May 31, 2018
For the love of a good Philip Roth cover
by Michael Seidlinger
Philip Roth died last week at the age of eighty-four, leaving behind an undeniable legacy. Roth was huge, and helped launch the “big time literary author” trope into the pop culture stratosphere. But what drew some readers in wasn’t (ahem) his writing — it was the innovative, inventive, and often minimalistic covers that graced many of his books.
I’m a sucker for a good book cover. Paul Bacon’s emblematic, type-driven cover for Portnoy’s Complaint, to choose one, has since been imitated seemingly everywhere — from the cover of Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl to posters for Alex Ross Perry’s 2014 film Listen Up Philip—and publishers continue to reissue his work using those iconic designs. They’re so simple and, well, alluring. And let’s face it, we all judge books by their covers, at least a little.
Look at these books and tell me you wouldn’t stop and pull them from a shelf:
The typeface grabs you and won’t let you go, much like… a pair of hands. Extra points for the bleed.
The throwback cover of all throwback covers. This might look more like a metal poster than a book cover. The simplicity is catchy.
Can we say, “The Great American Book Cover?”
Wait, actually, this may be the Great American Book Cover. The one that everyone knows, has seen, and will likely continue to see forever.
Less is more, and the spotlight here says everything we need it to.
Yes to the boldness of red on black, along with what look, at first glance, like surgical gloves, but are in fact high-fasion gloves.
How often does green-on-orange work?
A modern reissue by FSG, just because. Bacon’s design once again used to stunning effect.
If you search “Philip Roth book cover” on Google, you’ll find a lot of book covers making use of the irresistible black-white-red color combination.
This one may in fact be my favorite and one day I hope to see another book cover that essentially steals this design.
Pretty sure everyone owns a copy of this edition. Couldn’t have a list of book covers without it.
Michael Seidlinger is the Library and Academic Marketing Manager at Melville House.