Books, Art, & Visual Culture


Writing and design by Melissa Hill, graphic designer.

Bookshop visit: Mary Martin Port Melbourne, March 2019

A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of tagging along with my husband, Matt Shanks, as he launched his new picture book, Queen Celine at Mary Martin’s new Port Melbourne store. It was an exciting occasion because I saw all the work that went into that book and I know how much it means to him, plus it’s always a treat to see how the kids (and their parents) respond to both the reading and the drawing workshop afterwards! Added to that, it was our first visit to the new Mary Martin store. You know the Southbank store is one of my favourite bookshops and this new location is just as lovely. One half of the store is devoted to children’s and YA, while the other half caters to adults. The selection is not huge, but it’s very well curated so it’s fun to browse. The experience is less like marching into a giant Dymocks with a specific title in mind, and more like your very well-read friend with great taste telling you, “You should really read this because I think you’ll like it!”

Cover design-wise, this is what caught my eye on this visit:

1. The Standing Chandelier, by Lionel Shriver. I’m just a sucker for an uncoated stock and I especially like them in combination with a foil. This lovely cover has both, which means that it’s probably going to end up in my collection in the near future. The scattering of tiny stars almost look like sparkles on water or the view if you squint at a Christmas tree, and I really like the way they cluster around the long edges of the cover, parting in the middle to accommodate the book title. The choice of a classic serif, New Century Schoolbook, balances out any frivolity the festive festoon of stars might suggest and gives this cover staying power for your shelf. There’s an article on Spine where designer Holly Macdonald explains the process she went through to design this cover. I always love it when I stumble across an article about the very cover design I’m posting about, it’s a bit of treat. 

2. The Mars Room, by Rachel Kushner. OK, this is one of those annoying situations where I can’t find the designer who created this cover. Perhaps it’s a new edition? Ohhh, it’s a U.S. vs U.K. situation. Although the U.S. Edition looks a lot more appropriately edgy and raw, thanks to the use of photographer Nan Goldin’s “Amanda in the Mirror”, from a purely aesthetic perspective, I like the U.K. edition. The scrawled red text (with a nice gloss UV)  is evocative of graffiti written in blood, a hint of the violence and subversiveness in the novel. The pink background is incongruously cute for a novel set in a prison. Maybe it’s meant to be ironic? Actually, although I like how this cover looks, I suspect the U.S. edition is a more appropriate design for the content. But this one is attractive enough to catch a customer’s passing attention… all depends on what your goal is, I suppose.

3. There There, by Tommy Orange. This one is designed by Suzanne Dean - thanks to Spine for another article about the very thing I’m posting! The illustration is a custom woodcut by artist Bryn Perrott and it’s been printed in a vivid red foil that I’ve tried to capture in detail here. The hand drawn text of the title complements the illustration perfectly and placing the whole thing on a raw, kraft-like background makes it feel wonderfully hand crafted, like a limited edition print.

4. Black Leopard Red Wolf, by Marlon James. Designer Helen Yentas has taken this beautifully bizarre illustration by artist Pablo Gerardo Camacho and entwined it with the book title at large scale for maximum impact. It’s the illustration that steals the show, though. The vivid pinks and teals lend a magical quality to the writhing creatures, making them more fantastical than gory.There’s some green foil in there for a bit of zing which is nice, but it doesn’t need it.

5. Free Food for Millionaires, by Min Jin Lee. I don’t know who designed this one, but the lovely pattern of gold foil feathers/leaves on a bright red background can’t fail to catch the eye. I’m less enthused about the typography, however.

6. The Rules of Background Croquet, by Sunni Overend. I guess the flamingo is what got me with this sweet cover, designed by Hazel Lam. What’s not to like about a flamingo, right? Also, I seem to be weirdly attracted to pink in a way that I never was when I was younger. This is Sunni Overend’s second novel and it looks like Hazel (or HarperCollins) might be trying to establish a little bit of continuity here with the cover designs… the same typeface has been used for Sunni’s name and the same typographic treatment of staggering the title out over the cover whilst intertwining it with a simple graphic motif. She’s changed up the title typeface here though, using Lulo Clean which, in combination with the flamingo, gives this book a much friendlier and fun vibe than its predecessor, The Dangers of Truffle Hunting. That said, I think the latter is a much more stylish design.

7. Five Feet Apart, by Rachael Lippincott. OK, I’m a dope, but I just made the connection between this book and the film that’s out at the moment. According to this article, the book is actually a novelisation of the screenplay. Refreshingly, however, the cover design features some lovely illustration work instead of being an obvious film tie-in. I really like the flowers blossoming from the bronchial-like tendrils (the book is about two teens with cystic fibrosis falling in love) hinting that something beautiful can grow from something less than ideal. This cover is typical for illustrator, Lisa Perrin, whose work has a quirky, magical feel to it.

8. Useless Magic: Lyrics and Poetry, by Florence Welch. Cloth boards with gold foil? Sign me up! As well as a beautiful cover, this book has some luscious marbled endpapers that make this a very special volume (even if it was followed up by an even more special limited-edition Gucci edition). 

9. A Poem for Every Day of the Year, edited by Allie Esiri. Another lovely volume of poetry, this has been curated to provide something appropriate to read each day, according to the season and special events on key dates. There’s also a volume “A Poem for Every Night of the Year” and they make a beautiful pair. Illustrator Zanna Goldhawk has made this cover beautiful and festive, a little piece of loveliness to enjoy every day. I think these kinds of books are a great way to make poetry feel more accessible to a more mainstream audience who might feel intimidated by it.

10. Poems to Live Your Life By, chosen and illustrated by Chris Riddell. Yup, another poetry volume. I think these drool-worth books are probably quite the gateway to discovering poetry. Again, cloth boards with a gold foil mmmmmmm. It looks like the trend for these sort of books is to hint at the magical multitude of what’s inside with tendril-like illustrations that coil and weave and thus, through their complexity, suggest that there is an abundance awaiting the reader within the pages.

Maybe a post focussing on the poetry section should be on the cards?