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John Gall

The Nabokov Collection


The Eye by Vladimir Nabokov, designed by John Gall
 Every so often, a dream project lands on your desk. Here's one: redesign Vladimir Nabokov's book covers. All twenty-one of them. Let me rephrase. Every so often the most daunting project of your entire life arrives on your desk.


Nabokov was a passionate butterfly collector, a theme that has cropped up on some of his past covers. My idea was also a play on this concept. Each cover consists of a photograph of a specimen box, the kind used by collectors like Nabokov to display insects. Each box would be filled with paper, ephemera, and insect pins, selected to somehow evoke the book's content. And to make it more interesting for readers — and less daunting for me — I thought it would be fun to ask a group of talented designers to help create the boxes.
Here's who I asked: Chip Kidd, Carol Carson, Jason Fulford and Tamara Shopsin, Megan Wilson and Duncan Hannah, Rodrigo Corral, Martin Venezky, Charles Wilkin, Helen Yentus and Jason Booher, Peter Mendelsund, Sam Potts, Dave Eggers, Paul Sahre, Stephen Doyle, Carin Goldberg, Michael Bierut, Barbara de Wilde, and Marian Bantjes. They were then photographed by Alison Gootee. The results are shown here. I hope you enjoy them.


Posted in: Books

Comment 60  |     |     |   Like 23  |   Tweet 2
Comments [60]
An incredible project! Many of them are simply lovely but there is something catastrophically perfect about Paul Sahre's "The Luzhin Defense".
Greg J. Smith
11.09.09
11:26

What's especially wonderful about these covers is how tactile they appear to be. I want to just reach in and touch the specimens.
Abby Fisher
11.10.09
10:55

Outstanding.
When are these going to be on display at AIGA...
ande la monica
11.10.09
11:08

What, no Lolita?????
Catherine
11.10.09
12:10

Simply beautiful John. What a great idea and execution of it.
Henry Sene Yee
11.10.09
12:36

There seems to be one glaring omission...
WilliamKH
11.10.09
12:47

More to come...
John Gall
11.10.09
12:50

Just breathtaking. All of them are so well thought out and executed. Bravo to the concept and everyone involved in filling those little specimen boxes with visual delight.
Ian shimkoviak
11.10.09
01:01

Those are fantastic -- it's a brilliant project, and the individual responses are amazing, too.

Shawn Vestal
11.10.09
01:51

Which of the designers actually read the book in question?

@Catherine Lolita was 'covered' here with intriguing results: http://venusfebriculosa.com/?p=261
Toby
11.10.09
02:40

The Enchanter is sort of a Lolita as it was the story on which Lolita was based.

I love the Pnin cover!!
Karin
11.10.09
04:00

Which of the designers actually read the book in question?

I bet they all did. I had already read Speak, Memory so I was happy that was the cover I was given.

There seems to be one glaring omission...

I would have hated to have been assigned Lolita. Too much pressure.

Michael Bierut
11.10.09
05:35

Deliciously apt. What a treat for the eyes and the mind. Bravo, John.

And don't book jacket designers love to read, hence their vocation?
Marty Blake
11.10.09
06:27

Interesting that Lolita is not included! It seems that once again, Lolita, will not have the same overall aesthetic as the rest of the Nabokov Vintage paperbacks.

I quite like these, though my favorite Nabokov novel, Ada or Ardor, is not as lovely to me as I had hoped it'd be.
Nicole
11.11.09
02:54

My favorite: Invitation to a Beheading.
That little chair in front of the invite is hauntingly suggestive ...
Beth
11.11.09
09:19

What's especially wonderful about these covers is how tactile they appear to be. I want to just reach in and touch the specimens.
ugg boots
11.11.09
09:23

This series is just stunning...
Emily
11.11.09
10:26

What a relief! The previous Vintage covers were truly unfortunate. What I love about these is how they echo the structural elements of each novel, rather than simple subject matter. For VN, structure WAS the subject. A great example here is the cover for Despair. In the novel, Hermann believes he has found his double, though this mirroring is really all in his head. The beautifully simple cover art here enacts the same illusion: we think the colored lines mirror each other, but when we look closer we see that the shades are all different (VN was always very careful to treat each shade as an independent color). Moreover, unlike a true mirror, the colors don't meet; instead, we are given a great black void between them, and this is where Herman's "Despair" originates. Beautiful work.
Matt
11.11.09
11:11

Nice book cover. Very modern design for classic author
Art ideas
11.11.09
12:13

Wonderful! I especially like how "Look at the Harlequins!" so explicitly mirrors one of my other favorite works of literature: http://rm7guy.co.uk/5054.ClueBook04.jpg It is about doubles, after all!
Vanity Feral
11.11.09
08:30

John these designs are wonderful! This is a very smart assignment.
The collection reminds me of the work of Joseph Cornell, although many of Cornell’s assemblages are interactive. One of my professors once told a story of how he was working as a curator at a museum and was surprised to learn that he was in put in charge of unpacking and setting up one of Cornell’s works. There were no directions or photographs — the work and composition were to be handled by the audience.

Now how do we design an interactive The Nabokov Collection? It is the perfect format for our iPhones and you could take advantage of the new “Movement-based interfaces” that Apple just patented.

Thank you for this post!
Carl W. Smith
11.12.09
09:14

Simply beautiful John. What a great idea and execution of it.
ugg boots
11.12.09
09:38

Nabokov was a syesthete with color hearing. Did that come into play in any of the designs?
Ed Martin
11.14.09
09:58

Unbelievably exquisite, every one of them! My favorite design would have to be the one for Glory. Simply delectable.

When will the books be out and where can we order them? :)
Mark David
11.17.09
06:39

Glory is amazing looking.... it's a very creative way to solve this challenge. Transparent Things is my favorite though. It's so beautiful, I wish I could climb inside and explore.
Nichole Budd
11.20.09
06:43

Will these be the covers for retail books? When do they go on sale?
B
12.14.09
10:45

Most of these are on sale now.
John Gall
12.14.09
10:57

These are gorgeoous, but the one for Pale Fire is all wrong. The title comes from Shakespeare (Timon of Athens, if I remember correctly), and refers to the moon reflecting sunlight (those who have read the book will know exactly how this applies). An extinguished match makes no sense whatsoever.
Robert Myers
12.15.09
08:34

'Speak Memory' is simply perfect.
Stacey
12.25.09
05:59

You must have been so pleased to have been given such a fantastic project to work on. It's just so inspiring!
Sige
01.13.10
06:43

This is a very inspired idea with intriguing results. I count "Pale Fire" and "Speak, Memory" as the strongest solutions.
Nathaniel Vaughan
01.31.10
02:57

Wow, those are awesome, and sooooo much better than the new Cormac McCarthy covers.
William Owen
02.18.10
03:10

beautiful.
cory
03.08.10
02:45

I truly love all Nabokov essays! They are truly perfect. So, I've been all the time in search for some interesting new editions.
Mollie
04.30.10
09:53

Nabokov collections of the EYE, THE INVITATION TO A BEHEADING ARE GREAT BOOKS. I did the invitation to a beheading.
GUY AMBASSA
05.20.10
12:15

Stunning and inspired. I've never read any of Nabokov's books (though I know of them), but now I want to buy the entire collection for the covers alone (and the added benefit of finally being able to read them ;). Job(s) very well done. The sort of work I aspire to.
Nathaniel Kraft
06.09.10
12:53

I like it.
Oz Durham
06.18.10
09:53

This is a very smart assignment.
The collection reminds me of the work of Joseph Cornell, although many of Cornell’s assemblages are interactive. One of my professors once told a story of how he was working as a curator at a museum and was surprised to learn that he was in put in charge of unpacking and setting up one of Cornell’s works. There were no directions or photographs.
Criar site
07.15.10
01:03

I'm dreaming of creating a wonderful site like this one...My wife told me something nice about The Nabokov Collection, and I want to purchase this collection.
Marcoosp
08.12.10
05:05

I finally got a chance to see a few of these in person and was terribly disappointed by the cheap paper used for the text block. It is rough like sandpaper and the printing is spotty and difficult to read. The covers are so clever and wonderful that I had planned to buy the whole set, but now I'll just stick with the editions I have. What a shame that limited hardcover editions (with acid-free paper) timed to coincide with the publication of Laura were not an option.
Matt
09.10.10
12:34

I love these. Where can we buy them?
K
09.24.10
11:28

Where's Lolita? Or was it included in the stories?
Elizabeth Gage
10.06.10
11:50

These are so, so wonderful. What a brilliant concept. Does anyone know the reason for holding back on Mary, Strong Opinions, The Enchanter, and Lolita?
Dan Bashara
10.12.10
02:27

Thanks for a nice share you have given to us with such an large collection of information. Great work you have done by sharing them to all. simply superb
låna pengar
10.25.10
03:03

You might find this interesting:
Nabokov's son talks about his father's preferences in book cover design.

http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/pradeep_sebastian/article806643.ece
Avinash Rajagopal
11.10.10
06:31

Nabokov has cropped up on some of his past covers. My idea was also a play on this concept. It gave emphasis on the observation of insects.

12.08.10
07:14

Stunning and inspired. I've never read any of Nabokov's books (though I know of them), but now I want to buy the entire collection for the covers alone (and the added benefit of finally being able to read them ;). Job(s) very well done. The sort of work I aspire to.
capatana
12.09.10
03:40

After finding two of these remaindered today I endeavored to collect the series... interestingly it looks as if Bend Sinister, The Gift, Look at the Harlequins and the Enchanter haven't been issued with these covers yet -- or rather, they exist in these covers only as audiobooks.

Does anyone have the story -- will the softcovers for these be issued once the old-cover stock is gone through?
Owen Troy
12.31.10
08:15

@Owen Troy

I have the same question. I've been trying to collect all of them also and I'm missing the same 4 you are. I've checked both Amazon and Random House/Vintage (the publisher) and both have the old (and rather ugly) covers. I think either the publisher just quit and we'll never get the new covers, or, like you said, we'll see them once they do a new printing. If you'll notice, the 4 that are missing are not the most popular, so it would make sense why we haven't seen a new printing yet.
Gabe
01.19.11
05:26

I had the chance to see some of these in person and was terribly disappointed with the cheap paper used for the text block, rough as sandpaper a very bad impression and difficult to read, covers are so smart and wonderful that I had planned to buy the set whole, but now I'll stick with the issues I have.
Ar
01.23.11
08:31

Stunning and inspired. I've never read any of Nabokov's books (though I know of them), but now I want to buy the entire collection for the covers alone (and the added benefit of finally being able to read them). Job(s) very well done. The sort of work I aspire to.
Tessa Marshal
02.25.11
11:46

Vladimir Nabokov was one of the most gifted and prolific prose stylists of the 20th century, that he was a supremely talented chess player and a recognized expert in lepidoptery. He also was an outstanding translator of poetry and prose, his sensual multi-linguality an endless source of admiration and envy.
Verti
04.02.11
11:31

I have the same question. I've been trying to collect all of them also and I'm missing the same 4 you are. I've checked both Amazon and Random House/Vintage (the publisher) and both have the old (and rather ugly) covers. I think either the publisher just quit and we'll never get the new covers, or, like you said, we'll see them once they do a new printing. If you'll notice, the 4 that are missing are not the most popular, so it would make sense why we haven't seen a new printing yet.
nfljerseyhome
05.03.11
04:45

I've never read any of Nabokov's books (though I know of them), but now I want to buy the entire collection for the covers alone (and the added benefit of finally being able to read them ;). Job(s) very well done. The sort of work I aspire to.
George Molorides
06.18.11
08:30

RE: The four missing covers. I checked into this. The new books are printed when the old edition runs out. The missing four are less well known and as such, sell less than the others. This puts them on a longer schedule for reprint. I believe The Gift and The Enchanter are happening within the next couple of months. I look forward to seeing them too!
John Gall
07.15.11
04:47

I agree ... I've never read any of Nabokov's books (although I know them), but now I want to buy the entire collection of covers alone (and the added benefit of finally being able to read them all).
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08.13.11
01:32

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