8 Beautiful Book Covers I’d Hang in an Art Gallery

May 12 2022
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Last year, I delivered a PSA that you should judge a book by its cover, and I’m returning to reassert this claim with eight more beautiful books. While featuring book covers in art galleries isn’t commonplace, the books in this list make a compelling case for treating covers as art through their clever details, lush colors, and occasional optical illusions. Here are eight books that prove you not only should judge a book by its cover but can also treat covers as pieces of art.

And if you’ve ever wondered how the cover art on your favorite books came to be, watch this behind-the-scenes look with Simon & Schuster CEO Jonathan Karp!

Mouth to Mouth
by Antoine Wilson

When the narrator of MOUTH TO MOUTH runs into his former classmate Jeff at an airport, Jeff recounts the story of how his life was changed forever. After resuscitating a drowning man on the beach, Jeff feels compelled to learn all he can about the man he saved, a journey that takes him into the depths of the art world and toward a staggering conclusion.

It’s fitting that a book about an art dealer is graced by a cover that deserves to be hung up in a gallery! Much like the enigmatic man at the center of MOUTH TO MOUTH, the figure on the cover is literally shrouded in mystery, covered in a plume of smoke and identifiable only by a pair of white-framed glasses. The dreamlike smoke over a green background creates a cover that’s both intriguing and aesthetically pleasing.

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Mouth to Mouth
Antoine Wilson

“An enthralling literary puzzle...This powerful, intoxicating book’s greatest tension is that we have no idea where it is heading.” —The New York Times

A successful art dealer confesses the story of his meteoric rise in this “sleek, swift, and graceful” novel “with unexpectedly sharp teeth” (Lauren Groff, New York Times bestselling author).

In a first-class lounge at JFK airport, our narrator listens as Jeff Cook, a former classmate he only vaguely remembers, shares the uncanny story of his adult life—a life that changed course years before, the moment he resuscitated a drowning man.

Jeff reveals that after that traumatic, galvanizing morning on the beach, he was compelled to learn more about the man whose life he had saved, convinced that their fates were now entwined. But are we agents of our fate—or are we its pawns? Upon discovering that the man is renowned art dealer Francis Arsenault, Jeff begins to surreptitiously visit his Beverly Hills gallery. Although Francis does not seem to recognize him as the man who saved his life, he nevertheless casts his legendary eye on Jeff and sees something worthy. He takes the younger man under his wing, initiating him into his world, where knowledge, taste, and access are currency; a world where value is constantly shifting and calling into question what is real, and what matters. The paths of the two men come together and diverge in dizzying ways until the novel’s staggering ending.

Sly, suspenseful, and engrossing, Mouth to Mouth masterfully blurs the line between opportunity and exploitation, self-respect and self-delusion, fact and fiction—exposing the myriad ways we deceive each other, and ourselves.

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Circus of Wonders
by Elizabeth Macneal

A feminist take on the circus novel, CIRCUS OF WONDERS showcases Nell, a woman sold to ringmaster Jasper Jupiter as a “leopard girl” due to the birthmarks on her skin. When Nell’s fame spreads across the nation, she begins to fight for her place in the world.

This cover had me hook, line, and sinker at first glance. I’m a particularly big fan of the Victorian circus aesthetic, and this cover freshens the theme with purple and blue coloring behind a gold moon and stars. The cover also conveys a sense of mystery—who is the figure behind the curtain holding the red hat? And who is the person in the background I just noticed five minutes ago? You have to read CIRCUS OF WONDERS to find out!

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Circus of Wonders
Elizabeth Macneal

From the #1 internationally bestselling author of the “lush, evocative Gothic” (The New York Times Book Review) The Doll Factory comes an atmospheric and spectacular novel where one woman’s life is transformed by the arrival of a Victorian circus of wonders.

Step up, step up! In 1860s England, circus mania is sweeping the nation. Crowds jostle for a glimpse of the lion-tamers, the dazzling trapeze artists and, most thrilling of all, the so-called “human wonders.”

When Jasper Jupiter’s Circus of Wonders pitches its tent in a poor coastal town, the life of one young girl changes forever. Sold to the ringmaster as a “leopard girl” because of the birthmarks that cover her body, Nell is utterly devastated. But as she grows close to the other performers, she finds herself enchanted by the glittering freedom of the circus, and by her own role as the Queen of the Moon and Stars.

Before long, Nell’s fame spreads across the world—and with it, a chance for Jasper Jupiter to grow his own name and fortune. But what happens when her fame begins to eclipse his own, when even Jasper’s loyal brother Toby becomes captivated by Nell? No longer the quiet flower-picker, Nell knows her own place in the world, and she will fight for it.

A gorgeously wrought exploration of celebrity, power, and belonging, this is a historical novel unlike any other, with an unforgettable heroine at its heart.

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A House Between Earth and the Moon
by Rebecca Scherm

In this epic rumination on the intersection between Big Tech and climate change, scientist Alex has all but abandoned his family to complete his research on gene-edited super-algae. When he’s offered a chance to complete his research by the Son sisters, founders of the colossal tech company Sensus, he jumps at the offer. The caveat? His lab will be aboard Parallaxis, the first-ever luxury residential space station built for billionaires.

I first came across A HOUSE BETWEEN EARTH AND THE MOON through a Facebook ad, and I’d like to say kudos to the algorithm that thought I would be interested in this book, because it was right. The optical illusion on the cover is stunning; it feels like I can actually stick my hand through the door into an alternate universe. The cover’s otherworldly feeling is heightened through an ethereal sky complete with colorful clouds and stars.

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A House Between Earth and the Moon
Rebecca Scherm

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The Evening Hero
by Marie Myung-Ok Lee

I love covers that feature details that are entirely up to reader interpretation. When I first saw the cover for THE EVENING HERO, I was sure that the gold tendrils were meant to resemble lungs, given the book’s protagonist, an obstetrician at a general hospital, and its focus on the health care system. However, as I took another look at it, I thought that the cover might actually feature roots, symbolizing THE EVENING HERO’s central theme of immigration. The story starts off right after the Korean War, when Yungman Kwak immigrates to the United States in pursuit of the American Dream. For fifty years, Yungman works as an obstetrician in a rural Minnesota town, until the day a letter arrives that threatens to expose his past and bring his life crumbling down.

Whether you believe there are lungs, roots, or something else entirely on the cover, this is a fantastic example of how a seemingly abstract detail can provoke thought and discussion over a book’s themes.

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The Evening Hero
Marie Myung-Ok Lee

A sweeping, lyrical novel following a Korean immigrant pursuing the American dream who must confront the secrets of the past or risk watching the world he’s worked so hard to build come crumbling down.

Dr. Yungman Kwak is in the twilight of his life. Every day for the last fifty years, he has brushed his teeth, slipped on his shoes, and headed to Horse Breath’s General Hospital, where, as an obstetrician, he treats the women and babies of the small rural Minnesota town he chose to call home.

This was the life he longed for. The so-called American dream. He immigrated from Korea after the Korean War, forced to leave his family, ancestors, village, and all that he knew behind. But his life is built on a lie. And one day, a letter arrives that threatens to expose it.

Yungman’s life is thrown into chaos—the hospital abruptly closes, his wife refuses to spend time with him, and his son is busy investing in a struggling health start-up. Yungman faces a choice—he must choose to hide his secret from his family and friends or confess and potentially lose all he’s built. He begins to question the very assumptions on which his life is built—the so-called American dream, with the abject failure of its healthcare system, patient and neighbors who perpetuate racism, a town flawed with infrastructure, and a history that doesn’t see him in it.

Toggling between the past and the present, Korea and America, Evening Hero is a sweeping, moving, darkly comic novel about a man looking back at his life and asking big questions about what is lost and what is gained when immigrants leave home for new shores.

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Moonlight and the Pearler's Daughter
by Lizzie Pook

This is one of the best uses of color on a book cover that I’ve ever seen. Not only are the blue and purple hues absolutely stunning but they also convey a sense of intrigue, perfect for a book about a woman whose father mysteriously disappears at sea. The young woman in question is Eliza Brightwell, and the story follows her and her family as they travel from London to Western Australia in 1886, where her father seeks to make his fortune in pearl diving. When a ship captained by her father returns without him on it, Eliza is determined to find out the cause behind his mysterious disappearance.

I also would be remiss if I didn’t point out the detailed tree roots on the cover, which are just *chef’s kiss.*

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Moonlight and the Pearler's Daughter
Lizzie Pook

For readers of The Light Between Oceans and The Island of Sea Women, a feminist adventure story set against the backdrop of the dangerous pearl diving industry in 19th-century Western Australia, about a young English woman who sets off to uncover the truth about the disappearance of her eccentric father.

Western Australia, 1886. After months at sea, a slow boat makes its passage from London to the shores of Bannin Bay. From the deck, young Eliza Brightwell and her family eye their strange, new home. Here is an unforgiving land where fortune sits patiently at the bottom of the ocean, waiting to be claimed by those brave enough to venture into its depths. An ocean where pearl shells bloom to the size of soup plates, where men are coaxed into unthinkable places and unspeakable acts by the promise of unimaginable riches.

Ten years later, the pearl-diving boat captained by Eliza’s eccentric father returns after months at sea—without Eliza’s father on it. Whispers from townsfolk point to mutiny or murder. Headstrong Eliza knows it’s up to her to discover who, or what, is really responsible.

As she searches for the truth, Eliza discovers that beneath the glamorous veneer of the pearling industry, lies a dark underbelly of sweltering, stinking decay. The sun-scorched streets of Bannin Bay, a place she once thought she knew so well, are teeming with corruption, prejudice, and blackmail. Just how far is Eliza willing to push herself in order to solve the mystery of her missing father? And what family secrets will come to haunt her along the way?

A transporting feminist adventure story based on Lizzie Pook’s deep research into the pearling industry and the era of British colonial rule in Australia, Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter is ultimately about the lengths one woman will travel to save her family.

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End of the World House
by Adrienne Celt

In END OF THE WORLD HOUSE, Bertie’s world is crashing down around her: her job is depressing; her best friend, Kate, is moving away from her; and there’s a series of escalating world conflicts. As a last hurrah for the end times, Bertie and Kate decide to embark on a trip to Paris, but when a mysterious stranger offers to take them on a tour of the Louvre, the two become involved in a dangerous time loop.

The cover designer took the book’s distinct plot—Groundhog Day at the Louvre—and truly ran with it! This disorienting cover brilliantly utilizes shapes, colors, and the Mona Lisa to create a piece of art that looks like it’s straight out of an episode of Black Mirror. What makes END OF THE WORLD HOUSE even more exquisite is that not only is there an eye-catching cover but the author, Adrienne Celt, designed the book’s interior art!

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End of the World House
Adrienne Celt

Groundhog Day meets Ling Ma’s Severance in End of the World House, a thought-provoking comedic novel about two young women trying to save their friendship as the world collapses around them.

Bertie and Kate have been best friends since high school. Bertie is a semi-failed cartoonist, working for a prominent Silicon Valley tech firm. Her job depresses her, but not as much as the fact that Kate has recently decided to move from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

When Bertie’s attempts to make Kate stay fail, she suggests the next-best thing: a trip to Paris that will hopefully distract the duo from their upcoming separation. The vacation is also a sort of last hurrah, coming during a ceasefire in a series of escalating world conflicts.

One night in Paris, they meet a strange man in a bar who offers them a private tour of the Louvre. The women find themselves alone in the museum, where nothing is quite as it seems. Caught up in a day that keeps repeating itself, Bertie and Kate are eventually separated, and Bertie is faced with a mystery that threatens to derail everything. In order to make her way back to Kate, Bertie has to figure out how much control she has over her future—and her past—and how to survive an apocalypse when the world keeps refusing to end.

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The Harbor
by Katrine Engberg

The third installment in Katrine Engberg’s Kørner and Werner detective series finds the duo attempting to find Oscar, a missing teenager. While the police have dismissed the case, Oscar’s family is insistent that something is terribly wrong, as all he left behind is an enigmatic quote from THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY. Can Kørner and Werner solve the case before it’s too late?

A hallmark of a successful book cover is that it inspires a desire to travel to the location it depicts. With THE HARBOR, this goal is immaculately achieved; I’m now mentally walking along the streets of Copenhagen, coffee in hand, watching boats bob in the harbor. Although I can’t physically be in Copenhagen right now, the atmospheric cover compels me to crack open this Nordic noir the next time a rainy day rolls in—with a blanket and a mug of tea, of course!

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The Harbor
Katrine Engberg

From the #1 internationally bestselling author of The Butterfly House, called “brazen and original” by The Toronto Star, comes a timely, suspenseful, and darkly original new novel about a missing child and the web of lies that has threatened his life—and may prevent him from ever being found.

When fifteen-year-old Oscar Dreyer-Hoff disappears, the police assume he’s simply a runaway—a typically overlooked middle child doing what teenagers do all around the world. But his frantic family is certain that something terrible has happened. After all, what runaway would leave behind a note that reads:

He looked around and saw the knife that had stabbed Basil Hallward. He had cleaned it many times, till there was no stain left upon it. It was bright and glistened. As it had killed the painter, so it would kill the painter’s work, and all that that meant. It would kill the past, and when that was dead, he would be free.

It’s not much to go on but it’s all that detectives Jeppe Kørner and Anette Werner have. And with every passing hour, as the odds of finding a missing person grow dimmer, it will have to be enough.

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The High House
by Jessie Greengrass

As the world faces environmental ruin, Caro and her younger half brother, Pauly, escape to the High House, a remote home complete with a barn stockpiled with supplies. Caro and Pauly learn to coexist with housekeeper Grandy and his granddaughter Sally, but as Grandy’s health fails, the houseguests must cope with the fact that their survival has limits.

I’m a huge fan of the cover of THE HIGH HOUSE, as it subverts expectations for its genre. In my experience, covers for dystopian novels tend to be more flashy and in your face. What THE HIGH HOUSE’s cover brilliantly conveys is that it’s a novel about environmental disaster with subtlety. Through the mirror reflection of the bird and the ominous blue-and-yellow color scheme, this cover creates a sense of unease, and yet I want to display it prominently on my bookshelf.

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The High House
Jessie Greengrass

Shortlisted for the 2021 Costa Novel Award

In this powerful, highly anticipated novel from an award-winning author, four people attempt to make a home in the midst of environmental disaster.

Perched on a sloping hill, set away from a small town by the sea, the High House has a tide pool and a mill, a vegetable garden, and, most importantly, a barn full of supplies. Caro, Pauly, Sally, and Grandy are safe, so far, from the rising water that threatens to destroy the town and that has, perhaps, already destroyed everything else. But for how long?

Caro and her younger half-brother, Pauly, arrive at the High House after her father and stepmother fall victim to a faraway climate disaster—but not before they call and urge Caro to leave London. In their new home, a converted summer house cared for by Grandy and his granddaughter, Sally, the two pairs learn to live together. Yet there are limits to their safety, limits to the supplies, limits to what Grandy—the former village caretaker, a man who knows how to do everything—can teach them as his health fails.

A searing novel that takes on parenthood, sacrifice, love, and survival under the threat of extinction, The High House is a stunning, emotionally precise novel about what can be salvaged at the end of the world.

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Photo credit: iStock / freedom007

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