Playful, Subversive Covers Give Nabokov's Books New Life

Selling books can be hard, even for Nabokov—so Penguin has brought beauty and mischief to the jackets of his classics

AH_Nabokoff_003_600px_embed.jpg
Given Vladimir Nabokov's popularity, his books don't sell as well as you'd expect. Hoping to attract more readers, Penguin commissioned Pentagram's Angus Hyland to design less stuffy covers for their entire 24-title Nabokov backlist. "The thinking was to create a strong presence in Nabokov by having his own look and feel and to sort of play up the playfulness and seductiveness and wickedness of his style," Hyland explains, "rather than the usual tackle of Nabokov, which is much more high-literature."

After designing three separate concepts, the Nabokov estate, with the permission of Vladimir's only son, Dmitri, approved the versions shown here. As Hyland puts it, the chosen covers better reflect the author's style—they "celebrate the very classical, conservative quality that is in Nabokov, which is really subverted by the books, by the writing."


MORE ON BOOK DESIGN:
Charlotte Strick: Where the Cover of Your Favorite Novel Comes From
Rebecca Greenfield: Hand-Sewn Book Covers

Each of the books has a decorative pattern surrounding a clean, centered layout, a classic way to design a book jacket. Hyland then conceived of adding layers that would destroy our standard understanding of how literature should look. First, he played with the patterns themselves, incorporating illustrated details—optical illusions, mazes, escheresque puzzles—that echoed the contents of the book. Then, Hyland designed yet another layer, commissioning illustrators to deface the art. "They were literally doodling on the covers," he explains. The result was these provocative and playful drawings that call attention to the small and disparate elements of Nabokov's writings.

Penguin is releasing the covers in three batches over the year. The following are images from the last set in the series. You can find the previous titles at Pentagram.

AH_Nabokoff_001_600px_embed.jpg
AH_Nabokoff_002_600px_embed.jpg
AH_Nabokoff_004_600px_embed.jpg
Images: Courtesy of Pentagram

Presented by

Rebecca Greenfield is a former staff writer at The Wire.

Saving the Bees

Honeybees contribute more than $15 billion to the U.S. economy. A short documentary considers how desperate beekeepers are trying to keep their hives alive.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Entertainment

Just In