Let’s talk about the elephant in the design studio for a moment. For a book as celebrated as Infinite Jest, it took quite some time for its jackets and covers to catch up. Mr. Wallace apparently loathed the jacket for the hardcover edition, telling David Lipsky that it looked like the American Airlines safety booklet. “The cloud system,” he said, “is almost identical.”
Original paperback designer Elizabeth Van Itallie and 10th anniversary designer Keith Hayes retained the cloud imagery and made some strong improvements along the way. With each new design, we see fewer clouds. The hardcover design that Wallace disliked is stuffed with them; by the time we get to Mr. Hayes’ design, there’s but one. The typography too becomes bolder and more meaningful; the torqued, off-the-canvas title text of the current in-print design suggests infinity much more successfully than past editions have. The Hayes design is the queen of the cloud covers.
Book design fans may know there’s a new design forthcoming from Little, Brown to mark the twentieth anniversary of Infinite Jest’s publication. The sky has cleared and we’re in new, amusing-ourselves-to-death territory:
I haven’t been able to dig up anything on what Mr. Wallace thought about the Van Itallie and Hayes designs, and sadly, he’s got nothing to say about Mr. Walsh’s effort. But we do know Mr. Wallace did attempt to art-direct the design of Infinite Jest, and that he had at least two photo suggestions:
1. He wanted to use a specific photograph of Fritz Lang directing the cast of Metropolis. Nick Greene at Mental Floss wonders if it’s this one:
2. Mr. Wallace’s editor, Michael Pietsch, said this in an interview with The Millions:
“For Infinite Jest he proposed using a photo of a giant modern sculpture made of industrial trash—an interesting idea, but one that our creative director felt was too subtle and detailed to work as a cover image.”
As I begin to read Infinite Jest for the first time, I’m dying to know why Mr. Wallace suggested these photos. I’m looking forward to the images that pop into my head. And I’d love to know what pops into yours.