If you told Peter Mendelsund that he would one day release two books in tandem about his groundbreaking work in graphic design, he would have assumed you were kidding. In August 2014, the Associate Art Director at Alfred A. Knopf published his first monograph of book jacket art, Cover, and his illustrated “exploration into the phenomenology of reading,” What We See When We Read.
Mendelsund was a concert pianist before he “stumbled into design” almost by accident after a midcareer “existential crisis.” He realized working as a full-time musician with a family wasn’t viable anymore. Fortunately, he secured an impromptu meeting with book-cover guru Chip Kidd, who decided to give him a shot as a junior designer.
Among the many recognizable jackets he has created are those for the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series; collections of the works of Joyce, Kafka, Dostoevsky, and Foucault; and the contemporary works of Martin Amis, Tom McCarthy, and many more. Cover offers a view into his creative process, as well as essays by authors whose books he has designed.
Reading is often considered (especially by those who don’t love to do it) a passive activity. But What We See When We Read asserts that it is, in fact, an active collaboration. Mendelsund’s book makes passionate readers think about what we largely take for granted when absorbed in a book and sparks further insights about the essence of a pleasurable reading experience.