Books

Jessica Hische Designs for Barnes & Noble Classics

By Katy Kelleher

Though I love paperbacks and adore my Kindle, there is nothing that feels quite as literary, quite as solid and impressive, as a leather-bound book. I’ll admit, my current collection is made primarily of used books and well-thumbed paperbacks, but I treasure the few nice books I own. Someday, I like to think, I’ll have floor-to-ceiling shelves, displaying a Hogwarts-esque collection of weighty old classics, covered in just the right amount of dust.

My library fantasies were recently reawakened when I stumbled across a collaboration between Brooklyn-based designer  Jessica Hische and Barnes & Noble. Working with art director Jo Obarowski, Hische created an exclusive series of covers for a collection of classic novels. The books, which are available only in Barnes & Noble stores and on their website, are very reasonably priced. For $63, you can get the entire boxed set, which includes a copy of Dracula, Pride and Prejudice, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Though I already own many of these books, I’m still considering getting Hische’s set—mainly because they’re so gorgeous. I am not an expert in typography, but even I can see that the fonts are truly wonderful; each one is clearly chosen to fit the subject matter within. For example, the cover for Dracula is done in a vivid red and black, dripping blood and decorated with creeping vines that morph into batwings, rather than the expected three-pointed ivy leaves. In contrast, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn brings to mind a vintage fairground flier. Cattails extend from the sunburst corners and little leafy tendrils underline each carefully-set letter. The titles are in turn eerie and spectacular, whimsical and romantic.

A quick look through Hische’s portfolio shows that this isn’t unusual for the designer. Under her hand, letters don’t look like stark symbols, but individual pieces of art. We are so surrounded by the written word that it no longer feels at all miraculous (after all, a highway sign rarely evokes emotion, much aless a feeling of admiration for the chosen font), but projects like this serve as a reminder that this doesn’t have to be the case. Books were once hard to come by, and letters were once treated with a sacred and artistic respect.

Leaving aside for a moment my personal bibliophile tendencies, I have to point out that this box set would make a perfect gift for a recent graduate—particularly if that newly minted scholar happened to major in English. Or you could consider them the first step toward the creation of your own perfect library, which is precisely what I plan to do.