The Casual Optimist’s book covers of the year

In his Notable Book Covers of 2015 post, now live at The Casual Optimist blog, Dan Wagstaff once again takes stock of the year’s very best work in book design. For CR, he selected ten of his favourite covers – and explains why they made his latest list

The Casual Optimist‘s Notable Book Covers list is book blogger Dan Wagstaff’s yearly round-up of the very best in book cover design. It’s a post I look forward to as his scope of coverage is wide, with plenty of great illustration, graphic design, photography and type to pore over. For 2015, Wagstaff has brought together 120 covers by 60 designers and, in cases where a designer has had a particularly strong year, he has referenced some of their other hits alongside his favoured cover.

“Back in 2014, there were signs that book cover design was maybe, just maybe, having a moment,” Wagstaff writes in the introduction to his list. “Suzanne Dean was on the BBC. Peter Mendelsund was on … well, everything. But if 2015 has felt a little quiet by comparison, there were still plenty of reasons to be cheerful … and there is little doubt in my mind that this really is a golden time for book design.”

Wagstaff’s full list of 2015 covers is at To whet your bookish appetites, here’s a selection of ten of his favourites, ordered by publication date, which he has chosen especially for CR.


The Vegetarian by Han Kang (Portobello / January 2015)
Design by Tom Darracott

Tom Darracott’s covers are always so strange and unsettling, and his photomontage for The Vegetarian by Han Kang is no exception. There is a kind of sickly beauty to it. No one else creates covers quite like him.

Ella design by Gray318

Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper (Penguin / January 2015)
Design by Gray318

For me, consistently the best book cover designer of the past decade, Jon Gray (Gray318) never fails to deliver two or three knockout covers a year. My favourite of 2015 was for Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper. There so much to like here – the illustration, the limited colour palette, and, of course, Gray’s trademark hand-lettering.


Angry Youth Comix by Johnny Ryan (Fantagraphics / February 2015)
Design by Keeli McCarthy

This is a cover that really needs to be seen in person to be fully appreciated. Finished with elegant gold foil, it takes a moment to realise that the ornamental flourishes are actually comically elaborate smut. It’s beautiful and funny at the same time.


I Am Sorry to Think I Raised a Timid Son by Kent Russell (Knopf / March 2015)
Design by Peter Mendelsund; hand lettering by Janet Hansen; photography by George Baier IV

Knopf is at the forefront of contemporary book cover design in the US, and putting the author on the front cover is a great example of their willingness to do things a little differently.


KL by Nikolaus Wachsmann (Farrar, Straus & Giroux / April 2015)
Design by Alex Merto 

Designing a cover for a history of Nazi concentration camps is always going to be a challenge, but this is a striking and sombre typographic design from Alex Merto. It evokes bureaucracy and banality of evil, while avoiding obvious sensationalism and visual clichés.

Book of Numbers design Suzanne Dean cover illustration Carnovsky

Book of Numbers by Joshua Cohen (Harvill Secker / June 2015)
Design by design Suzanne Dean; illustration by Carnovsky

Suzanne Dean’s design for The Book Numbers by Joshua Cohen makes use of the distinctive artwork by Milan-based duo Carnovsky [responsible for one of CR’s most popular posts ever], and I love the idea that the layers of imagery can only be properly revealed by coloured light. It seems like a perfect metaphor for a novel.


The Fox and the Star, written, illustrated and designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith (Particular Books / August 2015)
Best known for her beautifully designed Penguin Clothbound Classics, Coralie Bickford-Smith brought her love of decorative design to her own illustrated picture book this year [CR wrote about the project, here]. Her style has been much-imitated of late, but The Fox and the Star really shows that no one can match her when it comes to pattern and ornamentation.


Syriza: Inside the Labyrinth by Kevin Ovenden (Pluto Press / September 2015)
Design by Jamie Keenan

Art director Melanie Patrick has commissioned a number of bold typographic covers for Pluto Press this year, including this labyrinthine design by Jamie Keenan. It’s cleverly done, and very effective.

Beatlebone design Rafi Romaya

Beatlebone by Kevin Barry (Canongate / October 2015)
Design by Rafi Romaya

Inspired by Alvin Lustig’s book covers for New Directions, this is a lovely abstract design for Kevin Barry’s lyrical novel about John Lennon that (mercifully) avoids usual Beatles clichés.


Hotels of North America by Rick Moody (Little, Brown & Co. / November 2015)
Design by Keith Hayes

This cover is just so well executed. It’s witty but at the same time achingly evocative of late nights, cheap hotels, loneliness, and heartbreak.

The Casual Optimist’s Notable Book Covers of 2015 is at

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