1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die
In March 2006, Peter Boxall and a team of academics centred around the University of Sussex, in conjunction with Quintet, published 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. It was issued in a British edition by Cassell and an American edition by Universe. In this stylish volume of 960 glossy pages, the essential 1001 novels of all time as selected by the authors are each given a brief write up. The text is illustrated with hundreds of author photographs and stills from film adaptations, as well as lots of period book cover artwork.
Twenty years ago, the French came up with this idea with the Bibliothèque idéale, a sort of ‘2401 Books You Must Read Before You Die’, first published in 1988 and still in print today. Although the Bibliothèque idéale is a considerably more austere affair without a single illustration, it is refreshingly cosmopolitan: over 75% of the books listed were written in a language other than French. Compare this with 1001 Books where English language titles make up the overwhelming majority of the selection. Notwithstanding the somewhat ethnocentric nature of the selection and the glaring omissions found therein, 1001 Books is a beautiful object full of beautiful iconography, and I’m finding it quite useful, in conjunction with my trusty Bibliothèque idéale of course.
This spring, Flammarion have issued a French adaptation of 1001 Books (presumably because Universe, who published the American edition, and Flammarion both belong to the the Italian publishing giant Rizzoli), with an added preface by Jean d’Ormesson of the Académie française and a slighly altered selection. I propose to put the three covers of 1001 Books up for side-by-side comparison (from left to right: British edition; American edition; French edition).
Click on a cover for the full size image.
As is often the case, the British cover is easily the most attractive of the lot. Here we have a concept by Tristan de Lancey featuring David Pelham‘s cover artwork for the 1972 Penguin edition of A Clockwork Orange. The other two, while somewhat representative of the content of the book, are inconsistent with the style of the book and are simply not doing it for me. With a French Canadian edition of 1001 Books due out on 21 August 2007, to be published by the same people responsible for the yellow journalism of the Winnipeg Sun and the Journal de Montréal (not particularly known for their sense of the aesthetic), I fear the worst…
Update 2007-06-10: I’ve found the cover designs for four other editions of 1000 Books (from left to right, top to bottom: Spanish edition; German edition; Dutch edition; Australia & New Zealand edition)
I think that these might be the best designs of all, reconciling as they do the style and the content of the book. In any case, they definitely beat the French and American covers hands down. Also, notice how they selected different book spines that are representative of the local literary culture for each edition.