There’s just something so comfortable about holding a soft, beautiful paperback book in your hands. The ease at which the pages turn, the ability to travel with its simplicity—not to mention its lower price point—make paperback books such a treasure. And on this day, 85 years ago, the first paperbacks were published, marking July 30 as Paperback Book Day. Here on Off the Shelf, since we are so keen on recommending backlist titles and newly published paperbacks, we thought we would honor this day by sharing a few of our staff-favorite paperback covers. Here are the titles we reveled over in all their paperback glory.
7 Paperback Books So Stunning You’ll Be Glad You Judged It By The Cover
Holly's Pick #1: The new paperback cover for THE DEEP is absolutely breathtaking. The sweeps of color and flares of shimmer immediately catch the eye. And underneath this beautiful exterior lies an even more captivating story. The main character, Yetu, holds all the memories of her people—descendants of pregnant African slave women thrown overboard by slave owners. Their past is too traumatic to be remembered, leaving Yetu as the only soul who holds these stories. Weighed down by the gravity of the painful history she must carry, Yetu decides to swim to the surface to escape these memories. But when she arrives, she discovers a world her ancestors left long ago. In order to reclaim their identity, her people must resurface their memories and accept who they really are.
Octavia E. Butler meets Marvel’s Black Panther in The Deep, a story rich with Afrofuturism, folklore, and the power of memory, inspired by the Hugo Award–nominated song “The Deep” from Daveed Diggs’s rap group Clipping.
Yetu holds the memories for her people—water-dwelling descendants of pregnant African slave women thrown overboard by slave owners—who live idyllic lives in the deep. Their past, too traumatic to be remembered regularly is forgotten by everyone, save one—the historian. This demanding role has been bestowed on Yetu.
Yetu remembers for everyone, and the memories, painful and wonderful, traumatic and terrible and miraculous, are destroying her. And so, she flees to the surface escaping the memories, the expectations, and the responsibilities—and discovers a world her people left behind long ago.
Yetu will learn more than she ever expected about her own past—and about the future of her people. If they are all to survive, they’ll need to reclaim the memories, reclaim their identity—and own who they really are.
The Deep is “a tour de force reorientation of the storytelling gaze…a superb, multilayered work,” (Publishers Weekly, starred review) and a vividly original and uniquely affecting story inspired by a song produced by the rap group Clipping.
Sharon's Pick: This was the first book I ever bought because of its cover. Last summer I was perusing the shelves of The Book Barn in Niantic, Connecticut, for a copy of FRANKENSTEIN. The Book Barn is a used bookshop, so most, if not all, of the copies were from the 80s, and thus the cover art was exceedingly campy. When I found this edition, its dark Romantic aesthetic and anatomical art immediately drew me in, and I knew I had to have it.
Kerry’s Pick: As a lifelong horror fan, one of my favorite things to do during the family trips to the local video rental store was gaze in wonder at all the horror VHS tapes (especially the ones I was too young to see). I haven’t been able to do that in a very long time, but the paperback edition of MY BEST FRIEND’S EXORCISM—a tongue-in-cheek yet heartfelt and terrifying ode to the 1980s and teenaged friendship—brought me back to my childhood love of campy thrills. Perfectly illustrated to hit you right in the nostalgia, this cover not only tells you everything you need to know about the novel but is a colorful celebration of a bygone era.
Holly’s Pick #2: If there was ever a time to judge a book by its cover, it’s with THE DOLL FACTORY by Elizabeth Macneal. It’s 1850s London and the Great Exhibition is being set up for a crowd of spectators when aspiring artist Iris and curiosity collector Silas meet by happenstance. When Iris is asked to model for Pre-Raphaelite artist Louis Frost, she agrees on the condition that he will also teach her to paint. Suddenly, her entire life is transformed by the life of artists. But Silas has only thought of one thing since that chance meeting, and his obsession is darkening by the day. Obsession is its own form of art.
The #1 international bestseller and The New York Times Editor’s Choice
“As lush as the novels of Kate Morton and Diane Setterfield, as exciting as The Alienist and Iain Pears’ An Instance of the Fingerpost, this exquisite literary thriller will intrigue book clubs and rivet fans of historical fiction.” —A.J. Finn, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Woman in the Window
“A lush, evocative Gothic.” —The New York Times Book Review
“This terrifically exciting novel will jolt, thrill, and bewitch readers.” —Booklist, starred review
Obsession is an art.
In this “sharp, scary, gorgeously evocative tale of love, art, and obsession” (Paula Hawkins, bestselling author of The Girl on the Train), a beautiful young woman aspires to be an artist, while a man’s dark obsession may destroy her world forever.
Obsession is an art.
In 1850s London, the Great Exhibition is being erected in Hyde Park and, among the crowd watching the dazzling spectacle, two people meet by happenstance. For Iris, an arrestingly attractive aspiring artist, it is a brief and forgettable moment. But for Silas, a curiosity collector enchanted by all things strange and beautiful, the meeting marks a new beginning.
When Iris is asked to model for Pre-Raphaelite artist Louis Frost, she agrees on the condition that he will also teach her to paint. Suddenly, her world begins to expand beyond her wildest dreams—but she has no idea that evil is waiting in the shadows. Silas has only thought of one thing since that chance meeting, and his obsession is darkening by the day.
“A lush, evocative Gothic” (The New York Times Book Review) that is “a perfect blend of froth and substance” (The Washington Post), The Doll Factory will haunt you long after you finish it and is perfect for fans of The Alienist, Drood, and Fingersmith.
Holly’s Pick #3: The paperback cover of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s THE BEAUTIFUL AND THE DAMNED is truly a work of art. The elegant shapes and pops of color emanating from this 1920s-inspired art perfectly capture the theme of this classic tale. Harvard-educated and an aspiring aesthete, Anthony Patch is waiting for his inheritance upon his grandfather’s death. His reckless marriage to Gloria is fueled by alcohol and destroyed by greed, causing the couple to race through a series of alcohol-induced fiascoes—first in hilarity, then in despair. THE BEAUTIFUL AND THE DAMNED is a devastating portrait of the nouveaux riches, New York nightlife, reckless ambition, and squandered talent.
It’s generally believed that Scott and Zelda’s relationship inspired THE BEAUTIFUL AND THE DAMNED, which followed his massive hit TENDER IS THE NIGHT. Anthony Patch, an Army serviceman and heir to a tycoon’s fortune, meets and marries the wild, passionate (and sometimes selfish) Gloria Gilbert. What follows is a roller-coaster relationship that rivals its real-life counterpart.
Sarah Jane’s Pick: I love the paperback covers for Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach series, starting with ANNIHILATION, which recently had a major film adaption. The spines of the three books are beautiful together, and the strange, almost alien-looking flower on the cover of the first book is an intriguing way to draw readers into the story of four women—an anthropologist, a surveyor, a psychologist, and a biologist—who are on a dangerous expedition. They are going into Area X, a wild, quarantined region that has destroyed eleven previous teams who were sent in. What follows is an engrossing adventure that reads like an H. G. Wells nightmare.
Hannah’s Pick: This cover brings me so much joy! Every time I look at it, I feel as if I’m being swept up in an imaginative, beautiful forest fantasy. The book itself supports this feeling; the story is so magical and full of rich descriptions and characters. A young man who was orphaned as a baby receives a hint about his past, and so he leaves Dublin for a small town in the Irish country in search of his mother. With the help of a few ghosts (yes, he can see ghosts!) and colorful townspeople, he tries to find out what happened to his family and himself. It’s really gorgeous, inside and out.