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The Many Faces of David Eagleman’s Sum

One of the topics of discussion we’ve been circling around repeatedly in recent weeks is the idea that there is so an audience for short story collections, if only publishers could reach that audience consistently, so when Jeffrey Trachtenberg wrote an item in last week’s Wall Street Journal about the surprise success of David Eagleman‘s Sum, we snapped to attention.

The main focus of the article, as it happens, is how Sum appears to be doing much better at than at walk-in bookstores, and Pantheon‘s subsequent decision to reissue the book with a new dust jacket, after determining that the original cover art made potential readers think it was “a ghost story or a work of science fiction” (as opposed to a work of literary fiction comparable to, in one reviewer’s estimation, Italo Calvino or Alan Lightman). We’re not 100% convinced by the new cover—our first impression is that it goes too far in the opposite direction—but as we poked around the Internet, we found ourselves charmed by the cover Canongate created for the British edition of the book. (And, we realized, Pantheon’s problem could’ve been much worse; not only is the German cover unexciting, the book has been retitled Nearly in the Other World: or, Why God Reads Frankenstein.)

Then again, we’re not the only, or even the ideal, book buyers in America: What do you think of these three covers? Which one would get you to pick up the book and take a look inside?


Afterwards, we got to thinking about a tangential point in Trachtenberg’s story: “Dust-jacket art is less important on Amazon and other online sites,” he writes, “where many people go to find specific titles rather than to browse.” It reminded us of a passage in David Byrne‘s new book, Bicycle Diaries, where he and a friend comment on the consequences of the MP3 revolution for album cover design—as in, it may well become superfluous. (We don’t have any conclusions here; we just know that a similar conversation must be taking place somewhere in the publishing world…)

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