The Written Image: Alternative Book Covers

From the March/April 2022 issue of
Poets & Writers Magazine

This past fall the interdisciplinary designer Christine Rhee poked fun at the gendered marketing of books by devising two lines of covers, “Fake Books for Men” and “Fake Books for Women,” and posting them to Instagram (@monobrow_ny). Her satirical redesigns of both classic and contemporary books call attention to how color and imagery are used to position a book for its presumed audience—and prompt publishers, writers, and readers alike to consider their biases and expectations when it comes to book jackets. Some of Rhee’s redesigns are dramatically and comically distinct from their real-life counterparts, while in others she riffs more subtly on the original design. In her reimagining of Ottessa Moshfegh’s wry novel My Year of Rest and Relaxation, for instance, Rhee swaps out a neoclassical portrait of a lady for another such painting—one that features a bare-chested Socrates.

The witty simplicity of the design is characteristic of the series as a whole: “I set them up to be completed quickly because I think, for this type of project, it’s better to keep it fast and fresh,” she says. Rhee also notes that while the conceit of the series was satirical, she approached the project with a sincere appreciation for the books she redesigned and for literature in general. “Books are the most optimistic of objects,” she says. “There is probably something that I haven’t read yet sitting in my bookshelf that will change how I see the world.” In addition to “Fake Books for Men” and “Fake Books for Women,” Rhee’s Instagram feed is a treasure trove of other clever designs. For another literary-inspired series, Rhee selected eclectic titles, including Miss Piggy’s Guide to Life, to remake in the classic aesthetic of New York Review Books.