by Campbell Geeslin

What does it take to make a great book cover design? Nicholas Blechman is art director for The New York Times Book Review, and he selected ten jacket designs as the best in 2013.

Blechman said, “I am drawn to covers that elegantly express an idea, that beautifully integrate type and image, that have a singular vision of visual voice.”

Two of the jackets are mostly black. Red is strong on three. All have a minimum of type.

In the same issue of the Review, the Times' 10 best books of the year were listed. Five were fiction and five were nonfiction.  Review staffer John Williams said that this was a pretty good year because in 1973 only three books had been named: Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, Doris Lessing’s The Summer Before the Dark, and John Clive’s Macaulay: The Making of a Historian.

L.A. MAN: Michael Connelly is back with a novel promoted by an impressive number of full-page ads in magazines and newspapers. The Gods of Guilt is about a Los Angeles lawyer who uses a Lincoln Town Car as his office. The title refers to the 12 people who sit on a jury. The series was spawned years ago when a lawyer told Connelly, “There’s no client as scary as an innocent man.” Connelly was on CBS-TV’s Morning Show to promote The Gods.

A dozen of Connelly’s novels about L.A. detective Harry Bosch have been bestsellers. “Los Angeles is my muse," Connelly said. "People come here to try and realize their dream.”

In an interview in The New York Times Book Review, Connelly talked about Raymond Chandler’s The Little Sister. Connelly said, “It describes a drive around 1940s Los Angeles, and it still holds up as a description of the city right now. Beautiful. I’d [like to] ask him how he pulled that off. And I’d tell him that that short chapter of his was what made me want to become a writer.”

MOVIES TOO: Amazon started out selling books and now it is getting into movie production. Its first film is an adaptation from Michael Connelly’s Bosch series (see item above) to be streamed. Connelly’s contract says that every scene in the movie must be shot in L.A. He’s never missed a day on the set.

OPRAH NODS: The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd has been given Oprah Winfrey’s endorsement, the third selection for Oprah’s Book Club 2.0. Publication is in January. Winfrey helped make Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees a major bestseller.

PROBLEM: Francis Steegmuller gave an insight into a problem of translations in the introduction to his (1957) English version of Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary.

He wrote: “A perfectly ‘correct’ translation of a phrase can be inadequate, in that it fails to render an essential symbolic meaning. On the last page of the book Flaubert proclaims [the pharmacist] Homais’ growing prosperity by saying, ‘Il fait un clientele d’enfer’—which appears in various English versions as ‘His practice grows like wildfire,’ or ‘He is doing extremely well,’ or ‘He has a terrific practice.’ All these are faithful to the French idiom. And yet, surely the word enfer (‘hell’) isn’t present in the original for nothing. The mere use of the term suggests at once that Homais, prince of the bourgeois, is an earthly counterpart of the prince of darkness.”

I went to the last page of Bovary to see how Steegmuller’s own translation solved the problem. His version: “The devil himself doesn’t have a greater following than the pharmacist.”

MOBY AGAIN: The New Yorker’s cartoonists have great affection for Herman Melville’s white whale. In the December 16 issue, Mick Stevens drew Moby Dick, battered and scarred, floating along while reading a book and saying, “Oh, c’mon. I wasn’t THAT terrible!”

PORTRAIT: An oval watercolor portrait of Jane Austen in a fancy frame sold at a London auction last week for $270,600. The watercolor, by James Andrews, copied her image from a pencil portrait drawn by her sister Cassandra shortly before Austen’s death in 1817. The buyer was anonymous.

SAYING NO: New York City lawyers subpoenaed documents and tape recordings used by Graham A. Rayman for a book, The NYPD Tapes, about a police officer who disclosed the manipulation of crime reports. It came out in August.

Tapes grew from an article published in The Village Voice in 2010. Rayman told The New York Times, “I think it would be malpractice for a journalist to cooperate with a subpoena like this and would have a chilling effect on what all journalists do.”

BRIDGET’S BACK: “The reviews were mixed” is one of the many thinly veiled ways we writers have of socking it to a book. Helen Fielding’s Mad About the Boy, sequel #2 about her fictional Bridget Jones, was even more seriously slammed. But in spite of the reviews, it’s become Fielding's third bestseller.

Mad immediately jumped up the charts, selling 46,000 copies in one day. The book topped the hardback fiction list last week by selling 23,000 copies. Fielding told The Guardian, “If Bridget has achieved anything, it’s to show that looking pretty and carrying an enormous handbag is far less important than just being human, warm-hearted, and kind.”

COULD THIS HELP? Blurb, a self-publishing website offered “two creative writing exercises that use visual references.”

The first is to pick out three of your most treasured photographs. What might they tell others unfamiliar with the images? Write about them for 15 to 30 minutes.

The second: “Chose a color (have fun with it) and then take a walk (indoors or out) for ten or 15 minutes, noting where, how and why this color appears.” Afterwards write at least 15 minutes, pushing yourself to expand with as much detail as possible.

The idea is that these exercises “may take you back to a project you may have started earlier but were unable to finish.”

NEW JOB: Judith Regan was an editor noted for books that shocked and then became bestsellers. She left HarperCollins after public protests caused one of her books, O.J. Simpson’s If I Did It, to be cancelled. That was in 2006.

Now Phaidon Press has hired her. The New York Times said that Phaidon is known for “its glossy, expensive art books.” Her imprint will be Regan Arts. Bet her books will have lots of glossy, expensive and racy nudes.

BOOK PLANNED: The parents of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed Florida teenager shot and killed in 2012, met with publishers in New York to discuss a book they plan to write. One publisher told Julie Bosman of The New York Times that they had “spoken eloquently on race and religion, suggesting that faith could be a central element of the book.”

WINNER: Manil Suri, a professor in the Math Department at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, won the annual Bad Sex Award for his novel, The City of Devi. The prize was delivered in London by novelist Joan Collins. She was identified as “the patron saint of bad sex” in The Washington Post.

The judges singled out the following Suri passage about a ménage a troi: “Surely supernovas exploded that instant, somewhere, in some galaxy. The hut vanishes, and with it the sea and the sands—only [his] body, locked with mine, remains . . . We dive through shoals of quarks and atomic nuclei. In celebration of our breakthrough to a fourth star, statisticians the world over rejoice.”

Suri regretted that he had missed the awards ceremony. He told The Post, “I could have air kissed Joan Collins.”

THIS IS IT: In an article about being a National Book Award judge and having a retinal tear, Charles McGrath of The New York Times described how he felt when he found himself reading a good novel:

“It lifted me out of myself, my grumbling and my self-pity, and in language just like the language we use every day, only better, dropped me down in another place and among people far more interesting, who had more on their plate than just a stack of books.

“I remember thinking, this is what reading used to be like: fun. I sat there for hours, getting up only once or twice, and finished the book before supper—in time to start another before going to bed.” As a judge, he had 407 novels to read.