PAINTINGS AS BOOK COVERS (discussion)


HELLO HELLO!!! I’m so excited about today’s post, which is all about…PAINTINGS AS BOOK COVERS. this started out as just a basic post featuring a bunch of books with paintings on their covers, but then I decided that I wanted to actually feature the original paintings in the post, and then it snowballed into a fully-fledged discussion post and the rest is history.

when I first started working on the post, I did a cursory search of this cover trend to see if there were some listicles or articles about it or something, but surprisingly enough, I couldn’t find anything. the only thing I was really able to find was this article delving into the some of the factors contributing to the popularity of this trend and some examples of books that fit into it. effectively, what this meant was that I had to scour my brain and Goodreads to come up with as many examples of this trend as possible. once I did that, I had to do some serious sleuthing to find the names of some of the paintings on these covers–some publishers make it so unnecessarily hard (the Google Lens feature, which I’d never even heard of before this, came in very handy)–but I am nothing if not persistent, so here we are. 👀

before I begin, some things to note:

  • I won’t be talking about the history of these paintings because a) I am nowhere near qualified to do that (I know virtually nothing about art history) and b) it’s a lot of work and I just wanna talk about Pretty Covers lol.
  • so yeah, I’m just going to be talking about my own personal impressions of these paintings rather than analyzing how they/their histories relate to the contents of the books they’re on the covers of. I have read most of the books on this list, though, so I will talk generally about how the paintings match (or don’t match) the ~Vibes~ of these books (basically like what I do in the posts I’ve previously written about book covers — e.g. this one, this one, and this one).

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

“Portrait of a Young Woman in White” (1798) by Jacques-Louis David

There was no way I could do a post about books with paintings on their covers and not include My Year of Rest and Relaxation. It’s simply too iconic of a cover-painting combo to overlook. The fact that this is such an easily recognizable cover really speaks to how effective it is. In my head–and, I think, a lot of other readers’ heads–this painting is just The Ottessa Moshfegh Painting. The painting is already so interesting to look at: the solitary figure of the woman, her very emo (for lack of a better word) expression and body language. But the way it’s been edited for Moshfegh’s cover makes it all the more interesting, I think: the extremely vibrant, very un-historical-looking pink that they’ve chosen for the font marries really well with the painting. It’s a simple edit, but nothing more is needed: the painting is already doing all the visual heavy-lifting here anyway.

(Also, if you’ll notice, they slightly edited the painting on the cover so it wouldn’t be NSFW. 👀)


Woman, Eating by Claire Kohda

“Boy with Basket of Fruit” (1593) by Caravaggio

This is an interesting one. There’s actually a whole note in the back of this book where the designer, Alicia Tatone, talks about why they chose this particular painting for the cover:

“Caravaggio’s Boy with a Basket of Fruit felt just right: the sidelong glance peering back at the viewer, the lush basket filled with food that Lydia can never eat, not to mention Caravaggio’s own less-than-pristine reputation, not dissimilar to our antagonist’s. The final touch: a perfectly-placed crack in the canvas–or is it a bite mark?”

I do like this cover. The original painting as a whole doesn’t feel like it matches the book, but the way that they’ve cropped it for the book works well, I think. I’m not sure about the “crack” in the painting–it doesn’t do anything for me personally–but love the typography (the rotated O’s and the dripping N! [very Killing Eve]); it’s sharp where the painting is soft, and that’s why it works.


If an Egyptian Cannot Speak English by Noor Naga

“A Bischari Warrior” (1872) by Jean-Léon Gérôme

I’ve already talked about this cover in my “Favourite Covers of 2022” post, but I still wanted to mention it here because I love it so much. What I’m noticing in this post is that when it comes to books with paintings on their covers, it’s not just about the painting itself, but also how the designer uses that painting. That design element is important so that the cover doesn’t just feel like an exact replica of the painting with a bunch of text slapped on it. The little things–like the pink text on the Moshfegh cover–matter, and I think this cover is a great example of how important modifying the painting actually is. I love that they’ve cropped the painting so the focus is more on the man’s face, and like I said in the post I mentioned, I love the other design elements too: the lime green text, how big the font is, the little red accent on the side.


Too Much by Rachel Vorona Cote

“Helen of Troy” (1867) by Anthony Frederick Augustus Sandys

Another one where cropping works to the book’s advantage. This cover is so striking; it’s one of the first things that drew me to this book (which, incidentally enough, I DNFd, but that’s beside the point lol). I love the original painting: the texture on the hair is so beautifully done, the roundness of the woman’s face and shoulders, that facial expression!!! The way that the designer has cropped the painting really allows them to focus on that wonderful expression–what even is it? annoyed? angry? pouty?–and brings the book’s historical focus on the Victorian era to the fore.


A Certain Hunger by Chelsea G. Summers

“Sigismunda mourning over the Heart of Guiscardo” (1759) by William Hogarth

An absolutely stunning painting. I’m especially obsessed with the light and shadow on the fabric of the clothes. They’ve cropped this painting quite a bit, and I think generally that works for the cover–the squeezed heart with blood dripping out of it! it’s kind of impossible for an image like that not to grab your attention. However, I can’t help but feel like the arresting quality of the painting as a whole gets lost in its being cropped so tightly.


Nobody Somebody Anybody by Kelly McClorey

“The Maid” (1862) by Wilhelm August Lebrecht Amberg

This is one example where I don’t think enough was done to the painting that was used. I love the painting; there’s something really fun and interesting about a maid just chugging a glass of who-knows-what as she’s on her way to who-knows-where with a tray of drinks and plates. I like the original painting–I just feel like they didn’t really do much with it in the book cover. It’s slightly cropped, with some text on it, and that’s about it. The Moshfegh cover didn’t have much on it, either, but I feel like there, the cover was more effective whereas here the cover is nice but not quite as expressive or evocative on its own.


Abigail by Magda Szabó (tr. Len Rix)

“Händehochhaltende (Antworten). Skizze” (“Hands-free (answers). Sketch”) (1895) by Otto Meyer Amden

This one is pretty simple; the cover is more abstract than the previous ones I’ve looked at, but I do like it. I’m a big fan of NYRB’s book designs: they’re simple, yes, but they really work, and I love how cohesive they are together. They haven’t done much with the painting here, but I love that they stuck with the unusual bright-orange-plus-gray colour combo from the painting. That very bright, vibrant orange stands out so nicely on the cover.


The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld

“The Martyr of Soloway” (c.1871) by John Everett Millais

This one stands out a bit from the previous examples because it obviously doesn’t use the whole painting. But that’s what I mean when I say it comes down to what the designer does with the cover–and it’s done so well here. I think the other design elements on the cover–the shark and dog–have also come from other paintings, but I decided to focus on the woman in the middle because she’s the main focal point of the cover.

I just adore this cover. I love the collage-iness of it all and I think the designer has done an excellent job at bringing together all these disparate elements and cohesively bringing them together. (Also, the painting, as with so many of the others I’ve featured, is just beautifully done.)


All’s Well by Mona Awad

“Mischief and Repose” (1895) by John William Godward

Again, as with The Bass Rock, the cover of this one takes a part of a painting and overlays it on top of a new design. This one is less effective of a design for me, though. I feel like they’ve cheapened the painting–which is so lush and detailed–by putting it on this garish blue background and adding weird little clipart-looking arrows to the woman’s body (????). Like I don’t hate this cover or anything–it’s fine at best–but I do think it could’ve been much nicer.


Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

“The Hunters in the Snow” (1565) by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

(Thank you to @littlecassreads on Instagram for reminding me of this one!)

Another absolutely stunning painting. This one is so different from the ones I’ve talked about before (notably, it’s also the oldest painting in this list). I love the colours, the texture (in the sky and the snow), the trees–there’s such a lovely sense of dynamism and life to it all. And I do like the way it’s been edited on the cover of the book. You obviously miss a lot because it’s been cropped so much, but the overall effect is nice. The book itself is a quiet story about a small community, and I think the cover conveys that well enough.


Inventory by Darran Anderson

“Paddy Flanagan” (1908) by George Bellows

(Thank you to Rachel from Pace, Amore, Libri for reminding me of this one!) (ok but seriously Rachel has an amazing list of books with paintings on their covers!!!)

Finally, this cover, which I also mentioned in another covers post before. The painting itself is so striking, and the way that they’ve edited it for the book cover makes it work even better for that book. They’ve added a bit of texture to the left (are those bullet holes?), as well as introduced that light flare, which helps make the cover more dynamic, and also evokes that sense of warping or change–like something happened to this image that’s distorted its quality in some way and allowed light to leak in to it.


those are all the paintings I have for now! I hope you enjoyed reading this!! maybe if can compile a big enough list of these in the future, I’ll write another post about them, but for now, I’ve pretty much exhausted my list lol. This was really fun, though. I loved seeing what the original paintings looked like, and looking at the ways in which some of these designers have modified them for their respective book covers.

let me know which of these covers you like the most–and least!–and if there are any other examples of book covers with paintings on them that you think are especially memorable or well done. 😊


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MULTIGENERATIONAL FAMILY SAGAS


hi everyone!! so earlier this year I read and loved The Art of Losing by Alice Zeniter (tr. Frank Wynne), which followed three generations of a family from Algeria to France. and ever since reading it, I’ve really wanted to explore more fiction with stories that follow characters over multiple generations, so here we are: a list of multigenerational family sagas! some of these I’ve already read–in which case I’ve linked my review–and the others I’m hoping to get to at at some point this year. 👀


Disoriental by Negar Djavadi (tr. Tina Kover)

The story of a young girl and her family, at the core of an exploration of Iranian history.

WINNERPrix du StylePrix de la Porte DoréeLire Best Debut NovelLe Prix du Roman News.

Kimiâ Sadr fled Iran at the age of ten in the company of her mother and sisters to join her father in France. Now twenty-five, with a new life and the prospect of a child, Kimiâ is inundated by her own memories and the stories of her ancestors, which reach her in unstoppable, uncontainable waves. In the waiting room of a Parisian fertility clinic, generations of flamboyant Sadrs return to her, including her formidable great-grandfather Montazemolmolk, with his harem of fifty-two wives, and her parents, Darius and Sara, stalwart opponents of each regime that befalls them.

In this high-spirited, kaleidoscopic story, key moments of Iranian history, politics, and culture punctuate stories of family drama and triumph. Yet it is Kimiâ herself—punk-rock aficionado, storyteller extraordinaire, a Scheherazade of our time, and above all a modern woman divided between family traditions and her own “disorientalization”—who forms the heart of this bestselling and beloved novel.


The Art of Losing by Alice Zeniter (tr. Frank Wynne)

Across three generations, three wars, two continents, and the mythic waters of the Mediterranean, one family’s history leads to an inevitable question: What price do our descendants pay for the choices that we make?

Naïma knows Algeria only by the artifacts she encounters in her grandparents’ tiny apartment in Normandy: the language her grandmother speaks but Naïma can’t understand, the food her grandmother cooks, and the precious things her grandmother carried when they fled. Naïma’s father claims to remember nothing; he has made himself French. Her grandfather died before he could tell her his side of the story. But now Naïma will travel to Algeria to see for herself what was left behind–including their secrets.

The Algerian War for Independence sent Naïma’s grandfather on a journey of his own, from wealthy olive grove owner and respected veteran of the First World War, to refugee spurned as a harki by his fellow Algerians in the transit camps of southern France, to immigrant barely scratching out a living in the north. The long battle against colonial rule broke apart communities, opened deep rifts within families, and saw the whims of those in even temporary power instantly overturn the lives of ordinary people. Where does Naïma’s family fit into this history? How do they fit into France’s future?

Alice Zeniter’s The Art of Losing is a powerful, moving family novel that spans three generations across seventy years and two shores of the Mediterranean Sea. It is a resonant people’s history of Algeria and its diaspora. It is a story of how we carry on in the face of loss: loss of country, identity, language, connection. Most of all, it is an immersive, riveting excavation of the inescapable legacies of colonialism, immigration, family, and war.


Her Mother’s Mother’s Mother and Her Daughters by Maria José Silveira (tr. Eric M.B. Becker)

Her Mother’s Mother’s Mother and Her Daughters tells the story of Brazil through the histories of a twenty women. It opens with Inaia being born in 1500, at the moment when the Portuguese arrive in Brazil and continues through to the present, tracing this fascinating lineage of women against the historical backdrop of Brazil’s ups and downs, challenges and triumphs.


Where Dogs Bark with Their Tails by Estelle Sarah-Bulle (tr. Julia Grawemeyer)

An award-winning best first novel in France, Estelle-Sarah Bulle’s Where Dogs Bark with Their Tails, the story of Guadaloupe emerges through the epic, lively tales of one family and their larger-than-many-lives sister, Antoine.

A young woman born in the suburbs of Paris, whose skin color and memories of occasional childhood visits alone connect her to her father’s native Guadeloupe, yearns to understand her lineage and her métis identity. Upon her request, her old aunt Antoine, the eccentric and indomitable family matriarch, unveils the history of the Ezechiel clan, and with it, that of the island over the course of the twentieth century.

In a spirited account, punctuated by interludes from other family members, Antoine tells her life’s story: a childhood spent deep in the countryside, an ill-fated romance between her upper-class mother and farmer father, the splendors and slums of the capital city, Point-à-Pitre, the eruption of modernity, the rifts in a deeply hierarchical society under colonial rule—and the reasons she left it all behind.

Through the unforgettable story of the Ezechiels, a richly textured account of the Guadeloupean diaspora emerges, spanning decades and crossing the Atlantic. With lush language and vivid storytelling, Where Dogs Bark with Their Tails examines the legacies of capitalism and colonialism, and the loss of a beloved mother, and asks what it means to be caught between worlds, and how we might reconcile past, present, and future.


Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera

A stunning literary debut of two young women on opposing sides of the devastating Sri Lankan Civil War—winner of the Commonwealth Book Prize for Asia, longlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize

Before violence tore apart the tapestry of Sri Lanka and turned its pristine beaches red, there were two families. Yasodhara tells the story of her own Sinhala family, rich in love, with everything they could ask for. As a child in idyllic Colombo, Yasodhara’s and her siblings’ lives are shaped by social hierarchies, their parents’ ambitions, teenage love and, subtly, the differences between the Tamil and Sinhala people—but this peace is shattered by the tragedies of war. Yasodhara’s family escapes to Los Angeles. But Yasodhara’s life has already become intertwined with a young Tamil girl’s…

Saraswathie is living in the active war zone of Sri Lanka, and hopes to become a teacher. But her dreams for the future are abruptly stamped out when she is arrested by a group of Sinhala soldiers and pulled into the very heart of the conflict that she has tried so hard to avoid – a conflict that, eventually, will connect her and Yasodhara in unexpected ways.

In the tradition of Michael Ondatjee’s Anil’s Ghost and Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things, Island of a Thousand Mirrors is an emotionally resonant saga of cultural heritage, heartbreaking conflict and deep family bonds. Narrated in two unforgettably authentic voices and spanning the entirety of the decades-long civil war, it offers an unparalleled portrait of a beautiful land during its most difficult moment by a spellbinding new literary talent who promises tremendous things to come. 


Jacob’s Ladder by Ludmila Ulitskaya (tr. Polly Gannon)

One of Russia’s most renowned literary figures and a Man Booker International Prize nominee, Ludmila Ulitskaya presents what may be her final novel. Jacob’s Ladder is a family saga spanning a century of recent Russian history–and represents the summation of the author’s career, devoted to sharing the absurd and tragic tales of twentieth-century life in her nation.

Jumping between the diaries and letters of Jacob Ossetsky in Kiev in the early 1900s and the experiences of his granddaughter Nora in the theatrical world of Moscow in the 1970s and beyond, Jacob’s Ladder guides the reader through some of the most turbulent times in the history of Russia and Ukraine, and draws suggestive parallels between historical events of the early twentieth century and those of more recent memory.

Spanning the seeming promise of the prerevolutionary years, to the dark Stalinist era, to the corruption and confusion of the present day, Jacob’s Ladder is a pageant of romance, betrayal, and memory. With a scale worthy of Tolstoy, it asks how much control any of us have over our lives–and how much is in fact determined by history, by chance, or indeed by the genes passed down by the generations that have preceded us into the world.


Book of the Little Axe by Lauren Francis-Sharma

In 1796 Trinidad, young Rosa Rendón quietly but purposefully rebels against the life others expect her to lead. Bright, competitive, and opinionated, Rosa sees no reason she should learn to cook and keep house, for it is obvious her talents lie in running the farm she, alone, views as her birthright. But when her homeland changes from Spanish to British rule, it becomes increasingly unclear whether its free black property owners–Rosa’s family among them–will be allowed to keep their assets, their land, and ultimately, their freedom.

By 1830, Rosa is living among the Crow Nation in Bighorn, Montana with her children and her husband, Edward Rose, a Crow chief. Her son Victor is of the age where he must seek his vision and become a man. But his path forward is blocked by secrets Rosa has kept from him. So Rosa must take him to where his story began and, in turn, retrace her own roots, acknowledging along the way, the painful events that forced her from the middle of an ocean to the rugged terrain of a far-away land.


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MY FAVOURITE COVERS OF 2022 (So Far)


hello hello!!! you guys know how much I love talking about pretty book covers (see here and here), and there have been SO many gorgeous new 2022 release covers. naturally, I couldn’t resist doing a post where I talk about why I love some of them so much. also, there’s something that’s just really therapeutic about colour-swatching these covers. 🤔


Hearts & Bones by Niamh Mulvey

I mean, the cover speaks for itself. Just stunning. The colours are so lovely and complementary (the pinks! the yellows!), and the painting is absolutely striking–not just because it’s a nice painting, which it is, but because it uses light and shadow so effectively. The contrast between the two is what ultimately makes this cover so arresting. (ngl I’m gonna be devastated if this book doesn’t turn out to be good because I would love to add this beautiful cover to my collection)


Disorientation by Elaine Hsieh Chou

I just love this cover. Again, it’s so striking. I’ve rarely seen anything like this in the book cover designs I’ve come across. I love the fact that it’s a scene in miniature, but to add on to that we also have the fact that all these objects are strewn about and suspended in the air. It makes the cover that much more interesting to look at it, and I am such a sucker for those colours!! Pink and teal is one of my favourite colour combos ever, and it works perfectly here.


If an Egyptian Cannot Speak English by Noor Naga

I love me a good painting-as-book-cover situation, and this one is such a well done example of that. The painting does most of the work here, and it is just beautiful, but I also think the design elements–the yellow font and the pinkish line on the left–really tie the cover together with the painting. Very warm colours, too–the pinks and browns of the skin tones along with the yellow and pink of the design–which I especially like.


The Scent of Burnt Flowers by Blitz Bazawule

My initial reaction to this book cover was just WOW. This is one of the most striking covers I have ever seen. I mean, where do I even begin?? Every element here works so perfectly. First, the COLOURS. The mauve, the orange, the green, the coral, and the black–all go together so well. But also the contrast of the darker colours against the lighter ones is beautifully done. Second of all, the illustration itself is gorgeous–just look at the detail in those eyes!!!! The iris!!!!!


All Down Darkness Wide by Seán Hewitt

Where the other covers I’ve talked about have been very high contrast, this one is the opposite. It’s a simple cover, but it has such a lovely, understated beauty. I love the shading details in the illustration of the falling man–the lights and shadows work so well here, and the rendering of his muscles really effectively adds to the cover’s sense of movement.


Devotion by Hannah Kent

Just gorgeous. Again, it’s all about THE COLOURS. The lovely gradient of teals and blues, along with the shades of violet and purple, all streaked with the flecked gold. The colours really add to the watercolour-yness of it all. I also just love how the painting is of hills/mounds that turn into waves–I think something about that speaks so well to the narrative and themes of the novel itself.


Self-Portrait with Ghost by Meng Jin

This cover is a WORK OF ART. Another one where the first time I saw it I was like wow. You know how much I love the pink, but also the art is so COOL. It’s weird and bizarre and disorienting in the best ways possible. That little eye peeking out from the side of the woman’s face is just the cherry on top. And having read this collection, I can also tell you that this cover is such a perfect visual representation of its stories. (It references art from a specific story–the titular one, in fact–but I think it also speaks to the themes of the collection as a whole.) An absolute10/10 cover.


Gods of Want by K-Ming Chang

I! love! this! cover! First, that illustration is so cool. You can clearly tell it’s a vintage illustration, or at least one that’s inspired by a vintage illustration, and the fact that it’s set against textured backdrop (those little flecks!) makes the cover so cohesive and dynamic, too. Also, the colours! Bright red/orange! Black! Green! Blue! And the little flames around the title are a very nice touch.


Briefly, a Delicious Life by Nell Stevens

Like I said, I’m a sucker for a painting as a book cover, but here we have something that’s a bit more than that. The illustration of the peaches (?) kind of reminds me of the kind of art you’d find on windows, or glass in general. It has a lovely sort of textured feel to it, and it looks great on top of the painting of the girl. The rich oranges, peaches, and browns come together beautifully.


All This Could be Different by Sarah Thankam Mathews

This is such a vibrant cover–SO MANY BRIGHT COLOURS. And they really make this cover pop. Also, the painting itself is so dynamic; it feels alive in the way that it’s populated by so many people, all of which are dynamic and engaged in different things (the guy on his phone, the people talking, the person under a pile of blankets, the two people napping, etc.).


The Night Ship by Jess Kidd

This actually wasn’t the original cover for this novel. There was initially another cover, and then they changed it to this one, and it was absolutely the right decision, because this one is just gorgeous. It’s sort of similar to Devotion‘s cover in the sense that we have a gradient of colour, along with one thing that turns into another. Where with Devotion we have hills that turn into water, here we have water that turns into clouds. And it’s just beautifully rendered: the texture of the water and clouds, the striking then delicate colours, the starry sky, and that lovely fine serif font. Just *chef’s kiss*.


Constructing a Nervous System by Margo Jefferson

Just some great design here. The mirror images of the woman are so cool. The pose, along with the capillaries (?) in the woman on the left, are what I think give this cover its edge. Also the green and orange colour combo is great.


Worn by Sofi Thanhauser

And finally, this cover, which is super simple, but so elegant and effective in its simplicity. The way that that the different kinds of paper are, quite literally, woven into the design on the woman’s head is so smart. The textures of that paper is front and center, and the kind of collage of all of them together really evokes the subject matter of the book, given its focus on clothing (which inevitably includes fabrics, textures, etc.).


I hope you enjoyed this little discussion of some of my favourites covers of the year so far!!! I am just in love with every single cover in this list, and can’t wait to see what other beautiful cover designs are coming our way in 2022. ✨

let me know which covers are your favourites, or if there are any 2022 covers I didn’t talk about that you loved from this year! ☺️☺️


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