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First Impressions

First Impressions



Jill Alexander Essbaum’s spouse, Alvin Peng, with the first copy of her new novel, Hausfrau

Unboxing has been added to the Oxford English Dictionary: “While the word unbox (to remove from a box) is found as far back as the early 17th century, the word has had a recent resurgence. The verb unbox (and the associated adjective unboxed and noun unboxing) now enter largely thanks to a growing trend on social media: unboxing is ‘an act or instance of removing a newly purchased product from its packaging and examining its features, typically when filmed and shared on a social media site’, such as YouTube.”

That’s one of the first things I read this morning, skimming my various feeds a little after six a.m.

As Alban mentioned in our interview last time, the design process can feel largely intuitive. I loved his line about how much of our time is spent simply staring.

Though this seems true for me as well, it also made me think about how much time I spend researching: collecting images; looking at type; thinking about physical construction; and grappling with the limitations of various printing methods, papers, and available equipment.

As usual, I’m in the middle of several simultaneous projects, some more straightforward than others. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve worked on the interior design for a novel, figured out a set of challenging technical issues presented by an oversized poetry chapbook, spent several hours sourcing paper for same, designed a logo and wordmark that needed to adapt to various situations in both print and pixels, read a great little book on web typography, and tested various combinations of typefaces for a website redesign. In about six weeks, supposedly, I’ll have not only designed but also printed (and in some cases hand-trimmed and assembled) three new paperbacks, three new chapbooks, and several event posters. And those are all side projects (which side? how many do I have? I’m a dodecahedron!) to the massive editorial job on my desk right now. So yeah, a little busy. Definitely not as much time for staring as I’d like.

But I’m still seeing, and still looking at books. We can’t help ourselves, can we? Let me show you a few.

As I mentioned in an earlier column, I always get excited about book day. It’s a simple thrill—one I can almost still feel in my stomach ten years later (and I never really got into that design, tbh). We bibliophiles have our own version of the YouTube genre, it turns out: we just can’t wait to show someone (anyone) our new books, snapping and posting that first quick pic as soon as the tape on the package is cut.

Here are a few beautiful things I spotted in the last two weeks, as they were being unboxed. I’ve included design credits and ordering info where I was able to find it.

Jill Alexander Essbaum’s new novel Hausfrau

(Look up ^)

The “first copy” photo of the author with her new book isn’t designed public so I can’t share it here, but trust me, it’s cute. (If you’re friends with Jill on Facebook you can see it here.)

She snapped a photo of her spouse holding it though, and that is public, so I’m showing it instead. Also totally adorbs.

The book also modeled at a publicity meeting earlier this week, and even got its own glass of champagne. (Public FB photo: Random House.)

Ginger Ko’s Motherlover


Coming soon from Coconut Books! Ginger got her first copies this week and snapped the requisite jpg. I cropped out her wedding dress, which arrived on the same day. (That’s some good mail.)

Cover art by Sofi Thanhauser. Scope the full cover here.

Morgan Parker’s Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up at Night

In this case, not an unboxing but a digital debut (which are also totally fun):


Designed by Elle Collins for Switchback Books, with cover art by Sam Vernon.

NB: Elle Collins also designed this buoyant cover of Jenn Marie Nunes’s book And/Or, also coming soon from Switchback as the winner of their first Queer Voices Prize.

Ben Fama’s Fantasy


Out soon from Ugly Duckling Presse. I can’t wait to see this in person. That silver is so pretty. Cover art by John Lisle.

Sometimes your friends share pics of their copies too, which is really pretty fantastic of them, no? Photo publicly shared by Kevin Killian on Facebook.

NB: Here’s what the chapbook cover looked like, when we did some of these poems last spring as a Bloof handmade chapbook called Odalisque, with a glossy cover featuring a textile pattern by London designer Francesca Lahiri-Langley.

Nikki Wallschlaeger’s Houses


I gasped when I saw this. I love its combination of boldness and domesticity (which totally works with Nikki’s poems). Photo and cover design by Nikki & Brian Wallschlaeger (who I heard also painted some of the props). Shared publicly by the author on Facebook.

It’s coming soon from Horse Less Press, which is offering a preorder discount.

Noah Eli Gordon’s The Word Kingdom in the Word Kingdom


Brooklyn Arts Press publisher Joe Pan shared this one (publicly, FB), shortly after it arrived yesterday. Alas, I do not know the details about the design right now, but I’m digging the “faux finish” of the hand-cut lettering photo on the cover, and the way it carries through to the title page.

Caketrain Issue 12


This one is stunning (as usual). I’m hotly anticipating the moment it hits my mailbox. The a-peeling (heh) cover for the new issue of Caketrain is designed by Joseph Reed, featuring art by Yonca Karakas Demirel. (Publicly shared by Reed on Facebook.)caketrain_pullquote

Caketrain‘s been sharing jpgs of some pull-quotes too. (See, Facebook’s algorithm always boosts photos, which is why you’ll find yourself frequently annoyed by smarmy motivational graphics, sarcastic Willy Wonka macros, and spuriously sourced philosphilcal quotes. This is a smart way to use the algorithm to boost the otherwise-depressing reach of a Facebook Page.)

And just for fun:


Here’s a back issue of Poets & Writers with Marilyn Monroe as the covergirl. (Publicly shared by Lee Herick.)

Unbox yourself, girl

If you have a shot of your own unboxing, consider posting it in the comments? I’d love to see it. (Or you can tweet it to me & Real Pants: @Shanna_Compton, @ActualPants with the #bythecover hashtag.)

Shanna Compton

About The Author

Shanna Compton

Shanna Compton's books include the poetry collections Creature Sounds Fade, Midwinter Constellation (coauthor), Brink, For Girls & Others, Down Spooky, and several chapbooks. She's the founder of the Bloof Books collective and works as a freelance book designer for several of your favorite small presses.

Real Pants

Good hair, crooked gait

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