Chip Kidd, who designs book covers for Alfred A. Knopf, told me that the book appears to him to be “from around 1972.” It’s not a compliment. “For me it’s sort of like everything that I react against when I’m designing a book cover,” Kidd said. “I just don’t understand why they would go with this route.” He added that, for a book like Dunham’s, he would think, “you would want to send the message that it’s fresh, uncharted territory, and I just don’t get that from this.”
Kidd is right on — as far as the stylistic period is concerned. Trooper Roman, which was the basis for the Toledo typeface used on this cover, was released by VGC in the early ’70s. The typeface was fairly common in phototypesetting days (see this ad for Jim Beam, a campaign for jump suits, and a Christian paperback) but virtually disappeared from use by the ’90s. This was likely due to changing fashions (high contrast, slightly wonky poster serifs gave way to Grunge and Neo-Classical type), but also because Trooper was hard to find in digital form. The availability of Toledo, a phototype follower of Trooper, alleviates that absence.
I disagree with Kidd, however, about the decision to use type like this for Dunham’s cover. I think it’s brilliant. It may not be “fresh, uncharted territory”, but it will stand out on the shelf simply because it is so clearly of another time. No other title on the “New Books” display will be like it. And, more importantly, it fits Dunham’s penchant for mid-century literature while reflecting her own offbeat personality.
The TNR piece goes on to discuss the type on the Lizzie Skurnick covers, which we’ve also covered here.