I love Jane Austen (though I wouldn't call myself a Janeite, not yet anyway) and I love book covers (especially pretty ones) so I was really excited for Margaret C. Sullivan's book, Jane Austen Cover to Cover: 200 Years of Classic Book Covers, published November 2014.
Here's a description of the book:
Jane Austen’s six novels are true classics, still immensely popular some 200 years after their first publication. But although the celebrated stories never change, the covers are always different. Jane Austen Cover to Cover compiles two centuries of design, from elegant Victorian hardcovers and the famed 1894 “Peacock” edition to 1950s pulp, movie tie-in editions, graphic novels, foreign-language translations, and many, many others. Filled with beautiful artwork and insightful commentary, this fascinating and visually intriguing collection is a must for Janeites, design geeks, and book lovers of every stripe.This book pretty much lived up to every expectation I had. It was set up in a really aesthetically pleasing way, which made the reading experience so much better. Each page had one cover and a write up. It was clean and allowed you to really absorb every cover individually.
The chapters were divided by years, which I really liked. Chapter One featured the books as they looked when Austen was still alive and it carried on until Chapter Four, which shared the covers up until 2013. Chapter Five featured the movie covers and Six was all about foreign covers.
In addition to talking about covers through the years, the book also shares background information about Austen's life and the book cover process. There were also quotes from the novels, letters from Austen to family members, and biographies. Some of the information was already known to me (I knew, for example, that Austen was not credited as the author on her novels; instead, "By a Lady" was used) but other new tidbits stood out to me. I learned that the binding of books in Austen's time was quite interesting. It was done all by hand and the printed papers were "bound in plain cardboard binding called 'boards'" and "a paper label with the book's title was pasted onto the spine." (page 19) If that sounds flimsy to you, that's because theses covers were not meant to be forever. Wealthy book buyers would recover their books so their library would have a distinctive style. Amazing.
This book is a really quick read since it's a lot of images and a smaller amount of text. You can flip through the book quickly to see all the different covers but I suggest really taking the time to read each description and learn more about why a cover was designed a certain way. The pretty pictures are great but that small bit of text is what elevates the book to the next level.
Margaret C. Sullivan's book is a great one to leave out on the coffee table for guests to peruse. You can even make a game out of it...which cover is each guest's favourite? Mine, for the record, is Random House's Modern Library redesign of Pride and Prejudice, found on page 135. (I love Penguin Threads, just not the one of Emma that's featured in the book.) If you're a Jane Austen fan and love pretty covers, like me, you're definitely going to want to pick up Jane Austen Cover to Cover.
*A copy of this book was provided by Chronicle Books in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*