Monday, October 27, 2008

Guy Fleming jackets

Who was, or is, Guy Fleming? He's not mentioned in Ned Drew and Paul Sternberger's By Its Cover: Modern American Book Cover Design, nor does there appear to be a tribute site or any other information of significance on the web. I've found a scattering of listings for books that credit him as a designer or illustrator, but other than that all I know is that between 1970 and 1979 he designed this quartet of jackets for Harper & Row (back when there was still a Harper & Row and not whatever its pathetic Rupert Murdoch-owned successor is called these days). (See comments section for an update.)

For most readers of my generation, the more familiar cover for One Hundred Years of Solitude was the old Avon or Bard version, which at least in my copy does not credit the designer. Fleming's cover is quite good, though; notice the boat being enveloped by the jungle, which is of course straight out of the book. The bottom pair of jackets are certainly eye-catching (which is what a book jacket needs to be, after all) but the one for Eréndira is maybe a little too busy.

The best of the lot in my opinion is the cover for The Autumn of the Patriarch. The detailing is actually quite intricate, but the overall layout is very simple and the lettering stands out effectively against the dark background. (I assume, without knowing, that the lettering was done by hand.) Notice that the building and the backlit window are a few degrees off perpendicular, which gives the impression that the whole thing is sinking.

My copy was purchased in 1976 in the old Barnes & Noble Sale Annex at 5th Avenue and 18th Street, opposite the flagship store that still operates. At the time, the store had a policy (fairly unheard of back then) of discounting the New York Times bestseller list 40%. I waited until the book hit the list, and then plunked down my $6.00. Compared to One Hundred Years of Solitude, though, it was a bit of a laborious read, and I've never re-read it.

Update: In the course of the '70s Fleming apparently created the jackets for at least two other García Márquez books, Leaf Storm and No One Writes to the Colonel. I haven't found a usable image of the latter yet, but here is Leaf Storm:

Sunday, October 19, 2008


At one time during his adolescence he spent endless hours flipping through LPs in the local record stores, riffling through the bargain bins — 99¢, 49¢ — searching for an album that he knew in all likelihood didn't exist. He went on looking for it nevertheless, stubbornly believing, against all evidence, that his search was bound to be rewarded for the simple reason that he had himself dreamed it into being. Maybe it hadn't literally been a dream — he was already no longer sure — maybe just a vision, or maybe he had simply conjured it up out of whole cloth because he so badly wanted it to exist. He only knew that if he ever found the album he would recognize it, and that in some obscure way that record was the key, the opening to a kind of revelation that would instantly change everything, that would grant him direction, grant him wisdom, that would let him soar away from the distinctly unexceptional life he was living into a kind of infinite paradise of meaning and richness.

Sometimes he thought he knew, or half-knew, what the record was. It had to involve lyrics, of course; there had to be songs on the album. Instrumental music, classical or jazz, though he enjoyed them well enough, would not do. There had to be words that would make perfect, orderly, rational sense, even as the chords would be the richest and the melodies the most delicate and thrilling that had ever been composed. As he imagined it at various times, it might take the form of a nearly forgotten early Dylan album (which turned out never to have been recorded), or a rumored bootleg available only to those who knew where to ask, or a half-remembered Georges Moustaki disque a friend had played him once and which his ignorance of French prevented him from understanding, or a Pentangle record he had heard behind the background chatter at a party. But always, when he found them, assuming there really were LPs that fit those descriptions, their promise soon evaporated on closer inspection. They weren't bad records, necessarily — in fact some of them he became quite fond of, for a time — but they were unmistakably not what he was looking for.

Once or twice he flattered himself that the vision had been given to him because the album was in fact his to record. His musical skills were modest at best — actually they were almost negligible — but he was young, perhaps with time … But no, in the end he knew that his act of creation was destined to consist purely of having imagined the record's existence; his vindication would be its discovery. He faithfully anticipated the day when he would at last find the record and buy it, his hands trembling a little as the clerk handed him the bag, and would rush it home at once, break off the plastic wrap, and unfold the cardboard sleeves. There would be two discs, each in its own white paper liner, and as the black vinyl of the first began to rotate steadily at 33⅓ revolutions per minute he would drop the stylus into the groove. The first strains of music would emerge into the room and he would sit there and begin reading the lyrics (printed in white on a black, starry background, because night and space are the deepest mysteries of all), and instantly, effortlessly, everything would be revealed.

Eventually they stopped making LPs. The record stores he had haunted were replaced by discount chains, then they all disappeared. He accommodated himself to CDs, and after a while no longer listened much to vinyl. A shadow of the vision remained in his memory, but the record was by now forever beyond his grasp, annihilated or never born.