bookjackets by alvin lustig for new directions books

Gotham Bookmart, New York, 1947

Preface by Alvin Lustig

The opportunity to design this series of book jackets was an unusual one. Rarely is the graphic designer given the chance to act upon what he considers his highest level upon a problem of serious intentions.

In this case both factors were happily combined. The publisher, though of modest proportions, who has never swerved from an early established integrity, wanted to make as attractive as possible, an inexpensive reprint series representing the best of modern writing. There was no need to "design down" as there had been no "writing down" in the books selected. Still it was necessary to attract and hold the roving eye of the potential buyer. To do this, a series of symbols that could quickly summarize the spirit of each book, were established. The personal and subjective concept of each book was taken and the attempt was made to objectify and project it in visual form. Sometimes the symbols are quite obvious and taken from the subject itself. Others are more evasive and attempt to characterize the emotional content of the book. The jackets were always planned for maximum visual effectiveness when displayed together, as well as when shown singly against the confused background of the average bookstore.

As the publishers remarks testify, the primary aim of reaching the audience was achieved. I hope too that the secondary aim, that of projecting a series of "public" symbols of higher than usual standards, was also achieved.

Preface by James Laughlin

It is obvious that the series of jacket designs which Alvin Lustig has made for my New Classics books is a constant pleasure to the eye. There is nothing in the book world today which compares with them for color, for variety, for life, for appeal to the intelligence. Again and again I find myself lining the books up just to gloat over them.

What is quite as important: these jackets have enormously increased the sale of the New Classics Series. About eight books were in print before Lustig came into the picture. They were jacketed in a very conservative, "booky", way. Sales were pretty dreary. Then we brightened the books up with the Lustig covers. Immediately, they began to move. Stores which had been ordering one book at a time began ordering five books at a time. It was clear that the visual appeal was doing its work. Stores began devoting window displays to the books where before they had hidden them away on the shelves.

It is perhaps not a very good thing that people should buy books by eye. In fact, it's a very bad thing. People should buy books for their literary merit. But since I have never published a book which I didn't consider a serious literary work - and never intend to - I have had no bad conscience about using Lustig to increase sales. His beautiful designs are helping to make a mass audience aware of high quality reading.

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