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In which John discusses the process of designing the cover for The Anthropocene Reviewed. Preorder a signed copy* today here or wherever books are sold. Thank you, thank you, thank you to Grace Han.

Find more preorder links here: The Anthropocene Reviewed is out on May 18th 2021.

* Please note that only the U.S. and Canada editions will be signed. Sorry to people living outside the U.S. and Canada!


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Good morning Hank it's Tuesday.

Two major developments, first The Anthropocene Reviewed book has a cover, and today I want to show it to you and also talk about how book covers happen. Or at least how they’ve happened for my books.

The Anthropocene Reviewed is my sixth book, but because of reprints and foreign editions and so on,. I've had over a hundred covers for my books, some of which I did not particularly care for, and some of which I absolutely adore, and then there are some that are just wondrous in their strangeness, like the Swedish cover of Turtles All the Way Down. Cover design is often a fraught and complex experience for authors not just because the cover is the first part of a book the reader will see, but also because the cover design is often the first time someone has responded artistically to your book.

Plus, the cover comes at a time in the publishing process when I feel exceptionally exposed and nervous-- and the cover designer is often the first person I don’t know to read the book. Some authors have near-complete control over covers; others have little or no say in their process. I’ve been lucky to always have a voice in the conversation, at least for my U.

S. covers, thanks to my editor Julie Strauss-Gabel, who has been my editor since my first book was published sixteen years ago. For The Anthropocene Reviewed, the cover began with Julie and I talking. We talked about the artwork of Hiroyuki Doi and my circle drawings and road trips and microorganisms and the Bonneville salt flats and sunsets.

We also discussed our favorite book designers. These days, book covers have to work both as physical objects and as two-inch high thumbnails; and I love the designs of Grace Han because they are bold and legible, but they also find a way to be really human, even vulnerable, which is what I want the book to be. So then Julie was like, I’ll ask Grace if she’s interested, and she was.

She read the book and then developed a few possible covers. I was immediately drawn to one that showed interweaving bands of color. I was reminded of Josef Albers color studies, where perception of a color changes depending on proximity to other colors; like this brown and this brown appear different to me but they are in fact the same brown.

And Grace’s paths of shifting color felt like a visual expression of what I have tried to write about in. The Anthropocene Reviewed, how perspective shapes so-called reality, and how forces big and small shape the paths we end up sharing. You can read a short interview with Grace in the comments below, but one thing she told me was, “I like to brainstorm while thinking of someone who would most need the book I am working on.

For The Anthropocene Reviewed, I think I was that someone. I lost a close friend last year and recently found myself wound up in the stresses of pandemic life. Simply put, I was becoming cynical and losing my ability to be present.

When I read the introduction, I was gripped by the idea of pathways and labyrinths and it stayed with me throughout the rest of the book because each essay felt like a path. I personally love the essay on Sunsets because I felt it best described what this book encourages me to do— take off my armor of cynicism and love the beauty that surrounds us. So, I gravitated towards this idea of intertwining paths/journeys lit by the colors of the sunset.

I hope the imperfect paths and hand lettering echoes the imperfect but bold paths we all travel.” For me, that’s exactly what Grace’s cover achieves--it finds a way to be beautiful and sincere without being maudlin. It renders the sunset in the way I hoped to render it in that essay, and it says so much about what I hope the book will be for its readers. I never really know what I want my book covers to look like.

The truth is, I’m incredibly lucky to be able to publish at all, let alone have brilliant designers respond to my work. But when I saw this cover, I immediately thought, “Oh. There it is.

The cover of The Anthropocene Reviewed.” And it became real to me. I hope you love it as much as I do; thank you so, so, so much to. Grace Han for bringing it to life.

The Anthropocene Reviewed book comes out on May 18th and is available for pre-order now. Hank, I’ll see you on Friday.