Today we start an occasional series of guest posts by thi wurd team and beyond. Artist Kate McAllan chooses ten book covers that speak to her.

Ten Book Covers by Kate McAllan

Some of these books sit front-facing on my shelf so I can look at them all the time.


1. White – Kenya Hara (Lars Müller Publishers, 2007)

It’s the use of negative space I like here. It makes you want to hold it in your hand. I bought this book at the Whitechapel Gallery book fair in London. It was laid out so beautifully. Like an artwork. I wanted to keep this book in perfect condition, but I’ve carried it about so much that of course it no longer is.


2. Licks of Love – John Updike (Alfred A. Knopf, 2000)

A friend gave me this book when I was at school. I always thought it was so old. It looked old. Plus the cover had a lot of water damage. I imagined it had been sitting in some attic since the 1960s. But no. This book was published in 2000. So when I look at it now I wonder if the cover is a kind of celebration of those old, slightly strange covers from that era. I completely love the colours. And the stripes. Makes me think of ice-cream. I could probably do without the banjo and yet it makes me laugh every time I see it. It was drawn by Chris Ware, a well-known cartoonist, which is appropriate because Updike was a budding cartoonist before he started writing. The rest of the jacket was designed by the author and I think the rest is better. I just so enjoy looking at it. It’s not that easy to buy this collection. And I can’t think why. Or maybe I can. Regardless, ‘New York Girl’ is one of my favourite stories of all time.


3.  Devotion – Patti Smith (Yale University Press, 2017)

It feels like a pamphlet. I love soft covers like these. It makes you hold the book in a particular way.  And I also love faded photographs. Especially of Patti.


 4. Beautiful Losers – Leonard Cohen (First Vintage Books, 1993)

This used to sit on my desk when I was a student. It was given to me by a tutor who remembered I was a big LC fan. He didn’t like the book, but maybe I would. I didn’t really like the book. I’m not sure anyone does completely. But I do love the cover image and the faded colours here. Like everything is a little sun-bleached. There’s a photograph on the second page of Cohen by Dominique Issermann, his friend / artistic collaborator / lover for several years. He dedicated ‘I’m Your Man’ to her. “All these songs are for You D. I”. Her artwork is incredibly beautiful. I suppose that’s a story I like more than anything.


5. Childhood – Tove Ditlevsen (Penguin Books, 2019)

There’s quite a trend for this boxed photograph-on-colour design. But I like it a lot. It feels a little European. Last year I worked in a bookshop and came to understand the power of great covers from a commercial point of view. It was this pink and the fact that these books are presented in a series that pulled me in. I would go home and think about them a lot. I wanted to own them all.


6. Existentialism & Humanism – Jean-Paul Sartre (Eyre Methuen, 1975)

Simple and striking. It feels cool. I even love the scale of this book. It’s so small.


 7. Notebooks of a Naked Youth – Billy Childish (Codex, 1997)

I love portraits that involve an energy like this. Not an attitude as such. Just a sense that the sitter might not be that pleased to be there. Like they’re waiting to move off as fast as possible. I suppose it’s the reason I was drawn so much to the photograph used on the cover of thi wurd Magazine, Issue 4.


8. Poet in New York – Federico Garcia Lorca (Penguin Books, 2002)

This book arrived in the post for me during lockdown. It was from a friend who sent me a package. I like the drawing, they said, and maybe you’ll like the writing. I stared at the drawing for ages. I love the use of fragile lines. It can feel confident and hesitant at the same time. I bought a book of Lorca’s drawings and studied them. Perhaps I would start making my drawings more like them? It didn’t end up like that. I still study the cover and think of it though.


9. The Nick Adams Stories – Ernest Hemingway (Charles Scribner’s sons, 1972)

It would have been easy to design a generic cover for this. You can almost imagine the board room meeting. But I’m so drawn to the use of print here. The dark colours and shapes which create such an atmosphere. The colours together are quite ugly. But striking.


10. Forbidden Fruit – From the Letters of Abelard and Heloise (Penguin Books, 2007)

This book is part of the Penguin Great Loves series. They are all slim volumes and small in scale. Typically they choose one image to represent the cover and each have a relationship – loosely with the text and with each other. I like things that involve collecting. I want to able to own and read all of these. But I also really like the use of a very simple singular image to represent a story. It doesn’t try to tell a story. Or dictate. It tries to hint at something within. Or beyond.

Kate McAllan is the cover designer and illustrator of thi wurd Magazine, Issue 4.