Like many things, the takeover of “the blob” was not noticeable at first.
Sure, you’d see the drop here and there, but you didn’t think much of it. Back then, you didn’t even know he had a name. As long as the blob was sticking to its own business, you were happy to let it do its thing.
And then, one day, you look up, and suddenly the blob is everywhere.
The blob is the term used to describe a current trend in book cover design, described by RE Hawley in Print magazine as “a canvas filled with amorphous blotches of warm, bright colors, intersecting to form different hues in spaces that overlap.”
You’ve seen the blob on books such as “Untamed” by Glennon Doyle, “Detransition, Baby” by Torrey Peters, and “Such a Fun Age” by Kiley Reid.
Looking at the curated book lists for Reese’s Book Club and Read with Jenna, at least a third or more of the covers are blob or obviously blob-influenced.
I wonder if the book designers of the world are frustrated with the trend. I can just imagine an editor communicating their vision for a cover, “You can do whatever you want, surprise me…but also, make sure it’s a blob.”
It’s one thing for the blob to be a dominant style in recently published books, but I was prompted to voice my concerns about the blob when I recently searched online for the year of publication of the gem of a Geraldine Brooks novel, “Mars,” and saw that the cover had been retroactively scrubbed.
In fact, all of the titles on Brooks’ background list have been blobed, using colors from, say, the brighter end of the color wheel.
As Hawley notes, there’s nothing inherently wrong with book covers that use the blob, and in fact some of them are very clever in their combination of shapes and colors to create images that are not apparent at first sight. Charmaine Wilkerson’s “Black Cake” where a woman’s face is hidden among the blob is an example of this.
The updated cover of “Mars” is actually an abstract illustration of a cotton tree in the foreground against a sky background. It looks nice.
But I can’t help feeling that something got lost in the blob.
The paperback cover of “March” that I own is illustrated with what looks like a hand-stitched diary or memory book, presumably belonging to the titular character, “Mr. March,” the absent father of “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott, who left her family behind to serve as a chaplain in the Union Army.
The original cover evokes the living person of Mr. March and the mood of the novel, a mixture of melancholy and hope. The blobbed version makes it look like all the other books.
And that’s actually the purpose of the blob. The blob has a clear advantage when it comes to being noticed in small format images on social media. Having been exposed to the blob many times before, readers are ready to recognize what the blob means. These are so-called “book club” books, primarily aimed at women, mainly because women buy and read the vast majority of books.
As Hawley also notes, book covers often go through trend cycles, with “flat illustration” (think Sophie Kinsella books or the original “Where’d You Go Bernadette” cover) being the look. 2010s, so we shouldn’t be stuck with the blob forever.
I sure hope not. With a bit of luck.
Personally, I like when the cover of the book is as likely to surprise me as everything in it.
John Warner is the author of “Why They Can’t Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities”.
Biblioracle book recommendations
John Warner tells you what to read based on the last five books you read
1. “The Nest” by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
2. “The House of Spirits” by Isabel Allende
3. “American Cartel: In the Battle to Bring Down the Opioid Industry” by Scott Higham and Sari Horwitz
4. “Wait for your response” by Dan Chaon
5. “The Director” by David Ignatius
—Dan H., Chicago
Looking at the range on this list, I really have to give Dan a good book and he’s going to love it. I look at a shelf of good books in my home office, go eeny, meeny, miny, moe, and land on “The World Without You” by Joshua Henkin.
1. “Lillian Boxfish Takes A Walk” by Kathleen Rooney
2. “Queen of Minnesota lagers” by J. Ryan Stradal
3. “Land of the Cloudy Cuckoo” by Anthony Doerr
4. “The Trees” by Percival Everett
5. “The Nightingale” by Kristin Hannah
—Susan P., Glen Ellyn
I think Susan will enjoy the combination of Barbara Pym’s warmth and quick wit, in perhaps her best-known book, “Excellent Women.”
1. “The Lincoln Highway” by Amor Towles
2. “Land of the Cloudy Cuckoo” by Anthony Doerr
3. “The Engaged” by Viet Thanh Nguyen
4. “Dopesick” by Beth Macy
5. “The Good Father” by Noah Hawley
—Benjamin T., Chicago
I think Benjamin is a good fit for Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie series, which begins with “Case Histories.”
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Send a list of the last five books you read and your hometown to [email protected].