Fake book covers are going viral on social media

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If you follow writers or readers on social media, you’re probably familiar with the works of Christine Rhee. Earlier this year, I started seeing reposted images from Penguin Classics with fun and ironic celebrity photos. A Property Brother on the cover of Dickens dark house. Julia Fox smiles like crazy on the cover of Bulgokov The Master and Margarita. A photo of Dakota Johnson correcting Ellen Degeneres on The Ellen Show on the cover of Trollope’s Domestic mores of Americans.

Clever, hilarious, and all thanks to Brooklyn-based graphic designer Christine Rhee. Over the past year, she’s worked on different series of book cover designs, the most recent of which combines the aforementioned orange and black Penguin Classics jacket with photos of celebrities.

I corresponded with Rhee about his book cover via email. We discussed how she found her initial inspiration by lending books to her friends, how she chooses the classic and contemporary literature she works with, and how our collective perception of books shapes her works. Rhee was also generous enough to share her favorite book cover designs from the show.


Ceille Clark-Keane: On your Instagram, it looks like the first fake cover is a recognizable fake contemporary cookbook with your (adorable) cat on the cover, but it also looks like you playfully approached the covers in previous posts. before publishing the first fake NYRB celebrity memoir covers. What inspired you to start creating the fake book covers, and where did you start?

Christine Rhe: I don’t remember the first one, but I usually made them for friends when I lent them a book. The first fake book covers were real printed covers. I’m a designer, so I’ve found it really helpful for me to do fun little design projects that are quick to complete. It helps me a lot when I feel stuck or blocked.

CCK: Is your design process different when you’re creating a physical piece of art for a friend, like in these cases, versus when you’re creating an image for a social platform (and therefore primarily for consumer digital)?

I’m always interested in the aesthetics of value, what aesthetically makes us think something is valuable or intellectual versus what signals us it isn’t.

CR: Not a lot. The only thing that really changes is who the audience is and seeing them as an image rather than an object. I don’t do much in terms of configuration as an image, it’s still very object oriented. I want it to be real, like I just left the book on a table.

CCK: Could you describe your process for creating these covers? Do you have a complete vision of the series, like the Fake Books for Men and the Taschen art books, or do you start with a particular book? You are clearly a reader as well as an artist, and I would like to know how that informs this project.

CR: In general, I think of it as a series first. When I start a series, I try to have some kind of thesis that I work on. I’m always interested in the aesthetics of value, what aesthetically makes us think something is valuable or intellectual versus what signals us it isn’t. I like to combine two things from opposite sides of this spectrum and see what comes of it. The current series is obviously classic literature associated with tabloid celebrity culture. The first books I think of are the ones that I think make good case studies. Sometimes it’s books I’ve read, sometimes it’s about how I think we collectively perceive a book, and sometimes it’s just a play on the title. I like to use popular books because they usually make great case studies. There is more relationship there. The darker the books and pictures become, the harder it is to see the thesis of the series.

CCK: The way the impact of the pieces depends, at least in part, on the collective perception of the book explains why the series feels both accessible and like a reference in a TV show; one has the impression of being part of a -group that “understands”.

CR: Thanks! The way I see design is that it’s a visual language. We have all been trained to understand it, whether consciously or unconsciously. I take the things I post very serious, but I also really like jokes and play. There’s no right way to engage or understand any of the things I do.

I think of book covers like a movie trailer or a billboard. It’s to grab your attention and get you involved.

CCK: I wonder, do you notice any trends in popular book covers, in certain types of classics, or in books by men versus women?

CR: Absolutely. Sometimes it’s frustrating for me, and sometimes I think it’s my own biases. That’s a bigger question that I think I can answer now. One trend I’m loving right now that I’m seeing is blankets that are striking and/or beautiful in a way that feels new. It’s just an object that I want to acquire. I could watch the cover of The Copenhagen Trilogy book for hours. The cover is by Na Kim. I’m obsessed with eye collage. It’s so simple but there’s so much going on in this image. It’s brilliant.

CCK: How do you think design and packaging shape our collective perception of works (if any)?

CR: I must specify that I am a designer, but not really a designer of book covers. I’ve never really designed a book cover that wasn’t for me or for a friend. I can tell you what I think, but that’s definitely an outside consumer’s opinion. I think of book covers like a movie trailer or a billboard. It’s to grab your attention and get you involved. It seems to be on a sliding scale based on its connection to the book inside. This isn’t about criticizing the creators – when the cover is irrelevant, it seems very on purpose, going after a specific client. It’s still a bit cynical. Coverage is part of marketing and trying to maximize sales, which doesn’t always add up to the experience of reading what’s been written. I’d like to believe that the initial impression doesn’t influence my reading experience, but I don’t know if that’s true for me. I think maybe other readers can overlook it.

CCK: What is one thing you hope viewers take away from your show?

CR: It changes over time. At the start of a series, I hope viewers understand what I’m trying to do. Overall though, if you’re having fun or enjoying it, I’m happy. I can (and sometimes do, unfortunately for my friends) talk endlessly about what I’m trying to do, but once it’s out there, it’s not for me anymore.


Rhee’s designs are definitely out there – she has over 5,000 followers on Instagram. But whether the pieces were ultimately for Rhee herself or for her many fans, I was always curious to find out which designs she prefers. During our email exchanges, Rhee was generous enough to point out which cover designs from her series she was most interested in or enjoyed working towards.

Here are some of Rhee’s favorite pieces (plus a few of mine that I couldn’t resist):

Rhee points to this Murdoch cover featuring Ben Affleck staring exhausted at the ocean. (That checks out — weird not having iced coffee in an Affleck tabloid photo.) “To me,” Rhee shared, “this is the best example of what I set out to do. The later ones get a lot looser, but that kind of stuff still happens.

In his Fake NYRB series, Rhee reimagines amazing celebrity memoirs republished under the prestigious brand, with a recognizable design. “The Fake NYRBs were really fun for me,” Rhee said. “I did this during the COVID lockdown and was able to meet online and reconnect with a lot of people I look up to. NYRB was in really good spirits about it.

It’s my favorite, and I had to sneak it. The tabloid photo Rhee chose is of Fiona Apple giving an impromptu acceptance speech at the MTV Video Music Awards, in which she told viewers that the world of fame is bullshit. and not worth watching. Iconic and an incredible choice for A brief history of the world.

Rooney’s romance reinvented for men. I love how the color palette isn’t completely different from the American cover of Rooney’s novel – yellows, browns, blacks. Rhee names this cover as her favorite on the show. “For fake men’s books, Sally Rooney’s Conversations with friends ended up being surprisingly stupid. I’m always happy when that happens.

A design series that engages so brilliantly with tabloid culture wouldn’t be complete without a Kardashian reference, and this one is amazing. The white background and black-and-white wardrobe in the photo that Rhee chose ensure that the “little” women are in the foreground. I’ll let you think about who Jo would be.

If you’re interested in seeing all of the designs from Fake Penguin Tabloid Classics, the Fake Books for Men series, and more, you can find and follow Christine Ree on Instagram @monobrow_ny.

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