Into the heart of the art of a book cover

A gathering of book lovers here celebrated the art of book cover designing and recognised the foremost practitioners of the craft. Cutting across genres and languages, the longlist of Oxford Bookstore Book Cover Prize was unveiled over the weekend and also saw experts throw light on the subject — with some fine wine and country music to keep one company.

Designing a book cover may seem the easiest of all tasks; after all, it is only a matter of putting the title of the book on some pictures. Or so we think. They say that the best of writers are those who are born with a knack for writing, but even the best of book designers, no matter how creative they are, have to train themselves in the art to thrive in the industry.

Once inside the boiling pot of publishing, they are faced with unheard questions like what’s an A format or how do you calculate a spine? Understanding the writer’s words just as the writer does, and to summarise the tome in one single image that adorns the cover of the book is a book designer’s forte. And the book cover, more often than not, is the first attraction for many readers.

The philosophy of the prize holds standout cover design as an integral element for the success of a book, and believes that designers and illustrators play a vital role in helping a book become emblematic and create recall.

This is perhaps why this unique prize, that too coming from a leading book store chain, holds immense relevance. A glimpse at its longlist bears this out as books like “Gyarahvin A ke Ladke”, written by Gaurav Solanki in Hindi and designed by David Fleck, Sheeraz Hussain, Shoeb Shahid, have made the cut alongside those coming from the thriving mainstream English publishers like “From Quetta to Delhi: A Partition Story” or “Remnants of a Separation”.

“It has been a privilege to work on the Oxford Bookstore Book Cover Prize, and a learning experience at every level, transforming my understanding of the relationship between graphics and text,” said author Namita Gokhale.

“In its fourth year now, the prize has provided an important platform for artists and designers to showcase their crucial and intrinsic role in the making of a book.” she added.

Perumal Murugan’s “Poonachi” — a subtle book cover that narrates the dilemma of the story — has also featured in the longlist. Interestingly, the prize has noticed “Saakshi – The Witness” from Niyogi Books and “Love and Rage – The Inner Worlds of Children” from Yoda Press. It is indeed a positive sign as India’s smaller presses have long been ignored in the modern day literary awards as well as other similar recognitions.

The longlist has been chosen by Aman Nath, India’s first heritage hotelier and architectural restorer; Alka Pande, leading art critic and curator; Dayanita Singh, an eminent figure in contemporary Indian photography and bookmaking; Namita Gokhale, acclaimed author and publisher; and Priti Paul, Director, Apeejay Surrendra Group and the mind behind the Oxford Bookstore chain.

The evening hosted by Paul also saw the launch of a calendar, curated for the prize.
In its first year, the prize was given to designer, Bena Sareen for “Talking of Justice”, followed by designer Pinaki De for “Kalkatta”. In its third edition, Maithali Doshi Aphale took the prize for “Himalaya”.

The shortlist will be announced at Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival on January 19 next year, and the winner will be announced at the Jaipur Book Mark of the Jaipur Literature Festival on January 24.


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