Designing the Cover for Peter Orner’s AM I ALONE HERE?
“It often takes designers and family to make a book cover.”
Peter Orner’s book, Am I Alone Here? is a collection of forty-one longform “notes” about reading and life, all of which illustrate his belief that “Stories, both my own and those I’ve taken to heart, make up whoever it is that I’ve become.” It’s a beautifully written book offered up to those among us who are equally voracious readers, especially of literary fiction.
Each chapter centers on a single book that holds a unique place in Orner’s heart. These chapters all open with a charmingly naive painting of the cover belonging to the edition on Orner’s own bookshelf, commissioned from the author’s own artist/writer brother, Eric Orner—making the obsession a family affair.
Alone in the garage with all these books . . . There’s no room on the shelves anymore. Now they live in piles. Technically, I’m a part-time resident of the apartment upstairs, but I spend many hours down here in what I call, without enough irony, my office. Our ex-neighbors used to film amateur porn in this space. When they moved away, they left behind powerful overhead lights, (if I leave them on overnight, the place will burn down) and I sit here, awash in brightness, gazing at these stacks of books that will squash me when the big one comes, and I think: Earthquake or no earthquake, I’ll be dead before I read a quarter of the books down here. I know this for certain, and I wonder if repeating it out loud will make me believe it. I’ll be dead before I read even a quarter of the books down here. That leaves at least three quarters of these books unread. But to measure a life in unread books seems about right to me. I’ve asked my family, just to hedge my bets, to bury me with a decent library.
With this colorful imagery filling in our heads, we began doodling well-worn tomes with absurd numbers of dog-eared pages, bookmarks, and Post-it notes poking out at all angles. The thinking was that if photographed as a monolith, one well-loved, bound book could be a stand-in for all the books Orner shares with us. We collaged together low-res bits and pieces to express our idea to the publisher, editor, and author.
After receiving their enthusiastic approval, we approached the talented Brooklyn-based photographer, Tamara Staples, to help us capture our book-sculpture in all its well-loved glory. The three of us spent a day in her studio, roughing up some books we’d bought at a junk shop, adding our own stains and rubbing sandpaper against the boards to achieve just the right frayed effect. We handwrote on tea-stained notes and tucked them between the pages, aiming to bring far more organicism and drama to the still life than our original digital sketch was able to convey.
Lastly, we experimented with different lighting and angles, hoping to strike the fine balance between wit and gravitas. In Photoshop, we layered the cover typography onto the linen binding, and sent the final design off to Catapult (they loved it).
We all kept our fingers tightly crossed for a week, waiting on Peter Orner’s response. Finally his editor reported back to say that Orner “loved the cover,” but that he’d been “waffling on the red book binding.” Luckily for us, his five-year-old daughter talked him into it! It often takes designers and family to make a book cover.
In March 2014, Charlotte Strick and Claire Williams Martinez formed the multidisciplinary design firm Strick&Williams. The partners bring to the studio sixteen years of experience working for publishers and design agencies, respectively. Strick&Williams collaborates with corporations, cultural institutions, and non-profits. Graphic Design USA named them in their “People to Watch for 2016” roundup.