©2020 Built with love by Nick Howland.

IMAGE: Book Cover Designs-Stories, Thematic Elements.

IMAGE: Book Cover Designs-Stories, Thematic Elements.
October 3, 2012 nick howland

For our book cover design project in Image, I chose the author David Sedaris and selected three of his short stories: Me Talk Pretty One Day, You Can’t Kill The Rooster, and Giant Dreams, Midget Abilities. The stories are summarized and their main thematic elements are listed below.


You Can’t Kill The Rooster:

SUMMARY: A short story about how drastically different siblings can be, but how some parents choose to accept their children no matter how bizarre and alien they may seem. It’s also about stereotypes and how they sometimes don’t fit their original mold. Sedaris discusses his families move to Raleigh, North Carolina and his brother: a technical college dropout who sands floors and has an affinity for rap music.

THEMES: Family, Acceptance, Contrast.

IMAGERY: A lot of the imagery that came to mind while reading the story focused on contrast. I kept picturing a well dressed, clean cut family portrait with a gangsta looking son juxtaposed in the center. That or a stereotypical white suburban father hugging his white gangsta son. These would, of course be symbolic of acceptance, family, and contrast all at once, but it could easily fit for just one of them as well. It could also be drastically narrowed down to something far more simplistic. Simplistic may actually work best since Sedaris’ stories don’t beat your over the head with symbolism or anything like that. They, for the most part, are simply laid our for you to digest, enjoy, and find humor in. Simplistic images with elements of humor would work really well. Another image that stuck with me after reading the story was a depiction of the “fuck-it bucket”: a large bucket filled with jawbreakers and assorted candies. I think a top down shot of this would work really well with the text forming around the rounded edge. This may be too much of a literal interpretation of the story. The bucket does symbolize the inclusion of Paul, Sedaris’ brother, and his non-traditional mannerisms in the family, though. It is by far not just any random element. To review those two images previously stated and make it a bit less confusing: “Fuck-it Bucket” = family, white gangsta family photo = acceptance. Contrast is a pretty big thematic elements as well. Throughout the entire story, Paul is very much in contrast to the rest of his “normal” family members. Contrast can be illustrated by something as simple as different colored rubber ducks (like the ugly duckling). Gotta continue to keep it simple.


Me Talk Pretty One Day:

SUMMARY: The short story follows Sedaris as he moves to Paris to study French, which he is taught by a rather harsh teacher; a lady unfamiliar with compliments but an expert at being demeaning. Sedaris and his fellow classmates are having trouble grasping the language but are doing their best to try. In the end, Sedaris is is just happy to realize he is finally able to understand all of the words his teacher is saying. Even if they are all put-downs and he can’t respond to her in an understandable manner.

THEMES: Feeling Out Of Place, Simple Victories, Lost In Translation.

I think one of the major themes in this story is feeling out of place. Sedaris speaks immediately of how he is the oldest of his class and throughout the story he speaks of the classroom feeling as though it is a foreign world (which it very much is). Simple victories also presents itself as a theme at the very end of the story when Sedaris realizes that he finally understands what the teacher is saying, even though he can’t communicate back to her. Being lost in translation is definitely another theme. It’s similar to feeling out of place, but I feel that is is different enough to be it’s own theme. It’s more along the lines of confusion and panic than just feeling out of place.

IMAGERY: As I said before, I definitely think the photographs should be simple. Not overly crowded, they should be intimate. I think that can be achieved by limiting the amount of materials in the shot itself as well as close crops. With the “out of place” theme, I think it would be neat to have groups of objects or people with one starkly contrasting object or person in the middle. Possibly in costume or something. Think of a classroom with Frank the bunny from Donny Darko sitting in the middle. A good use of depth of field would help bring the focus onto the out of place object. I don’t think I really want people in the shot, though. Maybe a line of apples with one that has bites taken out of it. The apple would be symbolic of the classroom setting in the story and the eaten apple would definitely feel out of place compared to the other full apples. Simple victories could be visualized by something small and humorous like….leaving the toilet seat up or something along those lines. OR a toilet seat that is up, but a top down shot to show that it is cleanly flushed. Then the text could be illustrated within  the toilet bowl. Nothing overly complex, of course. Lost In Translation would be a little bit more complicated. Possibly a shot of the back of someone’s head with translations of the story title “Me Talk Pretty…” in different languages written all around the figures head with the title written in English and more in focus and centered than the rest.


Giant Dreams, Midget Abilities

SUMMARY: This story tells of a young Sedaris pushed into guitar lessons by his music loving dad. An attempt at assembling a “family band” almost, since the other children in the family are also forced to take lessons. After having quite a few uncomfortable lessons with a teacher who was, in fact, a midget, Sedaris eventually decided to lay it all out on the table to his instructor: that he was not practicing, that he didn’t want to play the guitar, and that he wanted to enlist his instructors assistance in singing commercial jingles.

THEMES: Parental Expectations, trying to accomplish a seemingly impossible task just to appease someone, Sometimes you just gotta give up.

IMAGERY: The major image that came to mind tied into the theme of knowing when to give up. The image that came to mind was a close up shot of a guitar’s head and portions of the neck with a broken string. I think the string would very much symbolize Sedaris giving up on the guitar lessons. One can always pick up and continue after (fixing the string), but there is that point that the string breaks and you just want to put the damned guitar down. Trying to tackle a seemingly impossible task could be illustrated by a child (or a person of any age, really) facing something that seems impossible to complete. This could be a giant wall. OR the image could just be of something overly complicated. A mass of objects or something of the like. Gotta remain simple, like I said before. Also, I would really love to shoot for a more illustrated feel with the photography. This could be achieved by combining photographed elements with hand-drawn illustrations. Parental Expectations are another theme, one that somewhat ties into the previous theme of accomplishing a difficult task just to appease someone. This could be illustrated by an exaggerated amount of dishes in the sink or a mass of undone chores. Something like that.


To keep these covers linked together and viewed as a series, the overall design of the images will be similar. Maybe similar overall composition. There will be simplistic imagery with hand-drawn text that works with the photographs and becomes part of them.