We ‘re drawn to book covers that depict the appearance of easy freedom.
I say the appearance because in reality it took an accomplished designer, days of thought and effort, which don’t show. It looks easy. Easy freedom, but again, why is that so attractive?
The idea of freedom has been bouncing around in my head for a few months now. My brain keeps replaying a section of the Pablo Neruda poem Walking Around, which has also stuck, gum like, to my brain for decades now.
It so happens that I am sick of my feet and my nails
and my hair and my shadow.
It so happens I am sick of being a man.
Still it would be marvelous
to terrify a law clerk with a cut lily,
or kill a nun with a blow on the ear.
It would be great
to go through the streets with a green knife
letting out yells until I died of the cold.
Maybe it’s because Neruda puts into words a very human desire. A desire for easy freedom that comes from nowhere, when we need it most, and which offers us experience. The experience of daring to break with the things we must do, and instead do the things we fear and long to do.
As I was looking for cover examples for this post, I was reminded that books geared to women readers, often show a break with rules. It’s something that I remember contemplating when I designed the jacket for Calling Invisible Women. The book is about a woman who wakes up invisible and the freedom it gives her to rectify things she would never have dared to before. In the book her dog is the only one who can still sense her.
But for me, the metaphor of a dog on a leash loose without its owner was also a really novel way to show the protagonist’s sudden freedom. I got carried away illustrating this, as does the dog on the back of the jacket.
Another good example of aspirational freedom is the paperback edition of Committed written by Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love fame. (The hardcover subtitle was pretty funny: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage).
Jessica Hische designed the paperback cover. As you can see in Jessica’s bouncing and extremely light lettering design, both freedom and a break from commitment are shown. The broken heart represents breaking the constrains of love and the plane and its wild path, the freedom from it.
Nowhere on the cover do we see "making peace with marriage". Clearly fleeing love is more fun to show.
A more humorous example, one that could easily be added to the list of crimes in the Neruda poem above, is Erin Schell’s design for Something Missing.
The book’s protagonist is an OCD thief who only steals objects their owners won’t miss. And on the cover he freely steals a letter from the title. Which one? The spare S in MISSING, of course! The letter we won’t miss.
The gratifying thing about Something Missing is that the thief is frozen in the act of taking what he wants, and we all get to witness his freedom to take it.