The Intellectual

“To understand the world, one must read,” is what his fellow barfly told him.

   He was twenty-seven. His educational experiences, in the academic sense, were scant. He left school having just turned seventeen. He met girls and alcohol and fell in love with both. He worked whatever job would put enough money in his pocket for weekend adventures. Ten years quickly passed by and he was still spending his weeks working and his weekends drinking.

   His life was simple, and he liked it that way.

   He enjoyed quiet drinks in hushed bars. That’s when he’d get talking to his fellow barlfies.

   They’d talk about football.

   “The striker should be dropped, he’s an overrated pile!”

   They’d talk about politics.

   “Those shower of toerags should all be lined up against a wall and shot!”

   They’d talk alcohol.

   “Twelve year, me hole!”

   In work, he drove a forklift. It was a cushy number, despite the low temperatures in the warehouse during winter. The new employees would be given the least appealing tasks, and he’d spend most of his days driving and manoeuvring pallets onto high shelves.

   His job was simple, and he liked it that way.

   One weekend, when enjoying a few pints at the local, he and his fellow barflies noticed an unfamiliar face. He was an old man of about sixty who possessed patchy grey hair and an air of eruditeness. He drank wine, unlike most of those at the bar lined up as if in a seated identity parade for beer brands; their drink of choice was stout.

   The unfamiliar face hadn’t said much apart from a ‘hello’ here and there. But when a conversation about a recent political scandal began, the grey-haired man formed a full sentence in their presence for the first time:

   “To understand the world, one must read,” he said.

   This prompted raised eyebrows from a few sitting at the bar. The old man gulped the remainder of his pint, stood up, and fixed his stool under the bar.

   “One must read,” the old man repeated, and then left.

   And so he read. From Chomsky to Che, Marcuse to Marx, Sartre to Shaw, he read slowly and earnestly. In his spare time he studied their writings in great depth. On his breaks in work, instead of reading the newspaper in the canteen with his colleagues, he read a book in the empty warehouse office. When he took baths, which he’d always preferred to showers, he would read philosphy. When he relaxed on the couch in the evenings, instead of switching on the latest TV series, he read history. When he sat on the toilet seat, instead of browsing on his phone, he read poetry.

   His workdays soon began to bother him. He would ask colleagues their thoughts on the labour theory of value and modern monetary theory, and would be greeted with perplexed stares. He would quote Neruda and be met with derisive laughter.

   At the pub, things weren’t much better. When discussing politics and the government’s role in society, he would speak haughtily and authoritatively; he scoffed at suggestions from his fellow barflies who hadn’t read the literature.

   Soon, he was no longer welcome at the pub, and his work colleagues were always wary of what he would come out with next.

   He found a new bar in a more affluent part of town (three bus rides were necessary) and sat self-importantly in a corner with a book and glass (he’d transitioned to wine). He decided to wear reading glasses, despite not needing them. His attire began to change, too: gone were the navy tracksuits, and in their place were chinos and checked shirts. Every Friday and Saturday, he would sit alone in the new pub with a new book by one of his favourite thinkers. He would overhear conversations by small gatherings of friends and roll his eyes. He would chuckle to himself at the assessment of government by tipsy barflies, whom he now privately referred to as “the lay”.

   It was not long before his work colleagues began to notice changes to his lexicon, too. Recent additions included the words ‘incredulous’, ‘polemic’, ‘sobriquet’, ‘pernicious’, and ‘sanguine’. There were new phrases such as ‘mode of production’, ‘critical theory’, and the ‘theory of exploitation’, which he used regularly and with ever-growing confidence and a self-righteous tone.

   Eventually, he even joined a book club. At the first meeting, he confidently shook hands with the fellow attendants. He said aloud, “To understand the world, one must read,” which was greeted with condescending smiles (which he mistook for genuine politeness). When he offered his opinion on the labour theory of value, a number of men in the circle laughed aloud.

   He frowned and shrugged it off. I’ve now read myriad books by some of the best and brightest minds, he said to himself. Perhaps these people don’t actually read and just get together for a social gathering.

   So the book club wasn’t for him, and he continued with his private personal studies and his work. But eventually he grew restless and decided he wanted to find a new career. He left the warehouse and took some time to think about where people who read books would work. He was now an intellectual, after all, and it wasn’t long before he decided that the perfect role for him could be found at government level.

   On his first day in the Department of Finance, he offered to his new colleagues his thoughts on the labour theory of value and modern monetary theory, which was met with approving, earnest nods. To this day, his credentials have never been questioned, and rumour has it he’s in line for a hefty pension.

   He’s now surrounded by fellow intellectuals, and he likes it that way.

Header image by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash.

Thoughts on the Work of Book Cover Designer Chip Kidd

When I was a kid my brother would regularly draw football (soccer) kits: jersey, shorts, socks — the works. With him being older, I would usually copy whatever it was he was doing (including asking for the same Valencia CF home jersey one Christmas, which understandably infuriated him – “We’re not twins, dickhead!”). So, I picked up a variety of colouring pencils and began to draw (or to be more accurate design) my own kits. (Yes, brother, you and I were in fact practising fashion design.)

Alas, my designs weren’t up to much; there was a subtle art to designing a football kit — get too carried away and you’d wind up with something more appropriate for an LSD trip than the football pitch (although some goalkeepers jerseys over the years have definitely sparked thoughts of tripping balls).

My desire to draw didn’t end with football kits: extraterrestrial sketches, bubblified cartoons, watercolour paintings… I would attempt to tap into the creative well that existed on my mam’s side and show what I could do (for the sports genes, see the old man’s side)… which, clearly, wasn’t very much. My brother, however, certainly had a talent which he never fully pursued (although he’d tell you he wasn’t very good, which is inaccurate to say the least).

Anyway, I had tried my hand at it, and I learned early on that I definitely wasn’t going to be the next Edward Hopper, Ilya Repin, Todd McFarlane… or Vivienne Westwood.

Which leads me to the following statement: I’m hardly an authority when it comes to the visual arts.

But I do have an uneducated opinion I can share, kind of like someone on the TV who has zero understanding of basic economics talking about minimum wage and price controls — it’s an opinion we really shouldn’t take too seriously.

But if I may indulge myself, I’d like to share my unqualified thoughts on the work of someone I greatly admire, the one and only Chip Kidd.

Now, when I say share my thoughts, I mean I’m gonna share some of my favourite works by Mr. Kidd — i.e. his book cover designs I admire most — and scribble a few words underneath each design, basically something like, “I dig this because the colours are nice. Isn’t the picture he used here really impactful? Don’t I sound like I know what I’m talking about?

Chip Kidd is probably one of — if not the — best-known graphic designers around, and he’s created book covers for major names in literature including Haruki Murakami, Cormac McCarthy, Bret Easton Ellis, Michael Crichton, Jay McInerney, Donna Tartt, Michael Chabon, John Updike, and David Sedaris. His designs have also graced the covers of the perennial publications Rolling Stone and TIME.

So, let me share my most-loved works by this master designer, complete with uninformed thoughts on a subject I know nothing about…

1. Imperial BedroomsBret Easton Ellis

BEE Imperial Bedrooms

The rather disappointing sequel to Ellis’ debut novel Less Than Zero, Imperial Bedrooms was released in 2010 to mixed critical response. Apathy, narcissism, violence, and debauchery are regular features in the author’s work, and this novel doesn’t shy away from delving into hedonistic territory. Kidd’s design does a good job at capturing the superficiality and overindulgence that permeates Ellis’ oeuvre.

2. Jurassic ParkMichael Crichton

Chip Kidd - The Lost World by Michael Crichton

Every now and then Kidd takes a minimalist approach to his designs. For Michael Crichton’s sequel to his now legendary Jurassic Park (arguably thanks to Spielberg’s blockbuster adaptation), Chip’s minimal execution works quite effectively: Black, white, red. Unglamorous font. Menacing T-Rex gonna bite ya… Simples.

3. FasterJames Gleick

Chip Kidd - Faster by James Gleick

This one speaks for itself. So clever. One of my favourites beyond Kidd’s work, that’s for sure.

4. The Dark Knight ReturnsFrank Miller

Chip Kidd - The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller

Maybe it’s because I purchased Miller’s iconic graphic novel years ago and it’s been on my bookshelf since, but this cover instantly screams “You know you want to read this. You know it, you bastard. Now OPEN ME!!” Mr. Kidd has designed many graphic novel/comic book covers over the years, including Watchmen, Before Watchmen, Rough Justice, and All-Star Superman.

5. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

Chip Kidd - The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

I could have included this purely because The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is my favourite Murakami novel. But there’s something mysterious, magical, and alluring about the cover, prompting the potential reader to pick up the book and become a curious cat. (Murakami fans will appreciate that last line).

6. Villain by Yoshida Shuichi

Chip Kidd - Villian by Yoshida Shuichi

Various human bones positioned to form the shape of a pistol + hot pink. I’m sold… Even the position of the text feels right.

7. Reporting by David Remnick

Chip Kidd - Reportings by David Remnick

The long-time editor of The New Yorker and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer David Remnick published Reporting in 2007 — a collection of his writings from the aforementioned mag. Again, Chip’s execution is simple and, in my opinion, perfect in its simplicity.

8. The Little FriendDonna Tartt

Chip Kidd - The Little Friend by Donna Tartt

Oh dear God — Kill it! Kill it!! (Now that’s an effective book-cover design).

9. GulpMary Roach

Chip Kidd - Gulp by Mary Roach

It could be down to this cover bringing out my inner perv because it reminds me of the poster for Inside Deep Throat, or it could be that it’s simply pretty cool.

10. Seek My FaceJohn Updike

Chip Kidd - Seek My Face by John Updike

This is just one of a number of pieces Chip Kidd has designed for the late American great John Updike. This painting-style (if it isn’t actually a painting), brush-stroke cover implores us to — as the title asks — seek a face. It’s somewhat suffocating, almost haunting, certainly striking.

11. What I Talk About When I Talk About RunningHaruki Murakami

Chip Kidd - What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

Okay, so maybe I’m a little biased towards this one for two reasons: 1) it’s Murakami, and 2) he took the title for his memoir on long-distance running from one of my favourite collections, What I Talk About When I Talk About Love, by the hugely influential short story writer Raymond Carver. But besides all that, Kidd’s once again simple design finds a way of being effortlessly striking: The formidable font towers above the minuscule figure of the Japanese author on one of his many runs, giving us an idea of the mammoth tasks he regularly faces when tackling marathons, triathlons, and ultra-marathons, even well into his sixties. Which is all the more impressive when you consider he was a heavy smoker until his early thirties. Oh, Haruki, we’re not worthy!

12. No Country for Old MenCormac McCarthy

Chip Kidd - No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

The great American author Cormac McCarthy originally wrote No Country For Old Men as a screenplay (which begs the question: Did the Coen brothers read his draft before writing their own for their faithful 2007 Oscar-winning adaptation?). Anyone familiar with either the novel or the film will know the pickle Llewelyn Moss finds himself in having stumbled across the aftermath of a drug deal gone wrong — and a bagful of cash. They’ll also be familiar with the seemingly unstoppable monster who pursues Moss, the truly terrifying Anton Chigurh. For me, Kidd manages to convey the feeling of helplessness — of being hunted — as the lonely silhouetted figure traverses the red-hot, baking terrain, as the sun goes down… possibly for the last time.

There you have it — some of my favourite Chip Kidd book cover designs. And now I’m hearing the call for last orders.

Until next time, I will be in the bar, with my head on the bar . . .