BookLook with Donna Robertson

Donna Robertson is the editor of the Christchurch City Libraries’ web team. The library has been blogging since May 2007 and tweeting as @ChristchurchLib since September 2010.


I’ve seen millions of book covers. Most librarians have. That doesn’t make me immune to the power of an attractive cover. A good jacket has the power to make me stop, pick it up – and maybe take it home.

I met these two books as a librarian, when putting them back on the shelf. I knew nothing about the books, but both hooked me in with covers of arresting simplicity. I picked them up, read their blurbs, and borrowed them. I’m glad I did – they are two of my all-time favourite books. That’s the magic of a good book cover; a snap judgement can lead to a life-long love affair.

Misadventures by Sylvia Smith is a book of wry, dry autobiographical anecdotes. The cover is spartan. Just the title in a small font, and a stick-figure woman in a fetchingly patterned red dress. The colour and design of her dress is echoed in the matching endpapers.


After reading it, I saw how the cover design by Angus Hyland of Pentagram Design entirely fits the book. The author writes with brisk directness and the driest of wit. The interior of the book echoes this; there is plenty of white space. The words can breathe. The back cover has one of Smith’s anecdotes in her own writing. Another version of the cover has more images as well as the stick figure, but I prefer the potent impact of Hyland’s design.


Anthropology: And a Hundred Other Stories by Dan Rhodes is a book of sweet and sour romantic morsels. It has a zingy blue cover, with a pseudo road sign. It is simple, sharp and easily identifiable. The white space in the interior is also expansive.

 I have my own copies of both books, and have happy memories of roaming the streets of Melbourne reading out stories from Anthropology to my sisters. These are books you can have in your bag, books to keep by you, books to hold fast to.


The brilliance of the book covers is that their visual impact and appeal perfectly reflect the treasures they contain – simplicity, elegance, wit, drollery.

Coincidentally I discovered years later that Dan Rhodes is a massive fan of Sylvia Smith. And there they are, snuggled together on my ideal bookshelf.