Books

Advance praise for Same Same, coming this winter from Vintage/Anchor Books

“‘What the project is, only the project knows.’ So we learn as Mendelsund's (What We See When We Read, 2014) debut novel, winds its way to a close. Percy Frobisher might have done well to turn around when, on arriving at the desert retreat known as the Institute, he is greeted with the words, ‘Welcome to nowhere.’ It’s a nowhere in which, though he does not then know it, he will spend years, a nowhere with plenty of dystopia to it. He prefers not to talk about the project that has brought him there even if, as his greeter cajoles, it's the purpose of the Institute for people to talk about what they're up to. Indeed, Percy doesn't quite know what that project is: a novel, at times, or a Gysin-esque collage, or a set of drawings so precise as to include the world to scale, as in the Borges fable. ‘I see now that, whereas the design of the project is strong, so much depends on how it is realized,’ he tells himself. Percy soon learns, however, that the Institute is an odd place, part factory of dreams, part boot camp to wrestle the elusive artistic temperament into a manageable and measurable thing; says its director, creativity ‘is more or less a technology’ that requires nothing less than total commitment, helped along by a program that mixes therapy with coaching and self-criticism, to say nothing of technological oddities that threaten to turn the whole place and everything in it into—well, call it the simulacrum of a simulacrum. Mendelsund, by day an art director and book-cover designer at Knopf, has a grand time serving up what would seem to be an extended metaphor for creativity, complete with some useful if sometimes strange pointers (‘Though the project shall bootstrap its very existence out of its mere possibility, the project shall also be self-liquidating’) that would do Brian Eno proud. Mendelsund's novel of ideas makes a neat bookend to Richard Powers's Galatea 2.2 as a study of creation in the age of the smart machine.”—Starred Review, Kirkus


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Praise for What We See When We Read

“A welcome and fascinating book.”
—Tim Parks, The New York Review of Books

“What We See When We Read is brilliant. Peter Mendelsund has peered into our messy heads and produced an illuminating, kaleidoscopic meditation on reading. Also on seeing. And understanding.”
—James Gleick, Best selling author of Chaos, and The Information

"An intriguing book that uses a combination of image and text to explore the reading experience. Sections titled “Memory and Fantasy,” “The Part and the Whole,” and “It Is Blurred” will provoke and delight simultaneously. Visuals like a passage from Kafka’s vision of New York with arrows to indicate a mass of other associations suggest that if you were to thoroughly map certain fictions an even more gnarled mass of arrows would result, signifying an almost infinite wormholes of connections. But the whole book is a kind of down-the-wormhole or rabbit-hole experience, as Mendelsund’s on a continually quest for different image structures to talk about how people read. Stereo-like balance indicators of Dream, Hallucination, Veridical Perception, Reading Imagination exemplify the approach; they’re both practical and whimsical. The author clearly loves the immersive, unique qualities of the reading experience but only someone with Mendelsund’s unique talents in both prose and art could have created this wonderful book." 
—Jeff Vandermeer, author of Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance

“Peter Mendelsund’s What We See When We Read is blowing my MIND. It’s an insta-classic.”
—Robin Sloan, author of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore

"Jorge Luis Borges, lecturing at Harvard in 1967, remarked that a book is a set of dead symbols that only come to life in the hands of the reader. Peter Mendelsund ’s books “Cover” and “What We See When We Read” make us understand how we construct these images in our minds, based on the words and dreams of the writer. These are masterpieces touched not only by language but by Mr. Mendelsund’s erudite use of images, time, imagination and memory. The author tours us through literature, from how we physically imagine Tolstoy ’s Anna Karenina to how Agatha Christie’s writing constructs our vision of Inspector Hercule Poirot. When we read, as when we gaze out of a car window, we use our eyes in an automatic way—are we really looking thoroughly at those mountains? For me, as I grow older, words and languages have become my favored companions; they are always with me, and they take up no space."
—Francis Mallmann, The Wall Street Journal

“A conversation piece, created to entice repeated thumb-throughs… . [The author is] a highly regarded book-jacket designer… . Reading is often considered (especially by those who don’t love to do it) a passive activity. But Cambridge native Mendelsund … makes a nice case that it is, in fact, a kind of active collaboration… . What We See When We Read, itself a work of conceptual design, unfolds the author’s ideas about what makes reading a creative, visual act all its own on pages—some packed with text, others just a line or two—that incorporate sketches, clip art, images of classic book covers and more.”
The Boston Globe

"A playful, illustrated treatise on how words give rise to mental images… . Mendelsund argues that reading is an act of co-creation, and that our impressions of characters and places owe as much to our own memory and experience as to the descriptive powers of authors… . [What We See When We Read] explore[s] the peculiar challenges of transforming words into images, and blend[s] illustrations with philosophy, literary criticism and design theory.”
The New York Times

"A delightful treat for the avid reader… . [A] topsy-turvily illustrated marvel… . [Mendelsund] maps the dreamscape of reading to show us how the mirage dissolves under close scrutiny but its memory still burns brilliant. What a tangible magic books are!”
Shelf Awareness

"Mendelsund, one of the truly great book-cover designers, explores what we see when we read, in a volume packed with stunning visuals. It’s a fascinating and enlightening look at something we might not actually realize we’re thinking about with every word we read.”
Flavorwire

“Intriguing. A truly remarkable book.”
Coolhunting.com

“Peter Mendelsund has changed the way I think about reading. Like the Wizard of Oz tornado, Mendelsund’s lucid, questing prose and his surprising, joyful visuals collide to create a similar weather system inside the reader. Not only are you carried off to Oz, but you’re aware at every moment of the cyclonic action of your reader’s mind and your reader’s imagination. It’s so smart, so totally original, so beautiful, so good. I want to order copies to give to all of my friends.”
Karen Russell, author of Swamplandia! and Vampires in the Lemon Grove

“Amazing… Sparkling with verbal as well as visual wit and the personable exhilaration of one of the best conversations you’ve ever had, What We See When We Read opens one’s eyes to that special brand of blindness which makes the vividness of fiction possible. It reads as if the ghost of Italo Calvino audited Vladimir Nabokov’s literature class and wrote his final paper with the help of Alvin Lustig and the Radiolab guys. Peter Mendelsund should get double extra credit for trying to describe things that I’m pretty sure there aren’t words for (at least not yet.)”
Chris Ware, Eisner award-winning author of Building Stories and Jimmy Corrigan

“What We See When We Read is not a book, this is a sacred text. It inspires, it expands the mind, it proves that Mendelsund is a total freaking genius. Through his images and his words, he speaks the gospel of our now.”
—Heidi Julavits, author of The Vanishers and editor of The Believer

“In this brilliant amalgam of philosophy, psychology, literary theory and visual art, Knopf associate art director and cover designer Mendelsund inquires about the complex process of reading… . The book exemplifies the idea that reading is not a linear process. Even if readers follow consecutive words, they incorporate into reading memories, distractions, predispositions, desires and expectations… . In 19 brief, zesty chapters, the author considers such topics as the relationship of reading to time, skill, visual acuity, fantasy, synesthesia and belief… . Mendelsund amply attains his goal to produce a quirky, fresh and altogether delightful meditation on the miraculous act of reading."
—Kirkus Review (starred)

“Offhandedly brilliant, witty, and fluent in the works of Tolstoy, Melville, Joyce, and Woolf, Mendelsund guides us through an intricate and enlivening analysis of why literature and reading are essential to our understanding of ourselves, each other, and the spinning world.”
Booklist

"[A] sort of epistemological exercise that, at its best, calls all sorts of associations to mind. It summons a mental flood… . Mendelsund is an adept memoirist; the personal material in this book resonates. He notes that we can read novels quickly, as if driving through them, or slowly, as if walking, and have distinct experiences… . [He] keeps his tone light while thinking deliberately about fundamental things.”
The New York Times

“Mendelsund, throughout this thought-provoking book, helps the lay reader contemplate text in ways you hadn’t thought about previously.””The liveliest, most entertaining and best illustrated work of phenomenology you’ll pick up this year. An acclaimed book-jacket designer and art director, Mendelsund investigates, through words and pictures, what we see when we read text and where those images come from. His breakdown of the reading and visualizing processes yields many insights… . Playfully, he offers us a police composite sketch of Anna, based on the description in Tolstoy’s novel.”
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

"Engaging and erudite.”
Portsmouth Herald

"Quirky and fascinating… . Mendelsund draws our attention to things we may not be fully conscious of when we immerse ourselves in a narrative… . We See When We Read will make passionate readers think about things they may largely take for granted when absorbed in a book and spark further thoughts about what the pleasurable experience of reading is all about.”
BookPage


Praise for Peter Mendelsund & Cover

“Peter Mendelsund is to the art of book design what Walter Murch is to the art of film-editing. That, of course, is the highest praise imaginable.”
—Geoff Dyer, author of Out of Sheer Rage, and Another Great Day at Sea

“Once in a while I’m presented with covers that cross the barriers of cultural reference and visual language. That feel universal. That feel like perfect starts to stories. Covers that I don’t want the reader to forget, but to carry with them throughout my books. Those covers are Peters Mendelsund’s covers.”
—Jo Nesbø, author of The Snowman and The Son

“Peter Mendelsund is a true artist.”
—Ben Marcus, author of The Flame Alphabet and Leaving the Sea

“He’s the exact visual correlative of what I think contemporary literature should be, but usually isn’t doing.”
—Tom McCarthy, Booker prize shortlisted author of Remainder and Satin Island

"Among book designers, Peter Mendelsund is the best reader of all. You always recognize one of his covers when you see it, and it’s not because he tends toward certain colors or typefaces—quite the opposite. Rather, it’s something about the way the cover illuminates the text. You can tell he didn’t just read the manuscript; he internalized it. The result somehow feels both inevitable and surprising: the only possible solution but one you could never dream up yourself.”
—Bomb Magazine

“An uncanny talent for capturing entire books with succinct, compelling imagery—a talent that has led some to deem him the best book designer of his generation.”
—Wired Magazine

“Peter Mendelsund pushes the visual and the verbal into unforeseen alliances. Once we’ve seen these alliances, they feel inevitable. He establishes exactly the right balance between the timely and the timeless. He engages with all the fashionable tropes, trills, and frills of our on-the-go culture, while remaining grounded in a rigorous formal logic.”
—Jed Perl, The New Republic

“Upbeat and thrilling to look at, his designs are works of art, and at the same time they encapsulate the writer’s truest goal.”
—Nicholas Fox Weber, author of Le Corbusier, and The Bauhaus Group

“Peter Mendelsund has the ability to visually and conceptually distill a narrative in such a way that it seems effortlessly inventive, striking, smart, fresh and yet classic. And he does it again and again and again. How I hate him.” Chip Kidd, author of The Cheese Monkeys and The Learners

“He suffers from a surfeit of ideas. In the past decade, Mr. Mendelsund has designed about 600 book jackets, ranging from a sober, sophisticated cover for Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’ to his whimsical Pop Art-like treatment of Kafka’s novella ‘Metamorphosis,’ to the hypnotic fluorescent swirls on Stieg Larsson’s thriller ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.’”
—The New York Times

“‘Covers provides insight into the designer’s process and pushes us to reconsider what we think we know about the graphic representation of words and ideas.”
—The New Republic


Purchase.


Forthcoming...

The Look of the Book. Art at the Edges of Literature. (With David J. Alworth (Summer 2019. Crown/10Speed)

 
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The Delivery (A Novel.)