The best book covers of the year 2021


An essential part of generating this list of the top ten favorite book covers of the year is to research the designer behind each one. While it seems obvious enough (that’s the point of the post after all), the process can be trickier than you might think. While most covers are pretty easy to credit, especially if shared by the designer or added to their personal website, a few usually remain elusive for a while. More than a minor inconvenience for me, it points to a larger problem for book cover designers.

So I’m going to start this list with a plea. Book publishers! Credit your designers when you first share images of a new cover online! You can tag them on Twitter, write their full name, whatever – and you don’t even have to do it every time. It’s fair and everyone wins.

One of the reasons this needs to be addressed is that while ‘cover reveal’ has become a staple of book publishers’ social media campaigns, they often neglect to verify the name of the designer behind the thing. even they celebrate. Ebyan Equal, studio director at Penguin, tweeted a plea for more recognition in August and expanded on the broader issues of that non-recognition.

“In an industry where we can easily stand up for designers and illustrators who are mostly freelance by tagging / mentioning them on posts, it’s shocking when we don’t,” she wrote. “Particularly when looking at barriers for creatives from marginalized backgrounds, a key issue is visibility – so a simple mention will have an impact. “

When a popular blanket starts to fly, it’s very difficult to retroactively give it design credit. Publishing (and the media that supports it) needs to be better at it. One of the covers shown below, for example, was “revealed” on Weekly entertainment, but without mention of Lauren Peters-Collaer who designed it. On Twitter, book designer Ingrid Paulson called up a magazine whose “This Year’s Trends in Cover Design” column had ten covers – without any credit (Paulson then came up with the names herself and annotated the page).

When a popular blanket starts to fly, it’s very difficult to retroactively give it design credit. Publishing (and the media that support it) must be better at it

All of this comes at a time when there are more book covers circulating online and more cover as a medium than ever before. Trendy pieces have become more and more popular due to Vulture Coin 2019 on the prominence of what he called “statement wallpaper and bold text” or The focus of the week 2020 on “suggestive color blobs”. This year Hub on briefly examined a ‘rainbow’ trend, while Eye on design launched a broader thematic assessment of the rise of a “nebulous and nebulous style” (colorful drawings of drops) in a book cover review as “the product of the blending of cultural and economic forces”, generating much discussion in the process. To print then followed that with another take on the popularity of “abstract and colorful formalism”.

In each case, the highlighted covers were undoubtedly similar, but the fact remains that there are still quite a few covers that do not subscribe to any discernible “look”. Hit headlines may start to dictate a formula or type, but that’s not exactly a fit. The occasional optimist did a good summary of some of the observations that came out of it all – “Overall, not all book covers (like movie posters) are the same. Not really.”

But what about the great work this year? Well, before the individual covers line up, I should note a few awesome series models. Highlights include La Boca’s neon extravagance for the four-volume set of Philip K Dick’s short stories from The Folio Society, as well as the new series of (cult) classics reissued by Faber Editions, which are from beautiful stand-alone paperbacks.

Faber’s senior designer, Peter Adlington, is to be credited here both for his design of Rachel Ingalls’ Mrs Caliban, as part of the Faber Editions set, but also for creating one of the best-known covers of the year for Kazuo Ishiguro Klara and the sun, which was released in March. This bold piece has inevitably become ubiquitous, but despite its familiarity, it still manages to look great. The overhaul of the entire Ishiguro background roster also stems from Adlington’s distinctive approach to the author’s latest work (Spine did an excellent article on its genesis).

So, without further ado, here are ten of my personal favorites from this year:

With Teeth by Kristen Arnett; Publisher: Riverhead; Design: Lauren Peters-Collaer

Lauren Peters-Collaer’s strong and graphic lettering transforms a two-word title into white teeth inserted into an open mouth. Fantastic and eye-catching visual treatment. The UK edition puts the design in a different colourway – and adds a yellow tooth (!). Artistic direction: Hélène Yentus.

Being a Human: Adventures in 40,000 Years of Consciousness by Charles Foster; Publisher: Profile Books; Design: James jones

Capturing the essence of “being human,” James Jones eschews some of the more familiar “evolutionary” tropes in favor of a photo of a bone pendant from the Upper Paleolithic period (discovered in the Czech Republic). Expression is everything: raw but perfectly relatable, almost emoji-like in its impassive visual power. Artistic Director: Steve Panton. Photograph: Getty Images.

Privacy by Katie Kitamura; Publisher: Riverhead; Design: Jaya Miceli

This striking cover by Jaya Miceli makes good use of two contrasting colors, but it’s the cropping of the illustration that works especially brilliantly. Inspired by the title of the novel, what at first appear to be abstract lines are in fact the outlines of two bodies; a pair of eyes and a single hand helping to delimit the entwined figures. Close up, intimate and intelligent. Artistic director: Hélène Yentus.

Let me tell you what I mean by Joan Didion; Publisher: HarperCollins; Design: Jo thomson

The cover of Joan Didion’s collection of essays from the start of the year shows a mastery of both font and type placement (title is in Canela; author’s name is Dala Floda). Jo Thomson uses the long title to frame the portrait but also makes the text pass through the image without disturbing its power (Didion’s eyes are allowed to look at the reader directly). An elegant arrangement of image, type and layout.

Edge Holster by Yz Chin; Publisher: Ecco / HarperCollins; Design: Na Kim

Just tomatoes? Well, yes and no: the condition of each of the five fruits depicted in the work suggests that the passage of time is also mentioned here. Na Kim will be a household name for many ‘best of’ lists over the years – and she doesn’t disappoint with this bold cover, which she also created the art for. The serrated stem is a nice counterpoint to the round shapes, while differentiating the title and author’s name by color is also a skillful touch.

Someone Loves You from Mona Arshi; Publisher: And Other Stories; Design: Holly Fourneau

My notes for this list show that I wrote one word next to this book cover: “weird.” And that’s for all the right reasons: the flatness of the garden is odd, the framing (and placement) of the title and author’s name unusual, while beyond the insects and bisecting plants it there’s even a lone eye and a vertical mouth. Designed and illustrated by Holly Ovenden, there is also a special pink edition. Artistic Director: Tom Etherington.

Aftermath by Preti Taneja; Publisher: Transit; Design: Anna morrison

Aftermath is one in a series of four Transit essay books, each designed by Anna Morrison in collaboration with publisher Adam Levy. Each cover uses a minimal work of art created from a few simple gestures. The result, like here, is a classic, clean cover design that you just want to pick up on. (I also have a soft spot for adding the publisher’s name to the cover.)

God of Mercy by Okezie Nwọka; Publisher: Astra House; Design: Sara Wood

This Sara Wood cover has it all: a striking, textured portrait made even more dramatic by the inclusion of a few fiery illustrative marks. Vibrant and eye-catching, it’s also a bit confusing in its own way. The colors blend wonderfully. Artistic Director: Rodrigo Corral. Photograph: © peeterv / Getty Images.

All the wonders of Douglas Wolk; Publisher: Profile Books; Design: Will Staehle

This well-watched cover of Douglas Wolk’s tale of reading every Marvel comic is a perfect fit for its subject. The layout and character treatment graces the medium, while the scuffed corner is a nice touch that perhaps hints at the less-than-serious approach (although undoubtedly labor-intensive. ) to create this unique post story. It looks like a real party.

Pure Gold by John Patrick McHugh; Publisher: New Island / 4th Estate; Design: Jack smith

Another great typographic cover from Jack Smyth, which apparently can turn to all kinds of wonderful letters (check out his Antkind blanket last year, for example). This one looks like a pint of beer, but it’s the condensed, shadowed letters themselves – containing swirls of handprints and earthy textures – that suggest stranger things may be inside.


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