Our Favorite Book Covers of 2010

We know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover and blah blah blah, but really, c’mon, aesthetic sensibilities go a long way. Here are a some of our favorite covers for books published in 2010.

Has Melville House made a book that’s not really really good looking? This NY indie not only put out some of our favorite reading of 2010, they also put out some of the best designed books of the year. Books like Jean-Christophe Valtat’s Aurorarama and Mahendra Singh and Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting Carroll evince a diverse aesthetic range unified by simple and attractive designs. We absolutely love the cover for Tao Lin’s Richard Yates; the visual non sequitur dovetails nicely with the book’s arbitrary name.

In fact, it’s a trio of forthcoming books from Melville House that prompted this post. In January, they’ll release the first in a series of books by Nobel winning German author Heinrich Böll. The first three books, which arrived at Biblioklept World Headquarters yesterday, are beautiful, simple, and elegant.

We’ve started The Clown; a review of the book’s guts forthcoming. Another book with a cool cover that we haven’t read yet is Adam Ross’s Mr. Peanut. We know someone on Twitter pointed out that skulls are the smiley faces of this decade but we can’t remember who gets credit, so let’s just pretend you heard that witticism here first.

We haven’t read Adam Levin’s mammoth début The Instructions yet, but a copy arrived today, and man is it beautiful. McSweeney’s knows how to do a hardback right–why encumber a book with a dusty dust jacket that’s going to get in the reader’s way when some gold embossing will do much nicer? Our copy is white but we couldn’t find an image of a white one on the internet, so here’s a blue one because Jesus Christ we’re not about to start photographing books now, are we?

We like both covers for Tom McCarthy’s C, but maybe we’re biased here because we loved the book so much.

We also love the cover of Charles Burns’s X’ed Out.

Picador’s British edition of Roberto Bolaño’s Nazi Literature in the Americas is somehow playful and deadly serious at the same time (just like the book).

Another one on the posthumous tip: We’re not big into tattoos but we can’t help digging this cover for David Foster Wallace’s The Broom of the System.

Aurorarama — Jean-Christophe Valtat

In Aurorarama, Jean-Christophe Valtat imagines an alternate world where the strange wilderness of the Arctic north has been colonized. The centerpiece of this world is New Venice, a bizarre metropolis on ice, bustling with a hodgepodge of cultures and brimming with dire conspiracies. New Venice showcases a kind of steampunk technology that surpasses its otherwise post-Victorian-era manners and mores: there are airships and pneumatic tubes, dream chambers and psychedelic drugs (lots and lots of drugs). Those drugs are part of New Venice’s underground, a subculture that also features a “Polar Pop” scene (although most of the groups seem to make art-noise-dirge-weird music, not pop). Beyond the subversive art scene, however, more sinister forces are at work in New Venice. The city lies under the shadow of a mysterious black zeppelin; a samizdat Utopian text is circling the underground, challenging the establishment’s authority–and causing the secret police, the Gentlemen of the Night, to shake down suspects left and right; the native Inuit are preparing to revolt; the secretive Scavengers have found a dead woman in a mysterious automotive sled. If this sounds awfully complex, it is. Thrown into the middle of the mess are the book’s protagonists. Duke Brentford Orsini, a reserved and idealistic man, is ostensibly the director of the city’s greenhouse–although he seems to spend most of his time juggling the various political (or, in the book’s terms, “poletical”) problems that surge and resurge in New Venice. Brentford’s levelheadedness contrasts with his friend Gabriel d’Allier’s rakish charm. Gabriel is a literature professor on the edge of collapse–not that that gets in the way of his frequent drug binges and sexual escapades. Valtat alternates his chapters between the pair, forwarding the plot via Brentford’s mounting political (and supernatural!) problems and Gabriel’s libertine snags.

Valtat’s world is as thick as polar ice, with its own history, mythology, culture, and political science. The events in Aurorarama are essentially in media res; the adventure begins at the tail-end of a previous disaster. Valtat has given himself plenty of space here to expand the story–both in sequels and prequels (a novel detailing the founding of New Venice, an event alluded to in Aurorarama, would be fascinating). Valtat also exhibits a playful sense of humor, both in the story’s plot, but also in his tone, which often plays off of stodgy Victorian tropes in humorous ways, particularly in the chapters featuring Gabriel. At the same time, Valtat’s book is quite serious, as he labors to evoke a wholly-realized, wholly-strange world. Sometimes his sentences strain under this pressure, no doubt in part because Valtat is a native French speaker; this is his first novel composed in English. The occasionally over-long or clunky phrase does not, however, detract much from the pleasures of Aurorarama, which rest rather in Valtat’s vital imagination. This is an intelligent work of speculative fiction, steeped in the tradition of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells; it also readily recalls The Difference Engine (by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling), Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, and even, in some of its strong imagery, the steampunk visions of Hayao Miyazaki. Recommended.

Aurorarama is new in hardback from Melville House.

Odds and Ends

Hamlet: The Facebook feed edition.

Every book mentioned on Mad Men so far.

Betting odds for the 2010 Nobel Prize for Literature (our boy Cormac McCarthy is at 8 to 1; Bob Dylan is at 150 to 1).

Folks are gettin’ hot and bothered about MFA programs.

Linking to this post that is tangentially about Jean-Christophe Valtat’s awesome new book Aurorarama gives us an excuse to publish this weird pic of Edgar Allan Poe at a séance–

An inventory of opening sentences.

Raymond Carver Mad Libs.

Vintage Portuguese book covers at A Journey Round My Skull.

Polar Madness! — Aurorarama’s Book Trailer

We’re loving Jean-Christophe Valtat‘s new book Aurorarama, a steampunk-romance-high-adventure-academic satire-etc. set in the alternaworld of New Venice, an Arctic metropolis. Check out this post at MobyLives for a chance to win a copy of the book.