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Old Classic Novel Covers

November 11, 2013

Cliche breakers to the last, booksellers have always invested in the counter-intuitive belief that we CAN judge a book by its cover. One of my favorite things to do with the interwebs, this knobby stonehenge with buttons that can zip me back to the past with a flick of the fingers, is to browse old paperback book covers, where history licks the timeless with the slobbery residue of convention.

Here’s what I mean:

1955 edition

Then there’s the version I read in 1984.

the copy I read in 1984

the copy I read in 1984

I don’t think you need to think too hard to determine which cover is the more interesting. The one from the 1980s reminds me of the font style of “lolly lolly lolly get your adverbs here”


Here’s another one of my favorite novels, as you might see it today.


And here is what it looked like in the age of Aquarius.


I love this image for allowing me to feel the weird alignment of existentialism and 1979 cult film The Warriors


Here’s what my copy of Lolita looked like–read in the late 1980s:


And here are some of the covers I wish I had been able to glance upon while reading:


Here’s what my favorite copy of Wuthering Heights looked like:


Here’s an interesting vintage cover:


Frequently though, the vintage book cover was a staid affair. Here’s what my first copy of Ulysses looked like:

ulysses redux

But some knowing publisher will make use of Joyce’s celebrity one of these days to make this performance of literary interest the cover:


The only thing remotely cooler than that is an image of Anthony Burgess reading the image of Monroe reading Ulysses:


Now I’m all meta-ed out.


  1. 1984 is my favorite book of all time. I think that cover you posted of it is wonderful! I’ve never seen it.

  2. What an interesting collection of covers you have here. I think I prefer the plain ones, although I could be won over 🙂 by the right cover. Thank you for a story in images.

  3. You could probably do a cultural history based solely on book covers and movie posters. Thanks.

    • Oh my yes, there’s such fecund material there. Not to mention the moral imperative of uncovering all those unfortunately anonymous illustrators who’ve brought so many stories to life for us through cover art.

  4. What an interesting post. I work in the library, and I’m convinced that the cover sells the book. Some of the cover art they have now is so fantastic, that you’re compelled pick the book up no matter what it’s about.

    • I’d love for you to send me some examples of those covers. That would be another good post, the most compelling covers on any book.
      Thanks for reading.

      • You’re right, I’ll keep my eyes open. I seem to be drawn to the same ones too, I mean I pick up the same book over and over. I wonder if that a personal thing, or some subtle marketing ploy that attracts everyone.

      • Now I’m downright intrigued! I need to know what this book is. I think it would be funny (and not at all surprising) if the covers that draw us the most are on books that are not even remotely related to our interests.

      • Honestly, I think you’re right. I love the covers of fantasy/sci fi books, but would never read one.

      • I think it would be great if the aesthetics of the trashy romance cover were to intersect with the standard sci-fi cover–now that’s a book I’d look at–muscular headed little green men clutching some shy damsel in mid swoon, lasers and galactic speeders whizzing by.

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