Wrapping words up in images.
Among book designers, Peter Mendelsund is the best reader of all. You always recognize one of his covers when you see it, and it’s not because he tends toward certain colors or typefaces—quite the opposite. Rather, it’s something about the way the cover illuminates the text. You can tell he didn’t just read the manuscript; he internalized it. The result somehow feels both inevitable and surprising: the only possible solution but one you could never dream up yourself.
That such a good reader would turn out to be an outstanding writer is perhaps inevitable as well, but Peter has once again confounded expectations by publishing two books of his own, with two different publishers, on the same day. The first, Cover, is a design book full of words, and the second, What We See When We Read, is a philosophy book full of pictures.
Six years ago, I had a desk a few floors up from Peter’s office at Random House. He was already famed for his iconic covers for authors like Martin Amis and Mark Haddon, but many of his greatest hits—the Kafka reissues, the Cortázar covers, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo—were still to come. We became acquainted that summer, and every now and then I’d poke my head in and ask for advice about how to be a better designer.
Of course, now I realize I was asking all the wrong questions. So I recently went back to Peter’s office and asked for advice about how to be a better reader.
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