Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Catching Up With An Old Friend: Coralie Bickford-Smith on 1984 and Songs of Innocence and of Experience

Catching Up With An Old Friend is a series in which readers, authors, and other bookish people share their favorite books. Read more about the project or see all the past entries. To participate, e-mail

Today's favorite book is from Coralie Bickford-Smith, a senior cover designer at Penguin Books, where she has created several series designs. She studied typography at Reading University and has recently been sharing her experience with students at London College of Communication encouraging a sense of play in the process of design. Check out her web site for images of her lovely covers. [ Ed. note, the Attic Salt community loves Coralie's work, which we've talked about here and here.]

I first read 1984 in my English class at boarding school. You might be picturing Hogwarts, but this was a former military base with dilapidated Nissen huts for classrooms. In that environment, at a time when my life was constrained by rules and restrictions and I was finding it harder and harder to conform, the world of Airstrip One and Big Brother was easy to imagine and to identify with. I had that feeling many teenagers have of life being out of reach and of waiting for something to happen; knowing only my limited world but feeling there was something bigger beyond that I was yet to experience.

Like Winston Smith, I kept a diary that felt like my only outlet, a place to gather my thoughts and frustrations that I kept hidden and secret. Re-reading 1984 in later years, I'm taken back to those times, and the sense of savoring small freedoms - it's a feeling I still get sometimes, simple pleasures like being able to treat myself to some particular food. There are other details that really resonate as well, like the antiques shop. The way the artifacts are so well observed and described, and also cherished, reminds me of the way I collect, and the attention I give to my own collection of objects. I've never designed a cover for 1984 - that would be an exciting project, and a scary one too. If I nailed it though, I would read it again with my own cover; a dream I would never have thought possible first time around.

As a graphic designer and typographer, I have to mention a hugely inspirational book which I revisit often: William Blake's Songs of Innocence and of Experience. It's not one I often open to read, but the visionary illustrations still hold the same fascination for me as they did when I was a child. Blake's spirit of experimentation and his mastery of the entire book-creation process was a real inspiration, and this book held out the promise of the creative and imaginative world beyond the confines of school.

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