: "All Holden does is whine, whine, whine!"

So I read it to see what he meant. I must lack the artistic perception gene necessary to appreciate the book. Holden Caulfield struck me not as a deep character facing universal problems, but as a self-involved, rather shallow character who was as much a "phony" as all the people he looked down on. There, now I said it. Apres moi, le deluge.

kamagra said...

It seems to me that the only audience that truly appreciates this magnificent piece is the high school kid.