Judging a book by its cover: The NaturalUpdate

September 16, 2014

Last month, I heard a  fascinating episode of The Leonard Lopate Show about what we “see” when we read. The guest was Peter Mendelsund, whose primary occupation is that of a book cover designer. You can listen to the segment here:

August was a busy month for Mendelsund. Not only did he publish the aforementioned What We See When We Read, bur also Cover, about the creative process and all the thinking that goes into coming up with the most appropriate book art.

Bernard Malamud’s classic novel of fall and redemption has been around since 1952. Over the decades, it has been wrapped by a number of wildly varying covers. I wonder how the discussions went for some of those designs?

I tried put these covers in guestimated order of publishing (except for the Robert Redford movie tie-in). If anyone has specific information abut the various editions, please let me know.

 TheNaturalFirstEdition1952 The-Natural-Book-Cover-3
TheNatural6 TheNatural1964
TheNatural10 TheNatural5
TheNatural7 TheNatural1967
TheNatural4 TheNatural1973
TheNatural11 TheNaturalBritish2002
TheNaturalAustralia TheNatural8

Just a few observations:

  • Some of the covers are downright dull, leaving me to wonder what the book might be about (in particular the “pinstriped” version with the script font). But the Dell paperback is just the kind of pulp design we’ve come to love from that era, full of sexual tension in a PG-13 manner.
  • I know I’ve seen that drawing of the runner sliding into home plate before, but can’t recall the details.
  • The Yankee on the left of the cover is Ron Blomberg but who are the other two? I’m wondering if that’s Bernie Allen on the right.
  • The book on the left of the middle row strikes me as coming from the late-60s, early-70s, with a kind of psychedelic/horror flavor.
  • The book on the right of the next-to-last row was published in England; the one on the left of the bottom row, Australia.

tHEnATURALpROOFSUPDATE: Facebook friend James Meier pointed me to abebooks.com where I found a few more cover versions and interesting tidbits.

A first edition, signed by the author, is available for $15,000.

You can also get a set of uncorrected proofs — the kind often sent to reviewers before the actual book is released — from the United Kingdom for $155. This was produced in 1963 and contains “an afterword by Malamud and a 10-page glossary of baseball terms not found in the American edition.”

In addition, Meier notes a strong similarity between the cover of the Penguin edition and an illustration by Dick Perez. But Edward Paul Gardner, another FB friend, points out the actual drawing is by Lance Richbourg.

TheNatural1952-155 TheNatural17UK1987
The Natural16 1966 The Natural 1952
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