Seb Lester’s new JD Salinger book jacket designs

The late, great JD Salinger had some forthright views about book design, as Seb Lester found out when designing a new set of covers for the writer’s back catalogue

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Type designer Seb Lester was commissioned by JD Salinger’s publisher Hamish Hamilton (part of the Penguin group) last year to work on a set of new book covers for the reclusive author’s titles, Catcher In The Rye; For Esme With Love And Squalor; Franny And Zooey; and Raise High The Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour – An Introduction. Here we reveal Lester’s initial ideas for two different stylistic approaches, and the four finished book covers – which were all approved by the author before he passed away last month…

It turns out that JD Salinger had some very basic (and strict) rules about how he wanted his book covers to look. He was adamant that the only copy that should appear on his books was his name and the title of the book. No quotes or plot summary, no author biography. And definitely no marketing blurb. Just the title and his name.

“Working with John Hamilton at Hamish Hamilton I developed two possible directions for the covers,” explains Lester of his approach to the commission. “One was relatively conservative and classical in nature [see the version on the left in the sketch above and rough workings below]. The other [on the right, above and below] was more specifically American in feel, a mid-twentieth century style script. “

“I feel incredibly privileged to have worked on this project,” Lester tells us. “It really felt like a once in a lifetime opportunity so the pressure was on – not least because I knew JD Salinger would be approving the book jackets himself.”

Here are the four finished book cover designs which feature Lester’s specially drawn typeface, known within Hamish Hamilton as ‘The Salinger’:

“The direction chosen, which I prefer for both aesthetic and functional reasons, has a timeless and classical beauty about it – I hope,” says Lester. “The inline treatment and style of flourishing have echoes of classic typefaces and lettering from the mid-twentieth century period when the books were written.”

The new set of the four books were originally due to be published in June this year, but, because of the author’s death on January 27, the publication date has been brought forward to March 4.

See more of Seb Lester’s work at

  • rosy

    I kinda always loved J.D. Salinger for his strict rules regarding his cover – I hate seeing covers littered with reviews or when you read a blurb that practically gives away the entire book.

    I prefer the option on the right – it has that wonderful New York upper East-side feel of the book and of the time (so maybe it was too specific to Catcher in the Rye to work across all the titles).

    The only thing that’s stopping me from liking these is the colour choice – something about the selection just rubs me the wrong way.

  • II love the edition I have all the soft backs in – the pastel coloured ones – look a bit like school books or something – or is it just that they came out like that when I was coming of age? Like this:

  • Really nice execution, and especially great to see the roughs!

    Agreed its nice to have covers freed of quotes and blurbs, but also quite funny this should come up so soon after David Pearson’s Cormac McCarthy series; which achieved equally nice results doing just the opposite >

  • skoupidiaris

    The one on the right was far superior than the left… It’s just more filling, much more in the spirit of the book.. The black and white would be very powefull too.

  • Andy, the pastel ones were by Trickett & Webb and they are indeed school exercise books, with a typeface drawn specially.

    There’s a post about them on our blog here:


  • Andy, the pastel ones were by Trickett & Webb and they are indeed school exercise books, with a typeface drawn specially.

    There’s a post about them on our blog here:


  • Paul Saxton

    Yes, nice. But what’s happened to Esme’s accent?

  • Mori Adams

    Personally I would have gone with the version on the right, IN THE PENCIL SKETCH VERSION. It has much more character than the one on the left, and the sketch gives it a nice quality. And I agree that the colour schemes are pretty dreary.

  • I just dug these designs out… I did them about two years ago but then never sent them to Penguin. A few cover ideas I quickly layed out of books by four authors, including Salinger at the bottom left. Thought I would share…

  • I adore the pencil sketches! I often think my own work has more charm in its development stages. But you have to take it to a finish, of course, and they’re certainly pleasant enough. Nice job!

  • Sublime work.
    The titles are so familiar, the covers could even have worked without the author’s name (just on spine and back)

  • Looking at both sketched designs in isolation, as pieces of lettering,
    I fully understand why some people might prefer the latter option.

    I definitely think the right direction was taken though personally.
    In terms of the bigger picture the alternative design wouldn’t have
    worked anywhere near as well across the set aesthetically.
    Also an understandable priority today is what a cover looks and
    reads like at small sizes on places such as Amazon and the chosen
    direction fares much better in this respect across the range.

    On a personal level I’m pleased with the set and the actual
    books themselves look and feel very nice. The fact the author liked
    them enough to sign them off is very satisfying.

  • xxx000

    lovely work.
    yes i prefer the version on the right – i think they could work well in black and white
    like joyces joyces ulysses cover.
    great to design for salinger

  • How come the french paperback edition is so awful ? Because of that i still haven’t read it !!!

  • Matt

    Love the old school typography hand drawn, haven’t been able to do that since college pre Apple.

  • Matt C

    Here, in a rather blurry photo, is what they look like in the flesh. When printed, I think the colours work beautifully.

  • Leonard Greycloud

    i think they’re great. like that the author name is without the curly thing. when did nine stories get renamed? i guess i missed that. can’t wait to see them. thanks for showing them.

  • Nice to see the progression. I agree with a few of the commenters that the original pencil drawn covers look gorgeous, especially with all the smudges… but that again may be that they do remind me (in a school type way) of the Trickett & Webb ones, which were the ones I grew up with… which look very dated now, but I have strong affection for.
    While I wasn’t blown away from the images above, seeing the production copies makes them look a lot more appealing. The colours look nicely muted and quite matt. They’re a good look for the next generation of Salinger discoverers to always associate with his works

  • It’s great to see all of Salinger’s work being reissued. From the posts above, it seems lots of us like the Salinger editions we first read. So from some it was the pastels, for me it was my dad’s battered old Penguins.
    “Catcher” is a great novel, but the short stories are fantastic too. If you’re looking for somewhere to start, I’d recommend “Raise High. . .” Wonderful stuff.

  • wow! very cool jacket-deisngs!!!