After years of soft-core designs, a book collects 60 new versions that do justice to the novel’s dark complexities
By Michael Silverberg,
Among the problems Nabokov’s “Lolita” poses for the book designer, probably the thorniest is the popular misconception of the title character. She’s chronically miscast as a teenage sexpot ― just witness the dozens of soft-core covers over the years. “We are talking about a novel which has child rape at its core,” says John Bertram, an architect and blogger who, three years ago, sponsored a “Lolita” cover competition asking designers to do better.
Now the contest is being turned into a book, due out in June and coedited by Yuri Leving, with essays on historical cover treatments along with new versions by 60 well-known designers, two-thirds of them women: Barbara deWilde, Jessica Helfand, Peter Mendelsund and Jennifer Daniel, to name a few. They don’t shy away from frank sexuality, but they add layers of darkness and complication. And like Jamie Keenan’s cover ― a claustrophobic room that morphs into a girl in her underwear ― they provoke without asking readers to abdicate their responsibility.
I talked to Bertram about contending with “Lolita’s” complexity and ethical baggage, and why the novel is cited by so many female designers as their favorite book.
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