Time Reading Program 1964: The Big Sky

I read and reviewed The Big Sky before my obsession with the Time Reading Program editions began. So, this will not be a review of that book (you can read that here), but more a reminder that it is a FANTASTIC book that I highly recommend in whatever edition you choose. But the cover of the TRP edition is a smasher, as you can see above, done by George Salter.

As much as I am enjoying these TRP books, I am enjoying researching the artists that did the covers. After all, it was the covers that drew me to them initially. Sometimes I can find very little on an artist, but George Salter is an exception. He was one of the most influential book cover artists in the twentieth century, and I not only found a website dedicated to him, but also a book, Classic Book Jackets: The Design Legacy of George Salter by Thomas Hansen.

Salter was both a calligrapher and a designer. He started his career in his native Germany and became a highly influential book cover designer there between WWI and WWII. He really made a name for himself with the design of Berlin Alexanderplatz, which Hansen describes as “the most famous book jacket for a work of twentieth-century German fiction.” He also notes that “Never before had a book design achieved such a powerful fusion of word and image. The author [of Berlin Alexanderplatz] supplied extra text specifically for this jacket.”

Despite Salter’s success in Germany, he lost his job due to Hitler’s rise in power and antisemitic policies. He was among the first wave of artist refugees who fled to the U.S. Luckily, he had contacts and was able to begin working again rather quickly. And from there, Salter began to make his mark on American book jacket illustration. He worked for many publishers (Simon & Shuster, Afred A. Knopf,  Modern Library) and designed covers for many important books and writers: John Hersey, Ayn Rand, Graham Greene, Steinbeck, Isak Dinesan, E.M. Forester, Gore Vidal, Thomas Mann, more.

Classic Book Covers contains a couple hundred images of Salter’s book covers. The TRP Big Sky does not appear in its pages, but it is included at the back in a comprehensive list of Salter’s design work. The book also notes that Salter sometimes reused earlier designs. I think he did this for The Big Sky because I found noticed a very similar design on the cover of Early Joys by Konstantin Fedin. I like the TRP version better.

Flipping through Classic Book Covers, I recognized a book that I have on my shelf, The Portable Greek Reader. I found this at a thrift store, drawn by the cover, but didn’t buy it immediately because I thought myself silly to buy a book just for the cover (clearly I have gotten over it). I couldn’t get it out of my mind and drove back the next day and nabbed it for a mere 25¢. I only wish I’d also snagged the Thomas Mann book next to it, also illustrated by Salter. You can see it below, along with a few other jackets that I especially admire.

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