Recovering the Classics

All too often, classic literature is left with cover artwork that doesn’t reflect anything but “Classic Literature” – a small title on a solid background or pattern, perhaps an old painting.

Pride and Prejudiced designed by Tim Daniel

The lucky few recently turned into films may have stills of the main characters. But most covers don’t try to lure in potential buyers. Why bother? Most people don’t stumble across Pride and Prejudice or Don Quixote by accident. They have heard of them already, they know a little bit about them, they already know the author’s name. Or, more often, they have been assigned it by an English teacher or read it on a “100 books you must read before you die” type of list.

Don Quixote designed by Wedha Abdul Rasyid

These covers tell you nothing about the story. They do nothing to try to generate your interest. Publishers take the lazy option of assuming you will by A Tale of Two Cities because it is A Tale of Two Cities and don’t waste time or effort in making you want to actually read A Tale of Two Cities.

A Tale of Two Cities designed by Alexis Lampley

When trying to redesign DailyLit in 2013, a website which aims to get people reading at least 15 minutes a day, Jennifer Lee at Plympton decided to use classics available from Project Gutenberg. But many had no covers, or scans from long ago: none of which are appealing, and even with ebooks, the cover is the first thing you see. Commissioning the designs for all of these books would have been too expensive. Enter the Creative Action Network (CAN) and the birth of the brilliant initiative Recovering the Classics.

The original campaign took the classic works and crowdsourced cover designs for 100 books. Over 750 artists and designers submitted ideas and now the project has been endorsed by the White House, the Digital Library of America and the New York Public Library. CAN is now raising money for a new campaign called 50x50, which will exhibit 50 covers in all 50 states in the next year.

The goal is get the covers into as many schools and libraries as they can, using posters of the covers to spark interest in the nation’s students. Now they are encouraging people to host their own 50x50 events, to get involved at create their own local original covers.

It’s a great campaign and one that will hopefully get everyone reading the classics and realising that they are classics because they are great, not just old.