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Shopping in a bookstore, primarily visually.

January 17, 2011 \am\31 8:23 am

Owen Freeman, Illustrator Deluxe

Owen Freeman Book Cover Illustration

Owen Freeman Book Cover Illustration

When I moved to Portland a little while back, it was no secret that the city itself posts up a bookstore, in fact, the country’s largest, as an iconic tourist Mecca not unlike Disneyland or the Empire State Building for their respective cities. Powell’s Books is not isolated in its downtown mega-store location, however — there are several “satellite” stores, stores that are in and of themselves pretty decent bookstores, including what might be the second biggest one of the chain right up the street from my home. Needless to say, I get to do a lot of browsing whenever I want to.

Lately, since going freelance and being constantly reminded of how much it costs to move to another state when you have over fifty boxes of books and magazines, I’ve started to pare down my collection. Once upon a time, I fantasized about having a library in a house that I owned. Now I don’t. Instead, I’d love to be able to read a book and then pass it along to someone else. Or buy a book and then sell it back for credit, and keep around only a shelf or two of intensely memorable books, the kinds that I find myself reading more than once, or coming back to for writing research.We even started giving away books, and encouraging the “recycling” of books by attendees at the monthly Smalldoggies Reading Series here in Portland, which has been great. This was something I learned from Jim Krusoe in his writing class at Santa Monica City College.

So with this in mind, I’ve gotten pretty disciplined about making a trip to the bookstore, just to browse. I don’t do this with anything else in the way of stuff you might purchase, like clothes. I don’t shop. I go out to buy. So with books, it’s been like learning a new consumerist language or something. I walk in, and my experience is totally shifted into the visual. I’m no longer reading book jackets, seeing what’s on the small press shelves, seeing who is recommending what, looking into deeper catalogues of works by writers whom I’ve enjoyed before. Instead, I just put my hands in my pockets and walk around until something visual pops out at me. I think it’s such a strange science / art project, designing a book cover — both to make sure that something of the overall tone of the book’s insides gets conveyed without being reduced to an illustration, and to try to capture the appropriate audience’s eyes.

This last time, hands down, the somewhat newly (UK?) reissued William S. Burroughs book, The Ticket that Exploded, caught my eye enough for me to remember it again days later, and then research the title, edition and illustrator’s name online without forgetting, and find this gem of a design piece to share. Owen Freeman‘s website features tons of really magnetic work, with sharp lines and bold graphics — it’s ended up being his work on the cover of the Burroughs jacket. I don’t exactly know what it is about the Burroughs’ book, but it’s one of the sharpest covers I can remember seeing in the last year or so. I think I might have to contact this guy for an interview.


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