If I may, I would like to formally dub 2019 the Year of the Book Cover. Not that there is—or could ever be—any shortage of amazing fiction to reel in even the most unimpressionable of readers. But in recent years it’s become more and more acceptable to judge a book by its cover, something we’ve been told we should never do. From the fantastical designs like that of BLACK LEOPARD, RED WOLF to the mixed-media art on THE ISLAND OF SEA WOMEN, it’s a lot easier to find awe-inspiring book covers that also accurately reflect the quality of the content behind them. Admittedly, I own many books that I keep around just because I like the way they look. Yet there are those great works of fiction that I’m happy I judged first by their covers and then by their breathtaking, heartbreaking, and spectacular stories. Here are five of my favorites.
Speaking of striking red book designs, the iridescent cover of Candice Carty-Williams’s debut novel might go down as one of my favorites of all time. When a bound manuscript of QUEENIE sporting this art arrived at my desk early last year, my immediate thought was that this cover must be protected at all costs! I instantly saw myself reflected in the cover because, well, I too have rocked long braids tied atop my head as Queenie Jenkins does. In the vein of AMERICANAH, this novel follows regular-shmegular Queenie as her life spirals downward after a messy breakup. Relatable cover and relatable subject matter made for one of my most memorable reading experiences.
Confession: while I’ve seen many of the movies and shows on which his novels are based, I’ve never actually read a Stephen King novel (sorry, Sarah Jane!). But the menacing and equally fascinating cover of King’s imposter-thriller THE OUTSIDER drew me in right away. The tension between the upside-down landscape and dark figure emerging from the tall grass and then King’s upright name in big bold letters always amuses me when I catch a glimpse of the book on my shelf. (And those glowing red eyes kind of freak me out and I have to look away.) The first King novel to ever enter into my personal library, THE OUTSIDER is a propulsive and bone-chilling tale of nice guys, bad guys, unexpected doubles, and unbearable suspense.
Before I learned about this unforgettable debut novel from Brit Bennet, I received a tote bag from a coworker sporting vivacious colors and Picasso-esque overlapping shapes that upon closer inspection formed the silhouette of a woman. Though the vibrant color palette departs from the aesthetic we’re used to seeing in churches, I was drawn to what reminded me of stained glass windows. I was eager to learn more about the story behind the design. When I finally got my hands on a finished copy of THE MOTHERS, I fell in love with this novel of an unexpected love triangle and the life-altering choices that follow three characters from their teen years into adulthood.
Tolani’s Fictional Dinner Party Guest: The Mothers
I waited years to sit at the grown-ups’ table at family dinners, hoping to catch a juicy story or an important life lesson. In Brit Bennett’s THE MOTHERS, the narrators, “the mothers,” walk the line between guidance and gossip quite ruthlessly. Despite it all, congregants of the Upper Room Chapel see them as pillars of the community who, unbeknownst to the churchgoers, know all of their secrets. So watch what you say at the dinner table.
Though I normally read adult literary fiction, this YA novel intrigued me with its striking tricolor cover and equally striking title. When Claudia’s best friend Monday doesn’t show up to school, she’s forced to endure bullies and exams alone. Then a day gone turns into two weeks gone and Claudia is worried something is seriously wrong—she’s just as disturbed that no one seems to notice Monday’s disappearance.
The cover of Nafissa Thompson-Spires’s award-winning short story collection has seen many iterations. And though I loved it in its first format, it wasn’t until I saw the updated design for the paperback—a black background with profiles of faces painted in single strokes in numerous neon colors, each growing in size in a Russian doll–like manner—that I finally cracked this book open. The timely, moving, and darkly humorous stories inside this collection examine the concept of black identity in this so-called post-racial era.
Longlisted for the National Book Award for Fiction and Kirkus Prize Finalist
Calling to mind the best works of Paul Beatty and Junot Díaz, this collection of moving, timely, and darkly funny stories examines the concept of black identity in this so-called post-racial era.
A stunning new talent in literary fiction, Nafissa Thompson-Spires grapples with black identity and the contemporary middle class in these compelling, boundary-pushing vignettes.
Each captivating story plunges headfirst into the lives of new, utterly original characters. Some are darkly humorous—from two mothers exchanging snide remarks through notes in their kids’ backpacks, to the young girl contemplating how best to notify her Facebook friends of her impending suicide—while others are devastatingly poignant—a new mother and funeral singer who is driven to madness with grief for the young black boys who have fallen victim to gun violence, or the teen who struggles between her upper middle class upbringing and her desire to fully connect with black culture.
Thompson-Spires fearlessly shines a light on the simmering tensions and precariousness of black citizenship. Her stories are exquisitely rendered, satirical, and captivating in turn, engaging in the ongoing conversations about race and identity politics, as well as the vulnerability of the black body. Boldly resisting categorization and easy answers, Nafissa Thompson-Spires is an original and necessary voice in contemporary fiction.