It is a fact, whether sad or happy, that when a book becomes a movie with a big star or two and a lot of press, that book generally gets a new cover. Such is the case for The Great Gatsby, a book with many covers over the years since its original publication by Charles Scribner's Sons in 1925. The cover of the first edition — blue with looming eyes, the art by Francis Cugat — is probably the version you recognize. But there are others, including, now, a version timed to the much-discussed, oft-maligned Baz Luhrmann film adaptation (in theaters May 10!) starring Leonardo DiCaprio. The New York Times' Julie Bosman writes that not everyone is happy about this.
“It’s just God-awful,” Kevin Cassem, a bookseller at McNally Jackson, said on Tuesday. “‘The Great Gatsby’ is a pillar of American literature, and people don’t want it messed with. We’re selling the classic cover and have no intention of selling the new one.”
The original jacket art, Bosman explains, has sold well over the years, and extraordinarily this year. Despite that, this flashy new cover with the movie stars will be available for purchase, too — at least, in certain stores, in various ways. At Barnes and Noble and similar chain book sellers, both editions will be stocked. Walmart, however, will only offer the version that promotes the movie being distributed by Warner Bros. At McNally Jackson (and, one presumes, other independent booksellers), the original version alone will be sold.
Whichever cover you pick, the book's life in sales this year may have to do with the movie and its surrounding hype: "Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, typically sells 500,000 copies each year, but in 2013 it has already shipped 280,000 copies, according to the publisher," writes Bosman. E-book sales are already at more than 125,000. It's a Gatsby boom, with predictions that it may be one of the "top-selling books of 2013." The print run on the new edition, which is expected to attract "the new reader" (or DiCaprio fan), is more than 350,000 copies.
What does your preferred Gatsby cover say about you?
I like this one a lot:
There are many more excellent versions to peruse here, from the Times Magazine. But as always, the look you like is a matter of taste, and you can't blame publishers for trying to get folks to read. After all, that is their business. And reading, that's good! New York Times commenter Jeff writes, "People are flocking to read a great American novel? Hooray! Put a dirty hologram on the cover, for all I care."
In the beauty-is-in-the-eye-of-the-beholder category of thought, Bosman also points out that Ernest Hemingway felt the original Gatsby art by Cugat was "garish," like "the book jacket for a book of bad science fiction." Fitzgerald urged him not to judge that book by its cover.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.