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Royalty reading issues of Current Affairs and frowning with distaste. "Proud to be a magazine that most royals dislike."

Current Affairs

A Magazine of Politics and Culture

Jason Adam Katzenstein

Notes from the Once-a-Year Meeting Where They Decide What All the Book Covers Will Look Like

In this exclusive leaked excerpt, highly-paid publishing executives reveal their tricks for making literature as unappetizing as possible.

A long silence. 

Exec 1:

Perhaps we’ve said all we can say with the medium. We’ve tried sans serif, we’ve tried handwritten… truly, what is left? 

Exec 2:

Hear me out: Millennials love a specific shade of pink. What if we put just one single uncanny image against a backdrop of millennial pink? It might be crazy enough to work…

Exec 3:

You’re new here, aren’t you? 

Exec 2:

How did you —

Exec 3:

(Impatiently) 2017, 2017! A glorious year for us. Like moths to a flame, those millennials flocked to Elif Batuman novels. A coup for book cover designers!  

Exec 1:

But then the millennials grew tired. They wanted the shock of the new, so we tried Helvetica Neue. 

Exec 3:

For a time it worked. Ottessa Moshfegh wrote one thousand books in 2018, and all we had to do was put a woman looking forlornly off toward the middle distance and BOOM, you couldn’t be caught on the L train without your copy. 

Exec 1:

Sometimes I miss 2015. Our work was easy then; you only had to put THE ARGONAUTS, FATES AND FURIES or CITY ON FIRE on your cover in all caps. No pictures. They said we were crazy, and perhaps we were. Perhaps we are. But dammit if readers didn’t post passages from THE ARGONAUTS in their Insta stories. 

Exec 3:

And so, newbie, in 2020 we truly flirted with madness: a swirl of colors, shapes, drawings, fonts, a stew of discordant imagery, a magic eye poster, a melange, it was challenging! It was overwhelming! We read the room and decided that what readers needed in 2020 was to feel overwhelmed. It was, it was—

Exec 3 is overcome with feeling and can’t go on. 

Exec 1:

It was impossible to follow. 

Exec 2 begins to sketch. 

Exec 3:

It’s no use. We’ve got nowhere to go. The house of fiction may have many windows, but we’ve peaked in all of them. Books are over. We have no choice but to pivot to video. Time to hang up our old-timey hats, friends. 

Exec 2 holds up the sketch. Execs 1 and 3 shield their eyes, as if from a bright light. 

Exec 3:

I thought I’d seen it all…

Exec 1:


Exec 3:

Shocking. But inevitable. Like a friend I’ve always known but just met. 

Exec 1:

It’s so simple. 

All three weep from the sheer beauty of the thing.

A reproduction is included below:

Art by Jason Adam Katzenstein

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